Monday, March 13, 2006

Rhetoric 101: Mind your connotations

I can no longer remember why I bought Friday's Advertiser, since it contains neither real estate pages nor TV ditto, but I was having a belated read of it just then and found a story (can't find a link to it) about Senator Jeannie Ferris that unnerved me enough to want to share her message -- see excerpt of article below -- with everyone who's ever thought that their doctor wasn't taking them seriously enough.

And while you're taking this quotation in, see if there's anything in the way it's written that you don't like. Personally I have a biggish bone to pick. The article, headed 'Insidious killer striking women', is by Nadine Williams and appeared on p 59 of the Advertiser, 10/3/06. Now read on ...

'South Australian Senator Jeannie Ferris ... has just finished her chemotherapy after being diagnosed with stage-two ovarian cancer in October last year. .. Senator Ferris, a strong advocate of health issues for older women, said her own alertness and persistence possibly saved her life. ... "This killer cancer has no real symptoms and is absolutely deadly,' Senator Ferris, who admits being bald and wearing a wig, said. Three weeks ago Senator Ferris finished five months of chemotherapy.

.. Her Adelaide doctor put her fatigue down to either glandular fever or chronic fatigue syndrome. "But when I got to Canberra, I reported to casualty at hospital because I felt so terrible ," she said. "When they said there was nothing wrong, I asked for a CAT scan. The doctor said 'They are expensive' and I said 'I am valuable, and I am not leaving here until I have had one.'"

The following day she was in Sydney where surgeons removed a 4 kg tumour -- about the size of a grapefruit.'

Two things. The obvious one: if you are sure there is something wrong, persist, get a second opinion, and remember that the money -- ruinous as health care now is -- is not worth as much as your own life.

And the other one: the word I object to in this report is 'admits'. It's a word with very strong connotations of guilt and shame. The idea of its being applied to anything at all about Senator Ferris's situation is completely bizarre. Hence the lovely moment in the Sex and the City finale when Sam rips her wig off while she's making her speech and half the women in the audience stand up and do likewise. The idea of being bald (in either sex, for any reason) being something you have to be ashamed of is one of the things that contributes utterly unnecessarily to the sum of human misery.

I'm sure Nadine Williams didn't consciously mean to suggest any of this, but her word choice is extremely revealing, as word choice so very often is. It reminds me of the way people used to talk about the 'innocent victims' of AIDS who had contracted it through transfusion or needlestick injury -- implying that all other AIDS victims were by contrast 'guilty', even though they may not have consciously formulated such a belief.

It can't be said too loudly or too often that the only thing Senator Ferris should be feeling at this point is proud -- of her guts and of her persistence. And if the photo accompanying the article is a bewigged and post-chemo one, then the wig really suits her as well.

1 comment:

elsewhere said...

Yes, that was the very sentence that rubbed when I read through.

Really, you have to trust your own instincts with your health and persist if you think there is something wrong. Unfortunately, this seems to be a set of life skills that can only be learned at the time (usually in crisis).

It must be all the more difficult if you don't speak English as a first language or come from a less than middle class background.