Showing 1041 - 1050 of 3287 annotations

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: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

David Lynch’s The Elephant Man is based on the life of Joseph Merrick (1862-1890), a man who we first encounter in the film as “The Elephant Man” of a freak show, whose physical differences are so frightening to the authorities that the exhibit is closed. An ambitious young surgeon, Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins), seeks out Merrick (John Hurt) as a subject for a presentation to the Pathological Society and, taken by Merrick’s intelligence and amiability, arranges for Merrick to have a permanent home on the premises of London Hospital. The film portrays Treves as rescuing Merrick from a wretched existence in the squalid wharf district, where he is beaten savagely and otherwise abused by his sideshow manager, Bytes.

Treves provides Merrick with modest bourgeois comfort in the form of private rooms on the hospital premises. When the London Times publishes a letter from the hospital director describing Merrick’s disfigurement as terrifying and requiring isolation, first a famous actress, then most of London high society seek out Merrick, some to befriend him, others to indulge in spectatorship or the fashion of the day. A hospital porter who has access to Merrick’s room brings drunken revelers to view Merrick for a fee, giving the villainous Bytes the opportunity to kidnap Merrick and spirit him off to Belgium and a desperate existence as an abused and degraded sideshow freak.

Eventually, the other members of the freak show free Merrick and send him back to London, where, in a dramatic chase scene, he is pursued by an angry mob until the police arrive. Treves is summoned and reinstalls Merrick in his rooms at the hospital. Merrick is then celebrated by society when he attends his first theater performance. That night, he arranges himself to be able to sleep lying down, like a “normal person,” a position he knows will lead to his asphyxiation due to the size of his head, and he dies.

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Incomplete Knowledge

Harrison, Jeffrey

Last Updated: Apr-26-2007
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

The author dedicates this collection to "my brother Andy, in memory." Indeed, the second half of the book (Part II) contains 22 poems that concern the brother's suicide at age 47. Although two poems in Part I are in memory of recently deceased poet-friends, most of Part I handles a variety of experiences, memories, and reflections, all written with self-deprecating humor. There is "My Worst Job Interview"; a poem about a writing class in which the instructor repeatedly announced to the class that Harrison was "hopeless" ("Fork"); a riff on being one of those "who know something about the world / but not a whole lot" ("Incomplete Knowledge"); a poem about a disastrous breakfast with a friend who is said to have Asperger's syndrome ("Breakfast with Dan"); and in a more serious vein, "My Personal Tornado," in which Harrison presciently speculates about "the maelstrom" that is bound to hit him, just as all lives undergo "this beast of wind that sucks you into / the updraft of its hungry funnel."

Part II begins with a museum visit in which the poet speaks to a 15th century statue of a saint: "Now I want to tell you everything / that has happened to me since I last saw you" ("Saint"). There follows the 12 part poem, "An Undertaking," which begins with "The Call" from Harrison's father in the middle of the night, and moves through the family entering the dead brother's apartment, packing his belongings, telling the poet's children, and above all, trying to understand: "I weighed possibilities, made lists, wrote memos / to myself: was it spontaneous or planned -- / and for how long? I couldn't let it go" ("The Investigation"). Attempts to understand continue in "Confession" in which Harrison retrospectively acknowledges "your small odd habits // that were probably symptoms / but which I chose to see as harmless quirks." This long poem sequence ends with a "Plea" to be forgiven for preoccupation with self, for not recognizing a brother in need of help, yet: "No one can forgive me but myself . . . but I can forgive you for killing yourself."

The remainder of Part II includes a poem about the poet's senile grandmother who nevertheless notices at Thanksgiving that "Someone's missing" ("Happiness"); poems about joy and renewed loss when his brother appears in dreams ("The Return," "Not Waking Up," "Visitation Rights"); anniversaries of the death ("Anniversary," "Fall Truce"); memories.

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Holy the Firm

Dillard, Annie

Last Updated: Apr-23-2007
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

The narrator is a woman who lives alone in a rural area of Puget Sound. She is a writer, an observer, a spiritual thinker. "Each day is a god, each day is a god, and holiness holds forth in time" begins her musings about the first of three days. But on day two, a catastrophe occurs: a small plane crashes and a seven-year-old girl’s face is "burned off" as she is carried away from the explosion in her father’s arms.

The narrator had met the girl once before, at a neighbor’s farm, and had formed a connection--they looked alike and the girl playfully tormented the narrator’s cat with a dress-up game. The narrator imagines the girl in the hospital, imagines her future life as a nun with no face, and ultimately imagines a gentler future in which the girl’s face is restored, she is married and the narrator has assumed the function of the nun for her.

Throughout, the narrator wrestles with the hard questions of life: why are we here; why do horrible things happen; what is the relationship of God and the world; where is God and what is he doing? She is angry: "Do we need blind men stumbling about, and little flamefaced children, to remind us what God can--and will--do?"

A Christian, she seeks answers in her wide-ranging theology, and seems to find an inroad in the idea of "Holy the Firm"--a substance lower than salts and minerals, below the earth’s crust, in touch with "the Absolute." The narrator hence posits that "Holy the Firm" allows for an unbroken circle between God, Christ, and the created world.

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The Mailbox

Shafer, Audrey

Last Updated: Apr-07-2007
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

After living with various foster families, nine-year-old Gabe is taken to live with his aging Uncle Vernon in West Virginia. The relationship with his mother's gruff and distant older brother, a Vietnam vet, is distant at first, but warms up over time. But after his first day in 6th grade, Gabe comes home to find his uncle dead on the floor.

Uncertain what to do, he does nothing for a day or two, pretending at school that everything is normal. Then the body disappears and cards with cryptic messages appear in the mailbox that indicate that someone is looking out for him. After a time, a dog appears, too, sent by the mysterious correspondent. Gabe continues to attend school, and to visit his close friend, Webber, whose mother extends healing hospitality and discreet concern to him. His English teacher takes a particular interest in Gabe, noticing both his honesty as a writer and the signs that he is carrying an unarticulated burden.

Finally the police apprehend Gabe and question him about the disappearance of his uncle's body. The mysterious correspondent turns out to be Smitty, a wartime companion of his uncle's, who has lived alone, unwilling to disclose his disfiguring facial injury in public, and isolated by the lasting effects of post-traumatic stress. Mr. Boehm, the English teacher, takes Gabe under his wing, arranges for a proper military burial for Uncle Vernon, and helps Gabe make direct contact with Smitty, then offers Gabe a home with him.


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Summary:

This is a collection of 91 poems on medical topics by medical students, physicians in training, and attending physicians; two are Canadian and the rest American. The poems are organized by six traditional groups of medical training and advancement in the profession: Medical Student, First Year; Medical Student, Second Year, Medical Student, Clinical Years; Intern; Resident; and Attending. There are no sections for pre-meds, retired doctors, or other programs (naturopath, chiropractor).

The editors have done a good job of picking well crafted and evocative poems. A dozen have been previously published. For the most part, the poems are short, easily fitting on one page. Almost all are in free verse, although there is one group of haiku, one prose poem, and an impressive sequence of ten Shakespearean sonnets “Breughel at Bellevue” by Anna Reisman.

Many poems treat dramatic moments in training: the anatomy lab, first gynecological exams, physician-patient relationships, especially when a patient is gravely ill or dying. Several poems in the first three sections comment on the differences between the normal social world and the intense medical world of the hospital. Throughout there are references to the pressures of high-tech, unfeeling medicine. Indeed Jack Coulehan sounds this theme in his introduction; he writes that "steadiness and tenderness" are both needed in medical practice.

 

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Skin: A Natural History

Jablonski, Nina

Last Updated: Apr-05-2007

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

As an anthropologist with training in comparative biology, Jablonski is particularly interested in the natural history of humans: how did humans evolve to gain the varied appearances we see today? In particular, she investigates how our skin developed into a covering that is unique among animals in three ways: (1) it is naked--effectively hairless--and sweaty, (2) we come in a wide array of colors (not just the traditional four), and (3) we use our skin as a surface for decoration, a "social placard," which we cover or bare at will, and on which we put make-up, tattooes, scarifications, and piercings, all ways of expressing cultural and personal values.

Our ability to sweat allowed us to cast off the usual mammalian fur coat and to be active even in the heat of the day (when many creatures take shelter). Humans, therefore, could do more and be more as thinkers, builders, and social creatures.

As to our color variations, Jablonski argues that the main root of modern humans came out of East Africa; these people were black, because a lot of melanin in their skin was the best way to avoid too much ultraviolet radiation, although some is needed to create Vitamin D. As humans migrated to the north and the south, Darwinian selection favored lighter skin pigmentation in order to use the lower levels of sunlight.

Jablonski writes, "Dark skin or light skin, therefore, tells us about the nature of the past environments in which people lived, but skin color itself is useless as a marker of racial identity" (p. 95). And, noting an irony: "Naturally dark people in many parts of the world are increasingly seeking ways to lighten their skin, while the naturally light-skinned are trying to find new ways to darken theirs" (p. 159).

We often take our skin and all its functions for granted; our consciousness can change quickly, however, if we experience a skin disease, a sunburn, or a thermal burn (see Carter and Petro, Rising from the Flames: The Experience of the Severely Burned). Jablonski discusses a variety of illnesses, including burns, dermatitis, and skin cancers. Other topics include the importance of touch, how skin relates to emotion and sex, and experiments in artificial skin, useful for covering patients with severe burns.

Jablonski presents a dozen color plates, 44 figures, and maps to enliven her text.

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Dr. Pauline Chen is a transplant surgeon and hence highly trained in the surgical care of desperately ill patients. She found, however, that although she had intensive and first rate training, time and again the message she received from her mentors and peers encouraged a distance from frank discussions about dying with patients who were clearly dying. Dr. Chen successfully suppressed her urges to reflect on the meaning of illness and death. Years into her training, she finally witnessed an attending surgeon stay with a patient and the patient's wife until the patient passed away. The widow sent a thank you note to Dr. Chen for allowing a "dignified and peaceful death." (p. 101) Chen notes that observing her attending stand with the patient during death changed her profoundly: "...from that moment on, I would believe that I could do something more than cure. This narrative, then, is my acknowledgment to him." (p. 101)

Final Exam chronicles Chen's journey from medical student to attending surgeon and examines her experiences with death and serious illness - of patients, family members, friends. The memoir contains three parts: Principles, Practice, and Reappraisal - each with three chapters. The book is chronologically arranged, beginning with anatomy dissection at the start of medical school and ending with Chen as an attending arranging for hospice, thus honoring a patient's desire to die at home rather than in hospital. Chen skillfully weaves her stories around commentary on the social, cultural and philosophical issues surrounding death and the medical response to death. An introduction and epilogue bookend the text and 46 pages of extensive notes and bibliography complete the book.

Although Chen claims to have slowly and painfully awakened to the fact that patient needs extend well beyond good technical care, in fact one sees Chen emerge as a caring physician even from her initial patient contacts in medical school. Chen speaks more to her role as an Asian-American than to being a woman in a male-dominated field, but she clearly has what it takes to succeed in this extremely competitive field, including a good dose of compulsiveness and an incredible work ethic.

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About Alice

Trillin, Calvin

Last Updated: Mar-29-2007
Annotated by:
Wear, Delese

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This slim volume is Calvin Trillin’s tribute to his wife Alice, not only his muse and his first and most critical reader but also a figure well known to his readers. First written as a long essay in The New Yorker, the book is a slightly expanded version that chronicles their relationship, their family life, her many and varied interests, her illness—lung cancer—that first appeared in 1976, and her death in 2001 waiting in the heart failure unit of a hospital, her heart having been damaged by the radiation treatment 25 years before.

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Annotated by:
Mathiasen, Helle

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Video

Summary:

This 2002 DVD, copyrighted by WHYY in Philadelphia and narrated by Blythe Danner, consists of a one-hour documentary about Philadelphia-born painter, photographer, and sculptor Thomas Eakins (1844-1916) and eight short films about different facets of his life and work. Photographs by and of Eakins, his paintings, letters, and sketches are interspersed with commentary by his biographer Elizabeth Johns, and by art historians and historians. The DVD describes Eakins’s training, art production, and aspects of his personal life.

Eakins was already an excellent draftsman, trained at Central High School in Philadelphia, but he first learned to paint during the three-plus years he spent in Paris at École des Beaux Arts. The practice there was to paint from live, nude models instead of from plaster casts, as was customary in Philadelphia. After Paris, he traveled to Spain where he visited Madrid and Seville. He developed great admiration for Goya, Ribera, and Velazquez. His letters home indicate how much he missed his family, yet also how seriously he worked on his art.

Returning to Philadelphia, Eakins set up his studio in his family's home on Mt. Vernon Street. He spent most of the rest of his life in his childhood home. Eakins painted portraits of athletes, for example, rowers and boxers. He chose sitters skilled in the arts, in medicine, business and industry, and painted family members. He always portrayed people and scenery he knew well, and athletes skilled in sports he himself loved. An excellent draftsman and highly trained painter, Eakins became a popular instructor at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts had an institute policy that prohibited the use of live, nude models, especially in mixed classes, but Eakins rebelled against these rules by asking his students to model nude in the classroom and outside. Eakins also modeled in the nude himself. He photographed and painted his students in the nude. He believed that artists must study human anatomy through anatomy lectures, dissection, and observation of the body in motion. He assigned such tasks to his American students. Because of his rebellion against Academy rules, he was forced to resign.

Eakins finished his most ambitious painting, The Gross Clinic (annotated in this database) when he was 31 years old. The work, now recognized as an American masterpiece, was poorly received by his contemporaries. Much of his later production was portraits of people he asked to sit for him, including Walt Whitman. He painted a number of cowboy pictures during his stay at a North Dakota ranch where he was recuperating from depression. He also painted twenty-five portraits of Philadelphia physicians.

The last photo of Eakins in his studio, featured in the documentary, shows him seated with his back to the viewer and surrounded by the many pictures he had been unable to sell or which were rejected by his sitters. Eakins is now recognized as a major American artist, particularly in portraiture.

 

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