Painful realities

  • Serial
Pencil artwork drawn over an engraving depicting a wooden panelled room with two men in the distance looking towards an unclothed woman lying on her side on a table, clutching a pillow to her front. The whole scene is black and white apart from the pillow and the rays of light streaming in through a window which are tinted red.
Nervous Ailing Woman. © Anne Howeson.

What is the nature of pain? How do we talk about pain and assess it seriously when the history of modern medicine is built on the transfer of authority from the patient’s subjective experiences to the physician’s objective diagnosis? This is not a broad, sweeping history. It’s a personal one. I am one of an estimated 200 million women worldwide whose body has experienced extreme pain and physical distress that has been routinely dismissed by physicians. It is only pain, I was repeatedly told, as the agony engulfed my life.

About the contributors

Photographic head and shouders, black and white portrait of Jaipreet Virdi.

Jaipreet Virdi


Dr Jaipreet Virdi is a historian of medicine and disability based at the University of Delaware. Her first book, ‘Hearing Happiness: Deafness Cures in History’ will be available in early 2020. She is currently working on her next book, ‘An Invisible Epidemic: The History of Endometriosis’.

Photographic head and shoulders, black and white portrait of Anne Howeson.

Anne Howeson


Anne Howeson develops projects concerning place, time and communities. She is a Jerwood Drawing Prize winner with drawings in the collection of the Museum of London, the Guardian News and Media, St George’s Hospital and Imperial College London. She was shortlisted in 2014 for the Derwent Art Prize and the National Open Art Award, and in 2017 for the Ruskin Prize. She has twice been an invited artist with ING Discerning Eye. As a tutor at the Royal College of Art she promotes drawing in all its forms – through process, outcome and as a way of thinking.