The Language of Illness


The launch of Fergus Shanahan’s #TheLanguageofIllness, via #MicrosoftTeams, went swimmingly, all things considered. I initially went to the wrong place: like an actor going to sit in the audience, rather than waiting in the wings for their call. But after that, all was well. Sally Cudmore from #APCMicrobiome introduced; Mary Horgan, President of the #RCPI, did the honours.
There were some minor glitches – but then, you get those in real life too. But the possibilities of the new technology are legion. Hundreds of people were there – more than you’d get in even a large room – from all over the world. They could ask questions. There were no catering costs. It was at a civilised hour (at least for Europe). Best of all, you could watch it all back later: https://lnkd.in/erXbWrT
It wasn’t easy for people to buy the book (you can remedy that here: https://lnkd.in/ejx2Szn), there was no signing of copies, and old friends couldn’t be reunited – all things which make the Irish #booklaunch an institution (much like a wedding or funeral). But overall, it was less fraught than most such events I’ve been involved in over the years. We’ll be doing it again.
As #OscarWilde put it: “The value of the telephone is the value of what two people have to say.”

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  • “A fascinating and sensitive exploration of the difference between the ‘illness language’ characteristic of a patient’s subjective awareness of their illness, suffering and fear, and the medical practitioner’s objective consideration of their disease. The author, an eminent physician, transcends his professional expertise with a wonderful, learned and sympathetic account of how to talk, as to a person, with someone who happens to be a patient. He provides a masterly and entertaining account of how this asymmetrical relationship can be transformed into a two-directional mutual discussion. I recommend it strongly, not just to front-line medical personnel, but also to the rest of us who are, or will, sooner or later, be ill.” ––Patrick Masterson, Emeritus Professor, University College Dublin
  • "A scholarly yet accessible dissection of the toxic influence of language on medical care, this book should be mandatory reading for all healthcare professionals, and also for all patients and future patients." ––Liam Farrell, medical journalist, former GP and author of Are You the F**king Doctor?
  • “The Language of Illness is one of the most worthwhile books I've seen in medicine. It is wise, bright, witty, and brimming with insights – and is the antithesis of what the author rightly describes as the ‘banal teaching of communication’. It will make you a better clinician and a better human. Read it early in your career and every few years afterwards. The epilogue, and its matching discussion earlier – not to mention the brief appearance by Madonna – is worth the price of admission on its own.’ ––John Sotos, MD, author of The Physical Lincoln
  • "This book is a treasure, compulsory and compulsive reading for everyone in the caring way – and isn’t that all of us? Caring, or being cared for. Doctor Shanahan, with precision, humour and concern, examines 'the words that turn people into patients . . . healing words, hurting words'. He demonstrates, with wisdom and learning and humanity, how patient and doctor, speaking the same language, work better together: 'I’ve studied disease and experienced illness; I’m expert enough to be wary of experts', he writes. He uses illustrative quotations from every area of human life, from poets like T. S. Eliot and the great doctor-poet William Carlos Williams, to TV series like Only Fools and Horses. An accessible, inviting book: warm, empathetic and deeply compassionate." ––John F. Deane, a member of Aosdána, is a poet, founder of Poetry Ireland/the National Poetry Society, and The Dedalus Press. His latest collection of poetry is Dear Pilgrims (Carcanet Press).
  • “an impressive work that cuts through the dross of medical parlance and captures our everyday tragedies with compassion” ––Prof. Garret A. Fitzgerald, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania

Meet The Author

Fergus Shanahan MD, DSc, MRIA, is emeritus professor of medicine at University College Cork and was foundation director of the SFI-funded research centre APC Microbiome Ireland. A clinician-scientist with over forty years’ experience helping patients with chronic inflammatory bowel disease, he has received international awards for his contributions to medical science and the medical humanities. He was the first recipient of the Hektoen International Grand Prix and is a former president of the Irish Society of Gastroenterology. He has published more than 550 scientific papers and numerous books; Fast Facts in Inflammatory Bowel Disease won the BMA Book Award for gastroenterology in 2006. He featured on the “Irish Life Science 50”, a list of the top fifty Irish and Irish-Americans in the life-science industry, and in 2013 Science Foundation Ireland named him as its Researcher of the Year. In 2016, the Royal Irish Academy honoured him with a gold medal for contributions to the life sciences.

The practice of medicine has advanced dramatically in recent years, but the language used to discuss illness – by medical practitioners, patients and carers – has not kept pace. As a result, clinicians and, just as importantly, patients and their relatives and carers, are not able to communicate clearly in relation to illness. The upshot is misunderstanding and confusion on all sides.

In this ground-breaking book, Dr Fergus Shanahan, an eminent gastroenterologist who has practised in Ireland, the United States and Canada, and published widely around the world, looks at memoirs of illness, and outlines the lessons we can learn from a better understanding of the words we use to describe illness. He looks at the ways in which language can act as a barrier with regard to illness, and proposes practical ways in which we can dismantle these barriers. The book is written for the general reader: as Dr Shanahan puts it himself, he is “enough of an expert to be wary of experts”.

The Language of Illness, part manifesto, part memoir, and part instruction manual, is an appeal for the use of clearer, more holistic language, by all those involved with, and affected by, illness. Like the great American poet-doctor William Carlos Williams, he aims to help us develop a new language by means of which we can develop a new way of living with illness – which is an integral part of the human condition. Put simply, it is a book for all those who care about caring.

Weight 0.5 kg