The Life of Illness

One Woman's Journey

By Carol T. Olson

Subjects: Health And Society
Series: SUNY series, The Body in Culture, History, and Religion
Paperback : 9780791412008, 203 pages, December 1992
Hardcover : 9780791411995, 203 pages, December 1992

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Table of contents

Introductory Essay: Others



Illness in My Family

Introducing My Work

Chapter 1. Epigraph for Joy

Joy's Diary

Chapter 2. Heartbeat Wrapped With Plastic

Past Lives

Machine Life

My Mother's Response to Illness

Darkness Threatens

Research Objects

Blood Tests



Common Sense Research

Pure Water

To the Law Courts Building

Arthur and I Respond to Dialysis — 1975

Machine Progress


Blood Water

New Bone, New Life

Protection from Medicine

Patient Education for Individual Care

Informed Consent for Individual Care

Illness is Personal

Chapter 3. The Question of Technology

Children of Technology


The Meaning of Speaking and Listening

Chapter 4. The Question of Understanding

Can We Understand?

Hermeneutic Phenomenology

Expressing Our Response to Illness

Experience as Dialogue

Chapter 5. The Question of Theorizing

Theory Building

Theory Finding

Parsons' Theorizing: Professional Health Care

Critiques of Parsons' Theory

Two Revolutionary Experiments

Where Does "Theorizing in Order to Produce a Collective" Lead?

Heidegger's Theorizing: The Homecoming Journey

Chapter 6. A Pathway for Theorizing

Wonder at What Is: Language and Truthfulness

Speech in the Light of Logos: The Work of Art and Theorizing

Kierkegaard's Theorizing: The Freedom of Faith

Theorizing with Examples

Theorizing with Thematic Questions

Responding to Kierkegaard's Theorizing

Taking Up the Journey

Chapter 7. Ivan Ilyitch: One against the Other Searches for the Other

On The Death of Ivan Ilyitch : The Chaplain Speaks

Encounter with Death

Against Death

Against Deception

The Struggle for Truth

The Doctor Gives Hope

Against God

Listening to the Voice of Conscience

Against Self and Family

The Minister Gives Hope

From Hope to Hopelessness

The Miracle of Forgiveness

Set Free

The Meaning of the Last Moment

Letting Go of the Things

Caius to Ivan

Moments to Memories

Invalid to In-valid

Disease to Disease

Pain to Despair

Help to Hope

The needy master

Hope is a promise of help

Judgment to Mercy

All Moments to the Last Moment

Chapter 8. Pauline Erickson: One with the Other

On "Pauline's Diary": The Patient Speaks






Transcending Captivity


Hope for Tomorrow


Hope for Today

The Struggle to be Born into a Life of Illness

Self-pity is Honorable as a Step Away from Self-pity

The Pain of Illness

The pain of illness is loss

The pain of illness is bearing the grief as hope

We Find Refuge in Blessings

Each of Our Days is an Invitation to Live as though it were our Dying Day

To Live is to Give

The Body, After All, is not the Source or the Limit of Our Being

Hope is Stronger than Death

Hope is the acceptance of blessings not yet received

Hope is the longing for healing

Hope is the acceptance of what we cannot understand

We bear the grief of death as hope

Life Gives Us Peace

Chapter 9. Doctor Rieux: One for the Other

On The Plague : The Doctor Speaks

The Fact of the Doctor's Diagnosis

The Doctor Finds Solace

The Meanings of Being a Doctor

To Have a Heart for Healing and No Cure

Life and the Doctor of Death

The Doctor Fights for Life

The Doctor Questions All Values

The Heart of Pity

Science does not Pity

Science because of Pity

The Heart of Pity is "A Sympathy Full of Regret" for "All the Pain"

The heart of pity is the manner of care

The heart of pity is the mortal helping the mortal

The heart of pity is renewed by death

Chapter 10. Florence Nightingale: One by the Other

On Florence Nightingale and Notes on Nursing: The Nurse Speaks

What Nursing Does

Seeing Illness

Light at Night

The Presence of Care

To Be There, a Nurse

To Be There, a Nurse, is to Ease the Dis-ease of Illness

To Be There, a Nurse, is to Remember that the Ill Person Feels Far From Home

To Be There, a Nurse, is to See Pain in the Light of Hope

Chapter 11. Lord Tennyson: One without the Other

On "In Memoriam,": The Mother Speaks

To Speak About Grief

Dark House

The Paradox of Calm

Sharing a Life

Life Stops (The First Christmas After)

"Be Near Me"

Learning to Trust

To be Silent About Grief

Life Goes On (The Second Christmas After)


Song of Hope

Chapter 12. The Homecoming

Children of God

Eddie's Homecoming

Chapter 13. Epilogue

Student of a Research Question

Researching Phenomenological Texts

Yields of the Literary Texts

Yields of the Writing





The Life of Illness tells the story of one woman's courageous struggle with kidney failure, illness, and death. It is, however, a book about life, hope, faith, and the transformative power of caring for one another.

Carol Olson writes "from the heart of experience," having shared a life of illness with two brothers and three sisters, whom she now survives. Her own life has been precariously maintained by kidney dialysis for more than twenty years.

Inspired by the works of philosophers, literary authors, and poets, Olson turns to hermeneutical phenomenology to explore the meaning of the experience of illness. In response to the question, "How can we live with illness?" the author engages in reflective conversations. As patient, she dialogues with literary works of art dealing with illness, developing relationships between texts and others who experience illness from various points of view: the chaplain, the doctor, the nurse, and the parent. Olson makes us aware of the significance of others in their various caring relations with the person of illness. The clarity and deeply compelling nature of her writing makes this book accessible to all whose lives have been touched by these experiences.

The experience of illness and death we all face impels us to wonder with her about the nature of wholeness and health. Ultimately we ask: "What is life?"

Carol T. Olson holds a doctorate in education, and has taught elementary school and university level education in Canada.


"Olson's work is a lesson. It shows to health care professionals and others who are involved in lives of illness that a health care theology, although a hidden paradigm, is a reality. In the midst of a health care system that is primarily dedicated to economics, technology, politics, and industry, Olson gives voice to the hidden paradigm and reminds us that we need to recapture a synthesis between the health care culture and faith." — Qualitative Health Research

"This book has a power and beauty to it because the issues are living ones for the author. Through her eyes, the reader is brought in a profound way into the issues confronting a person with a debilitating illness. This book fundamentally poses a challenge to rethink the effects and consequences of technology and health care practice for human life." — Howard Eilberg-Schwartz, Stanford University

"The author's intimate involvement with technology while she is facing death allows her to capture the finitude of life in many insightful and provocative ways. It is in fact difficult to express the beauty and power contained in this book. The topic is important for those who are in any way involved with health care, nursing, and the healing experience." — Maggie Neal, University of Maryland at Baltimore, School of Nursing