Individuals and humanity : Sharing the experience of serious illness
When illness strikes, not only the sick person and her relationship to the world may change: the relatives may go through a similar process. They have to revisit their modes of reaching a balance between their private and their professional lives in order to articulate work, family, and care to be given to the sick person. This article is based upon an anthropological study conducted in Switzerland over a period of more than three years. It involved patients and other family members as well as colleagues, managers and health care professionals; its aim was to analyse the impacts of changes brought about by an individual illness on the relatives’ employment situation as well as on family dynamics. We have observed that many of the interviewees still vividly remember the small gestures and words of a nurse or a physician perceived as “very human”. These short narratives show how close relatives of very ill patients may develop a sudden attachment to people who have behaved as if they had truly, immediately understood their ordeal. Humanity is thus the keyword of this article, in which we will analyse its ambiguous meaning through the lens of individual’s everyday experiences. Our hypothesis is that the notion of humanity serves as a «bridge» to a collective universe, providing a connection for individuals who have become strangers to their own world and are experiencing a specific form of loneliness.