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.
Even in the 21st century, women with severe monthly pain find their suffering minimised or dismissed by the medical profession. Such pain is seen as simply a natural part of being female.
In a society that viewed getting the vote, and pursuing an education and career, as unnatural goals for women, the pain of endometriosis was viewed as nature’s retribution.
In the 20th century doctors tried to find a way to measure pain. But even when ‘objective’ measures were rejected, an accurate understanding of another’s pain remained frustratingly elusive.
After dozens of hospital visits and handfuls of painkillers, a plethora of scans and tests bring diagnosis closer for Jaipreet Virdi.
Discover how a white American doctor’s experimental operations on black female slaves laid the foundations for modern gynaecological surgery.
About the contributors
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’.
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.