Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College
Sociology

Departmental News Archive

  • Trudi Schultz '14 "Are You Better Yet?" Reflections on Chronic Illness

    “Are you better yet?” This is a frustrating question for people with chronic disease. By Trudi Schultz ’14

    by Trudi Schultz '14

    “How little the real sufferings of illness are known or understood. How little does anyone in good health fancy him or herself into the life of a sick person?”-Florence Nightingale

    “Are you better yet?” This is a frustrating question that people living with chronic illnesses are all too familiar with hearing. If they say no, they sometimes get accused of “babying” themselves, being whiney or too pessimistic but if they say yes, they’re only living a lie. The second answer is more comfortable for the people asking the question but it’s only hurting the person who is already suffering. So, if you have a chronic illness, how do you respond? The answer is, “sort of.” Because if it’s chronic, that’s the point; it’s never going to go away and there is no “cure.” When you have a chronic illness, people often oscillate between periods of acute symptoms and other phases where they are “back to normal.” Chronic illness can take many forms and their trajectories range from slight interferences in one’s life to something life threatening.
    However, it is the periods in between those extremes that often get brushed aside. These chronic illnesses are the ones that the sufferer can push through and act completely normal, tricking everyone into believing that is the case. But too often, they must suffer in silence because these are the invisible illnesses. These are the ones that do cause disturbances in life but aren’t devastating enough to truly be viewed with pity and sympathy by our society, like something fatal. But people do suffer, and they suffer even more from the stings of questions like, “Are you better yet,” “You just need to take your mind off of it,” or, my personal favorite, “You just need to learn to handle your stress better.”
    My best friend’s mother suffers from Chiari malformation, an abnormality which results in pressure being placed on a portion of the brain at the base of the skull—the cerebellum—and causes severe headaches, dizziness and weakness. It can be addressed surgically to try and relieve some pressure, but there is no cure. Sometimes she goes weeks without symptoms but other days result in crippling migraines that no medication will relieve. My godmother’s daughter has alopecia, an autoimmune disease that targets the hair follicles, causing patches of hair to fall out. She isn’t “sick,” but think how you would feel if you had to wear a wig on your wedding day. Since then, she has not had to deal with it as severely, but she developed Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), another autoimmune disease, which attacks the joints. Although there are medications to “manage” it, there is no cure for this either and as she struggles to keep up with a five-year-old daughter, she also struggles with aching joints.
    I have TMJD, or Temporomandibular joint disorder. The TMJ is a sliding hinge joint directly in front of your ear that connects the jawbone to the skull and it’s largely taken for granted. Just think about how many times a day you use this joint when speaking, eating, chewing, laughing or yawning. Now imagine an intense pain there. Of course, pain is a ranging scale. Maybe you’ve stubbed your toe for a second, gotten shin splints from a particularly hard sprinting session, or a headache from not sleeping enough. Or maybe you’ve gone in for exploratory surgery, having a three-inch piece of your mandible removed to diagnose a bone infection. I’ve done these things, but I’ve also experienced searing, shooting pain in my TMJ that makes me clench my teeth, even though that only makes it worse. I have had such bad pain in this area that it wakes me up in the middle of the night feeling like someone just threw a brick at my jaw and all I can do is take some pain medication and wait with an ice pack for it to kick in. I have known what it’s like to be in excruciating pain. But I have also dealt with the excruciating frustration at people’s reactions because of it.
    Like pain, TMJ cases vary. This past summer, I patiently listened as my dental hygienist read my chart and said, “Oh, you have TMJ? Me too! You know, sometimes when I wake up my jaw feels a little stiff, but if I just open and close it a few times, it’s fine. Have you tried that?”
    Then, there are the “veteran” TMJ patients. These are the people who actually, like me, clench or grind their teeth subconsciously at night. This is also called bruxism. They are the ones who say things like, “Have you tried those night guards at CVS? Have you tried taking some Ibuprofen?”
    But mine is not the usual case of TMJ, though I wish it were. I go through what my oral surgeon and I have come to call “flare-ups;” periods of intense symptoms that cause my joint to swell, resulting in reduced opening of my jaw. The best sensation I can describe is opening your jaw and then having it lock up after a few centimeters. Sometimes, if I catch it early enough, I can take an anti-inflammatory before the swelling gets really bad. Other times, the swelling progresses rapidly to the point where I can’t even open my jaw enough to fit a spoon or fork with food on it in my mouth. So I eat yogurt and drink liquids until it subsides in about a week. But before I get there, I take the harsh anti-inflammatory, Prednisolone, to attack the swelling. This drug brings on a whole other set of obstacles. Right on the side of the bottle, a warning reads, “May cause dizziness”, which is a crippling symptom if you’re walking around a college campus. So while I deal with waking up in intense pain every three hours and the side effects of prednisolone, there’s also just the whole life outside of the flare up that doesn’t stop. Friends and teachers understand when you say you aren’t feeling well today because you caught the Flu, but some don’t understand when you say, “I’m having a flare up of TMJ.” It takes about a good week to quell the swelling and for my joint to return to normal, not to mention the usual week of weaning off the prednisolone, but college can’t get put on hold for seven days. Life moves quickly and it doesn’t wait for the body to become healthy again.
    Sometimes, the biggest problem with chronic illnesses, is not just dealing with the pain and other symptoms, but the ways people react to your invisible illness, including health care providers. Too often, chronic illnesses are about making patients into actors. Pain can be managed with medication, trial and error systems of treatments can be administered, and activities can be avoided that worsen symptoms. We’re taught to sweep everything under the rug, to be fighters, to maintain Oscar-worthy performances of normality, even during our worst flare-ups. Because after all, “at least it can’t kill you.” But people with chronic illnesses don’t just deal with living with something that will never be cured, they deal with re-organizing their life around the affliction. They know perhaps better than anyone that nothing rings truer than the old saying, “if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything.” People with chronic illnesses are losing a major possession that everyone else usually takes for granted. They live with this realization, in addition to their illness symptoms, every day. So, on behalf of everyone who suffers in silence while putting on their best act, please don’t ever ask someone with a chronic illness if they’re “better yet,” , because they probably aren't. Just ask "how are you doing?"

  • Let’s Grow Old, So We Can Get Sick

    …and stay sick because there will not be anyone there to help us. By Wyll Everett ’14

    Let's Grow Old, So We Can Get Sick

    by Wyll Everett '14

    Wyll Everett '14

    Wyll Everett '14

    And stay sick because there will not be anyone there to help us.

    Along with its statistics on life expectancy (a list the United States does not lead), the World Health Organization (WHO) calculates a Disability-Adjusted Life Expectancy (DALE) for most countries. The DALE represents how many healthy years someone born in the U.S. can expect to live on average, a measure that is always below life expectancy in a country. Even though life expectancy in the U.S. has been rising steadily since the early twentieth century, the DALE affirms that a fraction of this “gained” life will most likely be devoted to illness. Illness will consume more of Americans’ lives than those in any other industrialized nation. During our final years we will live with illness because death today is not often caused by the terrible, but quick, infections of the past. The majority of death in the U.S. comes from chronic diseases, the three most prevalent being heart disease, cancer, and lower respiratory diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). This trend has been growing steadily for years. We would imagine that the close to 20 percent of its total expenditures which the U.S. spent on health care in 2011 would be working to address this clear health issue in our nation. Unfortunately, this is not true.
    The chronic illness plaguing approximately half of the U.S. population will need to be addressed with new medical facilities, treatments, and mentalities. But this change can be facilitated only if we actually train people to treat chronic diseases. As of now, the goal of Western medicine is to cure. And if medicine does not currently have a cure, the medical community will bide its time by keeping people out of the hospital. The U.S. health care system is designed for acute care; if there is an immediate problem (e.g. heart attack, unbearable pain) physicians will treat it, so that a patient may go home.

     

    The end of days

    The end of days

    Chronic diseases are the cause of a major portion of hospital visits in the U.S. The immediate problem in these visits is that a patient still has a chronic disease when he leaves the hospital. Because physicians cannot reliably provide a cure, they simply alleviate symptoms to a tolerable level. When these symptoms become unbearable again, patients return to the doctor and he will fix them again, for the time being. This means that the daily treatment of chronic disease -- necessary because of the daily struggles of chronic disease -- is performed by the non-medically-trained, ill patients. And right now, the U.S. does not provide a better option because, truly, no one is trained to provide this type of care.
    Medical schools teach our future doctors what these chronic diseases are, why they happen, and how to handle them when approached by a symptomatic patient. Then students will train on the job, practicing treating chronic diseases. But where does all of this training occur? Well, where we like to think most sick people are, in a hospital. The only time a physician sees someone for heart disease is when that person just had (or is very close to having) a heart attack. Doctors learn to treat the attack and stabilize the patient, and then the patient gets to leave. No part of the medical curriculum includes how to help a patient, over time, deal with the daily hassles of living with chronic disease. The most trained caregivers in medicine in our country are not trained to provide the adequate consistent care needed by aging patients.
    Even the doctors who are the most consistent medical caregivers in a patient’s life, primary care physicians, are trained in the same way. These doctors usually train in hospitals or large practices and patients -- more critically -- generally see them at most twice a year. So when the Affordable Care Act takes full effect, with its provision to provide financial incentives to motivate medical students to become primary care physicians, are we truly gaining more doctors that can provide the help needed by those suffering from chronic diseases? The answer is clearly, no.
    The closest we have to daily caregivers are nurses, nursing assistants, and particularly home care aides that visit patients regularly at home or look after them in nursing homes. They are critical in the health care delivery system but these professionals receive even less training than physicians do. And much of their work is helping patients with daily tasks that are now difficult (e.g. bathing, eating), not management of a disease or its symptoms. Simply, we do not train anybody to help the millions of people in the U.S. that suffer from the daily trials of living with a chronic illness.
    So let us enjoy our longer lives as best we can. In the end we will be sick and, most days, we will be stuck dealing with our medical issues without much help.

  • Margaret Walsh, Professor of Sociology at Keene State University
Photo credit: Maeve Walsh. Living Sociology

    Knapton Hall was my favorite building when I started at Wheaton.

    Living Sociology
    by Margaret Walsh '91

    Knapton Hall was my favorite building when I started at Wheaton. Professor Grady taught a course called Making Connections, designed to promote demographic literacy and critical thought. He had been to Haiti, Argentina, and Egypt, and he told stories and shared his home movies with us. He urged us to develop our own questions about the world. To begin, we read the classic “Body Ritual among the Nacirema” by anthropologist Horace Miner, which helped us think differently about cultural practices in the United States. Just last month I gave a copy to my dentist after trying to explain “the holy mouth man.”

    After leaving Wheaton I went on to graduate school at the University of New Hampshire. Although I was certified to teach high school, I needed to learn more first. I still have a graduation card from my advisor Professor Yllo, assuring me that I could get a PhD and still have a life. Now I am a professor at Keene State College teaching courses in families, stratification, social problems, and research methods. Even now, I make connections – students to books, books to ideas, new ideas to social networks and service work.

    My research has examined social conditions in rural and urban communities focusing on social inequalities, primarily linking economic changes to the rhythms of family life. Some years ago I began traveling to Nicaragua with students and my colleague, Professor Eleanor Vander Haegen. We team-taught a class on revolution and social change and split our time between urban Managua and a rural farming cooperative in Rio Blanco in the highlands. I am lucky to work in a department where many faculty members are doing international work – in Rwanda, Bosnia, Malaysia, Belize, and Ireland – and students can get involved.

    If you are a student who enjoys sociology, look for others who do too. At the Eastern Sociological Society conference in Baltimore I serve on the undergraduate committee. This year we had over 100 poster submissions from students on topics ranging from barriers to health care, to peer aggression in the classroom to aromatherapy. Choose internships that give you practice in research, statistics, writing, and policy analysis, especially if you are looking for a career outside of education. One of my former students was outstanding at picking up the phone and talking to alumni when she worked for our college’s advancement office. A great conversationalist, she now works in community relations at a local hospital.

    What I value about sociology is learning from others. If you agree, I recommend Dorothy Smith’s Institutional Ethnography: A Sociology for People (2005) who said she finds research exciting because there is plenty of dialogue, but no conclusion. Marjorie DeVault’s People at Work (2008) offers examples of how the “new” global economy shapes work lives. What books are you reading? Contact me at mwalsh@keene.edu

  • Professor John Grady Professor focuses on visual sociology at seminar

    Sociology Professor John Grady travels to Belgium for international seminar.

  • Thumbnail image of Service Sociology and Academic Engagement in Social Problems Service Sociology and Academic Engagement in Social Problems

    A new book edited by Trevino and McCormack asks, “What do sociologists do to respond to social problems, and how do they do it?”

    Edited by A. Javier Trevino and Karen M. McCormack

    This new book challenges sociologists and sociology students to think beyond the construction of social problems to tackle a central question: What do sociologists do with the analytic tools and academic skills afforded by their discipline to respond to social problems? Service Sociology posits that a central role of sociology is not simply to analyse and interpret social problems, but to act in the world in an informed manner to ameliorate suffering and address the structural causes of these problems.

    This volume provides a unique contribution to this approach to sociology, exploring the intersection between its role as an academic discipline and its practice in the service of communities and people.With both contemporary and historical analyses, the book traces the legacy, characteristics, contours, and goals of the sociology of service, shedding light on its roots in early American sociology and its deep connections to activism, before examining the social context that underlies the call for volunteerism, community involvement and non-profit organisations, as well as the strategies that have promise in remedying contemporary social problems.

    Presenting examples of concrete social problems from around the world, including issues of democratic participation, poverty and unemployment, student involvement in microlending, disaster miitigation, the organization and leadership of social movements, homelessness, activism around HIV/AIDS and service spring breaks, Service Sociology and Academic Engagement in Social Problems explores the utility of public teaching, participatory action research, and service learning in the classroom as a contribution to the community.

  • Exploring Society Visually

    by John Grady Visual sociology enters the mainstream. Here’s how…

    by John Grady

    "Exploring Society Visually" consists of fifteen visual essays and slideshows (vignettes) produced to complement various chapters in three introductory sociology textbooks: Dalton Conley’s You May Ask Yourself,  Kerry Ferris and Jill Stein’s The Real World, and Anthony Giddens et. al. Introduction to Sociology, all published by W.W. Norton. Each of the vignette addresses an abiding concern or issue in the study of society today.

    “Unintended Consequences”

    “What do we celebrate today?

    “Young people and altruism?”

    "Who are our superstars and what do they want from us?"

    “Good people and dirty work”

    “Is women’s work still never ending?”

    “How are whites’ racial attitudes changing?”

    “How have kids’ worlds changed?”

    “Do Americans support civil liberties?

    “Occupational prestige in cartoons”

    “Contemporary shrines”

    “Can chronic conditions be solved?”

    “Is sex out of control?”

    “Girly Girl”

    “Is demography destiny?”

  • Miranda's Great Adventure

    As an ESL teacher living in Korea I have a particular skill set. I’m a pro with band-aids. I can fix anything with twine and glue.

    Miranda Joy in class

    Miranda Joy in class

    As an ESL teacher living in Korea I have a particular skill set. I’m a pro with band-aids. I can fix anything with twine and glue. I can break out into song and dance about any topic based on the daily lesson, be it weather, counting, clothes, household rooms, or colors. My charades skills have no equal. If you think a crying child is impossible to handle, you have simply not applied enough stickers. An average day for me involves blood, tears, and loose teeth.

    The ability to teach anything involves the ability to plan, schedule, coordinate large groups of people, and above all, maintain a level head in the face of madness. A teacher must be aware of themselves at all times within the classroom. A teacher can hold the attention of a classroom full of children while working their way through triathlon of structured activities and lessons. In a day I run a marathon. I can tell you exactly what I will be doing in five-minute increments while at work. I have back up lessons for each class and one completely alternate lesson for absolutely crazy days.

    Miranda in class

    Miranda in class

    But where does the sociological aspect come in to play? Teaching in a foreign country demands you learn the culture, the language, the diet, the walk, and the dress of that country before you can even begin to teach. Korean children cannot be understood without first understanding their parents. Korean parents cannot be understood without understanding their parents.

    Korea’s crazy push into a high-tech and modern world of cheap soju and crazy love motels has everything to do with how one should approach teaching in Korea. I’m in charge of socializing children on both Korean behavior and American behavior. I must choose what words my kids learn, the slang they should pick up, and the attitude they assume within my classroom. I’m not allowed the luxury of simply asking “what” of Korea, I must always ask “why” as well.

    Teaching English allows me to really examine the role of language as both a barrier between societies, as well as a dynamic and fluid structure within societies. I must constantly explain why I say ‘knock it off’ when I don’t want them to remove things from their desk, or why English speakers say ‘hang up’ the phone when children have only known cell phones can put a lot into perspective. Tell a child they are eating gummies instead of jellies in Korea and -- surprise! -- you have just told them they are eating spiders. Jokes simply do not translate between languages and puns are doomed from the start.

    Coming to Korea allowed me to step into a complete unknown and structure myself. I go to the gym, volunteer at a homeless shelter twice a week, participate in several writing based groups in Seoul. I keep a detailed schedule of my weeks and I hold myself to those commitments. I don’t flinch at Korea’s more creative meals, and I can navigate the Seoul metro in my sleep. I visit museums, I still go on tourist tours of Korea, and I travel to surrounding countries whenever possible.

    So much of my time in Korea has been spent working to simply understand Korea. I have come to love the idea of ‘couples attire’ and ajumma and ajushi privilege. I will forever crave kimchi with my meals. I know the lyrics to several kpop songs, and when I visit the doctor it costs less than my morning coffee.

    This is my last year teaching. This is also my last year in ROK. I will miss everything about my time here, but I also acknowledge that I am ready to move on. Traveling for me is all about learning to fall in love with uncomfortable bedfellows. It means reevaluating what I know to be correct. I went to the Philippines last year for vacation and wound up staying in Manila and volunteering in a program for feeding and clothing homeless children in the streets. I spent Christmas cooking a meal for over 200 people. Life is funny and fickle and sometimes you wind up eating silkworm pupa and finding it tastes pretty darn good.

    Miranda Joy graduated from Wheaton College in 2012 with a degree in sociology. She participated in the Bhutan program where she worked with the city municipalities as well as the UN in trash collection and coordination. She has been an ESL instructor in Korea since 2012, and – guess what? -- you can find out the meanings of unfamiliar terms by some online exploring.

  • Photo of Chris Kelley smiling, in a red shirt Putting Sociology Skills to Work

    Chris Kelley ‘96 finds sociology is a natural fit for market research and consulting

    Since graduating from Wheaton with a degree in Sociology I have built a 15+ year career in market research. Across my career, I have guided leaders at global companies, universities, and government agencies on their product and marketing strategies based on research that I designed, conducted, analyzed, and presented. I currently work at Forrester Research in Cambridge as a Senior Data Engagement Director. Basically, I work with consumer technology companies (Apple, Microsoft, Samsung, Google, etc.) helping them better understand consumer attitudes, adoption, and usage of technology.

    One of the most gratifying aspects of my career is that the skills I use every day are directly related to the skills I developed in my Sociology studies at Wheaton. These skills include those learned in my classes, in the ample one-on-one time I spent with my professors, and the time that I spent researching, writing and defending my Senior Honor Thesis. These experiences taught me how to design and conduct research, analyze data, translate that data into an easily-understood story, and speak in front of an – often intimidating – audience of professionals.

    When I work with my clients they often ask me where I got my MBA. I always enjoy responding - gently correcting them - that my academic background is in Sociology, not Business. I then explain how Sociology is a natural fit for market research and consulting because of what you learn about the research process from design to presentation. I then go on to say how Wheaton’s academic environment and committed Sociology Department faculty were ideal for developing these skills.

    Chris Kelley ‘96

  • Chris Wellin reviews "Mission Hill and the Miracle of Boston" and other films

    Read the review

    Wellin_Review

  • Saving the Children

    By John Grady
      
    The dramatic decline in infant mortality has lifted a burden of sorrow.

    Real Photo Postcard of Mother with Dead Infant, ca. 1909. Courtesy of Luc Sante

    Real Photo Postcard of Mother with Dead Infant, ca. 1909. Courtesy of Luc Sante

    SAVING THE CHILDREN

    By John Grady

    Pictures of a dead child or other family member were common in the late nineteenth and very early twentieth centuries. It was a way of remembering someone who had never been photographed when they were alive. The pictures seem strangely morbid to us today due in part to the obvious efforts made to make the corpse look alive – eyes propped open, sitting, or even standing. Usually, the live people in the photograph dress formally and are emotionally composed.

    This photograph of a grieving working class mother and her dead child is quite different. We feel her desolation. We see her exhaustion in the slump of her shoulders, her body, and the left arm and hand dangling helplessly at her side. She has a blank stare, but her eyes are alive with sorrow. Her jaw is clenched. The woman standing directly behind the mother looks at her steadily with a gaze that is both tender and sad. This photograph is not a formal moment fixed in amber, but rather an instance of misery. The woman to the left has just turned toward the scene. The blurred motion is distinct enough to create a double exposure that makes the scene come alive and takes us back to a day in 1909 when, next to a plank house on a rough wooden porch, and somewhere in America, a mother grieved as her baby was being prepared for burial.

    When life expectancy improved from forty years to eighty over the course of the twentieth century, it didn’t mean that everyone on average just added another forty years to their lives. There were then, as now, many people who lived well beyond the average life expectancy. Many of us know people in their late eighties and nineties and many did back then. What improved life expectancy really meant was an enormous reduction in child mortality. It was babies and kids getting beyond the hurdles of childhood diseases and infections – and not dying -- that made it possible for many more people to live at all, and in time for a growing number to live quite long lives in good health. In 1900, the infant mortality rate (the number of deaths per one thousand live births for children one and under) was 162 per thousand. As of 2011, it is down to 6 per thousand. In other words, the odds were one out of 6 that a child born in 1900 would not live into a second year. Today, the odds are only one out of 167.

    When we factor in the fertility rate (the total number of children on average that women bear during their lifetimes), we summon up an even bleaker tableau. The fertility rate in 1900 was 6 children per woman. Multiply that by the infant mortality rate (162/1000 times 6) and you have 972/1000 or nearly a statistical certainty that in 1900 a women would lose a child under one year of age at some point during her child bearing years. Today women have a fertility rate of 2. Doing the numbers – 6/1000 times 2 – yields 12/1000, which means that the odds of a woman losing a child in 2013 is roughly one out of eighty.

    Today, young women -- like young men -- are exhorted to be all that they can be and strive to realize their dreams. What could possibly be wrong with wanting to “have it all”: material rewards, a challenging career, supportive relationships and a loving family with children. But, at the turn of the century mothers and grandmothers would never tell their daughters such a thing and instead reminded them that it was women’s lot to suffer. They weren’t being cruel. It was just that knew that it was certain that someday their daughters would be sitting in a chair like the woman in the photograph, holding a dead child, and drowning in sorrow.

    It still happens and when it does the grief is just as deep as it was for this woman whose name we do not know. But the dramatic decline in infant mortality not only ensures that human life is abundant, but also that much of the burden of sorrow for men, and especially women, has been lifted.