Showing 1 - 10 of 32 annotations tagged with the keyword "Epilepsy"

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:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

A bicycling, bee-keeping, British neurosurgeon approaching the end of his professional career recalls some distinctive patients, surgical triumphs as well as notable failures, difficult decisions, and mistakes. Nearly thirty years of a busy neurosurgical practice are distilled into a collection of linked stories throbbing with drama - both the flamboyant kind and the softly simmering type.

Most chapters are titled after a medical condition (exceptions are "Hubris" and "Melodrama"). Some of the headings are familiar - Trauma, Infarct, Aneurysm, Meningioma. Other chapter titles flaunt delicious medical terminology that mingles the mysterious and the poetic with nomenclature such as Angor animi, Neurotmesis, Photopsia, and Anaesthesia dolorosa.

Included are riveting accounts of both mundane and seemingly miraculous patient outcomes. One success story involves a pregnant woman losing her sight due to a brain tumor that compresses the optic nerves. Her vision is restored with an operation performed by the author. Her baby is born healthy too. But tales of failure and loss - malignant glioblastomas that are invulnerable to any treatment, operative calamities including bleeding of the brain, paralysis, and stroke - are tragically common. The author describes his humanitarian work in the Ukraine. He admits his aggravation with hospital bureaucracy and is frequently frustrated by England's National Health Service.

Sometimes the shoe falls on the other foot, and the doctor learns what it is to be a patient. He suffers a retinal detachment. He falls down some stairs and fractures his leg. His mother succumbs to metastatic breast cancer. His three month old son requires surgery for a benign brain tumor.

As his career winds down, the author grows increasingly philosophical. He acknowledges his diminishing professional detachment, his fading fear of failure, and his less-hardened self. He becomes a sort of vessel for patients to empty their misery into. He is cognizant of the painful privilege it is to be a doctor.

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Summary:

The author is a practicing neurosurgeon, one of only two hundred or so women in this specialty which numbers about 4,500. She was the first woman to be admitted to her neurosurgery residency program. Her father was a surgeon and she was definitely influenced by him and says that, as the oldest of four children, it was always expected that she would become a doctor; but she didn't decide for sure until partway through her second year of college.

Once in medical school her decision for neurosurgery as her specialty came very easily. Oliver Sacks's writing had a significant influence on her decision. She was also influenced by her college sweetheart who became her husband and who also chose to train as a neurosurgeon. He is not practicing now and they do not have children.

Her description of her long years of training are interestingly related with many individual patient stories and also many descriptions of her teachers and peers. She takes time to describe how she views the specialty itself and its power structure and all that entails. Among the interesting chapters are two about her research years, one at the center for cognitive brain imaging at Carnegie-Mellon and one as a fellow in Epilepsy Surgery. The author was fascinated with the complexity of brain function and its relation to anatomical structure with which she was much more familiar.

Firlik found that she loved "life on the learning curve" and that her curiosity was broad. About her last year as Chief Resident she said "I have had my hand in saving lives and I have had my hand in helping to end them: I'm not talking about murder, of course. I am talking about helping people die" (227). She was able to write this book because she kept a journal during her training.

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Annotated by:
Poirier, Suzanne

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Investigative Journalism

Summary:

When Lia Lee's sister slammed the front door to their Merced, California, apartment, Lia experienced her first in several years of increasingly severe seizures. The Lee family knew that the noise had awakened a dab, an evil spirit who stole Lia's soul. They also knew, in the midst of their grief for their infant daughter, that people suffering from "the spirit catches you and you fall down" often grew up to be healers in their Hmong culture.

Not surprisingly, the physicians and other health professionals who worked with Lia and her parents over the next seven-plus years did not share this diagnosis--most of them did not even know about it. Fadiman melds her story of Lia, the Lees, the family's physicians and social workers, and countless other people who enter the Lees' life (usually uninvited and unwelcome) with the long history of the Hmong people, their religion and culture, and their more recent lives as refugees from war in Laos and Cambodia (and the troubled history of their relationship to the U.S. military system).

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Illness as Narrative

Jurecic, Ann

Last Updated: Jul-03-2012
Annotated by:
Schilling, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Summary:

In Illness as Narrative, Ann Jurecic thoughtfully examines the unruly questions that personal accounts of illness pose to literary studies: What is the role of criticism in responding to literature about suffering?  Does the shared vulnerability of living in a body, which stories of illness intimately expose, justify empathic readings?   What is the place of skepticism in responding to stories of suffering?  Does whether or how we read illness narratives matter?  Jurecic's questions entice discussion at an interesting cultural moment.  The numbers of memoirs and essays about illnessand their inclusion in medical school and other humanities coursesmultiplied from the later decades of the 20th century to the present.   However, their increase, and their potential to encourage empathic readings, coincided with dominant literary theories that advocated vigorously skeptical, error-seeking responses to texts and their authors.  Jurecic reminds us that Paul Ricoeur called such responses "the hermeneutics of suspicion" (3). 

Jurecic's astutely researched, nuanced answers to those questions propose a corrective to the extreme skepticism of "disembodied criticism." Such criticism, she claims, dismisses testimonial writing from "a position of distance and privilege."  But her answers also affirm that intellectually "rigorous" responses to texts are central to the critical humanities (15).  To further her position, she offers attentive readings of accounts of illness by Virginia Woolf, Reynolds Price, and Jean-Dominique Bauby, as well as the theoretical writing of literary and other scholars.  For instance, Jurecic speculates that the condition of a reader's body aligns with his or her responses to texts.  In a chapter called "Theory's Aging Body," she observes that as skeptical scholarly readers ageStephen Greenblatt, Michel Foucault, Judith Butlerthey have turned their attention to "illness, vulnerability, and mortality" (93).  Jurecic also suggests that a function of criticism is to uncover the cultural conditions that memoirs and essays about illness respond to.  Living "at risk" is a recent one.  In stories of living with the risk of experiencing a particular illness in the future, potential patients create narratives of uncertainty to discover the "personal meaning of the impersonal statistics" that medical research now regularly delivers (18). 

 Jurecic also reflects on the ways theorists have understood the possibilities of representing and responding to pain in the varied approaches of philosophers Elaine Scarry, Martha Nussbaum, and Richard Rorty and of anthropologists Jean E. Jackson, Byron Good, and Veena Das.  In an exceptionally comprehensive and nuanced reading of Susan Sontag's theoretical, fictional, and journal writing about suffering, Jurecic uncovers Sontag's inconsistent, yet revelatory positions on the human capacity for responding to representations of pain.  The chapter on Sontag is enriched by Jurecic's reading of Annie Lebovitz's and David Reiff's responses to Sontag's suffering: in Lebovitz's controversial photographs of Sontag's final days (included in A Photographer's Life: 1990-2005) and Reiff's memoir about his mother's illnesses (Swimming in a Sea of Death). 

Illness as Narrative closes with examples of what Jurecic calls reparative writing and reading practices.  In the first instance, ill writers such as Jean-Dominique Bauby (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) both recreate "a more coherent sense of themselves" and dislodge "fixed ideas and narratives" about illness (109).  In the second instance, Jurecic outlines the limits of two competing readings of Anne Fadiman's The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down.  One assumes that readers will by nature empathically imagine those who are culturally different from themselves.  The other looks skeptically at the assumption that what medical educators call cultural competence can be acquired by reading a book.  Jurecic suggests that strategies for reading and teaching informed by Janelle S. Taylor, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, and Rita Felski can encourage more complex habits of response, such as Taylor's "'empathic curiosity'" (quoted 122).

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Tinkers

Harding, Paul

Last Updated: Jul-06-2010
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

George Washington Crosby is dying from kidney failure. The eighty-year-old man has a crumbling body - Parkinson's disease, cancer, diabetes, and previous heart attacks - and a murky mind. He is hallucinating and his memories are disordered. George occupies a hospital bed in the living room of a house that he constructed himself. His family keeps him company as they await his imminent demise.

Some of George's thoughts revolve around his passion for clocks and his skill in repairing them. Most of his memories center on his father, Howard Aaron Crosby. About seventy years earlier, Howard owned a wooden wagon and a horse and scratched out a living as a tinker and a peddler of household goods. Howard's father had been a Methodist minister who exhibited worsening signs of mental illness. The man was eventually escorted out of his home. Only a young boy at the time, Howard would never see his father again.

Howard suffered from frequent and violent epileptic seizures. His wife and the family doctor thought Howard should be admitted to the Eastern Maine State Hospital, an institution housing feebleminded and insane individuals. Howard had a different opinion. One evening, he left his wife and four children and headed to Philadelphia. He took a new name and a new wife. He found work in a grocery store. The frequency of his seizures decreased dramatically.

George's final memory before death is a vivid one. He recalls a Christmas dinner in 1953. Someone is at the door. It is a surprise (and brief) visit by Howard to George's house. It is the first time that he has seen his father since George was twelve.

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Poor Miss Finch

Collins, Wilkie

Last Updated: Feb-11-2010
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Lucilla Finch, a young middle-class woman who has been blind since early childhood, falls in love with Oscar Dubourg. After a head injury, Oscar develops epilepsy, and then turns blue from the treatment. Lucilla harbors an irrational hatred of dark colors, including dark skin; thus Oscar has a strong desire to hide his blueness from Lucilla until after their marriage. When his twin brother comes to visit, Oscar tells Lucilla that Nugent is the blue man, a deception that backfires when Nugent--who has fallen in love with Lucilla himself--brings in Herr Grosse, an oculist who cures Lucilla's blindness.

Her first vision is of Nugent, who sabotages Oscar by assuming his identity and making it impossible for Oscar to reveal the truth. Oscar goes abroad, becoming a nurse, but returns in time to rescue Lucilla--who is blind again--from marrying Nugent. After the brothers reconcile, Lucilla and Oscar marry and have two children; Nugent freezes to death during an Arctic expedition.

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The Year of Release

Guista, Michael

Last Updated: Jan-21-2010
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

A college professor who suffers from Tourette's disorder deals with two challenging students in his English 101 class. Having spent years in therapy, Professor Jorge is now fairly content with his life in spite of the frequent vocal and motor tics that he labors to suppress. Allen Ramsey is the freshman prodigy who induces Jorge to reassess the implications of his existence. Anna is an undergraduate who is preoccupied with death. She has a crush on Jorge and leaves a suicide note in his office box.

One day Allen is late for class because he has a seizure. His seizures increase in frequency, but Allen doesn't mind them. He relishes them. Allen acknowledges that "It's as though I can smell my thoughts" during a seizure and "the world just changes" (170). Jorge finds Allen on the campus ground in a postictal state. He summons an ambulance, and Allen is admitted to the hospital.

When Allen returns to class weeks later, he is no longer the same person. With the use of medication and possibly surgery, doctors have abolished his seizures along with his former personality. Allen receives an "Incomplete" grade for the class. The semester's experience has Jorge lamenting Allen's shocking transformation, attempting to convince Anna of life's worth, and mulling the magnitude of his words.

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Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Literature

Genre: Anthology (Mixed Genres)

Summary:

This anthology culls 1,500 excerpts from approximately 600 works of literature primarily written in the past two centuries and representing all major genres--the novel, drama, poetry, and essay. These brief selections highlight how literature portrays the medical profession and also provide ample evidence of many recurrent themes about the doctor-patient relationship and the personal lives of physicians present in the pages of fiction.

The book is organized into eleven chapters devoted to the following subjects: the doctor's fee, time, bedside manner, the medical history and physical examination, communication and truth, treatment, detachment, resentment of the medical profession, hospital rounds, social status, and the doctor in court. Many well-known authors including Anton P. Chekhov, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Mann, W. (William) Somerset Maugham, Leo Tolstoy, Tennessee Williams, and William Carlos Williams are featured in this anthology but less notable writers are also introduced. A twenty-three-page bibliography of primary and secondary sources is a useful element of the book.

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This Lovely Life

Forman, Vicki

Last Updated: Jan-03-2010
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Vicki Forman's twins, Evan and Ellie, were born in 2000 at twenty-three weeks' gestation.  Fetuses could legally be aborted up to twenty-four weeks, but rules regulating treatment of extremely premature babies differed from one hospital to another.  Daughter of a doctor, Forman knew how slim were the chances of survival and how great the chances of serious disability if either of the twins did survive.  Grieving, but realistic, she and her husband asked for a DNR order, but learned that such orders did not strictly apply to the situation of children like their twins.  Instead, the line between  the parents' authority and the doctors' remained blurry and decision-making vexed not only by technical and emotional complications, but by conflicting legal guidelines as they made their way through many months of hospitalization and home treatment of their surviving son.

Ellie, the daughter, died at four days.  Evan lived for eight years with disabilities that completely reorganized family life, and required constant monitoring, management of equipment, and careful orchestration of parental relationship to their older child, Josie, and their special-needs child.  Much of the narrative covers the period of hospitalization during Evan's early months and the negotiations between parents, physicians, and other caregivers.  It also touches on Forman's own emotional responses to the strenuous learning curve required of a parent who suddenly finds herself with a special-needs child.

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