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Fracture: Adventures of a broken body

Copyright Date: 2007
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    The starting point of Ann Oakley's fascinating book is the fracture of her right arm in the grounds of a hotel in the USA. What begins as an accident becomes a journey into some critical themes of modern Western culture: the crisis of embodiment and the perfect self; the confusion between body and identity; the commodification of bodies and body parts; the intrusive surveillance and profiteering of medicine and the law; the problem of ageing; and the identification of women, particularly, with bodies - from the intensely ambiguous two-in-one state of pregnancy to women's later transformation into unproductive, brittle skeletons. Fracture mixes personal experience (the author's and other people's) with 'facts' derived from other literatures, including the history of medicine, neurology, the sociology of health and illness, philosophy, and legal discourses on the right to life and people as victims of a greedy litigation system. The book's genre spans fiction/non-fiction, autobiography and social theory.

    eISBN: 978-1-84742-236-1
    Subjects: Health Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. iii-iii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. iv-vi)
  4. 1. An accident at White Creek Lodge
    (pp. 1-10)

    The three of us had planned a short break before a conference in Denver, Colorado. Clare had found the hotel on the internet. It described itself as a ‘Lodge’, and attracted custom at this time of year with a decor of fairy lights hung over snowy trees, artificial log-burning stoves, and menus of floridly described American food – homemade wildberry muffins, pork ribs with maple BBQ sauce, French fried corn fritters, and so forth. ‘Nestled in the foothills of the Rockies’ said the internet blurb, ‘White Creek Lodge is a quaint and charming country inn, featuring antique quilts and comfortable overstuffed...

  5. 2. Our bodies, ourselves
    (pp. 11-30)

    I arrive home with my X-rays and a copy of my medical notes. The X-ray films reorganise my body, the living flesh of my arm, so that only the hard white lines of the surgeon’s metalwork are really visible (see Figure 1). Screws jut out from a shining metallic motorway in a series of dead end streets before the motorway curves into a meccano-like structure made up of yet more screws and plates – the complex roundabout of an entirely mechanical elbow. The roundabout rests on what looks like an ordinary domestic screw – not the sort of object you’d choose to...

  6. 3. Nervous disorder
    (pp. 31-44)

    Oliver Sacks fell over on a Norwegian mountain after an encounter with a bull. His main injury was to the muscles and nerves in one of his legs. A surgeon in a local hospital operated on his leg, saying, ‘We’ll just reconnect you’. According to the surgeon, the leg’s function had been perfectly restored, and Sacks’ notes were marked with the term ‘uneventful recovery’. However, when the plaster cast was taken off, Sacks couldn’t feel his leg. ‘There was absolutely no sensation whatever,’ he noted. ‘It was clear that I had a leg which looked anatomically perfect, and which had...

  7. 4. Right hands
    (pp. 45-58)

    Hands, or parts of them, are offered as proxies for life in many cultures,¹ but nine out of ten people, when shown photographs of hands, are unable to recognise their own among them.²

    The hand has twenty seven bones, thirty joints, thirty three muscles, three peripheral nerves and an extensive vascular system. It’s a ‘delicate and complicated multisystem organization’ with an ‘intricate anatomy’.³ Sir Charles Bell, who wrote a textbook about the hand in 1832, was one of many to wax lyrical about the properties of the hand: ‘The human hand is so beautifully formed, it has so fine a...

  8. 5. The daily drama of the body
    (pp. 59-70)

    Virginia Woolf made some acute observations about the body in her essay, ‘On being ill’, in 1930: ‘People write always of the doings of the mind,’ she complained, ‘the thoughts that come into it; its noble plans; how the mind has civilised the universe. They show it ignoring the body in the philosopher’s turret; or kicking the body, like an old leather football, across leagues of snow and desert in the pursuit of conquest or discovery’.

    Woolf would have used the word ‘embodiment’ had it been invented then. She had a totally modern understanding of how our experience of everyday...

  9. 6. Living corpses
    (pp. 71-94)

    Living bodies are just animated corpses. The first recorded dissection of a human body was performed in Bologna in 1315,¹ although it probably started much earlier, around 300 BC in the Nile Delta.² Examination of corpses was increasingly seen as an essential methodological tool for European doctors. Most of the early post-mortems were done in winter to prevent putrefaction, and on the bodies of executed criminals as a sort of final punishment. However, reverence for the dignity of human beings was too strong among the Greeks to allow dissection of dead bodies in Hippocratic medicine, and traditional medicine in China...

  10. 7. Old bones
    (pp. 95-114)

    As a child, I used to lie in bed waiting for my mother to say goodnight to me. It was a time of day quite as agonising in its own small way as Proust’s nightly longing for his mother’s kiss, but, unlike Proust’s anticipation, mine prompted distracting observations about gender, ageing and the body. My mother’s knees creaked. That’s how I knew when to expect her arrival in my bedroom. Like an aeroplane coming in to land, the noises were at first distant and then louder and then very loud, until they stopped as she cruised down the corridor to...

  11. 8. Two in one
    (pp. 115-126)

    Lori and Reba Schappell are sisters, living together in the same US town, but they never go shopping together because Reba likes shopping efficiently with a list, while Lori browses and impulse buys.¹ There’s nothing extraordinary about such differences between members of the same family. What’s out-of-the-ordinary here is that Lori and Reba are conjoined twins. They’re joined at the head: one body flows without boundaries into the other. Going shopping separately therefore calls for more than the usual sisterly techniques of agreeing to spend time apart. If Reba goes shopping with her list, Lori is there but not there:...

  12. 9. The law of uncivil actions
    (pp. 127-146)

    Three and a half years after the accident at White Creek Lodge, I sit on the floor of my living room in London surrounded by files and papers sprouting multicoloured post-it notes. Holding up my right hand, I promise ‘to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth’. The room is empty, but only afterwards do I realise the absurdity of the right-hand gesture.

    I am very nervous. This is an episode in the long drawn out case ofOakley v White Creek Lodge. The case is about the law relating to accidental injury, but it’s also...

  13. 10. Accidental bodies
    (pp. 147-154)

    The bodies that we’re born with, or into, are accidents: unforeseeable chance results of genes, environment, history, time and place. We don’t choose our bodies, nor much of what happens to them. But it’s difficult to separate the fate of the body and of the self: the two are tied together in the resistance of the body’s corporeality, this material package of blood, flesh and bones, wrapped up in a human skin. We have to take our bodies with us on our journey through life, and then, when they don’t work any more, we or someone else must decide how...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 155-182)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 183-186)