Showing 111 - 120 of 143 annotations contributed by Miksanek, Tony
In 1822, a young Canadian paddler named Guillaume Roleau is near death after suffering a gunshot wound to the stomach. His recovery is dramatic and scientifically important. The injury has resulted in a traumatic fistula--a porthole between the outside world and Guillaume's abdominal cavity and organs. The treating physician, Dr. William Barber, immediately recognizes the incredible opportunity for medical research and conducts a lengthy series of experiments on the process of human digestion.
Guillaume--patient, research subject, and guest in the doctor's cabin--is rowdy and frequently uncooperative. He continues to participate in the grisly experiments at least partially out of affection for the physician's wife, Julia, who helps nurse him back to health as well as providing emotional sustenance.
Julia ultimately makes a large, uncredited contribution to Dr. Barber's research. At her husband's request, she has sexual relations with Guillaume so that the unreliable man will remain with the doctor until the experiments are all completed. The efforts of this tragic trio result in a landmark textbook on gastrointestinal physiology authored by Dr. Barber and Julia's illegitimate son, Jacob, sired by Guillaume Roleau.
Tom Fogarty is a sixteen-year-old boy who is introduced to both love and death in 1934. The object of his affection is Lily, the 14-year-old niece of a neighbor who lives across the street from Tom. Lily has tuberculosis and is waiting for a bed at the sanitarium where her parents are already being treated for the same disease. The relationship between the two adolescents is risky, passionate, forbidden, and ultimately transforming. Their romance is abruptly interrupted by Lily's death.
Tom's overwhelming grief over the loss of Lily coincides with torrential rain that cleans and nearly submerges the town of Troy, New York. Tom is further wounded when he fractures his clavicle during the flooding. His physician-father, a general practitioner, repairs Tom's injured collarbone but only time can mend the boy's broken heart.
Three doctors confront catastrophe during a civil war in a central African country. The physician-narrator is new to the jungle and enticed by the power, risk, and control attached to his role as a trauma surgeon. His friend, Stefan, is a gifted French surgeon with years of experience who advocates a "philosophy of disaster." Chaswick is an eccentric anesthesiologist. Headquartered in a Catholic mission, these medical volunteers operate on a large number of injured refugees, many of them victims of brutal attacks by rebel soldiers and armed civilians using machetes.
While performing surgery, the narrator is shot in the shoulder by a young rebel soldier. The doctor's life is spared due to the resourcefulness of his colleagues. As the three physicians escape with their lives, the hundreds of refugees left behind in the medical mission are presumably being slaughtered.
The 58 year old plastic surgeon who narrates this story has plenty of problems. He drinks too much and his surgical skills are deteriorating. His wife Maya, a neurosurgeon young enough to be his daughter, has a miscarriage not long after her father dies from a brain tumor. The narrator is plagued by an obsession with butterflies.
He seems to have inherited his unnatural interest in these insects from both his father and grandfather. Strangely, the pursuit of butterflies has brought only tragedy to these men. Maya believes her husband's butterfly collection is a curse so she destroys it. Her action seems insufficient to liberate the narrator from the burden of his ancestors. He is convinced that his destiny was dictated by his family years ago.
A lonely neurosurgical resident becomes involved with a comatose patient. Susan, a dying woman with an inoperable brain tumor, is the subject of a research study. Scientists are attempting to discern her thoughts with the aid of computers. The resident serendipitously stumbles onto a program that successfully translates the electrical activity of Susan's brain into speech. He labels the computer program a failure (but saves a copy for himself) so that others are unable to eavesdrop on her dreams.
He spends nights listening to her thoughts and soon begins communicating with Susan, sharing his own secrets with her. When the resident learns that the research project is about to be terminated, he decides that Susan is in desperate need of human contact. He kisses her and presumably has sexual intercourse with the comatose woman. The next morning he is found asleep beside her and is dismissed from the hospital.
In a mountainous village in Spain, a man in the prime of his life has labored fifteen years constructing a museum of miniatures that no one has yet seen. Just before completing his project, the artist Gregorio has an accident and both his hands are terribly crushed by a piece of marble. There is little hope that he will ever regain complete use of his hands.
Gregorio is treated by the town's elderly physician, Dr. Xavia. The doctor narrates the story and also dreams about the contents of the mysterious museum. One day Dr. Xavia finds that the door to the museum is unlocked and has been open all along for anyone wanting to enter it. The doctor discovers that the three story building housing the museum contains a complete and perfect recreation of the village that he finds both familiar and strange.
A traveler falls ill and is treated by the local physician, Doctor Trifon Ivanitch, who unexpectedly shares a personal and potentially embarrassing story with the stranger. Once the doctor was asked to make a house call by a woman who believed her daughter might be dying. On his arrival, the physician finds a beautiful 20 year old woman named Alexandra who is feverish and initially unconscious. Although fully aware how ill she is, he nonetheless promises everyone that she will survive.
He is immediately infatuated with the woman and spends days and nights at her home caring for this single patient. As Alexandra's condition worsens and she becomes convinced her death is imminent, she professes love for the doctor satisfying a basic need to experience love before she dies. Just before her death, the doctor lies about their relationship to Alexandra's mother. Later the doctor marries an "ill-tempered woman" who sleeps all day. Did he marry for love, convenience, money, or penance?
A 63 year old biologist, blind since childhood, collects snails and shells in Africa. His self-imposed isolation is shattered after he is credited with saving the lives of an American woman and a native eight year old girl who are both suffering from malaria. The venom of a cone shell provides the cure. Strangers flock to the scientist’s abode hoping to find their own miraculous remedy, but instead a few discover tragedy or even death.
The biologist’s own adult son dies from a cone shell bite while visiting his father. In the end, the shell collector is also bitten by a cone and experiences both paralysis and clarity in his near-death condition. He survives with the aid of the young girl whom he had earlier cured of malaria.
The Physician in Literature is an anthology edited and introduced by Norman Cousins that aims to illustrate the multiple ways in which doctors are portrayed in world literature. Literary selections are organized into 12 categories including Research and Serendipity, The Role of the Physician, Gods and Demons, Quacks and Clowns, Clinical Descriptions in Literature, Doctors and Students, The Practice, Women and Healing, Madness, Dying, The Patient, and An Enduring Tradition.
Some of the notable authors represented in this collection include Leo Tolstoy, Herman Melville, Albert Camus, William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, George Bernard Shaw, Anton P. Chekhov, Orwell, Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevski, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Mann, Gustave Flaubert, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A healthy dose of William Carlos Williams makes for some of the most enjoyable reading ("The Use of Force" and excerpts from his Autobiography).
Many years later, a plastic surgeon is still haunted by memories of the war atrocities he committed as an infantryman in the Vietnam War. He returns to Vietnam searching for atonement. He spends two weeks there as a medical volunteer, repairing the cleft lips and palates of 30 children. He meets the director of the hospital, Dr. Lieh Viet Dinh, who once was a member of the North Vietnamese Army.
During the war, Dr. Dinh was tortured and both his thumbs were cut off. He asks the plastic surgeon to perform a toe transplant to replace one of his missing thumbs. Despite the initial optimism of both men, the operation ultimately fails as the digit becomes gangrenous and then dead. Once again, Vietnam has proven to be a dangerous place seeping hardship and disappointment. Only now the surgeon is capable of accepting the land and its risks as he makes peace with the country and himself.