Showing 1 - 10 of 25 annotations contributed by Teagarden, J. Russell

Summary:

Barbara Ehrenreich wants to manage her health and all that is available to address various aspects of it. She makes clear that she will do the managing and has written this book to reflect on how she plans to do it.  Ehrenreich explains why managing her health is necessary. She puts it this way:

We would all like to live longer and healthier lives; the question is how much of our lives should be devoted to this project, when we all, or at least most of us, have other, often more consequential things to do (p. xv)  

Ehrenreich doesn’t reject the project of getting longer and healthier lives per se, but she believes that what this project requires isn’t always worth the results it produces. The time and energy needed could be put towards better ends.  

Like many other critics, Ehrenreich details how Biomedicine often comes up short on outcomes for all the time, effort, and money it requires from the people it serves. She covers the familiar territories of over diagnosis and over utilization of health care products and services, and goes further to suggest that many common medical practices are more ritualistic and humiliating than evidence-based and effective.

Unlike other critics, Ehrenreich takes on other activities directed at health outside of Biomedicine. She questions whether the physical fitness industry delivers on its promises to produce healthier lives and especially whether there is a net benefit based on the time and energy required from people who take it on. She crosses to the other side of the mind-body continuum when she next aims at the “madness of mindfulness” (p. 71).  She finds the mindfulness movement offers more hubris than solutions.  

Ehrenreich worries that the combined effects of the authority of Biomedicine, the physical fitness frenzy, and the madness of mindfulness have created a social context that treats death as something that can be avoided or at least delayed. This social context thereby implies that not actively engaging in efforts to fight off death “can now be understood as a suicide” (p. 97).

Ehrenreich offers some reasons for why these efforts to improve health and prolong life do not always produce benefits that in her view are worth pursuing to the exclusion of other activities resulting in a better life (or death). Drawing on examples from cell biology and immunology, she suggests that what is at work are disease processes too complex for the human mind to apprehend completely combined with the human impulse to  simplify, which lead to practices, procedures, and prescriptions that in the best case are ineffective and in the worst case harmful.   

At the end of the book, Ehrenreich laments the efforts health care professionals, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and commercial entities make to push older people into commitments for “successful aging.” Those making these efforts argue “aging itself is abnormal and unacceptable” (p. 164).  This commitment requires older people to spend a lot of time in clinics, gyms, and wellness classes—“The price of survival is endless toil,” is how Ehrenreich formulates it (p. 163).  She doesn’t think this price is worth what is required of people who are supposed to benefit, and advises her friends to insist “on a nonmedical death, without the torment of heroic interventions to prolong life by a few hours or days” (p. 208).

I continue to elude unnecessary medical attention and still doggedly push myself in the gym, where, if I am no longer a star, I am at least a fixture. In addition, I retain a daily regimen of stretching, some of which might qualify as yoga. Other than that, I pretty much eat what I want and indulge my vices, from butter to wine. Life is too short to forgo these pleasures, and would be far too long without them (p. 207).

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Teagarden, J. Russell

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Andrew Solomon’s 2012 book Far From the Tree is a study of families with children who are different in all sorts of ways from their parents and siblings to degrees that altered and even threatened family functions and relationships. Years after its publication, director Rachel Dretzin collaborated with Solomon to produce this documentary based on his book. At the time of filming, the children were already adults or were well into their teens. The film looks at how the families came to accept these children and how they sought—with varying success—happiness.  

The documentary focuses on five family scenarios: homosexuality (Solomon’s own story); Down syndrome; dwarfism; murder; and autism. Anyone in these families or anyone who knew these families would never invoke the familiar idiom “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” when talking about these children. These apples fell far from the tree, and Solomon builds on that twist to the idiom to characterize the relationship between the affected children and their families as “horizontal.” By extension, Solomon characterizes the relationship of children who are not different from their parents and siblings in any appreciable manner as “vertical.” 

Only one of the original characters from the book appears in the documentary; the other families are newly “cast.” The film captures the lives of these families with all their challenges and successes, and intercuts footage from home videos the families provided. Dretzin also filmed interviews with parents and in some cases their children. The footage and interviews show how families evolved in their acceptance of their children and their situations as best they could. The best was still heartbreak for some, but real happiness was achieved for others. 

View full annotation

Amour

Haneke, Michael

Last Updated: Jul-10-2018
Annotated by:
Teagarden, J. Russell

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

The film enters late into the lives of Anne and Georges, a Parisian couple apparently in their 80s, apparently long married, and apparently retired music teachers. Maybe they still teach music, and maybe they still play, based on the important place a grand piano is given in the grand living room of their apartment. Their daughter, Eva, is a working musician and is married to one as well. When Georges and Anne sit together in the living room, the controls to the stereo system are never more than an arm’s length away. This family is serious about music; they love music. But, their love of music is not the love of the movie title, “Amour.” Amour is the love between Anne and Georges, and the forms this love takes. 

We first see the amour of Georges and Anne in their quotidian activities. They eat breakfast together at the small table in the cramped kitchen. They sit across from one another—or one of them lies down on the adjacent couch—and read to each other from the paper or talk about various subjects, like music. They have been doing this for decades, and probably would for decades more, but that isn’t likely, and we see why soon. 

While having their breakfast one morning, Anne becomes unresponsive to Georges while looking him straight in the eye. She eventually comes to and goes about her business as if nothing happened and doesn’t know what Georges is talking about when he describes the incident. She probably had a transient ischemic attack—a warning that a stroke may be coming—and as a result, had surgery to clear an occlusion from her carotid artery to prevent a stroke from actually occurring. However, something goes wrong in the hospital and Anne suffers a stroke there nevertheless. She returns home with some paralysis on her right side. The form of amour changes. Now the quotidian activities involve Georges administering care to Anne: he sees to her toilet, washes her hair, cuts her food, reads her newspaper articles, and helps her walk from one spot to another in the apartment when he’s not pushing her in a wheelchair. During a moment when Georges and Anne are in their customary chairs in the living room, Georges says to her, “I’m so pleased to have you back.” To which Anne responds, “Please never take me back to the hospital, promise?” 

But when Anne has another stroke, Georges takes her back to the hospital. She returns home having lost most of her ability to move at all, she can only eat or drink with considerable difficulty even with assistance, she can’t communicate verbally to any extent, and she wets herself. Georges adds feeding her and exercising her arms and legs to his established routines of bathing her, reading to her, and telling her stories. Amour has taken the shape of getting her through the days with great effort and later with help from nurses. 
 

Anne wants no more of her life despite Georges’ efforts and pleas. His daughter argues with him about the care her mother needs. The nurses can’t administer care to Anne in a way he expects. Anne does not want her daughter to see her as she is. She cries out for her own mother. She won’t take water or food. She is in pain. Georges is left with only options that test the extreme boundaries of amour.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Teagarden, J. Russell

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The Strand Magazine is a source for “unpublished works by literary masters.” The October-February (2017-2018) issue includes a Raymond Chandler short story that has never before been published. Chandler wrote crime fiction for the most part, and the stories usually involved the fictional detective Phillip Marlowe. This story, however, written between 1956 and 1958, centered on how American health care fails people who need it when they can’t pay for it or look like they can’t pay for it. 

In this story, a man who has been hit by a truck is brought into the emergency department at “General Hospital.” He arrives just before shift change and so the admitting clerk is already annoyed. The clerk checks the patient’s pockets for the required $50 deposit and finds nothing, so she could now send the patient to the county hospital, and that would be that. But, before she initiates the transfer, she asks a passing private attending physician to look at the patient. He sees that the patient is dirty, smells of alcohol, and would cost a lot to work up. Mindful of an admonition from a major donor that the “hospital is not run for charity,” the physician surmises the patient is “just drunk,” and agrees the patient should be moved to the county hospital. So off the patient goes.  

The next day, the same admitting clerk at General Hospital gets a call from the county hospital. She’s informed that the patient they transferred had a head injury requiring surgery, and that the patient had $4,000 in a money belt inside his undershirt. The patient couldn’t be saved, however, because of the delay involved in the transfer to the county hospital. It’s all right—he only died.



View full annotation

Farinelli and The King

van Kampen, Claire

Last Updated: Mar-21-2018
Annotated by:
Teagarden, J. Russell

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Theater

Genre: Theater

Summary:

Anyone walking through a theater district over the past several decades and even centuries ago would likely run into a mad king—Lear, Richard III, George III, Scar. As of 2015, there’s a new mad king to be found in theater districts—King Philippe of Spain in Farinelli and the King.  

The play opens with King Philippe of Spain sitting up in his bed talking to a goldfish swimming around in its bowl trying to avoid the hook at the end of the King’s little fishing pole: 


I was touched by the confidence with which you speak to me of your affairs; the cordiality of your offer to redress mine; the tender anxiety for my health—but I should tell you in the strictest confidence you understand…shh…here the body cares very little for the affairs of the mind. (Act 1, Scene 1)   

As the King’s mental illness progresses from this point and becomes a concern of his court, his wife, Queen Isabella is sent away so that the King cannot physically harm her as he had before. But, what’s to be done for him? It’s the year 1737. While attending an opera in London, the Queen thinks she may have discovered just what the King needs—the renowned castrato Farinelli: 


Then…he began. A long note, held; I must think it was beyond a minute. A swooping, soaring sound and the notes were above the tree-tops, bird-like, unimaginable. When the aria finished just now I couldn’t help my tears; I was unable to move; I just stared at the stage, where he had been…I couldn’t believe what I had seen and heard…I felt something had profoundly changed within me. …and then, —I knew…That I must hope somehow to bring Farinelli to Spain with me. (Act 1, Scene 3)    


The Queen finds a way to bring Farinelli back to Spain, and Farinelli begins to sooth the mad King with his voice from the heavens. The King becomes calmer yet when he moves with the Queen and Farinelli to a house in the forest, where he cuts a hole in the trees so he can hear the “hidden notes” of the spheres above. The King tells Farinelli, “you must sing to me; in the long hours of dark, when my mind is screaming in the silence, then that is when I need you to sing to me.” (Act 2, Scene 5)  

The Queen was sure Farinelli’s singing was effective:

And they say it was Farinelli that helped to restore the health of the King of Spain—just by hearing this wonderful singing voice the King rose out of his depression and wanted to live again! It was the only thing the King could bear in the end. The sound of Farinelli’s voice. (Act 2, Scene 5)  

In Farinelli’s own and immodest assessment: “He is decidedly better because of me, and in his lonely life I have become a song he now depends on.” (Act 2, Scene 1) And, in making his clinical assessment, the King’s doctor was “of the opinion that the King’s illness has turned." (Act 1, Scene 4)  

The utopian existence comes to an end when the King is called back to Madrid to take on an impending English invasion. He would not be seen again.  

This fanciful tale is not so fanciful; it’s drawn from the historical King Philippe of Spain. His grandfather, King Louis XIV of France placed him there, and there he reigned for almost 50 years. Indeed he was mad, and indeed his wife the Queen brought the renowned castrato Farinelli back to Spain where he served the King for 9 years and then the son who succeeded him until this son’s death. From there Farinelli retired to the Italian countryside instead of returning to the public stages in Europe.  

The current NY production  could not replicate Farinelli’s voice exactly now that castrati are not to be found anymore; however, a countertenor was able to produce a swooping and soaring sound. Though Farinelli’s voice could not be replicated perfectly, the staging of the play was replicated as the audience of the day would have seen it in the mid 1700s. The lighting was supplied by candlelight from chandeliers and sconces that were part of the sets. The musicians supporting Farinelli’s performances were also situated on the stage with him. And, as the theaters were arranged then, seats for the audience were available on both sides of the stage. 

View full annotation

So Much For That

Shriver, Lionel

Last Updated: Jan-18-2018
Annotated by:
Teagarden, J. Russell

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The book opens with Shep Knacker packing his bags for his long-dreamed of “Afterlife”—his word for retirement—in Pemba, an island off the coast of Tanzania. He plans to take his wife, Glynis, and his high school aged son, Zach. This plan is not unexpected because Shep and Glynis have made many “research” trips during their 26-year marriage to find the right place (though never to Pemba). But, there were always reasons not to act on their research. An intervention was needed. Glynis is not home while he is packing because she is at some “appointment.” When she gets home, Shep informs her of his plans for the three of them to leave for Pemba, and he further informs Glynis that he’s going whether she comes or not. In response, she informs him that she has cancer—a bad one (mesothelioma); he unpacks, so much for that.

What unfurls from there is more complicated than just the challenges Glynis’s disease produces, though these are monumental challenges. Other people, too, are in need of Shep’s attention. His father’s decrepitude is advancing, his sister is on the brink of homelessness, and his teenage son is detaching from him and life in general. Shep eventually loses his job as an employee at the handyman company he once owned (“Knack of All Trades”) then sold to fund his Afterlife. There’s more. 

Shep's best friend, Jackson, who also worked with him at Knack of All Trades has two girls, and one of them has familial dysautonomia. This progressive genetic disease of the nervous system produces a constellation of medical problems that are bizarre, intense, and serious, before it ultimately produces a tragic end. The trauma and tragedy this disease inflicts in this story (and in life) encompass the entire family, in spite of the heroic efforts of Jackson’s wife, Carol. 
 
The many plot lines in this novel at times proceed independently of one another, and at other times intersect. They concern serious illness experiences and the effects they have on families and also how the American health care system can place burdens on those who need it. Nevertheless, the two families, beaten down by illness, fatigued from encounters with doctors and hospitals, and exasperated from fights with insurance companies, rally enough to make it to Pemba. The trip becomes financially affordable as the result of some narrative gimmickry involving a financial settlement of $800,000 from the company that put asbestos in equipment Glynis had used years before. They would spend the rest of their lives there, longer for some than for others.   

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Teagarden, J. Russell

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

Eric Kandel, the 2000 Nobel Prize winner in Physiology or Medicine, has an abiding interest in art for its own sake, and also in how art can inform his primary work in brain science, especially as both art and science can be understood through reductionism.

My central premise is that although the reductionist approaches of scientists and artists are not identical in their aims—scientists use reductionism to solve the complex problem and artists use it to elicit a new perceptual and emotional response in the beholder—they are analogous (p. 6).  

Kandel’s aim, however, is more than just explaining how reductionism is used in brain science and in modern art. He is also out to show in a larger sense how science and the arts, which now exist as “two cultures,” are more alike than not. 

My purpose in this book is to highlight one way of closing the chasm by focusing on a common point at which the two cultures can meet and influence each other—in modern brain science and in modern art. Both brain science and abstract art address, in direct and compelling fashion, questions and goals that are central to humanistic thought. In this pursuit they share, to a surprising degree, common methodologies (p. 3).   

This slim volume comprises four parts amply supplied with schematics of brain structures and nerve tracts, and with reproductions of modern art works. The two middle parts are concerned with how reductionism applies to brain science and to art, respectively. The introduction places the topic within the context of the two-culture divide. The final part argues that art reduced to a set of core elements (e.g., form, line, color, and light) can add to the understanding of how the brain works, just as brain science reduced to a set of core elements (e.g., top down and bottom up processing of images) can add to the understanding of how art can be perceived and used to evoke certain responses.      

Bottom up processing refers to “universal rules that are largely built into the brain at birth by biological evolution and enable us to extract key elements of images in the physical world, such as contours, intersections, and the crossings of lines and junctions” (p. 22) This inborn circuitry is all that is needed for perceiving figurative art, and as a result produces uniform perceptions among viewers. Top down processing refers to the information the brain needs to perceive images when bottom up processing is insufficient, like in the case of abstract painting. It “incorporates the information our brain receives from the external world with knowledge based on learning from earlier experiences and hypotheses testing.” This includes “people we have seen and known, environments we have been in, as well as memories of other works of art we have encountered” (p. 23). Top down processing thus brings the viewer into the creative process and results in differences in perceptions among individuals of a particular work of art.  

In Kandel’s and many others’ telling, modern art was the response to the advent and expanding use of photography. No longer was figurative painting needed to render life as it is. Artists became free to explore and experiment with other ways to generate perceptions of life. Starting with impressionism and progressing through abstract expressionism and pop art, Kandel describes how painters in particular reduced their art to form, line, color, and light. They invited—demanded—that viewers participate in creating what they perceive. Brain science was able to use these elements also to map places in the brain where this processing takes place and to associate these elements with the different responses they produce. To illustrate these concepts, Kandel features the works of Turner, Monet, Kandinsky, Mondrian, de Kooning, Pollock, Rothko, Morris, and Warhol among others.  

In the end, Kandel is asserting—hoping—that reductionism in art will serve brain science because it will show “how we process unconscious and conscious perception, emotion, and empathy.” (p. 188). And, that reductionism in brain science will help artists “enhance traditional introspection with the knowledge of how some aspects of our mind work” (p. 189).

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Teagarden, J. Russell

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Very early in this memoir, Dr. Sandeep Jauhar refers to an essay Sachin Jain and Christine Cassel published in JAMA (2010) that categorizes physicians as knights, knaves, or pawns. His take: “Knights are motivated by virtue…Knaves are selfish…Pawns are passive.” (p.7) Jauhar rides into medical practice as a knight in shining armor on a white horse after years and years of training. Would he be able to hang onto his knighthood?  

The book is divided into three parts—Ambition, Asperity, Adjustment—bookended by an introduction and epilogue. Jauhar’s disillusionment with American health care is his primary theme, and it connects these three parts:  

As a young adult I believed that the world was accommodating, that it would indulge my ambitions. In middle age, reality overwhelms that faith. You see the constraints and corruption. Your desires give way to pragmatism. The conviction that anything is possible is essentially gone. (pp. 5-6)  

Jauhar is comprehensive and unsparing in accounting for the sources of his disillusionment and his fall from knighthood. He was vulnerable to disillusionment from the start having been pushed by his parents in into medicine against his desires. His mother “wanted her children to become doctors so people would stand when we walked into the room,” (p. 21) and his father said that in medicine he “would have respect, wealth, and influence.” (p.133) He put off medical school for as long as he could by first getting a PhD in experimental physics. Finally, 19 years after first starting college he became a practicing cardiologist, though not without almost bailing out of medical school for a career in journalism as he writes in his first memoir, Intern (annotated here).  

Jauhar's first position was as a hospital staff member heading up a heart failure unit. As hospital staff he wasn’t paid as much as physicians in private practice. This differential wasn’t a problem by itself, but because the salary was insufficient for the lifestyle he sought and his wife—a physician also—urged him to provide, “I want nice things for us: a home, safe cars, good schools. They may seem trivial to you, but they are not to me.” (p. 75) This pressure was made worse by his older brother earning twice the income while working at the same hospital as an interventional cardiologist, and as well by all the other physicians in private practice who lived in big houses and drove fancy cars.  

The story then veers into a period when he sheds his knighthood for knavery. Jahaur joins a pharmaceutical company speaker bureau that supports a particular product and quits over his concern that the product may have been more toxic than first thought. Guided by his brother who says, “As much as we hate to admit it, patients are a commodity,” (p. 92) He takes positions with various private physician practices that operate more like procedure mills than health care providers.  

Jauhar does not do well as a knave, realizing “I had made a Faustian bargain. Having my eyes opened to the reality of contemporary medical practice had been painful. Now I had to make a choice. Continuing on this path was leading to ruin.” (p. 257) And so he tells of his adjustment, which for him is finding an “uneasy equilibrium” (p. 258) by continuing to work with private practices, just not as much, and spending more time with his family. Thus, in the end, Jauhar does not a return to full knighthood and becomes something closer to a knight with knavish tendencies or a knave with knight-like qualities.

View full annotation

Summary:

The future of healthcare in the US has long been a subject of debate, with how to pay for it overshadowing other aspects of the topic. In publishing this work, the author, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, makes clear: “This book is about [the] transformation in the delivery of care in the United States” needed to ensure that “all Americans receive consistently higher-quality and lower-cost care.” (p. 15)   Paying for health care is not ignored, and indeed how health care payment methods figure in health care delivery is taken into account.  

Emanuel builds the book around 12 particular transformational practices as developed and applied in the several different health care organizations he studied. They included “small physician offices and large multispecialty group practices, accountable care organizations, large managed-care organizations, and even for-profit companies.” He admits to finding these organizations in “a careful, if somewhat haphazard, way” through a combination of serendipitous visits to some of these organizations, attendance at presentations showcasing some of them, and personal recommendations received. (p. 15) Emanuel identifies these 12 transformational practices through “carefully observing and ascribing significance when various groups and organizations in many different geographic locations, are independently reporting similar things.” (p. 16)  

The 12 transformational practices are covered across three chapters in the middle of the book. The first describes the practices that involve the way physician offices are structured and operate (e.g., scheduling patients, measuring physician performance, standardizing care, coordinating care), the second describes the practices that affect provider interactions with patients (e.g., shared decision making, site of service considerations), and the third, the practices that expand the scope of care beyond traditional boundaries (e.g., behavioral health, palliative care). Emanuel provides considerable detail on what these transformational practices entail and on the results they produce. These chapters are preceded by a separate chapter on recent changes in health care stimulating transformations, and a chapter on essential elements required for transformation: catalyzing crisis; leadership; culture, governance, and physician engagement; data; physician management alignment; and financial risk.

Emanuel recognizes that: “No organization can institute all 12 transformational practices all at once. No organization has the management capacity to do that.” (p. 197) Thus, he devotes a chapter on how organizations can adopt the transformational practices that are best suited to them. He aggregates the practices into three tiers and ranks them by prioritization. He carves out a separate chapter on “virtual medicine”—a collection of technologies and methods that enable a range of patient care activities (e.g., diagnosing, treating, monitoring) between different locations. Emanuel covers virtual medicine separately because his view is counter to the conventional wisdom espoused by “the medical techno-utopians,” as he calls them (p. 166) He allows that it can augment health care organization performance but itself is not a transformational practice because “healthcare is fundamentally social.” (p. 175) So as not to leave patients wondering how they could benefit from these practices, he devotes another chapter for them on how to find a doctor.

View full annotation

The Illumination

Brockmeier, Kevin

Last Updated: Jun-28-2017
Annotated by:
Teagarden, J. Russell

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Brockmeier constructed this novel as six individual stories. No overriding plot carries across all the stories, and none of the individual stories has much of a plot either. But, each is tangentially related to the subsequent story through a journal comprising love notes written daily by a husband to his wife that passes from one story to the next.  

I love the ball you curl into when you wake up in the morning but don’t want to get out from under the covers. I love the last question you ask me before bedtime. I love the way you alphabetize the CDs, but arrange the books by height. I love you in your blue winter coat that looks like upholstery fabric. I love the scent of your hair just after you’ve taken a shower… (p. 16)  

The stories share characters, but only insofar as they are involved in the transfer of the journal.  

Also connecting the stories is a phenomenon in which visible light is produced from the location of the body where there is pain, injury, or disease, and in one case an inanimate object—the journal. It just started to happen.  

The Illumination: who had coined the term, which pundit or editorial writer, no one knew, but soon enough—within hours, it seemed—that was what people were calling it. The same thing was happening all over the world. In hospitals and prison yards, nursing home and battered women’s shelters, wherever the sick and injured were found, a light could be seen flowing from their bodies. Their wounds were filled with it, brimming. (p. 138)  

The Illumination
is part of every story, but never the main subject. It’s noticed, it’s discussed, it’s contemplated, and eventually accommodated as part of daily existence:  “everyone began to accept that pain now came coupled together with light.” (p. 139) The Illumination is always there, was always there, and will always be there because “there is no such thing as photonic degradation, that light was effectively immortal, or at least as immortal as the universe itself.” (p. 256)

View full annotation