“Imperfect Angels”: Narrative “Emplotment” in the Medical Management of Children with Craniofacial Anomalies

Abstract

This article uses the paradigm of “therapeutic emplotment” to investigate the medical management of children with facial disfigurements at a craniofacial anomalies center in Northern California. Data are observations of, and semistructured interviews with, plastic surgeons, nurses, geneticists, orthodontists, and other medical professionals who composed the craniofacial anomalies team. Team members perceived that children feel socially stigmatized by their disfigurements. These medical professionals adjusted their own behavior according to these perceptions. They “emplotted” their actions, using the theme that disfigured children are attractive and worthy of attention and affection. Medical professionals attempted to depersonalize and neutralize the symbolically loaded disfigurements through the use of clinical language in an attempt to “separate” the child from his or her facial anomaly. The range of styles and approaches to interaction was diverse and varied in effectiveness, suggesting that some medical professionals were more skilled at emplotment than others.