Starring in the Sick Role in New England

Last Wednesday I woke up with chills, a fever, a sinus headache and the ability to pull a mere wisp of Oxygen through nasal passages where Mucus-guy had taken up residence.   That’s right I had the flu.  I’m always pleased with my body’s ability to evict this temporary resident within three to five business days, but while he was living there, I simply let him storm around.   I gave him no mental fodder and I think he got bored.  Since he’s left however, I’ve learned a great deal about the role of Sickness in normal life, since my reading projects have put me into contact with Talcott Parsons, American Sociologist.

Parsons walked a tightrope in much of his societal analysis between materialism and idealism, which is (despite being a tightrope) a well trod path by many people.  However, because of my recent starring role in the dramatization of “Uncle Flu comes to Visit”, I was mostly interested in this idea of a Sick Role.  Parsons, in 1951, theorized that the actor in the drama has a number of rights and obligations.  She has the right to be exempt from normal social roles, and is not responsible for her sickness.  She also has the obligation to try and get well, and to seek competent medical health.  So there you have it, I wasn’t held accountable for my inability to remember even the simplest concepts proposed in my Anatomy Class, wasn’t required to sit through a whole sermon at church, and couldn’t call the post office yet again about the package they lost of mine. It’s pretty fortuitous that I wasn’t required to do this, because, due to those achy bones and the coughing, I couldn’t rise from the couch.

During the winter time in New England, it seems expected that sickness will invade a person’s life and create this hallowed and accepted deviance.   It’s also assumed that competent medical help and attempts to recover are  warm soups, pain reliever medicines, Robitussin, and a variety of other over-the-counter medications and rest.  However because of these assumptions, in New England there is a pervasive inability to continue dialogue with quite a number of members of society due to sickness and withdrawal.  There is something of an unresolved tension here as people involuntarily remove themselves from the work force, the church sanctuary, and robust debate of ideas.  If anything it contributes to the already much dreaded Seasonal Affectedness Disorder, which is a Sick Role as well.  What can be done?

I’m sure there isn’t a simple answer here to this wintertime breakdown of social relations in New England, and therefore I’m unable to provide a pithy conclusion to this blog post.  However, perhaps there’s something missing from the rights and obligations of the Sick Role.  Or perhaps there’s more to the rights of obligations of the un-mentioned Healthy Role.


Author: Beth M

I love new ideas & information, connecting people, and discovering New England adventures.

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