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The last work of a scholar whose life mirrored her work

A Complex Sorrow

Reflections on Cancer and an Abbreviated Life (Marianne A. Paget)

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Marianne A. Paget, edited by Marjorie L. DeVault

"The author's multiple voices—scholar, sociologist, victim—provide an academic, yet personal, professional, yet poignant, story....Readers face...the 'contradictory meanings' that an especially articulate woman brings to the final chapter of her life."
Women and Health

In 1988, Marianne Paget published the Unity of Mistakes: A Phenomenological Interpretation of Medical Work (Temple) in which she argued that error is an intrinsic feature in medicine—an experimental and uncertain activity. Her subsequent research focused on medical negligence and on miscommunication and silence a as cause and product of error in medicine. While pursuing her research on negligence, she found out that she was an example of it. Chronic back pain that had been misdiagnosed as muscle spasms turned out to be a symptom of a rare and fatal cancer that claimed Paget's life in December 1989. This collection of her personal and professional writings on the phenomenon of error in medicine chronicles a young scholar's courageous struggle to make sense of a tragic coincidence.

Discovering that she was living the charges and painful topic that she had studied so deeply, Paget write poignantly and analytically until the last week of her life about this uncanny parallel. "It is very tricky to come to terms with the reality of death without becoming trapped in that reality," wrote "Tracy" Paget to her friends. In this book, she describes "the odd way my life began to mirror my work"; her search for "life rites" when face with tasks involving wills, last rites, and farewells; and her indomitable and forthright attempt to remain intensely alive in the face of death.

A Complex Sorrow, her final project, comprises essays, letters, and a journal recording her last year. Ever critical of the distanced and dispassionate stance taken in much social analysis, Paget had experimented with performance as a form for enlivening social science research. The script for her play, "The Work of Talk," about communication problems between a physician and his cancer patient, is also included. Her compelling life-text speaks to those living with illness and those who care for and about them, as the investigation and representation of lived experience.

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Excerpt

"Strangely, my knowledge of error has helped me deal with the errors in my care. Had I not known about the prevalence of error in medicine I would not have been able to process what has happened to me without bitterness. But I had thought these matters through already, and more than once. I now live out the complex sorrow I have before described."
Marianne A. Paget

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Reviews

"Paget's book is stunning. It's a tribute to the invulnerable human spirit. The woman burned like a flame; obviously she died well, because she lived well; she was loved because she was loving. The book is tremendously sad, but it isn't depressing; somehow, one is left with a sense of human possibility."
Joan Cassell, author of Expected Miracles: Surgeons at Work

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Contents

Acknowledgments
Editor's Introduction
1. Life Mirrors Work Mirrors Text Mirrors Life...
2. Performing the Text
3. The Work of Talk
4. Letters to My Friends
5. Journal Notes
Epilogue – Marjorie L. DeVault
Notes
References

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About the Author(s)

Marianne A. Paget (1940-1989) was a Research Associate in the Department of Sociology at Brandeis University.

Marjorie L. DeVault, a close friend and colleague of Paget, is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Syracuse University. She has also written Liberating Method: Feminism and Social Research (Temple).

Subject Categories

General Interest
Health and Health Policy
Sociology

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