Showing 11 - 20 of 382 annotations tagged with the keyword "Narrative as Method"

My Father's Brain

Franzen, Jonathan

Last Updated: Apr-12-2016
Annotated by:
Teagarden, J. Russell

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

Jonathan Franzen tells the story of his father’s slow and inexorable decline from Alzheimer’s disease. His story is a familiar one, and one that millions of people can now tell: at first the initial odd behaviors and memory failures attributed to various causes other than dementia, then the diagnosis and medical interventions to stem the inevitable, and finally the inevitable. While Franzen also describes the toll his father’s dementia exacts on the immediate family—as well as some truths it uncovers about his parents’ marriage—he does not put a significant emphasis on family effects.  

Interwoven in Franzen’s recounting of his father’s plight are a few digressions on Alzheimer’s disease. In one he wonders, as many others have, about whether Alzheimer’s disease is more a medicalization of certain behaviors than the result of brain pathology, or otherwise just “ordinary mental illness being trendily misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s.” (p. 19) In others, he briefly summarizes the well-known theory involving plaques and neurofibril tangles as a cause of Alzheimer’s, and thoughts on how memories form and work in the brain. In yet one other digression, Franzen reminds us that Alzheimer’s disease as originally described in 1906 was a rare type of dementia characterized by early onset in middle age and rapid progression. He further notes that it was not until the latter part of the 20th century when Alzheimer’s disease was tagged as the fifth leading cause of death and the disease of the century, and only through the efforts of a coalition comprising clinical scientists, politicians, and patient advocates. 

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Summary:

A mother (termed Mother in the story) discovers a blood clot in her young son's diaper and wonders "so what is this thing, startling against the white diaper, like a tiny mouse heart packed in snow?" This discovery leads to a diagnosis of Wilms' tumor--a childhood malignancy of the kidney, and surgery to remove the diseased kidney.The parents are thrust into a new world--the world of pediatric oncology ("peed onk") and meet the Surgeon, the Oncologist, and the other anxious parents waiting in the Tiny Tim Lounge of the pediatric ward. Everyone is named by their relationship to the Mother or by their profession--Baby, Husband, Anesthesiologist.The reader is privy to the inner thoughts of the Mother--her anger, denial, protective instincts and dark ironic vision. The Mother is also a writer and advised to take notes of this odyssey in case they need money to pay the medical costs. She feels alien to the culture of the pediatric ward--only her artsy friends understand her hell. Notes one (Green Hair) "Everyone's so friendly here. Is there someone in this place who isn't doing all this airy, scripted optimism--or are people like that the only people here?"When the Mother is given the option of no post-operative chemotherapy for Baby, the Mother grabs the chance to leave the hospital, clutching Baby, and says "I never want to see any of these people again." The piece ends on the rhetorical and ironic question--where's the money for these notes, for the story?

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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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Will Starling

Weir, Ian

Last Updated: Oct-16-2015
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In 1816 London, Napoleon has been defeated and troops have returned, including teenaged Will Starling, who survived the wars as assistant to the decent surgeon Alec Comrie. Will now serves Comrie in the city, still in strained circumstances.

Medical science has turned to the utility of anatomy, but material for research and teaching is scarce. Body-snatchers procure subjects from robbing graves—sometimes from murder—but they are not the only bad actors. Flamboyant, privileged Doctor Dionysius Atherton is trying to raise the dead by applying newly harnessed electricity to fresh cadavers.

From this ghoulish world of science and crime, young Will Starling tells his own tale, as your “Wery Umble Narrator.” Vivid scenes of wretched urban poverty, wanton cruelty, and selfless heroism march past to a grim ending.  

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Tender Mercies

Brown, Rosellen

Last Updated: Oct-06-2015
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This remarkable, absorbing novel is the story of a marriage and of catastrophe. Dan and Laura are a young couple from very different backgrounds who have two children. There is a terrible boating accident, caused by Dan's cavalier carelessness: Laura is severely injured and is rendered quadriplegic. The narrative skillfully weaves back and forth between Dan and Laura's earlier life, the nature of their relationship, and the present shocking realities of daily living; on-going unresolved guilt, anger, withdrawal and despair; and a gradual reconfiguration of the love and attraction that initially brought the pair together.The author pays unflinching attention to the details of physical incapacitation and how they must be dealt with, and the consequences for Dan as husband-caregiver as well as for Laura. At the same time we hear Laura's dream-like, poetic inner thoughts--a mind trapped in a useless body-- yet she seems to use her mind both as sense organ and limbs. "If Dan . . . ever touched me above my breasts where I edge towards feeling like ice thinning out . . . I would feel it everywhere. Memory is a muscle too if you work it."

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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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Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction — Secondary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Graphic Memoir

Summary:

A nurse-poet well-known for her empathic descriptions of patients, Cortney Davis suddenly found herself in the hospital bed with a life-threatening condition.  Although she is a masterful writer, she could not find words to capture what she experienced as a patient.  Instead, she started painting her emotions—fear, suffering, and loneliness expressed through color, line, and tone.  The first of 12 paintings in this pathography shows her lying naked on a white slab, not literally what happened but expressive of how vulnerable and helpless she felt.  Each of the 12 paintings carries an emotional and spiritual truth—often raw and miserable.  Davis accompanies each painting with a brief commentary about how and when the painting was done, explaining, for instance, why some of the figures have no facial features. But the vivid paintings speak for themselves, and they add a different way of knowing not available through words.

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Sông I Sing

Phi, Bao

Last Updated: Mar-12-2015
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry

Summary:

Performance poet Bao Phi was born in Saigon; his parents emigrated to Minnesota, where he grew up and still lives. His poetry is rooted in Asian American immigrant experience, especially in Vietnamese American experiences, and speaks of racism, economic hardship, cultural difference, and the legacy of the Vietnam war. The collection is divided into four sections, each preceded by a quote from another (usually Asian American) writer. Four introductory poems set the tone for the poet's project of "refugeography" (from "You Bring Out the Vietnamese in Me", p. 9): recognition and celebration of the variety of Asian American lives, and anger at exploitation - both economic and cultural: "They box our geography / And sell it in bougie boutiques / Our culture quite profitable / But can somebody tell me / How our culture can be hip / And yet our people remain invisible?" ("For Us", p. 1)

In section 2 (The Nguyens) 14 poems highlight the lives of a variety of unrelated individuals and families across the US who have the same family name. "They are one story for every Viet body, one song for every voice that sings or otherwise" (p. 17). Many are angry and bitter. There is the Sacramento girl who grows up, makes good, and wants now to get even with the white boy who pushed her down and called her "gook" in ninth grade: "where is your wheat- haired crown now, / where is your Made- in- America tongue: / a slide of spit to take me back to where I came from / now that I am ready to show you / show you / where I come from" ("Vu Nguyen's Revenge", p. 20). There is the chef who had once worked in the kitchen of a restaurant where the waitstaff was white only: "let me tell you that the white people / can choke to death on their lychee martinis" ("Fusion", p. 24). Others are reflective - such as the soldier in Iraq who meditates, "let me not tear apart a people, a country, causing Iraqi food to / become the nouvelle cuisine in 25 years back home" ("Mercy", p. 29).

Some wrestle with generational misunderstanding: Dotty from Dallas whose mother "hid the food stamps by holding [her] hand out like a fan of shame at the checkout line" and later kicked her out of the family, accusing her of being a "Commie" (p. 45). There is tongue in cheek irony, such as in "The Nguyen Twins Find Adoration in the Poetry World" (p. 40), about two vastly different poets - Joan, who has an Anglo boyfriend, publishes in respected traditional literary journals, includes in her work Vietnamese sentences "she never fails to translate" and who won the "safe ethnic poet award"; and Jesus, whose poems are "system fascist overthrow racism working class" performed on Def Poetry Jam where he mispronounces all three of the only Vietnamese words he uses in his poetry.

Numerous poems in sections 3 and 4 address racism. "Reverse Racism" (p. 59) imagines the tables being turned on whites: schools that teach only Asian-American history and suspend any student who questions it; jobs that "stick white men in middle -management hell, then put them on a pedestal as an example of how whites can be successful", and "when white men form their own groups to protect themselves, I'll accuse them of being separatists and reverse racists". "Dear Senator McCain" (p. 65) begins with a quote from the year 2000 in which the senator (who had been imprisoned and tortured by the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam war) says, "I hate the gooks. I will hate them as long as I live." The poem issues a challenge: "I am that gook waiting in your nightmare jungle / that gook in front of you with 17 items in the 10 items or less lane at the supermarket / that gook born with a grenade in his head / that gook that got a better grade than you in shop class" and ends, "Senator / what's the difference / between an Asian /and a gook / to you".

Another poem ("8 [9]", p. 93) is based on the 2006 killing of a 19-year-old Hmong American by a white policeman in Minneapolis. There is despair ("For Colored Boys in Danger of Sudden Unexplained Nocturnal Death Syndrome and All the Rest for Whom Considering Suicide Is Not Enuf ", p. 82 ). There are also poems of self-awareness, for example, of the dichotomy of an earlier ghetto life and a later "fancy college" experience ("Called [An Open Letter to Myself]", p. 76); intra-ethnic suspicion and misunderstanding ("Everyday People", p. 99); energy and pride ("Yellowbrown Babies for the Revolution", p. 86).

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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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Dying in Character

Berman, Jeffrey

Last Updated: Aug-31-2014
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Summary:

In this collection of essays on writers' end-of-life memoirs Berman combines a fine-tuned appreciation of literary strategies with reflections on how writers, who have defined themselves, their philosophies, their voices, and their values publicly, bring their life work to characteristic and fitting conclusions in writing about their own dying.  The writers he considers cover a broad spectrum that ranges from Roland Barthes and Edward Said to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and Tony Judt to Art Buchwald and Randy Pausch.  Each essay offers insights into the writer's approaches to death and dying against the background of his or her earlier work. 

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