Sociology Professor’s Book Explores Hospital Land

When sociology Professor Wendy Simonds’ friend and colleague, Chet Meeks, was diagnosed with advanced cancer she begin to think increasingly about the role of medicine in everyday life. After his death in 2008, Simonds took her experiences with her dear friend, her own dealings with hospitals and conducted extensive research to write her newest book, “Hospital Land USA: Sociological Adventures in Medicalization.”

Cover design by Jack Simonds-Malamud, Simonds' son.

Cover design by Jake Simonds-Malamud, Simonds’ son.

“It’s the hardest book I’ve ever written,” Simonds said. “My dad died while I was working on it. And so, I spent a lot of time thinking about if I should could continue to write it, but my dad’s death ended up giving me the anger I needed to finish the book.”

In “Hospital Land USA,” Simonds explores how medicalization works as an agent of social control, providing readers with ways to apply theoretical analysis to their own medical experiences. To medicine, she argues, death is a failure.

“I think for a lot of people who are dealing with advanced cancers, the biggest problem is that they get treatment long past when it’s valuable because medicine doesn’t know how to stop,” Simonds said. “The problem is that medicine can’t control death. We’re all going to die.”

Simonds suggests that medical professionals should pay closer attention to death and work more closely with hospice and palliative care practitioners. She believes that not pursuing treatment should be an option for people facing life-threatening illnesses.

“Palliative care people don’t come unless death is just about to happen typically,” she said. “So the average time people spend in hospice care is three weeks, but people spend much longer than three weeks dying.”

Simonds conveys these ideas in what she calls a blend of seriousness and humor.

“I try to keep it funny,” she said. “It’s a tough subject. Humor often is the only thing keeping us above water when we’re going through these awful experiences.”

Throughout the book Simonds uses her personal memories of “Hospital Land.” She also provides an analysis of cultural products about medicalization, such as memoirs of people who have dealt with traumatic experiences, memoirs of doctors, medical mail and medical advertising.

“The point of the book is not to point to an ideal way of doing things but to point to ways that’ll make things suck less,” Simonds said.

To purchase “Hospital Land USA: Sociological Adventures in Medicalization,” click here.