The aim of this study, situated in the field of Rhetoric of Health and Medicine (RHM), is to learn what types of documents and other material artifacts actually work to help patients understand their illness, make them feel supported, and help them make meaning from their medical situation. Our goal is to show how these documents and artifacts achieve certain effects in order to put forward recommendations to medical practitioners, community partners, and those who interact with the ill and recovering about how best to inform and support patients.
When diagnosed with an illness, particularly when chronic, patients can be overwhelmed by all the written materials they receive from doctors, support groups, and even from loved ones. These materials, while intended to inform, help, and support the patient, can have a variety of epistemological consequences: the results of rhetorical knowledge-making often unintended by the author/creator of the document. For instance, a list of local wig shops provided in an information packet to a new chemotherapy patient might be intended as a supportive resource by the nurse who compiled it, but instead it forces patients, perhaps prematurely, to confront their identity as a person about to lose their hair and the knowledge that they might be expected to cover up their balding head. This understanding is more than a rhetorical effect of certain words or phrases; the document overall changes the patient’s world as they once knew it: an epistemological consequence. This book seeks to uncover the reality of those consequences and investigate the question: how do patients interact with these materials, and what sort of materials do help patients make meaning (in positive ways) from their illness?