Showing 11 - 20 of 199 annotations tagged with the keyword "Science"

On the Move: A Life

Sacks, Oliver

Last Updated: Jun-22-2015

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

On the Move:  A Life describes the extraordinary life of Oliver Sacks from his childhood during World War II to shortly before its 2015 publication.  Using his journals (“nearly a thousand,” he writes), correspondence, and memories—as well as his 14 or so books—Sacks has given himself free rein to describe and analyze his long, productive, and unusual life.

A dozen chapter headings nominally corral his wide variety of interests, adventures, and travels, including his medical career, his homosexuality, and diverse writing projects.

Sacks came from an English medical family, including some observant Jews, but not him. As a youth he loved (prophetically) writing and chemistry. He rode motorcycles then and for many years to come. He did poorly on his Oxford practical anatomy exam but immediately (and drunk on hard cider) sat for a competitive essay on anatomy and won a large prize.  Later, he was warned away from bench science and focused successfully on patient care, patient narratives, and personal essays of many sorts, including A Leg To Stand On, the account of his injured leg and recovery.

Sacks left England for Canada, then the US.  He quotes from some of the journals about his travels. In LA, he worked out at Muscle Beach (setting a California squat record) and did drugs, including amphetamines. A shy man, he thought of himself as Doppelganger: Dr. Sacks by day, a black-garbed biker by night. 

Fascinated by vision and photography, Sacks includes 58 photos from the ’50s to 2006; some black and white, some in color.  These are printed together on slick paper and well illustrate his text.   

Neurology training concluded, Sacks served various institutions in New York but read widely, ever eager to find theories of brain chemistry, anatomy, perception, behavior, and more. As readers of his books know, he enjoyed using his own interests in drugs, music, and travel, as well as personal medical experiences such as his injured leg and his lack of facial recognition. He describes his meetings with patients with unusual dilemmas: the postencephalics of Awakenings, as well as people with Tourette’s syndrome, deafness, colorblindness, autism, or migraines. He became fascinated—obsessed, one might say—with these and wrote so voluminously that cuts had to be made from his huge manuscripts to yield books.

Sacks describes interaction with editors, film crews, playwrights and others wishing to collaborate. His audiences grew as he became an intermediary to the non-medical public. We read about Peter Brook, W. H. Auden, Jonathan Miller, Bob Silvers (New York Review of Books), the cartoonist Al Capp (a cousin), Abba Eban (another cousin), Stephen Jay Gould, Temple Grandin, Francis Crick, and others. One striking passage describes taking Robert DeNiro and Robin Williams to see locked-in patients in preparation for the film version of Awakenings.

In his 70s, his robust health faded. He had a melanoma in his right eye, with more than three years of treatment before it became blind. Being Sacks, he observed interesting phenomena as his vision changed, “a fertile ground of enquiry” (p. 376). His left knee was replaced. He had sciatica.   

He fell in love again after 35 years of celibacy; he dedicates his book to his partner Billy Hayes.

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Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

Linden, a professor of neuroscience, has written a book for a general audience on the subject of touch. A synthetic thinker, he combines insights from science, anatomy, neurophysiology, psychology, and social behavior. He argues that touch pervades much of human experience: “From consumer choice to sexual intercourse, from tool use to chronic pain to the process of healing, the genes, cells, and neural circuits involved in the sense of touch have been crucial to creating our unique human experience” (p. 5). Case studies of medical oddities enliven his account.

Chapter One, “The Skin is a Social Organ,” draws on a wide range of examples, from NBA players to vampire bats. Touch is especially important to the development of human newborns. Lab experiments have shown that the attitude of the toucher can influence the experience of the touched. English and American cultures are touch aversive.

Chapter Two discusses the neurophysiology of touch, the sensory nerves and the neurons that link to the spinal cord or to the brain. Lively examples include string players, 1900-era women with “underwear-shaped numbness,” and the Braille writing system for the blind. 

In Chapter Three, “The Anatomy of a Caress,” Linden explores further the tactile fibers that relay touch. “A caress communicates that you are safe,” he writes, and the C-tactile system is the main route from skin to the brain.

Chapter Four, “Sexual Touch,” moves beyond caress all the way to orgasm, detailing the roles of touch receptors and brain activity as well as the wide variety of personal and social contexts.

Chapter Five looks at nerve endings of human skin that detect chili peppers as hot and mint as cool. Vampire bats have another version that detect heat, useful for locating blood vessels on “donors.”

Chapter Six, “Pain and Emotion,” opens with Pakistani children who do not feel pain; they have a genetic mutation that influences a sodium channel in neurons. Pain itself varies with people’s emotions, experience, and expectations. Some mindfulness practices (yoga, Tai Chi, meditation) can lessen chronic pain.

Chapter Seven, “The Itchy and Scratchy Show,” discusses river blindness and shingles, among other topics.

Chapter Eight, “Illusion and Transcendence,” provides a helpful overview of sensory nerves and their connection to various parts of the brain. Some stimuli activate the “emotional-affective-cognitive portions,” while others activate “sensory-discriminative centers.” Touch, in general, often has strong social meanings but does not, for Linden, imply any supernatural dimensions.  

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Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Although Dr. Helman’s untimely death did not permit a final editing by this prodigious writer, the published edition is not a book-in-progress. An Amazing Murmur of the Heart: Feeling the Patient’s Beat represents a powerful and persistent continuation of observations and themes that grew out of medical education, close observations of physicians and patients, and his studies in anthropology. All of these forge an approach to patient care that is out of the ordinary.  

As his previous writings suggest, Helman is passionate about medicine but concerned, equally about the emergence of those who fail to listen and to those who might be called techno-doctors.  While professing his appreciation of and attraction to the magic machine or computer, he is mindful of its absence of emotion and ambiguity.  “For this post-human body is one that exists mainly in abstract, immaterial form.  It is a body that has become pure information.” (p. 11)

Chapters are comprised of stories about patients and their care providers, each representing complex facets that defy precise measurement, answers and conclusions.  As Helman steadily notes, the physician must be an archeologist:

Most patients present their doctors with only the broken shards of human life—the one labeled infection, disease, suffering and pain each of these shards is only a small part of a much larger picture….the doctor will have to try and reconstruct the rest. (p.66)

In general, the chapters illustrate first an initial review of medical history, and then specific patient stories.  Of the two, the story is most important.  “Mask of Skin,” for example, begins with an overview of skin from Vesalius to the present: largest organ, stripped bare by anatomists, penetrated by disease, later scanned and X-Rayed, tattooed, re-fitted by surgeons, etc.   That said, Helman the physician-anthropologist, moves from science to specific stories about patients whose skin may cover profound experiences, psychic and otherwise, that might be overlooked by a dermatologist.   Although skin is involved in each of that chapter’s stories, the willing physician must dig deeper in his observations and caring manner to make more profound discoveries.      

In a chapter entitle “Healing and Curing” the author describes an old friend, a practitioner who provides advice about patient care that ”was not included in his medical texts”.  Patients are more than a diagnosis dressed in clothes.  Doctors must make patients “feel seen, listened to, alive”.  Always patients should be regarded as people who happen to be sick.  From his admired colleague Helman learned to be an attentive listener  to the "tiny, trivial, almost invisible things" in patient encounters and stories. To truly heal as well as cure requires the doctor to empathise with what the patient is feeling thereby requiring both an act of imagination and of the heart.  The chapter, of course, continues with with stories that illustrate the points enunciated by his colleague and accepted by his disciple. 

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Polio: An American Story

Oshinsky, David

Last Updated: Sep-16-2014
Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: History

Summary:

 In his introduction, the author summarizes the history of polio’s first appearance as an epidemic in the United States, the ensuing research, subsequent applications of new information, attempts at abatement and ultimate success in the development of preventative measures.

Embedded in the successes and failures of the research applications are the details of human interactions.  Their impact on the goal of achieving near extinction of polio in America constitutes a dramatic subplot, which the historian adroitly weaves into the work.

For the reader who has only a sketchy knowledge of this important period in medical research, this history provides details of human exchanges, conflicts and resolutions necessary to bring the scientific developments to fruition.  Central among the multiple struggles rests the basic disagreement between Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin, two of the most prominent scientists working against the clock to develop the most effective and safest form of immunization.  Each new surge of the disease added to the urgency of the problem as well as to the question of the best solution.  Salk felt strongly that the immune system should be stimulated by a killed virus preparation, while Sabin was equally convinced that only the living virus could provide this need.  Each view had its own cadre of supporters and of opponents.

Funding issues also troubled those fighting the polio epidemics.  The March of Dimes is credited with raising a record $55 million in the fight against polio in early 1954, becoming the first major infectious disease battle to benefit from a concerted public awareness campaign and demonstrating the power of such volunteer driven efforts to supplement public and other private funding efforts.

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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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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Kitty Fane is a beautiful young woman whose mother has raised her to make a suitable match. But Kitty refuses a number of suitors; several years pass and eventually she is reduced to marrying Walter, the colonial bacteriologist in Hong Kong. Walter is a shy and awkward man who loves Kitty passionately, but has no idea how to express it; Kitty is charming and socially adept, but vacuous. In Hong Kong Kitty engages in a yearlong affair with Charles Townsend, the assistant colonial secretary, and a married man whose celebrity potential far eclipses Walter's stolid scientific work. The novel opens when Walter discovers his wife's infidelity.

Kitty believes that Townsend is madly in love with her and prepared to divorce his wife and sacrifice his career to marry her. Walter, who suffers from a broken heart, gives Kitty an ultimatum--either Townsend must promise to divorce his wife and marry her, or Kitty must accompany Walter to a city in the interior where he has volunteered to go to fight the cholera epidemic. Townsend demurs; Kitty is crushed; and the desperately unhappy pair travels to the cholera-ridden city, where they move into the house of the newly-dead missionary.

There, Walter (who is also a medical doctor) sets to work, day and night, to institute public health measures and care for dying patients. Meanwhile, Kitty meets Waddington, the British consul, a cynical alcoholic, who is at heart a good and honest person; and the French nuns, who labor tirelessly to care for orphans and the ill. Impressed by the nuns' selflessness, Kitty begins to devote herself to assisting them and trying to understand their spirituality.

When he learns that Kitty is pregnant, Walter asks if it is his child; Kitty responds, "I don't know." This completes the destruction of Walter's heart, and he soon dies of cholera--presumably as a result of experimenting on himself to find a cure. Kitty learns that the nuns, the soldiers, and all the people of the city consider Walter a saint, who has sacrificed himself for their welfare. However, while Kitty has learned to respect her husband, she could never love him.

Kitty stays only briefly in Hong Kong before returning home to London. Shortly before her arrival, she learns that her mother, whom she believes is responsible for her (Kitty's) shallowness, has died. The novel ends with Kitty vowing to bring up her daughter as a strong and independent woman, and preparing to move with her father to the Bahamas, where he has recently been appointed Chief Justice.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

The author was the first blind physician to be licensed in Canada. Her autobiography is also an autopathography.

From her anger over developing severe diabetes as a teenager, through her relentless pursuit of a scientific degree and medical school, through a brief failed marriage – followed by the tragedy of completely losing her sight while still in training, to a rewarding and responsible career as a palliative care physician and educator.

Sustained by her religious faith and by loyal family members and friends, Poulson explains choices, compromises and supports that allowed her to continue studying and working in Montreal and later in Toronto.

Her complications from diabetes were numerous, and included heart disease for which she required surgery. Then she developed breast cancer, which eventually metastasized. In closing her narrative, she knows it will likely take her life.

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Summary:

            Hillel D. Braude, a physician and a philosopher, has written an important, albeit dense and narrowly circumscribed, study. While “Intuition in Medicine” is the main title, the subtitle, “A Philosophical Defense of Clinical Reasoning” is a more accurate description of the book, which originated as a doctoral dissertation.  While some of the prose will appeal only to specialists, there are important and thoughtful analyses of such topics as Evidence-Based Medicine, modern dehumanized medicine, the relation of beneficence and automony, and principalist ethics in general. 

            Throughout, intuition is narrowly conceived and in the service of clinical reasoning, as it applies to standard, Western physicians and not to other healers (or nurses), and the emphasis is on interventive medicine to cure illness and relieve suffering more than on health promotion. 

            Braude writes in the introduction that intuition has long been understood to be “a direct perception of things,” but he resists a more precise definition: “Rather than defining and using a single concept of intuition—philosophical, practical, or neuroscientific—this study examines intuition as it occurs at different levels and in different contexts of clinical reasoning” (xviii).

            Eight chapters explore these different levels in such topics as moral intuitionism, Aristotle’s phronesis (or practical reason), the rise of statistics (a basis for Evidence-Based Medicine), and C. S. Peirce’s notion of abduction. Braude’s careful analysis traces historical and theoretical developments in analytic philosophy and how these may be applied to clinical reasoning.  He uses an impressive range of thinkers: Achenwall, Albert, Allan, Andre, Ashcroft, Aristotle, Bacon, Barrow, Barton, Beauchamp, Bergson, Bernard, Bichat, Black, Bottero, Bourdieu, Brody, Browne—just to take names headed by A or B.  

            Throughout, Braude puts in dialectic two poles on a spectrum arguing that they both have contributions to make. He believes that between them is an “ethical space,” where discoveries and applications can be made, but he clearly favors all the concepts from the lefthand list for medicine. In tabular form, we can list aspects of the two poles:

 

            Medicine                                               Philosophy

Aristotelian practical reasoning                        Kantian abstraction

Naturalist approaches                                    Nonnaturalist approaches

Primacy of beneficence                                  Primacy of autonomy

Fact and value joined                                    Fact and value separated

Case-based                                                 Evidence-Based Medecine

Individual patients                                        Large groups of patients

Narrative experience                                     Statistical correlations

Anthropocentric focus                                    Mechanist, positivist foci

Tacit, organic knowledge (Polanyi)                   Dualism (Descartes)

 

            Braude believes intuition is a cognitive process but has other dimension, the corporeal and the social. While these provide a grounding, intuition for him is generally rational. He also argues for medical care at the personal, face-to-face level, not through applications of algorithms. 

            A brief conclusion, “Medical Ethics beyond Ontology” clarifies some of the arguments and sketches some valuable notions from Husserl and Levinas. He writes “intuition . . . does appear to be fundamental for human judgment” because “an intuition faculty” can “extract universals from the particular” (p. 170).  Drawing on Husserl, he defines phenomenological intuition as “the primary means through which objects are presented to consciousness.” This affirmation includes the basic human, which is also the focus for medicine. For Levinas (and my summary is much too brief), “interhuman solidarity” is a source for medical care, a form of responsibility that is different from Foucaultian power relationships, ethical rules and priniciples, or “an uncritical acceptance of medical authority” (p. 177). 

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Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This remarkable memoir/natural history chronicles the author's observation of a snail that occupies the flower pot at her bedside during a long immobilization due to chronic fatigue syndrome.  For months of relative isolation, she observes the habits of the snail and begins to research the lives, habits, species, and idiosyncrasies of snails by way of getting to know this one in greater specificity.  As she puts it, "When the body is rendered useless, the mind still runs like a bloodhound...," (p. 5) and her mind certainly does.  Peering into poetry and story as well as biology, she discovers both facts and lore about the lives of snails to complement her intimate curiosity about the life of this snail.  Along the way, and very much by the way, she reflects on the nature of her own complex illness, the likely brevity of life she has now to expect, and how to learn from another species how to live in time differently. 

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The Ghost Map

Johnson, Steven

Last Updated: Aug-23-2012
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: History

Summary:

Parts of medical history read like detective novels.  The discovery of the source of cholera by Dr. John Snow in London in 1854 is one of those episodes.  The Ghost Map tells the story of Snow's pioneering work in what have now become standard epidemiological methods.  Tracing a cholera outbreak to a local pump in a poor section of London involved many door-to-door visits working with people who weren't always cooperative, incurring the suspicion and/or ridicule of both them and the medical professionals with whom he worked.  In the course of the story the author offers reflections on the organization of cities and on public hygiene.  Snow, an out-of-the-box thinker, also helped develop surgical anesthesia. 

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