Intro to “Notes from a Difficult Case”

“Rage and Reconciliation” was my second issue as managing editor, and I have to admit my heart sank when Lee told me we were going to do an entire issue devoted to healthcare. The topic seemed so abstract and remote. Even Lee had to admit, in his editorial, “Literary magazines usually don’t initiate and publish theme issues devoted to such seemingly non-literary subjects as healthcare.”

But as we read the stacks of essays we received in response to the call for manuscripts—and there were so many stacks, so many stories of misdiagnosis, mistreatment, ineptitude, injustice, and outright cruelty—I had something of a revelation about creative nonfiction as a means for bearing witness.

An op-ed might prick the conscience or get us riled, but only creative nonfiction, by immersing us in the world of the story through scenes and dialogue and the distinct sensibility of the writer, invites us to another life. We can no longer dwell in concepts and generalities. We must move the abstract and remote into the realm of the living. “Rage and Reconciliation” brought the victims of a broken system “close enough to disturb,” as Linda Peeno, MD, wrote in her essay “Burden of Oath.”

That insistence on being heard is what I loved about Ruthann Robson’s essay, “Notes on a Difficult Case.” Robson, a lawyer, was misdiagnosed and nearly killed by an aggressive chemotherapy she didn’t need. Her colleagues encouraged her to sue; she was sure to win. But Robson knew she’d have had to sign away her story, never again write or speak of what had happened, never bear witness. It was a sacrifice she refused to make.

As I write this, we’re on day eleven of a partial government shutdown, Congress remains mired in disagreement over the Affordable Care Act, and I find that “Rage and Reconciliation” was ahead of its time. While we all wait to find out how healthcare will or won’t change in this country, I’m haunted by the words of Beth Kephart, from her essay “The Right Thing”:“We’re just people until we’re hurt or sick, and then we’re something else: we’re patients.”

– Jessica Mesman Griffith

About the Author

Jessica Mesman Griffith

Jessica Mesman Griffith is the author of the memoirs Love and Salt and Strange Journey and a cultural columnist for US Catholic magazine. She’s the cofounder and editorial director of Sick Pilgrim, a website and online community for artists and spiritual seekers, and a co-organizer of the Trying to Say God Conference at the University of Notre Dame.

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