Showing 11 - 20 of 75 annotations contributed by Ratzan, Richard M.

Hurt Hawks

Jeffers, Robinson

Last Updated: Mar-22-2015
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry

Summary:

"Hurt Hawks" is a narrative poem about a wounded hawk in free verse of 27 lines divided by the poet into two parts. Part I, which is 17 lines long, describes the setting of the poem in third person. Part II is 10 lines long, written in first person, and comprises the resolution of the carefully constructed tension set up in Part I. Some critics feel that Part II is sufficiently different in style and focus that it was originally an altogether separate poem (see below). Succinct yet lyrical, elegaic yet harsh, Hurt Hawks is, like the hawk that is the center of the poem, fiercely and unrelentingly an advocate of the natural - as opposed to the civilized - world. Hawks held a special place in Jeffers' heart, whether it be this poem or the longer "Cawdor," "Give Your Heart to the Hawks" (the name of a 1933 collection of his poetry), or "Hawk Tower," the edifice that he built for his family in 1920 on Carmel Point in California.

Part I sets the stage for the action in Part II, an Ecce Homo stage where the Homo is an injured hawk living in and around the poet—who makes clear, however, that the hawk is not a prisoner, either in the poet's eyes or its own. The poem opens with:

The broken pillar of the wing jags from the clotted shoulder,
The wing trails like a banner in defeat,
No more to use the sky forever but live with famine
And pain a few days:

Midway through Part II, Jeffers notes that

We had fed him six weeks, I gave him freedom,
He wandered over the foreland hill and returned in the evening, asking for death,
Not like a beggar, still eyed with the old
Implacable arrogance.

This poem is arguably not only Jeffers' most famous poem but often the only one still taught, when Jeffers is taught at all, in undergraduate courses. One reason for the inclusion of this poem in the curriculum is the famous first line of Part II, "I'd sooner, except the penalties, kill a man than a hawk." Aside from its popularity and this rather striking sentiment, the poem has proved a fertile source of discussion amongst critics for other reasons. First is the striking shift in voice from Part I to Part II, leading some to state that this poem was welded together from two distinct poems. Secondly, the plural "Hawks" in the title is mysterious and unclear since there is only one hawk mentioned in the poem—or is there? One interpretation of the plural is that in fact Jeffers and his family harbored two hawks and only the second was killed. Tim Hunt feels the second injured hawk in the poem refers to the saddened, or emotionally hurt hawk, i.e., the poet of Part II.

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The Anatomy Lesson

Siegal, Nina

Last Updated: Jun-17-2014
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In 1632, at the age of only 26, Rembrandt finished a large (85.2 in × 66.7 in) oil painting that was destined to become one of his best known works and certainly one of the linchpins in the nexus between the graphic arts and the medical humanities. "The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp" depicts the dissection of the flexor tendons of the left arm of a cadaver by the eponymous doctor while an attentive audience of his peers, identifiable members of the medical and anatomical community of early 17th century Amsterdam, looks on. Nina Siegal's novel tells her imagined back story of this richly illustrated anatomy lesson which, once you read her captivating novel, will make you ask yourself, as I did, why no one has thought fit to do so heretofore.

Using multiple first person narrators, Siegal examines the characters (some historical, others wholly fictional) and events leading up to the anatomy lesson and Rembrandt's artistic rendering of it. Inventing a life for Aris Kindt (born Adriaen  Adriaenszoon), the historically real career criminal whose recently judicial hanging provides the body we see in the painting, Siegal provides him with Flora, a lover who is carrying his illegitimate child at the time of his public - and quite raucous - hanging. Growing up in Leiden, in the same neighborhood as Flora and Rembrandt himself, Kindt was the physically and emotionally abused son of a leather worker and, in Siegal's imagination, a petty but persistent thief hanged for his inveterate and irremediable life of crime. As was the custom of the day, his body was legally assigned to an anatomist for public dissection. With a non-linear narrative, organized into brief chapters entitled for body parts, Siegal traces the beginnings of three of the protagonists - Kindt, Flora, and Rembrandt. She constructs  how their lives intersect not only before, during and after the hanging, but also in more philosophical strokes, namely the medical, theological and artistic tapestry on which this image rests. There are several minor characters, like Tulp and his family; Jan Fetchet, the "famulus" responsible for securing and preparing Kindt's body immediately following the hanging; and even René Descartes, who seems to have been in town during this momentous occasion pursuing his own polymathic research, which included anatomy at the time.  Siegal adds a few reports dictated by a fictional modern- day conservator offering her interpretation of many of the details of Rembrandt's masterpiece, details that serve to highlight aspects of Siegal's narrative, such as the possible artistic re-implantation of Kindt's amputated right hand.

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Summary:

Five Days at Memorial is the book length expansion  of the New York Times Sunday Magazine article that the author, a Pulitzer Prize-winning physician-journalist, published in 2009. The book, the result of years of research and literally hundreds of interviews, chronicles the five days (August 28 to September 1, 2005) during which the medical staff remaining at Memorial Hospital in New Orleans tried to care for the patients -- over a hundred of them stranded, like the staff, in a hospital without water or electricity --following the flooding wrought by Hurricane Katrina.

After an 8 page prologue, the book is divided into two sections, "Deadly Choices" (228pp, the narrative of those five days) and "Reckoning" (256pp, the legal battles over the injections of midazolam (a sedative) and morphine by some of those staff and prosecuted as homicide -- what others called "euthanasia.") "Deadly Choices" relates almost hourly the five days inside Memorial from the viewpoint of patients, patients' relatives, physicians, nurses, administrators of Memorial, Tenet (the holding company owning and running Memorial) and LifeCare -- the long-term care area within Memorial devoted to the care of terminally ill and debilitated patients -- owned by a separate company. Ethical and legal questions of triage, DNR, record-keeping, accountability, communication (primarily the failure thereof) and leadership are on almost every page. At the heart of this book, however, is the mystery of the unexplained deaths of so many patients during those five days. (On September 11, 2005, a disaster mortuary team recovered 45 bodies from many different places in Memorial, page 234). The crux of the mystery of these deaths is the manner in which nine in particular died in the beleaguered hospital on the fifth and last day when, paradoxically, relief had become real and effective and inclusive, seemingly obviating such injections.

The final pages of "Reckoning" deal with the fallout - historical, ethical, political and medical -- and current events relevant to these five days and the almost two years following. (The final verdict of not guilty -- the actual wording was "Not a true bill" since it was a grand jury declining to indict the one physician, Anna Pou, and the two nurses, Cheri Landry and Lori Budo -- was rendered on July 24, 2007). There are a map of Memorial Hospital and a cast of characters at the front of the book and extensive notes, bibliography and index at the end.

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Under the Skin

Faber, Michel

Last Updated: Dec-04-2013
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Isserley is an alien whose assignment on earth is to abduct male (preferably muscular and burly) hitchikers for their processing, in a subterranean area under a barn in Scotland where she and her fellow aliens are based, as farmed animals that are castrated, made mute by tongue-amputation and fattened up in pens like calves for their veal. After a few months, they are eventually slaughtered and butchered for meat and then transported back to Isserley's native land, which is portrayed as a dark, arid, unpleasant place where meat is a rare and expensive delicacy.

Vaguely canine in her original form, Isserley has had to undergo mutilating surgery to pass as a human whose day job is to drive on the A9 of Scotland picking up unsuspecting men and then, after sometimes quite interesting conversations, paralyzing them by flicking a switch that activates twin jets that come up through the front passenger seat injecting an immediately acting curare-like drug. Isserley then transports them back to the farm.

In constant physical pain from the surgery and the unnatural upright posture, and always questioning herself, her role on earth, her feminity amongst the otherwise all male alien workforce, Isserley falls in love with the earth's natural world (there are not oceans or lakes on her world), especially Scotland's lochs, rain, cloud and snow. Sheep hold a special place in her heart.

Amlis Vess, the son of the owner of the company that is selling earthmeat at exorbitant prices back home, shows up for an unnannounced site visit and curiosity since he is ideologically opposed to this killing of animals - he has no idea how sentient and intelligent earthlings are and this fact is carefully kept secret from him during his brief visit, which is also marked by his marvelling at earth's natural beauties and what appears to be an emotional or sexual attraction to Isserley.

After some rough handling by one of the hitchhikers who attempts to rape her, her troubling interactions with Amlis Vess, news that the police have taken notice of a missing hitchhiker and are conducting an investigation, and her discovery that there may be a replacement for her in the offing - Isserley decides to strike out on her own. The end of the novel is, although not shocking, not expected.

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Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This essay concerns a very unusual man, Washington Woodward, whom Donald Hall met as a young boy during his summers in New Hampshire and came to know even more from the tales he heard from his grandfather. Abandoned at age 6, Washington grew up on the author’s grandparents’ farm until age 12 when his “lazy and mean” father reclaimed him. Running away 4 years later, Washington began the highly eccentric life limned in this poetic mini-biography.

“Eccentric” probably does not do justice to Washington’s style, habits, skills, and foibles. He was entirely self-sufficient, from his clothes to his food - much of which he hunted or grew - to his handmade machines, including a complicated boulder-moving contraption designed to clear the way for cows, not humans. Washington could repair almost anything, from an outhouse to a baseball bat to a mowing machine.

The range of his skills is impressive by anyone’s standards, not just a 21st century reader: “I knew him to shoe a horse, install plumbing, dig a well, make a gun, build a road, lay a dry stone wall, do the foundation and frame of a house, invent a new kind of trap for beavers, manufacture his own shotgun shells, grind knives, and turn a baseball bat on a lathe” (page 23), reminding this reader of a similar passage about Nate Shaw in Theodore Rosengarten’s All God’s Dangers. Living the life of a hermit most of the time on Ragged Mountain, New Hampshire, Washington spent a great deal of his life with his beloved animals: Phoebe the pet Holstein and Old Duke the ox, whom he taught to shake hands and roll over.

The nails? Washington would gather stray nails he found in boards or discovered on walks, and take them back to his hut where he would straighten them and store them. Why? “He saved the nails because it was a sin to allow good material to go to waste.” (page 26)

He died in a state nursing home, a month after a visit by the author and his grandfather.


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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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Black Bag Moon

Butler, Susan

Last Updated: Apr-19-2013
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)

Summary:

Black Bag Moon is a collection (one is tempted to say a "mixed black bag") of short stories (but not clearly "short fictions" - clarified below) about medical patients. The reputed authors are identified as these patients' physicians, who recount these stories in first person. By my math, there are nine authors who narrate stories about 37 patients in 29 chapters. Most chapters have two patients in unrelated stories that sometimes share a theme. Several of the authors know each other as colleagues and two are a married medical couple. Most of the stories occur in Australia or New Zealand but some are in places are as far flung as England, Scotland and unidentified, possibly fictional, islands in the South Pacific. The practitioners are, for the most part, family physicians and care for people of all ages, providing care for everything from breast masses to congestive heart failure to trauma to occupational health to - almost overwhelmingly - mental illness threatening severe violence. The last - serious mental illness -  is, as are all the patients and their illnesses in this volume, almost exotically different from anything most readers of this database are likely to encounter as health care providers or readers. Think Crocodile Dundee or perhaps television's Dr. Quinn or ‘Doc' Adams of Gunsmoke. Or all the above but in the late 20th Century Outback.

Since most of the stories involve working men and women - mainly men - there is a decided flavor of  A. J. (Archibald Joseph) Cronin's The Citadel to the stories; but the peculiar aspect of Australia's frontier pervades each encounter with the patients in this book, whether they are being treated over the radio for breast lumps, being airlifted to the hospital for a badly broken elbow, or becoming demented from environmental toxins in a land and time wherein OSHA and DEP (and the principles underlying them) might as well be acronyms from Mars.

Curiously, for fiction, there are intermittent footnotes to literary (Honore de Balzac, Soubiran) sources, historical figures (Hippocrates) and relevant texts on subjects covered in the stories, e.g., petrol-sniffing, tropical diseases, and physical diagnosis. 

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Night Duty

Breznik, Melitta

Last Updated: Feb-27-2013
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The first person narrator of this debut novel is a young pathologist, a woman who relates the story of her family over the course of the book. The story is bleak: a young German woman marries an Austrian soldier in WWII, moves to Austria with him and has three children - two sons (one of whom dies as a youth following abdominal surgery) and the narrator-daughter. In a running commentary, almost hallucinatory at times,  the narrator offers brief descriptions of  a traditional preliminary internship year during which she acts as a pathologist, cares for in-patients, and even makes a futile ambulance call to a fatally injured man in a freight yard.  Yet, virtually the entire novel revolves around her family:her father (whose tuberculosis is briefly described),  a factory worker with dreams of  inventing an electronic security relay (never realized); intermittent holidays of evanescent family happiness; and a long threnody about her father's eventual death at the end of the book from a hopeless and domestically abusive alcoholism. Her detailed description of his death traumatizes everyone around her and leads to a rupture in the family.

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The Anatomy Lesson

Morley, John David

Last Updated: Jan-23-2013
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

One of two sons of a broken U.S.-Dutch family, Kiddo chooses to live off the Dutch welfare system spending his state alms on drugs. Although he realizes it is but the bleakest of efforts not to come to grips with a difficult relationship with his older brother, Morton, Kiddo perseveres, forming an uneasy alliance with Pietje, a woman who also knows Morton.

The novel is told by Kiddo with contributions to the multi-faceted story in the form of letters from Morton, who gives up a brilliant future as a genius in physics to travel around the world, and diary entries by Pietje, who has some unpleasant truths to tell about Kiddo's world. Morton, known as Mort, writes Kiddo that he has cancer and not long to live, returning home to die. Honoring the dying request of his brother, Kiddo attends Mort's autopsy (yes, the play on Morte/Mort proves irresistible to Morley, or is it Mor(te)ley), a fairly gruesome scene. This proves not to be the death of Mort/Morte/Death for Kiddo and he requires help from Pietje and more introspection before Kiddo can lay his brother's bones to rest.

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Propofol

Kirchwey, Karl

Last Updated: Jan-23-2013
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

"Propofol" is a 20 line poem of five quatrains each with an a-b-a-b rhyming scheme. Appearing in the June 30, 2008 New Yorker magazine, it is a description of the Classical allusions and hallucinatory experience surrounding the administration of the hypnosedative, propofol, to the speaker-patient for an undescribed medical procedure.

It involves a whimsical conversation, of sorts, between the patient and the physician. After the patient references many of the Greek and Roman materials (moly, mandragora), art ("Euphronios' famous calyx-krater" [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euphronios_krater]) and deities (Somnus, Hypnos, Morpheus) involved with sleep and death ("Sleep and Death were brothers"), the physician is made to ask why the patient is there - one presumes, and only hopes, he in fact knows!

The poem ends with the onset of what is known as procedural sedation ("A traveller/approached the citadel even while I was speaking,/seven seconds from my brain; then it was snuff."). The final two lines describe the image - apparently now in the hallucinating patient's head - of Félicien Rops' 1879 painting "Pornokrates", in the Musée provincial Félicien Rops, Namur, France (http://www.museerops.be/tech/drawing/pornokrates.html), the genesis of which Rops described thus in a 1879 letter to Henri Liesse:

"I did this in four days in a room of blue satin, in an overheated apartment, full of different smells, where the opopanax and cyclamen gave me a slight fever conducive towards production or even towards reproduction."[quoted at the Musée provincial Félicien Rops site.]

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