Interview: Jonathan Sadowsky and “Electroconvulsive Therapy in America”

9781138696969This week on the blog we’re highlighting an interview with Dr. Jonathan Sadowsky about his new book Electroconvulsive Therapy in America: The Anatomy of a Medical Controversy, released November 2016 by Routledge. The book (available here) follows the American history of one of the most controversial procedures in medicine, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), and seeks to provide an explanation of why it has been so controversial, juxtaposing evidence from clinical science, personal memoir, and popular culture. ECT is widely demonized or idealized. Some detractors consider its very use to be a human rights violation, while some promoters depict it as a miracle, as the “penicillin of psychiatry.” Sadowsky contextualizes the controversies about ECT, instead of simply engaging in them, making the history of ECT more richly revealing of wider changes in culture and medicine. He shows that the application of electricity to the brain to treat illness is not only a physiological event, but also one embedded in culturally patterned beliefs about the human body, the meaning of sickness, and medical authority.

Dr. Sadowsky is the Theodore J. Castele Professor of Medical History at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH, the Associate Director of Medical Humanities and Social Medicine, the Medical Humanities and Social Medicine Initiative co-founder, the Associate Director of Medicine, Society, and Culture in the Bioethics department of the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and on the Editorial Board here at Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry. Sadowsky’s research concentrates largely on the history of medicine and psychiatry in Africa and the United States. His previous publications include Imperial Bedlam: Institutions of Madness in Colonial Southwest Nigeria (1999), available here from the University of California Press.

From all of us at CMP, we hope you enjoy our new interview category!

  1. For someone who is thinking about reading your book or about to start, is there anything you would like them to know beforehand?

I would urge everyone to understand that not everybody’s experience of a medical therapy is the same. People should be careful not to generalize from experiences they’ve had, or that loved ones have had, and assume everyone has had the same experience. People who’ve had bad experiences with ECT have criticized me for to wanting to pay attention to the voices of people who’ve had good experiences, and people who’ve have good experiences have wanted to say “oh sure that might have been true in the 1950s but everything’s fine now.” ECT has a complicated story. I have met people who have told me that this treatment saved their lives and that it did so with either none or only the most mild of adverse effects. Those people are very concerned to make sure that the therapy gets represented in positive light because there are so many negative depictions. At the same time I’ve heard from and spoken to people who say they’ve lost 20 points off their IQ after having this treatment, or who had huge gaps in memory, or that they know somebody who had killed themselves after an ECT treatment. And what I find a little bit puzzling still after all these years of working on this book, is the way people are so unwilling to see that other people might have had a different experience than their own. But it’s my feeling as a social and cultural historian that it’s my responsibility to take into account all voices. So that’s the main thing that I want people to know and think about, that experiences of this treatment do vary and people shouldn’t be too quick to generalize from their own experience.

  1. How did you become interested in ECT?

I was already several years into my career as a historian of medicine, and in particular psychiatry, and had no knowledge of the treatment other than the images that many of us have from movies like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Images that it was a highly frightening and abusive treatment. I was a well-trained student of medicine and psychiatry and I didn’t know anything more than that. And then I began to hear stories, both from patients and from clinicians, about it being a valuable treatment and that was just so intriguing to me. So I began to look at some of the clinical literature and it was represented in almost completely the opposite way, as this safe, effective, humane treatment that’s been unfairly stigmatized. I felt like these were two completely distinct realities. It wasn’t so much that I wanted to reconcile them, but I just wanted to understand how views of this treatment became so bifurcated. And that became the central goal of the project: to understand why it became a controversy and have such strongly held opinions on either side.

  1. What did you find most exciting to research and write about?

I worked on this project for a long time and one of the things that sustained me was that there are so many different angles to it. I was interested in learning about how it was used to treat homosexuals in 1950s, to see what the reaction of the psychoanalytic community was, and how it figured as a symbol for all that was worst in psychiatry in the antipsychiatry moment. And then there were all the debates going back to the inception of the treatment, ongoing continual debates about the extent of memory loss. Is it a serious problem? Is it a rare problem? These debates are still raging. All of this I found so intriguing. The history of ECT is also replete with ironies. Such as the irony that it was developed initially as a treatment for schizophrenia based on a hypothesis that schizophrenia has an inverse relationship with epilepsy. That hypothesis is no longer even believed in, and schizophrenia is not the main indication anymore, and yet it’s effective. That’s so weird and so seemly random! Another irony is that this treatment which become an icon for frightening medical treatment, and became almost like people’s haunting nightmare of how medicine could abuse you if you came into its clutches, was initially developed as a way to try to create a safer, less frightening treatment than chemical convulsive therapy. So it’s these layers of irony that I just found so interesting and kept me intrigued in the book.

  1. Did you come across anything unexpected?

Yes, I did come across things that were unexpected. I found the gender politics to be very elusive. I found very little evidence for the idea that women were given ECT for simply protesting against their social role as housewives, which was promoted in another book on ECT. But it does appear likely that over the course of the treatment’s history more women have gotten it than men, and there is likely a gender politics to this. Minimally it may mean simply that more women are getting diagnosed with depression, and that’s the main indication. And we know that. The diagnosis of depression has predominated among women. There is a darker possibility, which is that women’s cognitive abilities haven’t been as valued, and so doctors have been more willing to use a treatment that might damage cognitive abilities on women than they were on men. I didn’t see any proof for that. But I think there were suggestive circumstances that might indicate that that played a role. In many realms of medicine, and this has been really well documented by historians, anthropologists, and sociologists of medicine, women’s complaints about medical treatments are more quickly dismissed than men’s complaints. So it’s quite possible that some of the complaints about memory loss, which have persisted throughout the history of this treatment, have been taken less seriously because they were so often voiced by women. I’m not arguing that women had more memory loss than men, but if they predominated in the treatment, and there were complaints about memory loss, it is plausible to suggest that perhaps there has been too much dismissal. I didn’t have evidence such as clearly sexist language in clinical reports that would strengthen a speculation like that, but one thing I do argue in the book is that the history of ECT is filled with doctors dismissing patient complaints of adverse effects. There are a number of ECT providers now, however, who are trying to be very sensitive to these complaints about memory and cognitive deficits following the treatment, but there still exists in clinical manuals the claim that serious memory problems are extremely rare, and that rarity really hasn’t been proven. So it remains a problem. The history of ECT treatment has shown a tendency to dismiss patient complaints about adverse effects, and this has not served anyone well. If anything, the tendency to dismiss complaints has worsened the stigma attached to the treatment. It’s understandable that some clinicians might feel some defensiveness for a treatment they feel is helpful and safe, but the dismissal of complaints of adverse effects has led to embittered patients and worsened the stigma. In a recent piece in The Conversation (available here), I argued that if we wanted to spell the stigma attached to ECT, it’s going to take more than attesting to its therapeutic efficacy. It’s going to mean we have to reconcile with its full costs.

  1. Why was it important for you to try and remain neutral and not argue for or against ECT?

I’m not trying to presume objectivity. Everyone has a point of view. But I thought I could tell a more interesting story by taking a step back and making the controversy itself my study rather than becoming a disputant in the controversy. There’s some precedent for this. Didier Fassin, an anthropologist, did a book on AIDS in South Africa, When Bodies Remember (available here), in which he did the same thing; he tried to look at the structure of the controversy. He was trying to understand the medical controversy over HIV as an anthropologist, even though he did actually side more with one than the other. But I do argue in the book there are good reasons to attest to efficacy of ECT and it is a valuable part of psychiatry’s repertoire, that it has a place in medicine. But I also argue that there were good grounds for people to contest it and have fear of the treatment. I really try to resist the view, which is very common in clinical literature on ECT, that opposition to ECT is irrational. There are rational reasons for the resistance rooted in some of its historical uses, some of which were abusive, and rooted in the experiences of adverse effects. At the end of the book I lay it all out and I say exactly what I think about ECT after trying to look at it from a step back. I think it’s an invaluable part of psychiatry and could be very useful for many people. But I don’t think it should be used as a first or second resort; other things should be tried first because there are risks. I’m glad it’s there if I should ever need it, but I hope I never need it.

  1. Would ECT be perceived differently if it didn’t treat the brain but some other organ?

Probably. In our society now, more than any other organ your brain is you. It is the seed of the self in our self-conception. I would go beyond that. The side effects do occur, without making any kind of representation about how common these problems are, but at least some people do experience permanent memory losses. I used a lot of patient memoirs in the chapter on memory as my source material. And as one of the memoirists wrote: We are our pasts. You lose your memory it’s like you lose a part of yourself. I think in some ways people feel they lose a part of themselves if they lose their memories more than even if they were to lose a limb. Losing a limb is very traumatic, I don’t mean to minimize that. But in a way, you lose your leg and you say “I lost my leg.” It’s something that belongs to you, but it isn’t you in the same way that maybe you feel your memories are you. Memories are not just something that you have, they’re something that you are.

I think ECT is a treatment for the very ill and as a society we do generally accept that treatments for the very ill sometimes involve radical interventions. Chemotherapy for cancers for example. Most of us are glad we have it, and there isn’t a large anti-chemotherapy movement. My leading theory for why ECT treatment occasions this kind of resistance is because of depression’s uncertain status as illness. No one disagrees that cancer is an illness. When you have cancer you accept that you need surgery or radiation or chemotherapy. These are things that you normally wouldn’t do to your body if you were healthy and you didn’t need them. Cancer is clearly different from normal. But depression has this ambiguous status for two reasons. It is an ambiguous word in the English language because it refers both to an illness which can be extremely severe, yet it also refers to a mood that’s normal and that everybody at some point in their lives gets a little bit depressed. We might have disagreements about how long it has to go on and how severe it has to be to be considered an illness. But it becomes something different when we call it an illness. Secondly why I think depression’s status is a bit uncertain, is that there continue to be people who reject medical models for what we call mental illness altogether. Some might believe what people need is talk therapy and they shouldn’t have drugs or shock therapies or anything like that. Some might believe that they don’t need any treatment at all; they might want to de-medicalize the entire thing. For example, for something to qualify as disease, there has to be some kind of lesion, or something physical that can be identified. Since we don’t have the means to do that with depression, it should be removed from the medical realm. I argue against this view. The idea that there has to be some kind of visual marker is arbitrary. I do think what we consider an illness is a social decision. But if you look at it historically and anthropologically, the idea that things we call madness are medical problems is pretty widespread. And in some ways having to have something be visually identifiable is buying into a lot of biomedical hegemony. I just don’t see why that should be the criteria for illness. Ultimately it’s a philosophical question. Most people in our society do accept that severe depression actually constitutes an illness category, but I think these kinds of ambiguities leave people unsure whether this is something worthy of very strong medicine. ECT is strong medicine. It’s a big decision to undergo ECT and it’s the right decision for some people. It’s a decision that shouldn’t be made lightly and shouldn’t be treated like a trip to the dentist.

  1. Is there anything else you want to add?

I was really gratified by the number of anthropologists who read and used my first book on insanity in Nigeria, Imperial Bedlam (available here), and I would be thrilled if anthropologists gave this book the same attention. And I’d also like to add that Routledge says there will probably be a paperback within the next year and a half.

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Article Highlight: Vol 40 Issue 4, Media Representations of Opioid Misuse

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The December 2016 issue of Culture, Medicine & Psychiatry is now available here. In this series of article highlights, we will explore publications included in the latest issue. This week, we present a highlight on Julie Netherland and Helena B. Hansen’s “The War on Drugs That Wasn’t: Wasted Whiteness, ‘Dirty Doctors,’ and Race in Media Coverage
of Prescription Opioid Misuse.” 
The article is accessible in full here.

The authors open their discussion by remarking that the media in the United States has increasingly honed in on heroin and opioid use and misuse by white individuals, particularly featuring stories like that of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. However, throughout these articles, race is typically not mentioned in conjunction with white opioid users. At the same time, the media has historically depicted drug users as “black and brown,” and demonized these individuals as criminals whose drug use behaviors should be heavily policed.

Thus, the authors assert that there is a “narcotic apartheid” in the media, in which white drug users are insulated from the racist narratives that are attached to opioid misuse amongst non-white individuals. Coded language is typically used to delineate users by race: for instance, using “suburban” or “rural” to refer to white opioid users versus “urban” to indicate non-white users. Classist undertones also shape these narratives, as rural methamphetamine users are derided as ‘hillbillies’ who threaten the moralized order of “whiteness” as suburban and middle class. The type of drugs themselves have taken on racist and classist meanings, such that prescription drug misuse (often ascribed to wealthier, white individuals) is under-prosecuted compared to the use of methamphetamine (poorer, white individuals) and crack cocaine (people of color.)

Despite this, the authors state, it is the racist narrative that remains most prominent in media accounts. Through systematic coding and analysis, Netherland and Hansen found that middle-class white drug users are almost universally characterized in news stories as having “wasted” potential and being “victims” of a challenging climate of drug misuse. They also discovered that stories about drug misuse amongst people of color was not viewed as “newsworthy.” When it was reported, articles focused largely on arrests made or on convictions of drug-related crimes, or on the networks that linked drugs from black and Latina communities to white individuals in the suburbs. In the stories of white opioid users, the articles shifted blame away from the individuals, suggesting they did not ‘intend’ to become addicted. When discussing how to address white drug misuse, the articles most frequently turned to physicians’ prescription practices and the threat of over-prescription. Thus, the solution proposed entails greater regulation of prescription habits: again, beyond the level of the individual user.

Articles on opioid use amongst predominantly non-white, “urban” populations overwhelmingly suggested increased “criminal justice involvement” as the most appropriate response. These articles tended not to craft the stories of non-white opioid users as tragic or accidental. This centralized blame for addiction on non-white opioid users, whereas as noted before, white opioid users tended not to be blamed for their behavior. Further deepening these racist undertones was that the “dirty doctors” (those willing to prescribe opioids to predominantly white patients) reported on in the news were often themselves people of color or immigrants.

The authors conclude that characterizations of opioid news articles as “color-blind” due to the inclusion of stories on white users is misleading. While they agree that the representations of white opioid users demonstrates the impact of drug misuse across racial boundaries, there remains coded language that systematically disparages and marginalizes people of color who use these substances. Netherland and Hansen state that “in short, the problem of race and opioids cannot stop with expansion of access to treatment. Clinicians and health advocates have to address institutional racism, as reflected in media coverage of inner city heroin use versus the prescription opioid epidemic, if they want to dismantle racial exclusions in drug interventions” (page 680.)

Book Release: Tomes’ “Remaking the American Patient”

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Images via UNC Press website

Released in January 2016 from the University of North Carolina Press is Nancy Tomes’ Remaking the American Patient: How Madison Avenue and Modern Medicine Turned Patients into Consumers. Through historical and cultural analysis, Tomes illuminates the threads between public relations and marketing in medicine, asking throughout: how have patients in the United States come to view health care as a commodity to be “shopped” for? What connections are shared between the history of medicine and the growth of consumer culture? Likewise, Tomes investigates what it means to be a “good patient” in this system of marketed care, and how “shopping” for care can both empower and disorient patients in the contemporary age. She also reviews the resistance, and ultimate yielding, of the medical profession to this model of care seeking. The book was recently reviewed in the New York Times (read the article here.)

The book will prove insightful for both historians of medicine and medical anthropologists who study the political-economic landscape of biomedicine and patienthood in the United States. It will also speak to conversations in bioethics about patient autonomy, choice, and medical decision-making.

About the Author

Nancy Tomes serves as professor of history at Stony Brook University. She is also the author of The Gospel of Germs: Men, Women, and the Microbe in American Life, published by Harvard University Press (details here.)

Have you published a recent book in medical anthropology, history of medicine, social medicine, or medical humanities? Email our blog editor (Julia Knopes) at jcb193@case.edu with a link to the book’s page at the academic publisher’s website, and we will feature it here.

Issue Highlight: Vol 39 Issue 4, Stimulant Use in the University

This blog post is the last in a three-part series highlighting our newest installment of Culture, Medicine & Psychiatry (released December 2015) which readers can access here. This week, we explore Petersen, Nørgaard, and Traulsen’s research on the use of prescription stimulants amongst university students in New York City. The full article is available here.


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In recent dialogues on the widespread use of prescription stimulants amongst university students, drugs are often described as enhancing productivity or a student’s ability to successfully focus on academic work. However, Petersen, Nørgaard, and Traulsen found that university students in New York City often cited the use of these drugs as rendering their work more pleasurable, “fun,” and “rewarding.” Their study included 20 students spanning BA, MA, and PhD programs: representing a diverse sample that, in the aggregate, universally suggested that the use of stimulants in an educational setting was not centrally connected to academic output or production. This outcome, the researchers assert, complicates existing neoliberal readings of American personhood, premised on the idea that the self is primarily cultivated and disciplined through labor and individual productivity.

For example, rather than feeling shameful about using stimulants to improve study skills or produce better work, the students instead expressed guilt for enjoying their academic labors and for transforming “monotonous” and “boring” activities into an engaging experience. The “optimization” of the mind to perform intensive intellectual labor was not related strictly to productivity, which would evoke traditional neoliberal notions of the person-as-producer. Instead, the students described the drugs as optimizing pleasure first, which rendered them more productive as a secondary consequence.

Take this instance: a 32-year old PhD student, identified as Ben, reported using Adderall when he felt too “lazy” to initiate work. Rather than continuing by discussing the extent of his productivity while on the drug, he instead explains that the drug makes him eager “to tackle” his projects. This is often the case for students who struggle to find the desire to complete academic tasks that are not interesting enough to begin without being made pleasurable through stimulant use. Further, another student added that using stimulants helped him to “reconnect” with his interest in sociology during a difficult class on social science theory. In other cases, using Adderall kept students from being distracted from social media or entertainment websites: not because they lacked the inherent ability to be productive, but because without the drug, these sources of interest were simply more engaging than the work at hand. In other instances, students noted that stimulants made them feel more secure and positive about the quality of their work, and helped them to diminish the physical and mental stresses that came with “all-nighters,” or extended overnight studying stints.

Throughout all these cases, enhancement is not described as a means to make the human brain meet the demands of a “high-speed society.” Instead, “enhancement” relates to students’ satisfaction with their resulting work, to their enjoyment of otherwise “boring” tasks, and to reduced the negative psychosomatic effects of studying or working on a limited time frame.

The authors do not eschew the neoliberal model through these cases: indeed, they suggest that the use of stimulants does have cognitive effects that bolster students’ abilities to produce academic work. However, they note that we must complicate a strictly neoliberal model that would indicate that stimulants are employed by students strictly in order to achieve a certain amount of studying or to complete an assigned amount of work. Enhancement may include productivity, but for students who use stimulant drugs, it also involves increasing the pleasure of finishing intellectual labors, and decreasing the negative consequences of engaging in challenging or otherwise tedious academic work.

In this way, cognitive-enhancing drugs indeed fortify the mind and the conception of the self as a producer and academic laborer. However, they also shape human experience by altering students’ sense of confidence, their satisfaction with academic work, and their passion for their chosen topics of study. In these ways, enhancement drugs not only increase productivity in the neoliberal sense: they also broadly impact notions of pleasure and individual ability related to students’ quest to heighten academic production.

 

 

From the Archive: AMC’s Breaking Bad, Empowerment, and Terminal Illness

In the “From the Archive” series, we highlight articles published throughout the journal’s history. We look forward to sharing with our readers these samples of the innovative research that CMP has published on the cultural life of medicine across the globe.


In “From the Archive,” we generally highlight older publications from the journal and discuss their importance for medical anthropology and cultural studies of medicine today. This week, we are taking a turn to revisit a newer piece from 2013 that has been one of CMP’s most popular articles: Mark A. Lewis’ “From Victim to Victor: ‘Breaking Bad’ and the Dark Potential of the Terminally Empowered.”

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Lewis, an oncologist, opens by describing a recent shift in the treatment of cancer. With new and experimental treatments growing in number, patients are encouraged to feel hopeful about therapy for their cancer, rather than defeated in the face of a potentially terminal condition. These new scientific innovations in treatment, therefore, are altering the rhetorics surrounding cancer diagnoses. Cancer is something to be overcome, or even battled. In the age of the “Live Strong” campaign, and the casting of cancer patients into fighters, new notions of what it means to endure this illness are developing.

The key to AMC’s Breaking Bad, Lewis argues, is that the creators seize upon this new model of the cancer patient and then betray the audience’s expectations that his battle against illness is a “noble” one. Rather than having a diagnosis opening a realm to hope, it lends Walter White the potential to take risks he would not have taken in good health. Imminent death “emboldens” Walter, yet this newfound audacity is channeled towards selfish, perhaps prideful, and certainly criminal ends.

Lewis notes that these behavioral, psychological shifts in cancer patients come under the purview of a new field deemed psycho-oncology. This budding discipline addresses the mental wellness and conditions of cancer patients, whose diagnosis carries somatic as well as psychological effects. As the article suggests, stress for cancer patients extends beyond the worries they have about the severity of their illness: it includes anxiety about the financial and personal costs of the treatment needed to ‘battle off’ the disease. For White, this entails not only having the means to treat his illness and support his family, but also to be self-sustaining, hence why he turns down assistance from wealthy benefactors and instead makes and sells crystal meth.

Walter White therefore follows in the steps of a cancer patient whose diagnosis opens a realm of possibilities and encourages him to take risks in fighting off his condition. However, this transformation alters what victory means for Walter. As he descends deeper into the meth business, the terms of victory are no longer noble. Walter murders his competitors, and after the publication of Lewis’ article, declares at the end of the series that his drug-dealing empire is what gives him life. His pride is in his business, not in overcoming his cancer. Walter’s potential is unlocked by the cancer, yet he subverts the narrative of a “noble” patient who survives his dire diagnosis. His cancer has merely positioned him to accomplish what he would have not otherwise set out to do.

Lewis’ article demonstrates the centrality of illness narratives and new models of illness experience to popular media. His article draws on medical science, popular health campaigns, and on modern-day encounters with terminal illness to inform viewers’ expectations of what path patients might, and should, follow.

To access the article and read an abstract, click here:

http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11013-013-9341-z

Guest Blog: Reflections on Antibiotic Use in American Hospitals

This week, we are featuring a special guest blog written by Katharina Rynkiewich from Washington University in St. Louis. Today, she tells us about her experiences researching antibiotic use among infectious disease practitioners in Chicago, Illinois. If you would like to submit a guest blog entry on your research, please send a 500-700 word piece to social media editor Julia Balacko at jcb193@case.edu.


In the spring of 2013, I conducted research on hospital-based infectious disease specialists in Chicago. Although my participants had a lot to say about antibiotic resistance, I was most surprised at how they characterized and criticized fellow clinicians’ use of antibiotics in relation to resistant disease strains. In hospitals, they suggested, the regulation of antibiotics has changed drastically in the past half century. Some of the older infectious disease specialists I interviewed remembered a time when antibiotic overuse was rampant within the hospital setting. “Anyone could prescribe antibiotics,” my participants complained when describing that era. Clinicians and hospital officials at that time had little reason to expect that antibiotic resistance would become the expensive, lethal, and complicated problem that it is today.

In health care settings now, there is more regulation concerning the use of antibiotics. Clinicians are experiencing a lull in the production of antibiotics for infectious diseases, and practitioners must make do with the limited antibiotic supplies they have. Today, there are systematic hospital reviews of antibiotic use to monitor how often the drugs are used. However, most practitioners can still prescribe antibiotics with little oversight. Procedurally, the review of antibiotics in the hospital setting is an enormous task, and an adjustment of patient treatment plans may not occur until after the first few doses of an antibiotic have been given. There is room, therefore, for antibiotic-resistant diseases to generate as misuse and overuse of antibiotics still occurs.

One way to mitigate overuse employed was the notion of antibiotic stewardship: an idea that the infectious disease specialists I interviewed frequently emphasized. “Stewardship” here refers to the responsibility of certain clinicians to manage antibiotic prescription and usage. The infectious disease specialists expressed a desire to have more control over the distribution of antibiotics in hospital settings, leaving surgery to the surgeon and cancer to the oncologist. The infectious disease staff wished for this level of control over antibiotic use despite the fact that both surgeons and oncologists can prescribe antibiotics independently, meaning antibiotics are not managed by one clinical care specialty. When asked whether, in general, practitioners today realize the importance of antibiotic stewardship in light of the dangers of antibiotic resistant infections, one infectious disease practitioner joked, “Which doctors?” My data show that  many infectious disease specialists note that their management of antibiotic resistance is quite a challenge because most other physicians within and outside of hospitals may readily prescribe them.

This issue is especially pressing because illnesses themselves are rarely treated with one biomedical intervention, or by one clinician. Few patients can be treated for one disease with one corresponding treatment, meaning that patients’ cases are managed with a variety of therapies and by a number of doctors. Patients can also have multiple conditions, again meaning that multiple types of practitioners can prescribe antibiotics for these patients at different points in their hospital stay. In these complex networks of caregiving, who gets the power to give antibiotics might not always be clear, or there might be tension when deciding who gets to limit the drug’s use. Indeed, when an infectious disease specialist is added to a patient’s chart, they are often added as a consult, meaning their advice may not be adhered to by the primary physician.

Certainly, we can expect that infectious disease specialists want professional autonomy over the management of antibiotic drugs, which means limiting and surveying the drug’s accessibility to other clinicians. But to do so, this would mean that other practitioners would have to agree to the control of part of their treatment plans by an outside party. This relationship of competing interests and access to antibiotics leads to disagreements and struggles of bureaucratic power in the hospital. As it stands, the future of antibiotic resistance rests in the hands of all practitioners who must negotiate who gets to prescribe, and who gets to control, the use of antibiotics.


About the Author: Katharina Rynkiewich

I am a PhD student in Anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis. My current research involves studies of infectious disease practitioners and treatment of infectious disease in hospital settings, and will focus on hospital policy regarding infection and epistemic differences among specialty groups of physicians. In 2013, I completed a masters program (MAPSS) at the University of Chicago, and research for this post was done in partial fulfillment of this masters.

AAA 2014: Sessions on Psychiatry, Mental Illness, and Drugs

For our readers attending the American Anthropological Association annual meeting this year, we’re featuring a list of sessions sure to pique your interest in various aspects of mental illness, health, drugs, and psychiatric care. The following selection of sessions was drawn from this year’s AAA online presentation schedule for the 2014 annual meeting, to be held this year in Washington, DC from December 3-7th (for more information, click here: http://www.aaanet.org/meetings). Sessions in the list are organized by chronological date and time.

If you would like your session to be added to this list, please email a link to the session description on the AAA website to: jcb193@case.edu.

Global Mental Healthcare: Challenges, Controversies and Innovations

Wednesday, December 3rd 2pm-3:45pm

http://aaa.confex.com/aaa/2014/webprogram/Session12926.html

“Global” Knowledge, “Local” Care, and Subjectivity: Producing an Anthropology of Psychosis

Wednesday, December 3rd 2pm-3:45pm

http://aaa.confex.com/aaa/2014/webprogram/Session11392.html

Psyche and the Brain in the 21st Century

Wednesday, December 3rd 4pm-5:45pm

http://aaa.confex.com/aaa/2014/webprogram/Session11636.html

Transcendance and the Everyday in Responses to Trauma

Thursday, December 4th 2:30-4:15pm

http://aaa.confex.com/aaa/2014/webprogram/Session11838.html

What Drugs Produce

Saturday, December 6th 9am-10:45am

http://aaa.confex.com/aaa/2014/webprogram/Session11124.html

Psychological Disorder and Subjectivity in Socio-Political Context

Saturday, December 6th 11am-12:45pm

http://aaa.confex.com/aaa/2014/webprogram/Session12768.html

Ordering, Morality and Triage: Producing Medical Anthropology Beyond the Suffering Subject Part 2: Mental Health and Illness

Saturday, December 6th 2:30pm-4:15pm

http://aaa.confex.com/aaa/2014/webprogram/Session11809.html

Professional Perspectives in the Anthropology of Drugs

Saturday, December 6th 6:30pm-8:15pm

http://aaa.confex.com/aaa/2014/webprogram/Session11263.html