Showing 1 - 10 of 143 annotations contributed by Miksanek, Tony

Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

In this follow-up to his masterful memoir Do No Harm, British neurosurgeon Henry Marsh must deal with old age and retirement after nearly four decades as a doctor. Stepping down engenders mixed feelings, and he confesses to "longing to retire, to escape all the human misery that I have had to witness for so many years, and yet dreading my departure as well" (p17).

Marsh keeps busy by spending time in Nepal training young doctors and operating. He also makes visits to the Ukraine to perform surgery and teach. He has a fondness for creating things and purchases a fixer upper cottage that he struggles to repair. Marsh recounts previous neurosurgical cases, mostly patients with brain tumors. He remembers the distress at being sued by patients. He reveals his own admission to a psychiatric hospital as a young man. Regrets, both personal and professional, are confessed.

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Torremolinos

Simpson, Helen

Last Updated: Sep-25-2017
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The exhausted narrator has just undergone 3 vessel coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery. While grateful for surviving his "cabbage" operation, he is acutely aware how different he seems from his previous self. He gets a roommate sent from The Scrubs, a prison facility located next to the hospital, who has been jailed for grievous bodily harm with a sentence of 8 years. Now the prisoner is pretending to have a heart attack, hoping doctors will keep him for a few days for tests.

The two men exchange information and banter. The convict wants details about what it feels like to have a heart attack. The narrator wants to know what it's like to be in prison (The answer is "Boring."). They pass time imagining they are vacationing on a Mediterranean beach. The criminal has a knack for making his roomie laugh - a welcome, but painful sensation after open-heart surgery.

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Emergency Room Notebook, 1977

Berlin, Lucia

Last Updated: Nov-28-2016
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The narrator Lucia works in a California city emergency room. Her job title is not specified - possibly a registration clerk or triage nurse. She enjoys working in the ER and marvels at the human body: "I am fascinated by two fingers in a baggie, a glittering switchblade all the way out of a lean pimp's back" (p90). Death, however, is a regular visitor.

All day, ambulances back up to the emergency room, gurneys rumble by, and charts accumulate. The staff is too busy. Patients are restless, frightened, and angry. She notes how everything associated with the ER appears gray - patient's skin, blankets, emergency vehicles. And perhaps the prognosis of patients as well: "Everything is reparable, or not" (p90).

Lucia describes Code Blues, the deaths of gypsies, an encounter with a blind man whose wife was DOA, drunks, and suicide attempts. She wonders why the elderly fall down so frequently. She's frustrated by the large number of people who come to the ER without an actual emergency and longs for "a good cut-and-dried stabbing or a gunshot wound" (p93). But Lucia worries that she has become too desensitized working in the emergency room, maybe even inhuman. Yet the flow of patients doesn't slow down - those with true life-threatening conditions and those who probably don't need to be there.

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Mijito

Berlin, Lucia

Last Updated: Nov-28-2016
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

It is a strange and cruel world that Amelia finds herself in. The 17-year-old woman from Mexico who speaks very little English travels to Oakland, California to marry her boyfriend Manolo. Soon after, he is sentenced to 8 years in prison. Amelia is already pregnant. She and her newborn son, Jesus Romero, move in with Manolo's aunt and uncle. Amelia refers to the baby as "mijito" (an affectionate Spanish term for "little son"). He cries constantly and has a hernia that requires repair. But the teenage mother is overwhelmed and frightened. She receives little support.

Amelia and Jesus go to the Oakland Children's Hospital where they meet a cynical but kind nurse who works with a group of 6 pediatric surgeons. Most of the surgical practice consists of Medi-Cal welfare patients and lots of illegal aliens. The nurse encounters crack babies, kids with AIDS, and plenty of disabled children. When the surgeon examines Jesus, he notes bruises on the baby's arms. They are the result of Amelia squeezing him too hard to stifle his incessant crying. Surgery is scheduled but doesn't get done.

Later, the uncle makes sexual advances and, while drunk, rapes Amelia in the bathroom. The aunt insists Amelia and Jesus leave the apartment. She deposits them at a homeless shelter. Amelia spends her days riding buses and her nights at the shelter where she is harassed and robbed. All the while, Jesus cries. Amelia notices his hernia is protruding and she is unable to push it back in place as she was instructed. After office hours, the same nurse evaluates the situation and accompanies them to the emergency room where surgery is performed.

Amelia and Jesus return to the ER. She has been sedated and is staring blankly. Jesus is dead with a broken neck. The nurse from the surgical clinic is at Amelia's side and learns that Jesus was crying in the homeless shelter and keeping others there awake. Amelia shook the infant to try to quell the crying. She didn't know what else to do.

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The Not-Dead and the Saved

Clanchy, Kate

Last Updated: Nov-23-2015
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Two individuals share a struggle that is grueling, depressing, and whose outcome is probably preordained. The Mother (divorced, constantly tired, and fearful of sickness) is "not a good choice for the parent of a chronic invalid" (p. 168). The Son (smallish, clever, and born with some kind of tumor) has previously had an organ transplant (most likely kidney).

Their trek through the realm of sickness unfurls in seven scenes - all hospital wards and finally Hospice. First, the Son is an adolescent in a pediatric ward where the Machine (presumably renal dialysis) prevents his death. There he spots a baby that he dubs a "Not-Dead." She has multiple birth defects due to a chromosomal abnormality and is kept alive by technology. He intuits that while not dead, the baby is not "properly alive" either. He muses about his own status. His mother is always bedside, propping up his spirits.

Next he is in the ICU and then transferred to a medical floor. He receives a blood transfusion after disconnecting the Machine in a likely suicide attempt. Sometime later, he is back in the pediatric ward after receiving an organ transplant. The Son gets admitted to the Cardio-Respiratory unit for a severe infection. In and out of hospitals, he enrolls in college but quits. After getting married, he joins a commune of survivors of medical illnesses known as "The Saved." This collective lives on a farm and members avoid any contact with family.

The Son's health further deteriorates. He is hospitalized in terminal condition. By this time, he has his own child, a 14-month-old boy named Jaybird. In the oncology ward, doctors diagnose three tumors in the Son's brain but he refuses any treatment (surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy). He is moved to Hospice. His absent Father comes to visit and comfort him. When the Son dies, it is the Mother who is alone with him. The Son's wife, Father, Jaybird, and members of The Saved commune are all asleep in the Day Room. Only after the Son dies are the names of the Mother and the Son revealed: Julia and Jonathon.

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Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

A pot of boiling water falls off the stove. A diaper-clad toddler screams. His mother cries hysterically. The little boy is standing barefoot in a puddle of steaming water on the kitchen floor. The father who was busy hanging a door rushes into the room and quickly assesses the situation. He places the child in the kitchen sink and runs cold water over the boy.The child's skin is scalded. The father swaddles him in a wet towel but the toddler shrieks as if he is still being burned. Suddenly both parents realize they haven't checked the diaper. It burns their hands when they take it off. The diaper is filled with hot water that has collected inside it. The parents wrap their son in gauze and handtowels. They take him to the emergency room where "the child had learned to leave himself and watch the whole rest unfold from a point overhead." (p. 116)

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Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

This thoughtful essay from the author of The Emperor of All Maladies expounds on information, uncertainty, and imperfection in the medical setting. The author recalls witnessing a difficult operation when he was a medical student. The attending surgeon admonished the operating room team, "Medicine asks you to make perfect decisions with imperfect information" (p.5). This essay is constructed around that idea as the author shares three personal principles that have guided him throughout his medical career.
     Law One: A strong intuition is much more powerful than a weak test. (p. 22)
     Law Two: "Normals" teach us rules; "outliers" teach us laws. (p. 38)
     Law Three: For every perfect medical experiment, there is a perfect human bias. (p.54)

He views the medical world as a "lawless, uncertain" place and stresses that biomedicine is a "softer science" than chemistry or physics. Clinical wisdom, in his opinion, is imperfect, fluid, and abstract whereas the knowledge base of other basic sciences is concrete, fixed, and certain. He laments, "My medical education had taught me plenty of facts, but little about the spaces that live between facts" (p. 6).

His own "laws" of medicine are actually laws of imperfection. Clinical diagnosis can be thought of as a "probability game" where human bias creeps into the process. And ultimately common sense trumps pure statistical reasoning. Woven into the discussion are considerations on a variety of topics - children with autism, Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, genomics, radical masectomy, and randomized, double-blind studies. Nods to Lewis Thomas (The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher), Thomas Bayes (Bayes' Theorem), and Johannes Kepler (Kepler's Laws of planetary motion) fit in nicely with the thrust of the treatise.


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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:

In 1847, one of every six women whose babies were delivered by the medical students and supervising doctors at Allgemeine Krankenhaus (General Hospital) in Vienna died of puerperal fever (also known as childbed fever). In contrast, the incidence of this disease in women delivered by hospital midwives was dramatically lower and puerperal fever was quite rare when mothers had their babies born at home.While a few physicians (most notably Alexander Gordon and Oliver Wendell Holmes) realized that childbed fever was a contagious process, it was Semmelweis who identified the nature of the problem as stemming from the failure of obstetricians and medical students to wash their hands and change their clothing, especially after performing autopsies or doing surgery. He mandated that doctors and students wash with a disinfectant (chloride of lime) before examining any woman in labor.Despite the dramatic reduction of maternal mortality on his obstetrical unit, his ideas and methods were not well received. Semmelweis was reluctant to conduct experiments on animals to prove his theory and resisted publishing his findings in any medical journal. When he finally did write a book, The Etiology, the Concept, and the Prophylaxis of Childbed Fever, it was difficult to read and failed to impress many obstetrical experts.With his health failing and his behavior increasingly erratic and inappropriate, Semmelweis was committed to a state-run mental hospital. He died two weeks later. The official cause of death was sepsis secondary to an infection of his finger. The author is convinced, however, based on the autopsy report and findings upon exhumation of the body in 1963, that Semmelweis was beaten to death by the staff at the asylum. He may well have been suffering from Alzheimer's presenile dementia at the time.

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What the Dying Heart Says

Toomey, John

Last Updated: Feb-16-2015
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The nameless narrator has been hospitalized for months. A terrible accident while driving his Jeep. He survived, more or less. The other occupants of the vehicle - his wife and two children - did not. He watched them die. A traumatic brain injury and locked-in syndrome have left him unable to communicate. Although his body is useless, he assures us that he is completely lucid and resentfully aware of his circumstances. He desperately wants to die and admits, "I am already dead with grief" (p. 245).

The medical team caring for him won't call it quits. The narrator's brother, Tommy, informs them that his sibling would not wish to be kept alive in his current condition. But Professor Carson, the attending physician, insists that treatment will continue because the patient is not dead. Only one doctor, a compassionate Croatian female intern, comes forward as an ally of the narrator. She wonders out loud, "What man would want to live? Now?" (p. 242).

Even as the narrator's physicians prepare him for a brain-computer interface, he voicelessly implores Tommy to "convince these bastards to let me go" (p. 244) - to no avail, of course. Dying of a broken heart and helplessly being kept alive despite a shattered one, the narrator is doomed to a survival he does not want and to remembering the gruesome loss of his family that he cannot escape.

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