Showing 1 - 10 of 29 annotations associated with Coulehan, Jack
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)
Summary:Children wasting away, in pain, infected with parasites whose life cycle continues "bodies to fingers, / fingers to lips, of lips to eggs / and eggs to worms." That cycle is echoed in the human experiences of "loneliness to pangs of loss" and of "deep escape to deep connection." The actual parasites take on symbolic significance and become the worm that inhabits us all, whether we be sick kids or weary health care providers.
Summary:Father reappears 28 years after deserting the family and living like a "tumbleweed"--playing bit parts in movies and drifting around alone. The son finds him strapped into a chair, drooling into a cup, dying of a lung disease. His father tells him, "A loner’s like a tumbleweed; / he breaks off, blows away, dries up."
Summary:The poet movingly describes the sunset of his father’s life in the context of their relationship, now, and in the recollected past. Now the son brings his crippled father to see a beautiful beach sunset, but the process is so difficult that they settle in too late to catch it. When he was younger, the son imagined that he would one day take his father on excursions to wild and beautiful places, where they would talk intimately about important matters and death was not a concern. "When I was young, I dreamed we arrived . . . with plenty of time before sunset. / The sky was glorious, and he could stand."
Summary:The extraordinary image of a six hundred pound man, spread across two beds, dying, whom the doctor might at first find to be grotesque, is transformed in the doctor's dream. In that dream he sees the man as the center of a ceremony in which healers "wrestle the souls of old bodies back to bones . . . back back to their beginnings." The doctor comes to realize that this "worthless and alien" body is beautiful.
Summary:Pale, gaunt children from the backwoods hills of Kentucky bring their stool specimens to school so the visiting physician can check for worms. But these sinewy kids come from a long line of leathery ancestors "bred from one tough root"--and they keep on surviving whether they have worms or not. They "shall inherit" the earth, whether or not physicians treat them.
Summary:The wife of an alcoholic is at her wits' end, realizing that love for him and the ruin he has made of their lives cannot be reconciled. She entertains the thought of killing him "quickly, not piece by piece / like he killed me," if the medical system won't take him off her hands.
Summary:An African nun, in Pittsburgh, identifies with her home country of Uganda, envisioning the brutality of the civil war, torturing her father and murdering her brother. Her body is like her country--"frightened / delirious / insensate / and holy." Sleepless, she sits on the edge of her bed and prays--"her prayer is sweet, sweet medicine" both for her own distress and, somehow, for her country’s.
Summary:The author begins by describing a "medicine dance" that he attended at an Indian reservation and the stone he keeps as a souvenir. However, back in the city, the stone's healing powers are meaningless, eclipsed by the powers of conventional medicine. Yet, the author keeps the stone as "an aspect of soul that lasts"; a reminder that healing is not confined to the physical body, but is influenced by the mind and soul as well.
Summary:During the physical examination of an elderly cancer patient, the doctor considers the tell-tale symptoms of pneumonia. While the patient is dying, the physician imagines that the symptoms represent the birth of a universe and that the patient is becoming a part of the galaxy.