Art of Medicine
Aug 2017

Performing Pain and Inflammation: Rendering the Invisible Visible

Arseli Dokumaci, PhD
AMA J Ethics. 2017;19(8):834-838. doi: 10.1001/journalofethics.2017.19.8.imhl1-1708.


These drawings represent everyday experiences of an artist who has been living with rheumatoid arthritis since her teenage years. Over the course of 20 years, the disease has damaged a series of joints in her body. Pain and inflammation accompany the most mundane of her movements and gestures. Fatigue and side effects of medications are routine parts of life. None of her impairments are publicly recognized and duly accommodated, as she is not (yet) visibly disabled. Asking for a seat on the bus, for instance, turns into a thorough social negotiation, as does having to constantly remind people that she actually is disabled. Lacking visual signs of disability, she is often accosted for “evidence”—an authentication, a reminder of “her” disability. With these drawings, each of which describes the artist’s daily negotiations with pain, inflammation, and fatigue, she seeks to render visible what remains locked up within the boundaries of her skin.

Figure 1The Art of Zipping Up

The Art of Zipping Up


A pencil drawing on a white surface of someone’s upper body seen from the person’s own viewpoint as the person is standing up. The person’s arms and elbows are bent toward the person’s belly, as if the person is about to engage in an action.


Figure 2Some Arms Carry Things. Some Arms Are Carried in Pockets

Some Arms Carry Things Some Arms Are Carried In Pockets


A black-and-white drawing in which the body is split in half from the shoulders and the chest is transforming into steps.


Figure 3Fighting with Feathery Sheets and Fluffy Duvet

Fighting with Feathery Sheets and Fluffy Duvet


A pencil drawing in which a woman’s back is mostly exposed and her legs disappear under a cluttered surface.


AMA J Ethics. 2017;19(8):834-838.



The viewpoints expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the AMA.