Disease is Not a Disorder of Function, but a Disorder of the Whole Person
by Merridith Izatt


Tony* is a man with an inspiring attitude to his illness. I was fortunate to interview him whilst on my GP placement. In his fifties, he has now lived with the diagnosis of lymphoma for several years. He underwent chemotherapy and as a result, is now in a period of remission. He is very aware that his lymphoma may return in the future, and he also lives with acute and chronic neuralgic pain which he believes to be a direct result of clinical negligence. Nevertheless, Tony is an optimistic and pragmatic man. His resilience suggests that people have intrinsic abilities to maintain their health. I think Tony’s story also has an important point to learn from. I believe that his case clearly shows that it is important for doctors to hear the patient’s story in order to provide effective care. I think Tony’s case also shows a severe failing by the NHS to provide adequate time for GPs to consult with their patients. I believe that this needs to be reviewed. I hope to remember how this doctor may have failed to learn from Tony as a whole person and the serious outcome that this has had on this man’s life.

For my creative piece, I decided to make a flipbook to complement Tony’s story. I have taken as inspiration the many different levels of a patient’s system: planetary, societal, family, beliefs and morals, emotional, functional, ‘organic’ whole person disease, ‘organic’ local disease, disease from molecular dysfunction. Dysfunction at any one level has the potential to cause an effect at another level in a patient’s system. Conversely, intervention can address different levels in their system.

In the background I have drawn a picture that I think symbolizes the level I am depicting. I have drawn Tony’s face over that picture displaying the emotion that I most associate Tony feeling at that level. I drew Tony as passive at a planetary level, distressed at a societal level and also at an organic level. For his family, functional and emotional level I drew Tony as content, and for his beliefs level I drew him as defiant. Drawing Tony really helped me connect to the emotions he feels at particular levels which I think has made me understand him as a whole person in much greater depth.

It is all too easy to meet patients, hear their story but then not reflect on it and remember why their story is important. By creating this piece I feel that I have been able to create a lasting impression of Tony. It also helped me to think about how I felt when interviewing him. I have an overriding memory of Tony as an incredibly happy man and it was impossible to resist being positively influenced by his optimism. Meeting Tony has also altered my perspective of my own situation. I think that being at university, I find it easy to forget that others exist and have concerns outside my own personal ‘bubble’. Tony has made me realize that there are wider issues beyond myself that people have to combat every day.

Merridith Izatt, Whole Person Care, 2012

*Patient’s name has been changed for confidentiality reasons.