Best wishes for your incurable illness
by: Trisha Greenhalgh
"Get well soon" is a greeting from a bygone era, in which illness was generally acute and self limiting. These days, those of us on the shady side of 40 are as likely as not to have at least one disease that will not go away, and those over 65 have an average of three. A rising stack of policy documents seeking to address the needs of people who are never going to get better emphasises self efficacy, concordance, expert patienthood, peer support, and personal care plans, while professionals are taught to hang loose, applaud self management, and focus their efforts on the few who have advanced disease and rare complications.
The ill are no longer called "patients," since this term aligns with an outdated view of the sick role first proposed by Talcott Parsons, in which we took to our beds and exchanged our normal social duties for the attention of our relatives and the professional services of a physician. Society has moved on. The discourse is now all about accommodating the "ill" individual into a flexible and enabling society.
You know all this. It's been going on for a good 15 years. It is surprising, then, that it has taken until now for an entrepreneur to come up with a set of greeting cards called "Journeys" designed for people whose most optimistic prognosis is gradual but inexorable deterioration.
Have you got a friend who has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis? Why not send them a card with "Don't give up . . . you're not alone. Don't stop believing . . . so many people care. Don't ever forget how strong you really are . ." Or a colleague struggling with a parent with dementia who may like to hear: "Watching a parent change can be difficult. Where once stood a tower of strength, there is now a person who needs your care." Perhaps your friend would benefit from a bumper sticker saying "If you're handed it you can handle it" or the generic pick-me-up "Don't give up hope, and it won't give up on you."Hallmark offer their new range of greeting cards as part of "the new normal." It is, of course, both an idea whose time had come and an innovative way of cashing in on human misery. But if it was OK in the 20th century to make money out of "get well soon," surely it's OK in the 21st to help people say, "Hang in there brother/sister."
The article was published in BMJ,