Showing 1 - 10 of 60 annotations tagged with the keyword "Psychosomatic Medicine"

Annotated by:
Kohn, Martin

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Play

Summary:

First published in 1898, Chekhov’s “A Doctor’s Visit”  has been ably adapted as a short play by physician-playwright, Guy Fredrick Glass. In addition to the original characters, in his adaptation Glass has added a new character, a medical student, Boris, as a foil and interlocutor for the work’s main character, Dr. Korolyov. Staging directions and scene setting also add dramatic dimensions to the story, as do elaborations of conversations including  comedic encounters with the governess, Christina Dmitryevna, and a display of "compassionate solidarity" (see Coulehan annotation ) with the doctor’s patient, Liza. The primary theme of the story stays true in this adaptation—Korolyov’s impressions of the patient viewed from a cold objective stance are changed as he develops personal insights into the social and political nature of her (and his) malaise.

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Is It All in Your Head?

O'Sullivan, Suzanne

Last Updated: Mar-17-2017
Annotated by:
Teagarden, J. Russell

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

Suzanne O’Sullivan is a neurologist in the British National Health Service. She has a particular interest in psychosomatic illnesses, and in this book, she covers what she has learned about them. O’Sullivan provides these learnings mostly from clinical experience rather than as findings from empiric studies on psychosomatic illnesses.   

Each chapter is built around one or more case studies that focus on particular psychosomatic illnesses, and include historical perspectives and various theories that might explain why they occur.  

The cases O’Sullivan uses presented themselves as seizures, paralysis, urinary tract troubles, generalized and localized pain, gastrointestinal problems, fatigue, blindness, and dystonia. Patients sometimes came to her with pre-determined diagnoses such as epilepsy, Lyme disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, myalgic encephalomyelitis, and fibromyalgia among others. O’Sullivan is emphatic that psychosomatic illnesses are not just any presentation of illness that cannot be linked to a pathological basis. Psychosomatic illnesses arise from “the subconscious mind [that] reproduces symptoms that make sense to the individual’s understanding of how a disease behaves.” (p. 83) Illness presentations that are feigned or self-inflicted (e.g., Munchausen’s syndrome) are not psychosomatic illnesses in O’Sullivan’s view.
 

Each chapter delves into some particular aspect of psychosomatic illness relevant to the case study. These include history (e.g., role of the uterus in hysteria), mechanisms at work (e.g., conversion reactions, dissociation), triggers (e.g., stress, loss, personality traits), factors (e.g., previous illness experiences), illness behavior disorders (e.g., associating illness to benign physical sensations), and the higher incidence seen among females. Though O’Sullivan teases out various characteristics and workings of psychosomatic illnesses, she admits that they remain vexing to clinicians because, “almost any function of the body can be affected in almost any way.” (p. 170)

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Annotated by:
Glass, Guy

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

The therapeutic benefits of music are well known, but the theory that music might be harmful to our health, unless it is so obviously loud it injures our eardrums, comes as a surprise.  In this volume, historian of medicine James Kennaway traces the idea of pathological music from antiquity to the present.  The book’s introduction considers whether music really can create illness, whether it be of a physiological or a psychological nature.  We learn, for example, of arrhythmias and seizure disorders that are set off by music, not to mention the so-called Stendhal Syndrome, a psychosomatic reaction to great works of art.

The second chapter describes how, during the 18th century, disease was thought to result from excessive stimulation of the nerves, and how that created a theoretical framework for the “medical dangers of music” (p. 23) as being rooted in the nervous system. The example of the glass harmonica is given. This musical instrument, invented by Benjamin Franklin, had its status elevated when Mozart composed two pieces for it.  However, its success became its undoing, as it was feared the tones would “make women faint, send a dog into convulsions, [and] make a sleeping girl wake screaming through a chord of the diminished seventh” (p. 45). Special gloves were devised so that a performer might, by avoiding direct contact with the apparatus, spare his nerves. 

In the following chapter, Kennaway explores how Wagner dominated 19th-century discourse on pathological music in that his work’s eroticism and novel harmonies were thought to produce neurasthenia (a popular catch-all term for an array of anxiety disorders). Listeners were brought to an unhealthy state of ecstasy, and singers, being driven to the abyss, went insane. Women who had recklessly allowed themselves to become “Wagnerized” were punished with a “lack [of] children, or, in the most bearable cases, men” (p. 74).

Moving into the 20th century, the author describes how ideas about pathological music acquired a political connotation.  In Germany, the perceived threat of avant-garde Jewish composers (eg. Schoenberg) to public health culminated in the so-called Degenerate Music exhibition of 1938. And in  the United States, African American-influenced jazz was credited with the power to “change human physiology, damaging the medulla in the brain” (p. 121).

Finally, the book concludes in the present day with music for brainwashing (e.g. a consideration of whether subliminal messages hidden in rock songs could lead to suicide), and the use of painfully loud or abrasive music as sonic weapons in warfare, or for torture.  The author’s verdict is that the notion of music as bad for your health, though emerging in new forms, is more topical than ever.

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Freud's Mistress

Kaufman, Jennifer; Mack, Karen

Last Updated: Jul-31-2015
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Minna Bernays is the younger sister of Martha, Sigmund Freud's wife. Her own fiancé has died and by 1895, she is reduced to joining her sister’s family in Vienna because she has abandoned her position as a companion to a demanding, prejudiced aristocrat. The six Freud children love her, but she finds them exhausting and undisciplined. Obsessed with order, housework, and social standing, and possibly suffering from psychosomatic ailments, Martha is happy to leave the care of the children to Minna. She disapproves of her husband’s theories about sexual frustration as a cause of mental distress and refuses to discuss his ideas. Nevertheless, Martha is well aware that growing anti-semitism hampers her husband’s career, and she is eager for him to succeed: he could consider a conversion of convenience, like the composer Gustav Mahler.

Minna finds herself drawn to Sigmund for his intellect and his novel ideas. She is also attracted to him physically, and he to her. She resists the temptation, but he does not and actively pursues her, inducing her to try cocaine too. He justifies it - the sex and the drugs - as necessities for mental and physical well-being and he rejects the guilt that, he claims, so-called civilization would impose.

She tries to leave by finding another job as a ladies’ companion in Frankfurt, but he follows her there. They escape for an idyllic holiday to a hotel in Switzerland, then he brings her back to the family home. But his ardor cools and she is wounded, displaced by his enthusiasm for Wilhelm Fliess and Lou Andreas-Salomé.

Soon she discovers that she is pregnant, and Freud sends her away to a “spa” for an abortion, but at the last moment, she decides to keep her baby. Sadly she miscarries and returns to the Freud family with whom she remains for more than four decades until her death in 1941.

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Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

Linden, a professor of neuroscience, has written a book for a general audience on the subject of touch. A synthetic thinker, he combines insights from science, anatomy, neurophysiology, psychology, and social behavior. He argues that touch pervades much of human experience: “From consumer choice to sexual intercourse, from tool use to chronic pain to the process of healing, the genes, cells, and neural circuits involved in the sense of touch have been crucial to creating our unique human experience” (p. 5). Case studies of medical oddities enliven his account.

Chapter One, “The Skin is a Social Organ,” draws on a wide range of examples, from NBA players to vampire bats. Touch is especially important to the development of human newborns. Lab experiments have shown that the attitude of the toucher can influence the experience of the touched. English and American cultures are touch aversive.

Chapter Two discusses the neurophysiology of touch, the sensory nerves and the neurons that link to the spinal cord or to the brain. Lively examples include string players, 1900-era women with “underwear-shaped numbness,” and the Braille writing system for the blind. 

In Chapter Three, “The Anatomy of a Caress,” Linden explores further the tactile fibers that relay touch. “A caress communicates that you are safe,” he writes, and the C-tactile system is the main route from skin to the brain.

Chapter Four, “Sexual Touch,” moves beyond caress all the way to orgasm, detailing the roles of touch receptors and brain activity as well as the wide variety of personal and social contexts.

Chapter Five looks at nerve endings of human skin that detect chili peppers as hot and mint as cool. Vampire bats have another version that detect heat, useful for locating blood vessels on “donors.”

Chapter Six, “Pain and Emotion,” opens with Pakistani children who do not feel pain; they have a genetic mutation that influences a sodium channel in neurons. Pain itself varies with people’s emotions, experience, and expectations. Some mindfulness practices (yoga, Tai Chi, meditation) can lessen chronic pain.

Chapter Seven, “The Itchy and Scratchy Show,” discusses river blindness and shingles, among other topics.

Chapter Eight, “Illusion and Transcendence,” provides a helpful overview of sensory nerves and their connection to various parts of the brain. Some stimuli activate the “emotional-affective-cognitive portions,” while others activate “sensory-discriminative centers.” Touch, in general, often has strong social meanings but does not, for Linden, imply any supernatural dimensions.  

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Augustine

Winocour, Alice; Soko; Lindon, Vincent

Last Updated: Feb-07-2014
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Augustine, a fifteen-year old maid in a wealthy home, collapses with a seizure while she is serving an elegant dinner. When she recovers, she is unable to open one eye. She is transported to Salpetriere hospital in Paris under the care of the famous J. M. Charcot, neurologist and psychiatrist who is fascinated by the condition of hysteria. He uses hypnosis to suggest cures to his patients and to trigger attacks which he demonstrates to his colleagues. Augustine is particularly susceptible to fits under hypnosis and obliges her doctor with lewd, convulsive performances virtually on command.

After one such episode the paralysis moves from her eye to her hand. She says that she wishes to be cured, but life in the asylum is not terrible: she has a warm room and food; she no longer needs to work in a kitchen or serve demanding masters.  The doctor is clearly taken with her as a scientific subject. “Augustine est une patient magnifique,” he assures a colleague. He is personally intrigued by her too.

Finally, one day she announces that she is cured. When Charcot tries to hypnotize her for another demonstration, she does not succumb; however, a look passes between them. Taking pity on her doctor, she stages a seizure that satisfies the audience. Immediately after, she and the doctor have a single passionate encounter against a clinic wall, and then she runs away.

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A Diary Without Dates

Bagnold, Enid

Last Updated: Oct-24-2013
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

"A Diary Without Dates" is Enid Bagnold's World War I memoir of her experiences over roughly a year and a half as a member of the V.A.D. (Voluntary Aid Detachment), or what we would today call a nurse's aide. Assisting the Sisters (both lay and religious nurses), the author attended to the day-to-day (mostly non-clinical) needs of wounded soldiers (almost entirely British) recovering from often horrific wounds in the Royal Herbert Hospital in Woolwich, 8 miles southeast of London. These poor men often stayed in the Royal Herbert for many months. It is a slim volume which the author wrote at the age of 28 and published in 1918. Divided into three arbitrary divisions ("Outside the Glass Doors", "Inside the Glass Doors", "'The Boys ...'") of roughly equal content (the last devotes, on the whole, more detail to individual "Tommies", referred to as "The Boys"), the book recounts the author's observations and fairly critical views of the relationships between nurses, physicians, V.A.D's, and visitors. Apparently the book was not well received by war authorities, leading to Bagnold's dismissal from her position.

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The Miracle Cures of Dr. Aira

Aira, Cesar

Last Updated: Jun-30-2013
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novella

Summary:

The protagonist-physician, Dr. Aira, is an almost 50-year-old sleepwalker who resides in Buenos Aires. He's nearsighted, introspective, and paranoid. Dr. Aira's fame stems from his "miracle cures" - even though it's not clear that he's ever actually performed one. Dr. Aira does not believe in God.

His initial encounter with "paranormal medicine" occurred during childhood when dog owners in his town were led to believe that by submitting themselves to a lengthy set of penicillin injections their pets would be painlessly neutered. Acknowledging the absurdity of that situation, he remained intrigued by the "possibility of action from a distance" (p10) and the lure of magical healing.

Dr. Aira's nemesis is Dr. Actyn, Chief of Medicine who tries to ridicule Dr. Aira and debunk his claims. Dr. Actyn sets elaborate traps including one with a "dying" actor on an ambulance who Dr. Aira refuses to cure.

Dr. Aira obtains enough money to devote 10 months solely to writing his secrets and eventually self-publishing his knowledge in the form of pamphlets. His plan is interrupted by an urgent request to perform a miracle cure on a terminally-ill cancer patient. He consents and makes a house call to treat the wealthy man. After one hour of intense deliberation and theorizing, Dr. Aira's work is complete. Laughter erupts. The "patient" is a fake. It's his archenemy Dr. Actyn in disguise. Dr. Aira's failure is captured on camera.

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The Story of San Michele

Munthe, Axel

Last Updated: Nov-14-2011
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

The author takes us on a highly colorful autobiographical tour of his medical career - his personal life never enters this account - from a classical medical education in Paris as a young expatriate Swede (he remains expatriate the entire book) to his internal medicine practice in France, including a tour of Naples as a volunteer during the cholera epidemic of 1881 and his finally settling in Italy. There are also anecdotes - many of them side-splitting and told with uncommon skill - about conducting a corpse back to Sweden, a truly thrilling journey to Lapland,  encounters with the legendary Charcot, his return to San Michele whence the book begins with a mythopoetic retelling of his first visit there, and his last years at San Michele as patron of a community (both local and international) and as collector and explorer of the nearby Mediterranean.        

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Alice in Bed

Sontag, Susan

Last Updated: Feb-12-2010
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Play

Summary:

This play in eight scenes presents the fictionalized character of Alice James, sister of Henry and William James, who after a sickly childhood, succumbed at 19 to a variety of vague and recurrent illnesses that made her a lifetime invalid. She died at 43 of breast cancer.

In a series of encounters (with her nurse; her father; her brother, Henry; several Victorian female figures: Margaret Fuller, Emily Dickinson, and mythological figures from Victorian fantasy fiction and from Parsifal; and a burglar), as well as a long dramatic monologue, her various forms of internal conflict are hilariously and poignantly articulated. They converge on the implications of her recurrently deciding whether or not to get out of bed and do something, and her confusion, often discussed by biographers and critics, about her place in her brilliant family, her vocation as a woman, and her own desires.

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