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Summary:

INTRODUCTION            
Writing for all the co-authors, Rita Charon challenges “a reductionist, fragmented medicine that holds little regard for the singular aspects of a person’s life” and protests “social injustice of the global healthcare system” (p.1). She gives a history of narrative medicine, lists its principles, and summarizes the book’s chapters, mentioning that several come as pairs that present theory then practice. The six principles are “intersubjectivity, relationality, personhood and embodiment, action toward justice, close reading (or slow looking), and creativity” (p. 4).
The basic thesis is that healthcare can be improved by narrative medicine because “narrative competence can widen the clinical gaze to include personal and social elements of patients’ lives vital to the tasks of healing” (p. 1). 
This is a dense, theory-laden book from the group at Columbia University. The summaries below touch of some of the major points.   

PART I, INTERSUBJECTIVITY             
Ch. 1, Account of Self: Exploring Relationality Through Literature

Maura Spiegel and Danielle Spencer describe the richness of literature that allows readers to respond creatively. In clinical settings, a caregiver may similarly listen attentively and help co-construct a narrative with the patient. Literature can help us explore “the limits of rationality and positivism” (p. 29) and move from “a model of autonomy to one of relationality” (p. 34). 

Ch. 2, This is What We Do, and These Things Happen:  Literature, Experience, Emotion, and Relationality in the Classroom.

Spiegal and Spencer write that current medical education does a poor job of helping future physicians with their emotions.  Clinicians profit from a more integrated self and will listen better to patients and respond to them.      

PART II, DUALISM, PERSONHOOD, AND EMBODIMENT            
Ch. 3, Dualism and Its Discontents I:  Philosophy, Literature, and Medicine

Craig Irvine and Spencer start with three literary examples that illustrate separation of mind and body. This dualism has pervaded modern medicine, causing losses for patients and caregivers, especially when there are power imbalances between them.  The “clinical attitude” (p. 81) dehumanizes both caregivers and patients.           

Ch. 4, Dualism and Its Discontents II:  Philosophical Tinctures
Irvine and Spencer argue that both phenomenology (appreciative of embodied experience) and narrative hermeneutics (privileging reciprocal exchange of persons) help us move beyond dualism.  Theorists Edmund Pellegrino (also a physician), Richard Zaner, and Fredrik Svenaeus help us understand how caregivers and patients should relate. 

Ch. 5, Deliver Us from Certainty: Training for Narrative Ethics

Craig Irvine and Charon write that various humanistic disciplines “recognize the central role narrative plays in our lives” (p.111). There is, however, “indeterminacy” in stories that “cannot be reduced by analyzable data” (p. 113). Narrative ethics urges us to consider issues of power, access, and marginalization for both the teller and the listener. The authors review recent ethical traditions of principalism, common morality, casuistry, and virtue-based ethics. They believe that narrative ethics, emerging from clinical experience and now allied with feminist and structural justice frameworks, will provide a better approach for many reasons. “Narrative ethics is poised to integrate the literary narrative ethics and the clinical narrative ethics” (p. 125).  

PART III, IDENTITIES IN PEDAGOGY            
Ch. 6, The Politics of the Pedagogy: Cripping, Queering and Un-homing Health Humanities

Sayantani DasGupta urges attention to issues of power and privilege in classrooms, lest they “replicate the selfsame hierarchical, oppressive power dynamics of traditional medicine” (p. 137). “Cripping” and “queering” provide new perspectives on knowledge, for example the untested binaries of physician/patient, sick/well, elite/marginalized, teacher/student. Drawing on disability studies, health humanities, and queer politics, DasGupta challenges “medicalization” and the “restitution narrative” (p. 141).  

PART IV, CLOSE READING            
Ch. 7, Close Reading: The Signature Method of Narrative Medicine

Charon stresses “the accounts of self that are told and heard in the contexts of healthcare” (p. 157). Close reading, traced from I. A. Richards through reader response theorists, is “a central method” for narrative medicine (p. 164). Close reading enhances attentive listening, and both of these deepen relationality and intersubjectivity, allowing for affiliation between caregiver and patient (pp. 175-76). Such linkages aid healthy bodies and minds, even the world itself (p. 176).             

Ch. 8, A Framework for Teaching Close Reading

Charon describes how she chooses texts and provides prompts for responsive creative writing. She illustrates “the cardinal narrative features—time, space, metaphor, and voice” (p. 182) in literary works by Lucille Clifton, Henry James, Galway Kinnell, and Manual Puig.  

PART V, CREATIVITY            
Ch. 9,  Creativity: What, Why, and Where?

Nellie Hermann writes that “healthcare in particular has a vexed relationship to the notion of creativity,” in part because of issues of control (pp. 211-12); values of “evidence based” and “numbers-driven” medicine are also factors. Narrative medicine, however, “is about reawakening the creativity that lives in all of us” (p. 214).            

Ch. 10, Can Creativity Be Taught?

Hermann reports on techniques used in the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia, including prompts and a Portfolio program. A “Reading Guide” helps clinical faculty (and others) respond to student writing. Responses to writing can nourish the “creative spark.”  

PART VI, QUALITATIVE WAYS OF KNOWING            
Ch. 11, From Fire Escapes to Qualitative Data: Pedagogical Urging, Embodied Research, and Narrative Medicine’s Ear of the Heart

Edgar Rivera Colón suggests that “we are all lay social scientists of one kind or another,” seeing people in action in various contexts. He affirms an “assets-based approach to public health challenges, as opposed to a deficits-based and pathology-replicating paradigm” (p. 259). We are all embodied actors in relationship to power, privilege, and social penalty. Research through interviews and participant observation show “meaning worlds” in tension with “systemic inequality and structural violence” (p. 263). 

Ch. 12, A Narrative Transformation of Health and Healthcare

Charon presents and analyzes a case study of patient Ms. N. as treated by internist Charon. They’ve been working together for decades. Charon writes up her perceptions and shares them with Ms. N. Speaking together, they “became mirrors for one another” (p. 274). Psychiatrist Marcus discusses transference and transitional space in that experience. A caregiver as witness can shift healthcare from “instrumental custodianship to intersubjective contact” (p. 288).            

Ch. 13, Clinical Contributions of Narrative Medicine

Charon describes applications of narrative medicine, all with the aim of improving healthcare. She describes techniques for interviews of patients, writing methods, and ways to improve the effectiveness of healthcare teams, as well as changes in clinical charts and other narrative descriptions of patients.

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Annotated by:
Teagarden, J. Russell

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

As the movie opens, the married artists Einar and Gerda Wegener are working out of their apartment in Copenhagen. The year is around 1908 and they have been married for just a few years. They do not have children as yet, but they have hopes that they would soon.  

Einar is a painter of Scandinavian landscapes and Gerda is a figurative painter. When the model for a painting Gerda is working on fails to appear one day, she asks Einar to take the model’s place. Einar would need to pose with the model’s dress and assume a feminine posture. In posing as a woman, Einar's simmering desire to become a woman comes to a boil.

At first Gerda finds Einar’s interest in posing as a woman an interesting diversion and as a means to have some fun at various social events. But, Einar becomes more and more serious about his interest in transitioning to a woman in more than just wardrobe and affect. As an early step in that direction, he takes on the name Lili Elbe and the pronoun "she."  She gives up painting and becomes Gerda’s primary model. Gerda’s paintings become highly sought after with her new model.  

Lili’s quest to become a woman intensified over the subsequent years and extended to hoping to acquire a uterus so that she could give birth. With Gerda’s help, Lili eventually finds a surgeon in Germany who is willing to perform a series of risky procedures that will make her into a woman. After the operations, Lili was transformed into the woman she wanted to be, but without the availability of anti-rejection drugs and antibiotics, she died in the hospital with Gerda at her side.

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Fire Shut Up in My Bones

Blow, Charles

Last Updated: Oct-11-2015
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Blow’s account of growing up in rural Louisiana, exposed to negligence, sexual molestation, violence, and loss focuses on a child’s strategies of survival first, and then on sexual confusion, social ambition, and discovery of the gifts that led him to his life as a writer for the New York Times.  A major theme in the memoir is his learning to claim his bisexuality after years of secrecy and shame.  That emergent fact about his identity, along with moving to New York after a life in the rural South required an unusual level of self-reflection and hard, costly choices that challenged norms at every level.  His account of learning to assume a leadership role in a college fraternity and deciding to finally leave it behind offers a particularly vivid example of what it takes to resist perpetuating rites of humiliation and conformity designed to curb individuation.     

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The Normal Heart

Kramer, Larry

Last Updated: Oct-06-2015
Annotated by:
Glass, Guy

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Play

Summary:

New York, 1981.  As the play opens, Ned Weeks sits outside a doctor’s office with a friend who has developed worrisome symptoms of a mysterious “plague” that strikes homosexuals.  The doctor, Emma Brookner, complains that she cannot make headway in getting the gay community to take the threat seriously.  This encounter inspires Ned, a writer, to dedicate himself to becoming the spokesman for the growing ranks of disenfranchised patients. He attempts to convert others to his cause, including his heterosexual brother, a closeted bank executive, and a reporter for the New York Times (whom he begins to date).  When it becomes clear that the City is not interested in assisting, he co-founds a grassroots activist organization.  As the epidemic veers out of control, the man he loves falls ill as well.  Over time, Ned’s abrasive, confrontational approach, as well as his focus on abstinence, makes him many enemies within the gay community.  Ultimately, he is forced out of his own organization.  At the same time, there are hints that, as a result of his work, the disease is beginning to be taken seriously.  At the end of the play, Ned’s lover Felix becomes the latest gay man to succumb to the epidemic. 

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What the Body Told

Campo, Rafael

Last Updated: Oct-06-2015
Annotated by:
Terry, James

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry

Summary:

Many of these poems are confessional accounts of gay love and sexuality. Another group clearly draw on the author’s clinical experiences as a physician. A few poems (e.g. "For You All Beauty", "Her Final Show") mix those broad categories in talking about the care of AIDS patients.The 11 short poems under the sequence title "Ten Patients, and Another" are the most clinical. They mimic clinical presentations during rounds in several ways: individual poems under patient initials--Mrs. G, John Doe; opening lines with the patient’s age, race, and gender; even presenting complaints with hospital shorthand. For example, in "Kelly" Campo begins: "The patient is a twelve-year-old white female. / She’s gravida zero, no STD’s. / She’s never even had a pelvic. One / month nausea and vomiting. No change / in bowel habits. No fever, chills, malaise." But in this poem and others of the sequence, the clinical gradually turns to the personal: "Her pelvic was remarkable for scars / At six o’clock, no hymen visible, / Some uterine enlargement. Pregnancy / Tests positive times two. She says it was / Her dad. He’s sitting in the waiting room."The cumulative effect of the series is a kind of horror at hospital cases and how they get there: a three-year-old who’s ingested cocaine, a homeless man with eyelids frozen shut, one man beaten, another man shot, an abused wife, a suicide, a drug overdose. To feel empathy for these cases, and to turn them into poetry, Campo has practiced the art of medicine as a form of love.Campo also writes as a patient who has experienced a serious arm fracture and subsequent threat of cancer in the 16-poem sequence "Song Before Dying." This changes his perspective on care-giving, as he writes in "IX. The Very Self." " . . . more dying waits / Downstairs for me. I almost hear their groans. / Same hunger, bones. Same face we all consumed. / As I examine them, I find the tomb / Toward which they lead. I know it is my own."

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry

Summary:

The subtitle of this collection is "A Voyage to the New World." In the first section, Campo begins his voyage to a new world of self-understanding by experimenting with the language of family, intimacy, healing, and magic. In "I Don’t Know What I Can’t Say, or, Genet on Keats," the poet writes: "There are two sides to life. The side where life / Remains unconsummated, reticent" and the other, which is "the act itself laid bare--a hand / Inside the lion’s mouth . . . . " Campo chooses the latter.In the next section, his voyage takes him through several connected series of 16-line sonnets; each of these series plumbs the depths of a different intimate relationship: Song for My Grandfather, for My Father, for My Lover, and for Our Son. Some of Campo’s finest poems are in this section, including (just a handful from the many) "Grandfather’s Will," "Anatomy Lesson," "Planning a Family," "My Father’s View of Poetry," "Translation," and "Political Poem."In the final section, Campo brings the insight of a seasoned voyager to his day-to-day life experience as a gay Latino physician: "To teach me my own life, to share my grief." ("Planning a Family," p. 49)

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The Distant Moon

Campo, Rafael

Last Updated: Oct-06-2015
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry

Summary:

A four-part poem that begins with glimpses of a man suffering the ravages of AIDS: "He stayed / Four months. He lost his sight to CMV." The man connects with his doctor through the stories he tells, but also through blood: "I'm drowning in his blood . . . . "The doctor at first tries to maintain distance from his patient ("I can't identify with him.") and even feels "residual guilts" when the patient says it's okay that "doctors could be queer." In the end, though, the healer has formed a bond with his patient. After the man dies, the doctor further identifies with him: "His breath, / I dreamed, had filled my lungs--his lips, my lips / Had touched."

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The Burying Ground

Kellough, Janet

Last Updated: Sep-21-2015
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Luke Lewis is the son of an itinerant preacher in Upper Canada and a recent medical graduate of Montreal’s McGill University. In 1851, he joins the practice of the aging, Edinburgh-trained Dr. Stewart Christie in Thornhill, Ontario. It is a small village a few miles north of Toronto (now the site of some of the most expensive property in Canada).  Christie is tired and leaves Luke alone to work.   

Luke hopes to consolidate his learning and earn enough to set up on his own elsewhere in Ontario, closer to his farming brothers. He rents a couple of rooms from the doctor and is able to accommodate his father Thaddeus Lewis on his occasional visits.   

Morgan Spicer, the custodian of the local Strangers’ Burying Ground, is an old friend of the family. He finds a grave disturbed, which raises the specter of grave-robbing, an all too common crime much abetted by medical schools. But in this case, the corpse is left behind and the grave was not fresh. Morgan is baffled but the police are indifferent. When it happens a second time, Luke and his father try to help solve the mystery. They wonder if Dr. Christie might be behind it. What does he do all day?   

Luke is lonely and he sorely misses his friend and lover, Ben, who died of tuberculosis back in Montreal. Luke has managed to keep his sexual orientation firmly in the closet, knowing it would be the end of his career and of his relationship with his beloved father.   

However, Luke’s gallant actions in rescuing the beautiful African, Cherub, from American slave-traders, result in an unwanted invitation from a somewhat too grateful society lady, Lavinia. Through her, he meets the clever Perry Biddulph and is plunged into a torment of attraction and despair, compounded by the fact that Lavinia’s husband is a scoundrel whom the Lewis’s have met before in the previous novel.   

Luke firmly resolves to avoid both Lavinia and Perry, but she uses his sexual secret to blackmail him into finding the means to leave her husband. Most problems are nicely resolved in the end. To say more would spoil it.  

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None of the Above

Gregorio, I.W.

Last Updated: Jul-16-2015
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In this young adult novel, Kristin Lattimer is a high school senior who seems to have everything – good looks, two best friends Vee and Faith, excellent athleticism especially in hurdles, a scholarship to State University, and a hunk of a boyfriend. She and her boyfriend are even voted Prom Queen and King. Kristin’s dad is a single parent, as her mother died of cervical cancer when Kristin was in 6th grade. Hence Kristin’s primary sources of knowledge of adolescent changes are her Aunt Carla and her peers, and she is able, at age 18 to chalk up her lack, not only of menstruation, but also of menarche to her running practice. But when she experiences painful and incomplete intercourse, she seeks the advice of a friend’s gynecologist.

 Dr. Johnson quickly diagnoses “androgen insensitivity syndrome” and explains that AIS is “a unique genetic syndrome that causes an intersex state – where a person looks outwardly like a female, but has some of the internal characteristics of a male.” (p. 37) The gynecologist then stumbles through further explanations and concludes, “Miss Lattimer, I think that you might be what some people call a hermaphrodite.” (p. 38) To the now stunned teen, the physician further explains karyotypes, hormone levels and the “better term” intersex. Since Kristin has undescended testes, the discussion includes possible cancer risk, and Kristin’s dad is called into the doctor’s office as well.

 The reader follows Kristin’s journey of discovery – meeting a ‘specialist,’ urologist Dr. Cheng, who provides the definitive diagnosis of AIS and explains that “chromosomal sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation are all separate concepts.” (p. 59) Issues of privacy, friendship, betrayal, sexuality, community, ostracism, social media, athletic rules vis-à-vis gender, and support groups are woven into the story and Kristin learns to cope with her new diagnosis and self-awareness.

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Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Summary:

This Side of Doctoring is an anthology published in 2002 about the experiences of women in medicine. While the essays span multiple centuries, most are from the past 50 years. They reflect on a multitude of stages in the authors’ personal and professional lives. In 344 pages divided into twelve sections, including "Early Pioneers," "Life in the Trenches," and "Mothering and Doctoring," the 146 authors recount - in excerpts from published memoirs, previously published and unpublished essays, poems and other writings, many of them composed solely for this collection - what it was then and what it was in 2002 to be a woman becoming a doctor in the U.S.. All but a handful of the authors are physicians or surgeons. There is a heavy representation from institutions on both coasts, especially the Northeast. Four men were invited to reflect on being married to physician wives. There is one anonymous essay concerning sexual harassment and a final essay from a mother and daughter, both physicians.   Beginning with the first American female physicians in the mid-19th century, like historic ground-breakers Elizabeth Blackwell and Mary Putnam Jacobi, the anthology proceeds through the phases of medical school, residency, early and mid-careers, up to reflections from older physicians on a life spent in medicine. Many of the authors have names well known in the medical humanities, including Marcia Angell, Leon Eisenberg, Perri Klass, Danielle Ofri, Audrey Shafer, and Marjorie Spurrier Sirridge, to mention a few. 

The essays and poems and letters have, as a partial listing, the following subjects: family influences in becoming a physician; professional friendships; marriage; children and their impact on a woman’s career in medicine; the decision not to have children; ill family members; illness as a physician; establishing one's sexuality as a physician; struggles with male physicians and their egos; mentors, both female and male; memorable patients (often terminal or dying); the life of a wife-physician, or mother-physician; the guilt and sacrifice that accompany such a dual life; the importance - and easy loss - of personal time or what internist Catherine Chang calls “self-care” (page 334).
  The anthology also touches on how women have changed the practice of medicine in various ways, prompted by the growing realization, as family practice physician Alison Moll puts it, "that I didn't have to practice in the traditional way" (page 185)  The authors write about the wisdom of setting limits; training or working part-time or sharing a position with another woman; and the constant face-off with decisions, especially those not normally confronting an American man becoming a doctor. 
One conclusion is evident before the reader is halfway through the book: there are many approaches to becoming a fulfilled female physician including finding one’s identity in the field.  Implicit in most of the essays and writings is the lament from obstetrician-gynecologist Gayle Shore Mayer: "Where is the self ? There are pieces of me everywhere", (page 275) recalling a similar cry from Virginia Woolf's Orlando, another essentially female soul trying to find what Richard Selzer has called "The Exact Location of the Soul".
 Several authors discover that female physicians have unique gifts to offer their patients. As internist Rebekah Wang-Cheng writes, “I am a better physician because I am a mother, and I know because of my experiences as a physician that I am a better mother.” (page 151) 

There are sections at the end devoted to a glossary for the lay reader, resources for women (as of 2002), and generous notes about the contributors (which section also serves as a useful index of each's contributions).

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