Showing 11 - 20 of 251 annotations contributed by Duffin, Jacalyn

The Burying Ground

Kellough, Janet

Last Updated: Sep-21-2015
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Luke Lewis is the son of an itinerant preacher in Upper Canada and a recent medical graduate of Montreal’s McGill University. In 1851, he joins the practice of the aging, Edinburgh-trained Dr. Stewart Christie in Thornhill, Ontario. It is a small village a few miles north of Toronto (now the site of some of the most expensive property in Canada).  Christie is tired and leaves Luke alone to work.   

Luke hopes to consolidate his learning and earn enough to set up on his own elsewhere in Ontario, closer to his farming brothers. He rents a couple of rooms from the doctor and is able to accommodate his father Thaddeus Lewis on his occasional visits.   

Morgan Spicer, the custodian of the local Strangers’ Burying Ground, is an old friend of the family. He finds a grave disturbed, which raises the specter of grave-robbing, an all too common crime much abetted by medical schools. But in this case, the corpse is left behind and the grave was not fresh. Morgan is baffled but the police are indifferent. When it happens a second time, Luke and his father try to help solve the mystery. They wonder if Dr. Christie might be behind it. What does he do all day?   

Luke is lonely and he sorely misses his friend and lover, Ben, who died of tuberculosis back in Montreal. Luke has managed to keep his sexual orientation firmly in the closet, knowing it would be the end of his career and of his relationship with his beloved father.   

However, Luke’s gallant actions in rescuing the beautiful African, Cherub, from American slave-traders, result in an unwanted invitation from a somewhat too grateful society lady, Lavinia. Through her, he meets the clever Perry Biddulph and is plunged into a torment of attraction and despair, compounded by the fact that Lavinia’s husband is a scoundrel whom the Lewis’s have met before in the previous novel.   

Luke firmly resolves to avoid both Lavinia and Perry, but she uses his sexual secret to blackmail him into finding the means to leave her husband. Most problems are nicely resolved in the end. To say more would spoil it.  

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Medicine: My Story

Berris, Barnet

Last Updated: Aug-25-2015
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

Born in 1921 to Jewish immigrant parents, “Barney” Barnett describes his life in medicine and education, from his earliest love of science and learning through his medical and residency education in general internal medicine, his success as an academic physician, and finally his judicious decision to retire.

An important leitmotiv is the antisemitism of the University of Toronto that kept him from a residency position (he went to Minneapolis) and a staff position (he was offered a one-year fellowship on a low salary in 1951).  Even after he was accepted as a staff member at the Toronto General Hospital (TGH), he was not promoted. Although he referred many patients to his TGH colleagues, only six ever returned the favor in the thirteen years he was there. Ironically, his Jewish background plucked him from this pedestrian position directly to the seat of Physician in Chief of Toronto’s Mount Sinai hospital (founded 1922) when finally it became a teaching hospital in 1964. 

While maintaining a practice in internal medicine, Berris became a liver specialist and researcher who introduced liver biopsy to Toronto. Known as a consummate diagnostician, he endeavored to enhance the research profile of his institution, integrating it with bedside instruction. He served on examining committees for the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, candidly describing the subjectivity of the process. He also served on many committees of the College of Physicians of Ontario, including discipline
, and describes the process used to investigate complaints with case examples.

His story includes vivid descriptions of some of the most famous figures in Canadian medical history, his teachers and colleagues – J.B. Grant, Arthur W. Ham, William Boyd, Ray Farquharson, K.J.R.Wightman, Arthur Squires, and Arnold Aberman. He was once involved with the care of the wife of David Ben-Gurion and Queen Elizabeth II.

Little is told of his personal life, although he admits that he often neglected his family for the press of work. His first wife, Marie, was a social worker; they had three children, one now a physician. She died of ovarian cancer; to care for her, he stepped down as chief in 1977.  In 1984, he married Thelma Rosen, an expert in education and widow of a pediatrician colleague. Together they went on a year’s sabbatical that allowed him to work in Singapore, Stanford University, and Sheila Sherlock’s lab at the Royal Free Hospital in London.

Some of the most engaging chapters contain clinical vignettes: stories about patients, the diagnostic workup, and their outcomes.  Like Richard Goldbloom (A Lucky Life
) and without diminishing his native abilities (which must have been considerable), he modestly attributes most of his success to luck.  

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A Dublin Student Doctor

Taylor, Patrick

Last Updated: Aug-14-2015
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In 1965, Dr Fingal Flaherty O’Reilly is traveling in his car with nurse Kitty when they come across a road accident and stop to help. The incident leads to reminiscing about his final years of medical training in Dublin hospitals in the 1930s.

Fingal has just returned from a stint in the navy. His student cohort includes a steady chum, a respected, brilliant woman, and a narcissistic pest–-all rather familiar tropes, comfortably portrayed. A picture of a hospital-based education emerges through teachers both kindly and rigid, a crusty head nurse who turns out to be a good soul, and a lovely student nurse, Kitty. Fingal’s professorial father disapproves of his son’s choice of a medical career and on his infrequent visits home, their relationship is tense.

Attractive to medical student readers are the clinical stories, the diagnostic dilemmas, and the stress of examinations. Social factors, such as poverty, unemployment, and discrimination, are intimately connected to the health of Fingal’s patients both as causes and results. His concern for his patients and those aspects of their lives earn him the respect of the head nurse and her student
.   

This story set in two time periods is partly a prequel to some of Taylor’s other tales, such as An Irish Country Doctor.

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Doctor Death

Kaaberbøl, Lene

Last Updated: Aug-07-2015
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In 1894 France, Madeleine Karno hopes to follow in her father’s footsteps as a pathologist. She is passionate about medicine and especially about science and how it can help the dead 'speak.' When a young girl is found lifeless outside her own home, the autopsy can find no evidence of murder; however, the discovery of tiny mites in her nostrils leads Madeleine and her father on a lengthy investigation involving the girl’s family, a priest, abused children, and a convent school that has a three-hundred year tradition of keeping wolves.

By the end, the story is littered with corpses, each needing careful pathological inspection. Madeleine is chillingly threatened, but she lives and justice prevails.  

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Freud's Mistress

Kaufman, Jennifer; Mack, Karen

Last Updated: Jul-31-2015
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Minna Bernays is the younger sister of Martha, Sigmund Freud's wife. Her own fiancé has died and by 1895, she is reduced to joining her sister’s family in Vienna because she has abandoned her position as a companion to a demanding, prejudiced aristocrat. The six Freud children love her, but she finds them exhausting and undisciplined. Obsessed with order, housework, and social standing, and possibly suffering from psychosomatic ailments, Martha is happy to leave the care of the children to Minna. She disapproves of her husband’s theories about sexual frustration as a cause of mental distress and refuses to discuss his ideas. Nevertheless, Martha is well aware that growing anti-semitism hampers her husband’s career, and she is eager for him to succeed: he could consider a conversion of convenience, like the composer Gustav Mahler.

Minna finds herself drawn to Sigmund for his intellect and his novel ideas. She is also attracted to him physically, and he to her. She resists the temptation, but he does not and actively pursues her, inducing her to try cocaine too. He justifies it - the sex and the drugs - as necessities for mental and physical well-being and he rejects the guilt that, he claims, so-called civilization would impose.

She tries to leave by finding another job as a ladies’ companion in Frankfurt, but he follows her there. They escape for an idyllic holiday to a hotel in Switzerland, then he brings her back to the family home. But his ardor cools and she is wounded, displaced by his enthusiasm for Wilhelm Fliess and Lou Andreas-Salomé.

Soon she discovers that she is pregnant, and Freud sends her away to a “spa” for an abortion, but at the last moment, she decides to keep her baby. Sadly she miscarries and returns to the Freud family with whom she remains for more than four decades until her death in 1941.

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Summary:

The elegant widow Hélène (Edith Scob) lives alone with her faithful housekeeper in the cherished family home – a rambling country property outside of Paris. For her seventieth birthday, all her children and grandchildren come for a brief visit. Emphasizing their perpetual absence, they give her a portable telephone the mechanics of which baffle her. “You must set it up for me, before you go.”Hélène takes aside her eldest, Frédéric (Charles Berling) to explain her wishes for the estate, pointing out the most valuable art objects and emphasizing that the family should not feel tied to the old and costly house. Frédéric doesn’t want to listen; she is too young, he claims. He loves the house and assures her that the family will keep it. Moments later, the families pile into cars and race off. With the new phone still unconnected, Hélène is alone again, smoking in the evening gloom. Six months later, they gather once more for Hélène’s funeral. Single and living in the United States, Adrienne (Juliette Binoche) is sulky and rootless. Jérémie (Jérémie Renier) is entrepreneurial and is planning to live in Asia. Neither want to keep the house, and both could use the money from its sale. Frédéric is shattered by their indifference to the family and its traditions, but he cannot afford to buy them out. His wife sympathizes and waits. He loses the negotiatons. Yet, being the eldest and the only sib in France, he is forced to preside over the sale and dismantling of the property he loves. 

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Sarah's Daughters

Nisker, Jeffrey

Last Updated: May-09-2014
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Play

Summary:

In a dramatic monologue, Joanne traces the devastation of a familial proclivity to breast cancer through four generations of women: her grandmother Sarah; her mother; Joanne herself and her two daughters, one of whom is also Sarah.

Joanne’s mother and grandmother both died very young of breast cancer; however, many other family members vanished in the Holocaust and the number of familial cancer deaths is insufficient for her to qualify for genetic testing. Her friend Linda, also a mother of two daughters, learns too late that she carries the BRCA gene; she urges Joanne to be tested.

Tormented by not knowing and equally tormented by what should be done if the test is positive—both for herself and her daughters, she convinces a doctor to lie so that the test can be performed. It is positive; Joanne opts for bilateral preventative mastectomies. During a visit to the gravesite of her mother and grandmother, she begins to explain the genetic risk to her daughters. 

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Visiting Mr. Green

Baron, Jeff

Last Updated: May-09-2014
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Play

Summary:

The conventional, young, corporate executive, Ross Gardiner, is sentenced by a judge to pay weekly visits to the recently widowed and childless Mr. Green. Ross had knocked the elderly gentleman down when he stepped out into the road without looking. No real damage was done, but the judge decided that Ross had been driving too fast.

Neither man wants to be anywhere near the other. Mr Green sends Ross packing, and the younger man appeals to the judge for a different punishment, without success. He therefore returns bringing the peace offering of soup from a kosher deli that the passive-aggressive senior grudgingly devours. “Would I waste good food?” Their common Jewish identity makes everything better for Mr Green, although Ross does not care. For Mr Green the Jews are a people who suffered intolerance and murder and must stick together now. 

They begin to tell stories of their lives. Mr Green grievously misses his wife who did all the cooking and cleaning; “we never argued once in sixty years.”

Things slip back again when Mr Green learns that Ross is gay. Negotiating that shock is facilitated by the older man’s bafflement over how Ross’s father has abandoned and derided him; they slowly grow closer. Mr Green wants Ross to find a nice girl and be happy as he was. Ross patiently explains how that cannot work for him.

Then another crisis erupts when Ross learns that the Green’s had a daughter who married a Gentile for which crime she was shunned by her parents as if she had died.  It is compounded by the shocking discovery that Green’s wife had been writing to her daughter for thirty years without telling her husband. 

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Calcedonies

Nisker, Jeffrey

Last Updated: Apr-08-2014
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Play

Summary:

The play has two characters: Ruth and Friend (who is a male doctor).

Ruth is an engaging, straight-talking quadriplegic who can zip and dance with her chin-operated wheelchair and takes delight in terrorizing medical staff both physically and verbally. She wants to write poetry and is waiting for a device to make it possible for her to use a computer. She keeps developing bedsores that threaten her life and require long admissions to the hospital before they will heal. She desperately wants to live no matter what happens, as she feels that having no mind would be worse than having no body.

Friend is a male doctor with children who is ashamed of having examined her while she was unaware. Burdened with his guilt, he asks to be her “friend.” Ruth is skeptical and runs circles around him, but eventually comes to trust him and believe in his sincerity.

She makes him a witness to her advance directive to instigate all heroic measures, as she is afraid of the kindly "ethical" and cost-effective arguments not to treat the disabled. But Ruth dies horribly from sepsis, and Friend is helpless to prevent it. She never obtains the device that would have allowed her to put her poems into printed words.

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Philip

Nisker, Jeffrey

Last Updated: Apr-08-2014
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Play

Summary:

Twelve-year old Philip is admitted to the hospital for a month of nightly infusions of amphotericin, a drug used to treat severe fungal infections. Wise beyond his years, he’s been in the hospital before and is only too familiar with its routines: the "vampires" who take blood; the candy-stripers who volunteer cheerfulness.

Four nurses welcome Philip back, teasing him about his annoying but intelligent insights and promising excellent outcomes this time. The doctors are testing a wonderful new drug that should eliminate all the horrible side effects that he had experienced in the past. But the new drug does not work, and Philip passes a miserable night. 

He feels sorry for his parents who are eager for him to receive the best of care; he puts on a smile for them and notices them putting on smiles for him. He tries to be brave for the doctor too, but surprises himself by voicing his opinion, finally making his physician understand that the new anti-side-effect drug does not work.

In the midst of yet another difficult night, Philip decides that he will refuse all future infusions. And he begins to feel well. We do not know what will happen in the morning, but one has the hopeful impression that Phillip will have his own way.

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