Showing 11 - 20 of 54 annotations in the genre "Autobiography"

The Body Silent

Murphy, Robert

Last Updated: Jan-20-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

Robert Murphy was a professor of anthropology at Columbia University when he became progressively paralyzed by an inoperable spinal cord tumor. His book is a personal journey through profound physical disability, an exploration of the self, and a study of the social construction of disability ["Disability is defined by society and given meaning by culture; it is a social malady" (4)]. As he writes The Body Silent he is virtually quadriplegic, hitting the keys of his computer with the eraser end of a pencil held in place by a 'universal cuff' wrapped around his palm. He is still traveling to Columbia to teach his classes.

Murphy applies the metaphor of an anthropological field trip to his experience: "This book was conceived in the realization that my long illness with a disease of the spinal cord has been a kind of extended anthropological field trip, for through it I have sojourned in a social world no less strange to me at first than those of the Amazon forests. And since it is the duty of all anthropologists to report on their travels . . . this is my accounting" (ix). Drawing not only on his own experience but also on research for which he received funding, Murphy instructs his audience in the metaphysics of his situation, and in the social as well as physical challenges of disability.

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Autobiography of a Face

Grealy, Lucy

Last Updated: Jan-09-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

Lucy Grealy, poet, tells the story of her childhood and young adulthood, a twenty year period of overwhelming physical and mental suffering. Yet the author is so resilient, so intelligent, so insightful, and such a good writer that her story transcends mere illness narrative. At age nine, first misdiagnosed and finally identified as having facial bone cancer (Ewing’s sarcoma), Lucy underwent several surgeries and more than two years of intensive chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Pain and nausea, anxiety and fear of more pain and nausea were only part of the ordeal.

The young Lucy became aware of what it is to be severely, chronically ill. Her sisters behaved differently toward her: they were polite. "Suddenly I understood the term visiting. I was in one place, they were in another, and they were only pausing." Even her father felt uncomfortable at her hospital bedside, and Lucy was relieved that he came infrequently.

But being at home was worse: in the hospital the other patients and the staff expected little from her and she felt no guilt or shame; amidst her family, she blamed herself for the tension, arguments over money, and her mother’s depression, even though these elements had existed prior to her illness. Her hair fell out and she became dimly aware that people were staring at her face. Nevertheless, "I . . . was naturally adept at protecting myself from the hurt of their insults and felt a vague superiority . . . . "

Well enough to return to school, Lucy’s disfigured face drew taunts from classmates; she understood finally that she was perceived as ugly and that she would not be loved. Only on Halloween, when she could mask her face, did she feel free and joyful, unconcerned about her appearance, "normal." Her moods now alternated between despair, determination, and escapism. She became convinced that only facial reconstruction and a restored appearance would make life bearable.

During years of reconstructive surgery Lucy evolved complex rationalizations to give meaning to her suffering. Two anchors had stabilized her existence throughout the misery: a passionate adolescent love of horses, and an adult love of poetry. Eventually outward appearance and inner life became harmonious. "The journey back to my face was a long one."

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Father, Son, and CIA

Weinstein, Harvey

Last Updated: Dec-10-2009
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

A son’s story of his father’s illness, treatment, and resultant destruction by the "psychic-driving" experiments of Dr. Ewen Cameron at Montreal’s Allan Memorial Institute in the 1950’s. The effect of the father’s illness on the family is recounted, as is the son’s gradual realization, only when he is himself about to become a psychiatrist, that something abnormal must have taken place during those long hospitalizations. Weinstein tells other patient stories in some detail as he recounts the legal fight for compensation awarded finally in October, 1988.

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Equal Partners

Heymann, Jody

Last Updated: Nov-22-2009
Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

A new graduate from medical school experiences her first seizure on the eve of beginning internship. Diagnostic workup reveals a mass in the wall of the third ventricle, which, at the time of surgery, is a vascular malformation. The narrative takes the reader through the four years of the author's struggle with her diagnosis, treatment and resultant disability, a seizure disorder.

Laced through the tale are patient vignettes, told from the vantage point of a newly sensitized doctor who is a long-term patient herself. Heymann is gently critical of many of the interactions she experienced with her physicians, attempting to chide her colleagues into being more sensitive to patient-centered concerns.

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Summary:

Born in 1921 in Belarus (White Russia), the author lost his father (a doctor) as a baby and was raised by his mother who worked as a surgical nurse and midwife. He excelled in school and was on the verge of entering medical school, but the political upheaval of World War II drew him away from studies.
 
Drafted to serve in the Polish army, the eighteen year-old became a sergeant in charge of a platoon by June 1939 fighting against Germany along its border with Poland. Three months later he was captured and imprisoned in cruel conditions. By November, he escaped and began a long walk home, helped by strangers, only to find that the Soviets had taken over. Arrested again, this time for being anti-Communist, he spent January to June 1941 in a Soviet prison, and narrowly avoided execution when the Russians retreated at the German invasion of Minsk. Another return home was met with the tragic news that his mother had been killed when German bombs hit the hospital in which she worked.

Enraged by the succession of destructive invaders, Ragula helped create a nationalist freedom army, the Eskradon, ironically with German support, and a Bulletin to inform citizens and lobby for better conditions. By the time World War II drew to an end he was married to Ludmila (in 1944) and on the move, seeking a medical education.

As refugees, the couple moved to Marburg, Germany in 1945, where Ragula began medical school. But money was always a problem and the post-war restructuring of Europe made them fearful. Hearing of a program for refugees in Louvain, Boris entered Belgium illegally in 1949 and finally completed his medical degree in 1951 at age thirty-one. In 1954, the couple settled in the medium-sized town of London Ontario, Canada. There Ragula interned and set up a family practice. He and Ludmila raised their family of four in peaceful security that contrasted starkly with their own upbringing.

Precocious in promoting health, Ragula campaigned tirelessly against smoking, inactivity, and overeating, and he worked in aboriginal communities, convinced that a doctor's role was to prevent disease as much as it was to treat it.  Here too he found enemies and friends.
 
In 1963, Ragula was involved in a non-related kidney donation between patients-a selfless act that touched him deeply. For him, it represented the pinnacle of scientific achievement and epitomized how humans should care for one another.

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Annotated by:
Mathiasen, Helle

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

At the request of a German editor, Charles Darwin (1809-1882) began his autobiography at the age of 67. His granddaughter and editor, Nora Barlow, tells us that he revised it over several years.

Darwin remembers little about his mother who died when he was 8, but talks at length about his forceful physician father, who measured 6 foot 2 inches, and weighed over 336 pounds. His father's success guaranteed that Charles would never have to work for a living. Darwin was a naughty boy schooled in humaneness and manners by his loving sisters. Early on, he showed a passion for collecting, mostly beetles, but also coins, shells, and minerals. He hated boarding school; he enjoyed running in the open air and shooting snipes with his dogs. He quotes his father's characterization of him as a young boy: "You care for nothing but shooting, dogs, and rat-catching, and you will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family" (28).

As a medical student at Edinburgh University, he witnessed operations without anesthesia which caused him to revolt against his father's wish that he become a doctor; he couldn't take the sight of blood.  At Cambridge, he found most of his classes and professors dull, except for his botany professor, John Stevens Henslow, his mentor and hiking companion. The paternal plan for him to become a clergyman foundered at Cambridge, as Darwin questioned the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England.

From 1831, he sailed with Capt. Fitz-Roy on board  The Beagle for 5 years and 3 days (again, against his father's wishes). He quarrelled with  Fitz-Roy whose mood swings required Darwin's tact. They disagreed about slavery, FitzRoy defending it, and Darwin abominating it. He carried Lyell's Principles of Geology with him, read Milton, and collected numerous specimens which he sent back to Britain.

28 months after his return, Darwin married his cousin, Emma Wedgwood. The marriage was happy and produced 10 children.

In the chapter on his religious beliefs, Darwin gives 4 reasons for believing the Old Testament to be false; as he has studied the laws of nature, he has ceased to believe in miracles. He rejects Bishop Paley's argument for intelligent design: "Everything in nature is the result of fixed laws" (87). The Christian god is cruel, as he causes innocent animals to suffer and condemns non-believers to hell. Darwin confesses he does not understand "the mystery of the beginning of all things" (94), calling himself an agnostic. He outlines the great Victorian men he has known, though his ill health has long  prevented him from traveling or seeing friends. He discusses his publications, including Origin of Species, stating he did not care whether he or Wallace got the credit for the theory of evolution. He attributes his success to his moderate abilities. He has been methodical, industrious, and commonsensical.

The appendix includes Darwin's list of pro and con arguments about marriage, Mrs. Darwin's papers on religion, and a short chapter on his illnesses.

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What Becomes You

Raz, Hilda; Link, Aaron

Last Updated: May-09-2007
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

Aaron Raz Link was born a girl, named Sarah, and loved as a daughter. Twenty-nine years later, after inner turmoil, deep thought and relentless examination of how society views gender, Sarah became Aaron, a gay man. This starkly open and moving book describes, in Aaron's words and then in his mother's words, both the costs and the rewards of this journey.

The book is divided into two sections: the longer, beginning section is Aaron's, an intense rendering of what might be called an inner dialogue: Aaron talking to himself about his place in a gendered world; Aaron talking to society about the role of men and women; and Aaron talking to us, the readers, as if we were his close friends, gathered around him as he revealed his life.

The second section belongs to his mother, Hilda Raz. In musing, episodic scenes, she writes about herself as Sarah and then Aaron's mother, about her own work as a poet and editor, and most poignantly about losing her breast to cancer.

On page 86 Aaron says, "A stereotype is a kind of camouflage; the eye finds what it expects to find, and passes over details." Throughout this book we are asked to look at, directly but never sensationally, our bodies' organs, our gender "details," not only as functional anatomy but as symbols of identification.

In both sections, I felt pulled along on this journey, both as someone invited and as someone looking on, an emotional voyeur, and in both sections I observed the unflinching honesty of the authors' revelations. But it in was this final section, the mother's story, that I felt most keenly the love between the two authors. It is this love that becomes the strength of the narrative, the ground on which this incredible story unfolds.

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Summary:

On Friday the 13th of October of 1972, a Fairchild F-227, a twin engine turbo prop carrying the Old Christians Rugby Club from Montevideo, Uruguay, to an exhibition match in Chile, crashed in the Andes with 45 people aboard, including the four crew members. The players were mostly young men in their early 20's accompanied by several adults, including the mother and sister of the author of Miracle in the Andes, Nando Parrado. They had the good fortune to have a relatively soft crash with 40 survivors after impact, which dwindled to 16 by the time of the dramatic rescue two months later. This book recounts the incredible tribulations of the survivors, the escape of two of them over the Andes with warm weather clothing to a small farm community in rural Chile, and the author's reflections on this experience.

The young men were quick to learn basic survival tricks at altitude including keeping each other warm, devising an apparatus to keep themselves hydrated, and trying to maintain optimistic spirits. Although they were sure of a rescue mission, as the days passed it became clear this was increasingly unlikely. They eventually came to the dilemma of all such cornered and secluded survivors, i.e., eat human flesh or die of starvation. Unlike the sailors in the story of the whaleship Essex, and more akin to the saga of the Donner Party, there were corpses available already refrigerated by nature with no need for drawing straws for sacrifice. Despite their staunch Catholicism - their team was, after all, a team sponsored by the Irish Christian Brothers of the Stella Maris School - all the survivors finally agreed it was necessary.

Although there were a few initial attempts to escape, they were futile until the author and one of the three medical students, Roberto Canessa, were successful in climbing over the peaks, finally encountering peasant farmers after a ten day trek to Los Maitenes, a region in Colchagua, Chile. Helicopters then returned to the crash site and successfully rescued the remaining members of this small band of young men.

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Annotated by:
Garden, Rebecca

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

This is the first of several autobiographies written by Donna Williams. In this she describes her earliest memories and experiences of being autistic through to her late twenties and the writing of the autobiography itself. Her account begins with descriptions of personality characteristics understood to be typical of people with autism. Contrasting her highly visual nature--a fascination with patterns and color and seen or imagined spots of light--with her difficulty understanding language and formulating it, Williams’s narrative is an account of neurological difference within a family that responded to it with impatience, anger, and violence.

She describes her fear of other people and how she learned to communicate primarily through objects, attaching to things and their symbolic meanings more easily than to people and language. As a means of managing her fear of people and her encounters with sometimes abusive family members and partners, Williams developed alternative personalities. She would perform those different personalities when she wanted to socialize or if she needed to protect herself. Williams develops relationships, some exploitative and some comforting to her, and finds ways to do well in aspects of school and work. The autobiography ends with a discussion of her first draft of the narrative itself providing a means for diagnosis. Initially thinking she has schizophrenia, Williams experiences a revelation when she realizes she is autistic.

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This extraordinary book is ostensibly "about" a doctor caring for persons with HIV/AIDS. That it is, but it is also a book containing multiple texts. It is a doctor's personal journey toward understanding the multiple meanings of HIV/AIDS for those who have it and those who care for them. It is the story of a physician, an Indian, born in Ethiopia to Christian expatriate teachers, in America since 1980, now in Johnson City, Tennessee, still trying to determine the meaning of "home."

It is, at the same time, a glorious pastoral account of practicing medicine in Tennessee--here making a house call to Vicki and Clyde, whose trailer is perched on the side of a mountain, now traveling through the Cumberland Gap to a cinder-block house to see Gordon, another native son who has come home to die. On still another level it is the story of a man trying to understand what it is like to be gay; a man trying to integrate his passion for his work with his life at home; a man trying to explain to his wife (and sadly, even some of his peers) his commitment to caring for persons infected with the virus.

The portraits Verghese draws of his patients are extraordinary: local boys now men, now sick, returning to Johnson City to be cared for by family; a woman infected by her husband who also infected her sister; a highly-respected couple from a nearby city seeking privacy, even from their grown children. Finally, part of what makes Verghese such a fine writer is that he is able to do so without romanticizing his relationships with his patients, and without self-congratulatory accolades for the kind of care he provides.

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