Showing 1 - 10 of 251 annotations tagged with the keyword "Illness Narrative/Pathography"

Summary:

Andrew Schulman is a New York guitarist with a long history of playing in hotels, restaurants, small groups, and formal concerts—even in Carnegie Hall, the White House, and Royal Albert Hall. His memoir describes his experience as a patient in a Surgical Intensive Care Unit (SICU), where he was briefly clinically dead. Six months later he began a part-time career as a guitarist playing for patients and staff in that very same SICU. 
           
In July of 2009, Schulman underwent surgery for a pancreatic tumor (luckily benign) but crashed afterward. He suffered cardiac arrest and shortage of blood to his brain for 17 minutes. Doctors induced a week-long medical coma, but his condition worsened. His wife asked if he could hear music; he had brought a prepared iPod. When the opening chorus of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion played in his earbud, the computer monitor showed that his vital signs stabilized, and he survived. The nurses called it a miracle.
           

Convinced of music’s healing power, Schulman proposed that he return and play for patients and staff. He describes various patients for whom he played over the next six years (with permission or changes of name and details). He explains his approach to choosing music, pacing it, and feeling hunches for what is right for a given patient. He interviews experts and reads scientific papers in order to explain how the brain processes music. Music reminds patients of their earlier, healthier lives; it coordinates right and left brain; it brings calmness and peace.
 
Imaging studies show that music (and emotionally charged literature) stimulate the brain regions associated with reward—similar to euphoria, sex, and use of addictive drugs.

Schulman knew some 300 pieces from a wide range of music, but his illness damaged his memory so that he could recall only six of them. That meant his work relied on sheet music. Near the end of the book, however, his “rehab” of playing three times a week, concentrating on the music, and intending to help others—all this allowed his brain to heal, and he began to memorize as before. Schulman consults with experts and undergoes two brain scans and other studies that show the neuroplasticity of this brain that allowed it to rewire and memorize once again.

Although Music Therapy is discussed as an allied profession, Schulman is considered, rather, as a “medical musician” playing only in the SICU. Provision of music, whether by Music Therapist or “medical musician,” is, however, usually not covered by insurance and therefore not available to patients.           

There’s a six-page Afterword by Dr. Marvin A. McMillen, who Schulman describes as “central” to his survival. McMillen writes that being both a critical care doctor and a critical care patient himself (polycystic kidney disease), he knows the importance of emotional support to patients, healing environments, and the power of music. McMillen was also pivotal in allowing Schulman to play in the SICU.

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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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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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The Wound Dresser

Coulehan, Jack

Last Updated: Nov-23-2016
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry

Summary:

The collection is prefaced and named for a poem by Walt Whitman, The Wound Dresser, annotated in this database by Jack Coulehan. In “On Reading Walt Whitman’s ‘The Wound Dresser’” Coulehan sees Whitman as a nurse tending the Civil War wounded, and, while using some of the words and language of Whitman’s poem, imagines himself moving forward in that created space of caring for patients: “You remain / tinkering at your soldier’s side, as I step / to the next cot and the cot after that.” (p. ix) The poem introduces us to all the ‘cots’ of the book – where we step from patient to patient, through history and geography, and through the journey of medical training.   The book is comprised of 4 sections without overt explanation, although there are 4 pages of Notes at the end of the book with information about select individual poems. In general, the themes of the sections can be described as: 1.) clinical care of individual patients and medical training; 2.) reflections on historical medical cases, reported anecdotes or past literary references; 3.) meditations on geographically distinct episodes – either places of travel or news items; and 4.) family memoir, personal history and the passage of time.   Many of the poems have been previously published and a few are revised from an earlier chapbook. Notable among the latter is “McGonigle’s Foot” (pp 42-3) from section 2, wherein an event in Philadelphia, 1862 – well after the successful public demonstration of anesthesia was reported and the practice widely disseminated, a drunk Irishman was deemed unworthy of receiving an anesthetic. Although it is easy to look back and critique past prejudices, Coulehan’s poem teaches us to examine current prejudices, bias and discrimination in the provision of healthcare choices, pain relief and access to care.   There are many gems in these 72 poems. Coulehan has an acute sensibility about the variety of human conditions he has the privilege to encounter in medical training and clinical practice. However, one of the standouts for me was “Cesium 137” based on a news report of children finding an abandoned radiotherapy source (cesium) in Goiania Brazil, playing with the glowing find and suffering acute radiation poisoning. He writes: “the cairn of their small lives / burst open…their bodies vacillate and weaken / hour by hour, consumed by innocence / and radiant desire.” (p. 68).   Following another poem inspired by Whitman, Coulehan concludes the collection with a sonnet “Retrospective.” He chronicles a 40-year career along with physical aging, memories of medical training “etched in myelin,” and the search for connection across that span of career including, “those he hurt, the woman / he killed with morphine, more than a few he saved.” Ultimately, he relies on hope with fitting understatement: “His ally, hope, will have to do.” (p. 97)

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Summary:

This monograph is an important contribution—along with the Health Humanities Reader (2014)—to the burgeoning field of health humanities, a new academic field and the presumed replacement for (and expansion of) medical humanities. While the medical humanities included philosophy, literature, religion, and history, health humanities includes many more disciplines, and the creative arts.
This book is dense with theory and abstraction, but it imaginatively and intelligently promotes the notion that health is a larger and more useful concept than disease, which dominates and limits standard medicine. 

Five authors are listed for the book as a whole; none are attributed specifically to any of the eight chapters.
 
The first chapter “Health Humanities” promotes health humanities as an expansion of medical humanities to include more people (including unpaid caregivers and patients), social and national well-being, and the arts, such as dance, music, and visual art. We need to consider wider ranges of meaning, agency, and patients’ varying life stories. Unpaid caregivers have been neglected, even though “the majority of healthcare as it is practiced, is nonmedical” (p. 13). Medicine per se has been too science-based and too disease oriented, but critical theory and the arts can be “enabler[s] of health and well-being” (p. 19) with many applications to hospitals, clinics, homes, and neighborhoods.

“Anthropology and the Study of Culture” describes a wide range of inquiry, both worldwide and throughout human time, including rituals, conceptions of disease, health, death, and impacts for patients. Some cultures believe in spirit possession. The Chinese have worked with qi (life energy) for millennia. Cultural studies look at popular media, spiritual perspectives, also local and subcultural values.
 
“Applied Literature” discusses pathographies, including mental illness (for example, self-harm); it reviews concepts from Rita Charon and describes how reading groups can promote well-being. Literature expands our understanding of humans well beyond the biomedical gaze. Closely related, “Narrative and Applied Linguistics” reviews notions from Osler, Barthes, Bruner, Propp, Frank, and others. Patients want, beyond technical expertise, healthcare personnel who will help them co-create an enabling narrative. New techniques in linguistics include analysis of a corpus of usage, for example, teen language, thereby gaining approaches to young patients who cut themselves.

At 23 pages, the longest chapter is “Performing Arts and the Aesthetics of Health.” It posits that all arts are uniquely human because they are relational, aesthetic, and temporal (with time in a kairos sense, not just chronos). The arts fit into health practices, which also share the same three qualities. The arts promote coherence, agency, communication, expression, and social wellbeing, traits that are described specifically in music, dance, and drama. Similarly, the next chapter “Visual Art and Transformation,” promotes this particular art, whether elitist or popular, as communicative and transformative. The making of art can be healing. 

“Practice Based Evidence: Delivering Humanities into Healthcare” argues against Evidence Based Practice and its limitations. Instead of Randomized Controlled Trials, smaller, more qualitative studies may be more accurate and useful. Practice Based Evidence (and feminist and postmodern approaches) all create wider and deeper notions of validity.

“Creative Practice as Mutual Recovery” suggests that caregivers, whether professional or lay, also find healing as they deliver care.

In “Concluding Remarks” we read, again, that  “the majority of health care and the generation of health and well-being is non-medical” (p. 153). Medicine and medical humanities are “too narrow a bandwidth,” but health humanities can support all caregivers, various institutions (including schools), self-care, and complementary medicine.   

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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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Tithonus

Tennyson, Alfred

Last Updated: Jul-28-2016
Annotated by:
Clark, Mark

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry

Summary:

Tithonus” is a dramatic monologue that imagines the once handsome, magnificent Trojan prince to be well-advanced in an unfortunate state brought about by negligent gods and his own lack of foresight.  Exultant over the blessings of his youth, he’d asked Aurora, goddess of the dawn, for eternal life, and she had obtained Zeus’s permission to grant the request.  But Tithonus had failed to ask for eternal youth with his immortality—and neither Aurora nor Zeus had managed to recognize that this feature of the request might be important—so that Tithonus spends eternity growing increasingly decrepit.  In Tennyson’s poem, Tithonus addresses Aurora, hoping he might persuade her to reassign him his mortal status and allow him to die.

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Annotated by:
Glass, Guy

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Essay

Summary:

This is a collection of essays by (mostly British) artists, performers, and academics on the intersection between medicine and theater.  It appears in a series entitled “Performance and Science: Interdisciplinary Dialogues” put out by Bloomsbury Methuen Drama.  The introduction makes it clear there are many points of convergence beyond the scope of this volume, such as how medicine is depicted in plays and therapeutic uses of theater (e.g. drama therapy).  The focus here, then, is on “the ways in which the body is understood, displayed and represented in performance” (p. 11).  And the “medical body” of the title refers to one that is ’acted upon’ by illness or disability and/or by the diagnostic and therapeutic activities of the medical profession” (Ibid).  

The book is divided into three sections: “Performing the Medical,” “Performing Patients,” and “Performing Body Parts.”  The first section includes an essay by Roger Kneebone, a surgeon, who explores the parallels between his field and theatrical performance.  Kneebone has devised simulations that enable laypersons to get a sense of what it is like to participate in surgery.  In his view, this encourages cross-fertilization of ideas.  For example, his collaboration with a jazz pianist has demonstrated to him that musical improvisation, in its spontaneity, is somewhat like emergency surgery.  And his work with a choreographer led to the development of a dance piece depicting the movements of a surgical team during a procedure.   
 

In the second section we read about Brian Lobel, a theater artist who has used his experience with testicular cancer to create a solo performance piece entitled “BALL.”  This not only allowed Lobel to “regain a sense of mastery over the illness experience” (p. 88), but has also earned him a niche within the theater community.  Lobel now works with other cancer sufferers helping them develop their own narratives in a project called “Fun with Cancer Patients.”  

The final section of the book includes a description of “Under Glass,” a forty-minute performance piece consisting of eight specimen jars each containing a solo performer, said to be “at once museum exhibit, gallery and medical laboratory” (p. 141), which also provides the book's front cover image. "Under Glass" was devised by Clod Ensemble, whose Performing Medicine project is known for its teaching programs in numerous London medical schools.  Meant to provoke discourse about the public display of specimens, it brings to mind the Victorian “freak show” as well as the more recent controversial touring Body Worlds exhibition of plastinated cadavers and body parts.

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When Breath Becomes Air

Kalanithi, Paul

Last Updated: Feb-18-2016
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Paul Kalanithi, diagnosed with stage IV metastatic lung cancer when he was a neurosurgery resident at Stanford University, was faced with a decision. Should he truncate his career in neurosurgery in order to become a writer - a career he had always envisioned for himself after completing a couple of decades of neurosurgery practice? Married to Lucy Kalanithi, an internist he had met in medical school, Paul’s career and future had looked bright and promising. But as he entered his final year of a seven-year residency, symptoms of excruciating back pain and significant weight loss began. Garbed in a hospital gown, he examines his own CT scan – this is how we meet Paul at the beginning of the Prologue. He then writes of the relatively brief period of misdiagnosis prior to the CT scan. With the initial negative plain x-rays, he is started on nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. But breakthrough pain and continued weight loss leads to the CT. Paul the physician understands the death sentence the images portend; Paul the patient is just beginning his journey. The diagnosis and treatment cause him to reassess his decisions about his life, to decide to father a child even though he knows he will never see the child grow up, and ultimately to write a memoir, essentially for his daughter.

Paul had graduated from Stanford with undergraduate and master’s degrees which reflected his dual love of literature and science. He combined these in a second master’s degree from Cambridge University in the history and philosophy of science and medicine before attending Yale for his medical degree. He and his wife return to California for residencies. The book is largely a blend of his dual interests: a deep and abiding love and faith in literature and how words can reveal truths, and a passion for the practice and science of neurosurgery. The rupture of fatal illness into his life interrupts his dogged trajectory towards an academic medical career, and, like all ruptures, confounds expectations and reorients priorities.

The book has five parts: a foreword by physician-writer Abraham Verghese, who notes the stunning prose Paul produced for an initial article in The New York Times and exhorts the reader to “Listen to Paul” (page xix); a brief prologue; two parts by Paul Kalanithi (Part I: In Perfect Health I Begin, and Part II: Cease Not till Death); and a stunning, heart-breaking epilogue by Lucy Kalanithi. In the epilogue, written with as many literary references and allusions as her husband’s writing includes, Lucy provides the reader with a gentle and loving portrait of her husband in his final days, reaffirms his joy in their daughter Cady, and chronicles how she kept her promise to her dying husband to shepherd his manuscript into print.

The bulk of the book is memoir – a childhood in Arizona and an aversion to pursuing a life in medicine due to his hard-working cardiologist-father, experiences at Stanford which eventually led him to reverse his decision to avoid a medical career, the stages of his medical career and caring for patients, and his devastating cancer. Though initially responsive to treatment—and indeed, the treatment enables him to complete his residency and decide to father a child with Lucy—the cancer is, as prognosticated from the diagnosis, fatal.

What makes this memoir so much more than an exercise in memory and a tribute to the herculean effort to write while sapped by cancer and its treatment, are the philosophical turns, the clear love of words and literature, and the poignancy of the writing. He begins reading fiction and nonfiction again: “I was searching for a vocabulary with which to make sense of death, to find a way to begin defining myself and inching forward again. The privilege of direct experience had led me away from literary and academic work, yet now I felt that to understand my own direct experiences, I would have to translate them back into language…I needed words to go forward.” (pp 148-9) Paul’s writing ends with what is arguably some of the most poetic prose ever written. He concludes by speaking directly to his infant daughter: “When you come to one of the many moments in life where you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.” (p. 199)

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Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Kozol tells a multilayered story about himself and his father, a distinguished physician who becomes increasingly demented by Alzheimer’s disease, starting at age 88. A neurologist, Dr. Harry Kozol is able to diagnose with great specificity his own disease.     
          
Son Kozol describes his father’s initial symptoms and the slow decline, a direction that is sadly and fatefully, clear. The son goes on walks with him, describes their conversations, arranges for paid companions, and puzzles about what must be “a life beneath the life” of his progressively inarticulate father.
           

Over the 14 years of this illness, there are some medical mishaps—including problems in continuity of care—depletion of the family’s money, and Jonathan’s hesitation to use a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order for his father or for his aging mother. He writes of his doubts, uncertainties, and mixed emotions. When his father is actively dying, Kozol dawdles elsewhere with lists and papers “obsessively.” He understands this, in retrospect, as denial. Nevertheless he arrives at the hospital and places his ear on his father’s chest, hearing breaths come slower and slower until death. Dr. Kozol dies in 2008 at the age of 102.
           

Alternating with this story are long passages about Dr. Kozol’s professional life, including his work with Eugene O’Neill and family, also Patty Hearst and Albert DeSalvo (“The Boston Strangler”). For the latter two, he is an expert witness in court cases. These passages illustrate his many skills, tenacity, and ideals.

A 25-page Epilogue written a half a dozen years later casts a different light on the father-son relationship. While the bulk of the book shows a loving, respectful relationship, the Epilogue describes tensions and disagreements between the two from Jonathan’s childhood to later years. The father criticizes what he perceives as failures, lack of ambition, poor choices, and the like. Kozol describes his own illustrious career, often in directions his father disapproves. In later years, however, Kozol accepts some of his father’s advice and understands their status more as equals. In another seven years, however, Dr. Kozol’s mind starts its difficult path, and the son becomes the caregiver to the father.  

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