Showing 111 - 120 of 383 annotations tagged with the keyword "Narrative as Method"

A Step From Death

Woiwode, Larry

Last Updated: Apr-25-2008
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

In A Step from Death a profusion of memories radiate from a near-fatal accident on Larry Woiwoide's farm in western North Dakota. Woiwode, a novelist and poet of America's heartland, had just finished baling hay when his denim jacket got caught in the tractor's power take-off, "a geared stub at the rear of the tractor that spins at 500 rpm." (p. 9) Caught in the powerful machine with no one around to hear his cries for help, Woiwode could easily have died, but survived by using his pocket knife to free himself from the jacket.

In a sense A Step from Death takes up where the author's previous memoir, What I Think I Did, leaves off. The earlier book focuses on surviving North Dakota's outrageously bitter winter of 1996-97. The current memoir ranges far and wide over nearly 40 years of Woiwode's life as a writer who chooses a difficult but fulfilling life for himself and his family on the land. The memoir is addressed to Woiwode's only son Joseph (the second of four children), with whom he shares his fatherly failures, as well as the strengths of their relationship. The reader soon learns that accidents were no strangers to their life on the northern plains. Woiwode and his wife and older daughter had survived a serious car accident on an icy road in one of their early Dakota winters. Joseph, too, sustained severe injuries as a child when he fell off a horse and again later in a tractor accident. On another occasion, Joseph and his sisters are responsible for accidentally causing a fire that burned down the family barn.

Now, however, Joseph is a married man, a helicopter pilot, with two children of his own. The recollections and wisdom that his father shares with him (and us) flow freely, creating a free associational, rather than linear, narrative. Woiwode explores the deep network of connections that bind him to the land and his family, as well as to the community of creative writers and especially William Maxwell, his long-time editor at The New Yorker, mentor, and father figure. Woiwode explores as well the strong pull of loss in his life-his parents' deaths and eventually that of Maxwell-but A Step from Death is ultimately a celebration of survival.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poems (Sequence)

Summary:

This book consists of a series of "found poems" abstracted from transcripts of interviews that Loreen Herwaldt conducted with 24 writers who had previously published accounts of their illnesses. Dr. Herwaldt, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Iowa, began her investigation into the personal experience of illness after having read Mary Swander's Out of this World: A Journey of Healing and Reynolds Price's A Whole New Life, both of which revealed a negative dimension of medical care. These books initiated an "unexpected turn" (p. 1) in Dr. Herwaldt's life, culminating in a sabbatical year during which she interviewed a wide array of writers, intending to investigate the texture and dynamics of their experience of medical care by textual analysis of interview transcripts.

However, as a result of a further (and fortunate) insight, the author decided to abstract and arrange these texts into "found poems" that have "a concentrated emotional power that the unedited stories did not." (p. 5) Among the authors whose stories of illness appear in these poems are Arthur Frank (see The Wounded Storyteller ), Nancy Mairs (A Troubled Guest: Life and Death Stories), Richard Selzer (Raising the Dead), Oliver Sacks (A Leg to Stand On), Mary Swandler (The Desert Pilgrim: En Route to Mysticism and Miracles), and Christina Middlebrook (Seeing the Crab: A Memoir of Dying). In most cases Dr. Herwaldt has crafted two or more poems giving voice to different aspects of the subject's experience. For example, Richard McCann (pp. 82-90) speaks about loving his primary care physician, why patients can't talk to doctors, what he needs from a doctor, and being labeled as a patient with hepatitis C (cf. "The Resurrectionist").

The author includes a section on "How to Use This Book" (pp.9-20) that summarizes her experience utilizing these poems in medical education settings and provides helpful hints for teaching them.

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The Crazy Man

Porter, Pamela

Last Updated: Mar-15-2008
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

Twelve year -old Emaline is riding with her father as he discs their fields, when she sees her beloved dog Prince running dangerously close to the blades. In trying to stop him, she falls off the tractor and her leg is sliced almost completely through. In anger, her father shoots Prince and leaves home. She is rushed to hospital where a series of operations and treatments save her limb, although it is permanently shortened and she walks with a limp.

The fields need seeding. In desperation Emmy’s mother appeals to the local “mental hospital,” and Angus, the crazy man, arrives to help. Emmy is warned to stay clear of him, and neighbours gawk, but she begins to notice his special qualities. He quietly sows the fields with blue flax and yellow mustard rather than the unsellable wheat. He helps fit her with a built up shoe, and he is steadfast though frightened when falsely accused of theft. Yet some neighbours, like Harry Record, cannot adapt to Angus and believe that the family is taking risks. Just as Angus is the object of ridicule, Emmy is mercilessly teased for her deformity by Record’s son, Joey.

One night in a snowstorm both Joey and Angus disappear. Angus has been driven out of town and dumped by Harry Record, but he finds Joey lost in the storm and brings him home. Record refuses to accept his guilt and pleads not guilty. As the book ends Angus is more accepted, but a trial is looming, in which Emmy and Joey will have to give evidence against his father.

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Summary:

Janis Caldwell, who practiced emergency medicine for five years before getting her Ph.D. in English, examines the philosophy and practice of nineteenth-century British literature and medicine in this book. In an erudite introduction, she explains what she means by the "double vision" of "Romantic materialism," "Romantic because [physicians and authors] were concerned with consciousness and self-expression, and materialist because they placed a particularly high value on what natural philosophy was telling them about the material world" (1). These writers' intellectual context, influenced by natural theology, was dualist, including both the Book of Scripture and the Book of Nature. Their methodology "tacked back and forth between physical evidence and inner, imaginative understanding" (1), giving rise to the two-part "history and physical exam" familiar to physicians today.

The book examines this dual hermeneutic in six influential sites over the course of the century. In Chapter Two, Caldwell reads early-nineteenth-century debates over vitalism in the context of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, arguing against the materialist-spiritualist divide so often cited in that period. She also brings readings of the novel into line with contemporary theories of physiologic sympathy. Next, she turns to the enormously influential sage Thomas Carlyle, arguing that he broadens the body/soul model to include both natural and supernatural aspects of the world. Again rejecting the notion of a philosophical dualism that prohibits mixing differing approaches, she argues, both Carlyle and the anatomist Richard Owen enthusiastically endorse a more heterodox vision of the world, in which we learn from both natural and spiritual enquiry.

The fourth chapter reads Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights in the context of contemporary popular treatises on children's health and child-rearing. Caldwell argues that Brontë's image of the Romantic child, as emblematized in Cathy and Heathcliff, and characterized as "a more social, empirical, physical, literal version of childhood," derives in part from the "domestic medical texts which function as a sort of secular scripture in the Brontë household" (74). She suggests that the dualist language of natural theology, which combined spiritual and natural interpretation, and which was well-known in the Bronte household, influenced Emily's mixture of religious and medical concepts in her portrait of Romantic childhood.

Chapter Five contrasts Emily Brontë's version of childhood to that of her sister, Charlotte Bronte, in Jane Eyre and Villette. Charlotte Brontë, argues Caldwell, inclines more to the professional version of medicine, less suspicious of physician authority and more likely to experiment (in her fiction) with alternative medical theories such as phrenology. In an extended discussion of theories of literalization and metaphor, using Ricoeur to argue that the literalization of a metaphor returns us to the fact but also reinvigorates the metaphor through its dissonance with the fact. Caldwell proposes that the supposed "coarseness" of Brontë's novels is linked to her use of literalization.

A chapter on Darwin posits that "Darwin's thought arises directly out of ... Romantic materialism" (117). Although by the end of his life Darwin had renounced literary reading, the "dialectic of Romantic materialism" (shaped by Romantic literature as well as science) appears in "Darwin's preferred scientific method," in his rhetoric, and in the narrative structure of his scientific autobiography (123-24).

Caldwell's final chapter provides a significant new reading of the genre of the medical case history, by studying George Eliot's Middlemarch in the light of the bipartite structure of "the patient's narrative and the physical exam" (143). Emphasizing the negotiations between doctors and patients in the mid-nineteenth century, and calling for similar negotiations today, Caldwell navigates the differing critical positions on George Eliot's novel, weighing whether the narrator "participates in the systematic, totalizing knowledge of the pathologist" or undercuts that knowledge (156). Caldwell concludes that the narrator of Middlemarch practices a "hermeneutic circling" that shuttles back and forth between incommensurate perspectives, part and whole, nature and spirit, seeking "a partial and provisional, rather than absolute or positive, knowledge" (160). The book ends with a call to return the term "clinical" to its full meaning, not just of detachment, but of engaged practice.

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Annotated by:
Kennedy, Meegan

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Summary:

This book could perhaps have been called "Pathology and Identity in the Medical Case History and the British Novel." Tougaw here examines the mutual fascination of both nineteenth-century medicine and the British novel with pathology: that both "novels and case histories require a suffering body at narrative's center" (8), and that both "put into circulation a model of identity whereby the subject is always caught in a double bind... between health and pathology" (9). He examines developments in the medical case history, as a narrative, and argues that both this and the novel permitted an escape from "the nineteenth-century zeal for classification" (2). He reads the doctor-patient relationship as analogous to the reader-novel relationship, and argues that both genres must balance competing modes of approach: diagnosis and sympathy.

The book focuses on "controversial or marginalized maladies" (18), with each chapter acting as, itself, a case study. The first chapter, however, sets up Tougaw's critical terms of diagnostic and sympathetic reading, alternatives that help readers negotiate their discomfort with controversial conditions. The second chapter examines how the rhetoric of disability helps provide cover for "scientific scrutiny" (19) in cases of breast cancer, which bring to the foreground concerns over the limits and gendering of privacy and the body. Chapter Three builds on Peter Logan's work on the nervous narrator, examining Jane Austen's use of indirect discourse to finesse questions of hypochondria, compulsive storytelling, and early-nineteenth-century medical knowledge.

The fourth chapter focuses on the mid-century debate over mesmerism and anesthesia, reading cases alongside relevant novels by Wilkie Collins, Sheridan Le Fanu, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Mary Elizabeth Braddon. It traces Victorians' interest in altered consciousness and the effects of drugs on agency, and it argues for an analogy between the intersubjective relations of mesmerist/subject, doctor/patient, and narrator/reader. The final chapter reads Freud's "Rat Man" and "Wolf Man" against three novels by William James. Tougaw sees both these authors as putting forward a complex epistemology based on interpretation and intersubjectivity rather than assertion or individuality. The Afterword reframes Tougaw's arguments in the context of contemporary debates over the doctor-patient relation and the patient narrative; that "the real work of autobiography is the establishment of an intersubjective rapport between writer and reader" (21).

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Sicko

Moore, Michael

Last Updated: Jan-08-2008
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

The movie opens with a shot of a young man stitching up a laceration in his own knee. Another describes how he had to select which of two severed fingers would be re-attached because he could not afford both operations. They are among the millions of Americans without health insurance. But, the narrator says, the movie is not for them; rather it is for the majority of U.S. citizens who do have medical insurance and believe themselves protected.

Through a series of riveting vignettes, for-profit health care is shown to tyrannize the well, ruin the ill, and destroy families. It also erodes the psychological and moral fiber of the people working in the industry. Excursions to England, Canada, France and Cuba are presented in a series of encounters with physicians and patients, none of whom believe that they would be better off in the United States. A French doctor opines that he earns an adequate salary for a good quality of life. Even those seated in a Canadian waiting room profess satisfaction with the care given and understanding about delays. When asked why anyone would accept to pay the expenses of others, an elderly golfer explains patiently that it is what we do for each other in a caring society. Ex-pat Americans gather at a bar to describe their positive experiences with foreign health and maternity care.

Interviews with emotionally distraught people who have worked in the insurance industry reveal the relentless pressure to deny coverage and its reward system that favors those who generate the biggest savings. Special attention is given to Dr. Linda Peeno who testified before Congress in 1996, confessing that she had harmed people for the economic benefit of the insurance industry.

Moore gathers up a group of people whose sorry dilemmas within the U.S. system have left them with serious health problems. He escorts them to Cuba where physicians and nurses are only too pleased to diagnose and treat their illnesses– for free. The movie ends with an exposé of the superior health care given prisoners at Guantanamo and Moore’s stunt at trying to bring the unhappy Americans there for treatment.

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Summary:

In 1999, eighteen years after Project HOPE began publishing the journal "Health Affairs," the founding editor, John Iglehart, began a new column: Narrative Matters. This book contains 46 of the 80 essays published to date, and an inspiring foreword by Abraham Verghese. The essays are contained in eight chapters-- "Writing to Change Things: Essays on the Policy Narrative," "Dollars and Sense: Hard Financial Realities," "Bearing Witness: Patient's Stories," "The Maddening System: Frustrations and Solutions," "Trouble in the Ranks: Professional Problems," "Drug Resistance: Battling Undue Influences," "Disparity Dilemmas: Stories on Race and Ethnicity," and "Values and Choice: Stories of Practical Ethics." Familiar voices include those of Fitzhugh Mullan (one of the editors), Abigail Zuger, Howard Brody, Richard Lamm, John Lantos, Danielle Ofri, and Carol Levine. The essays in the first section strike an important cautionary tone, reminding readers that the plural of anecdote too often is taken for policy and that the repetition of anecdote should not be seen as evidence.

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

Author Diedrich investigates ("treats") mid-late 20th century memoirs about illness (illness narratives) from an interdisciplinary perspective drawing on the disciplines of literature, social sciences, and philosophy. Her analysis uses the theoretical frameworks of poststructuralism, phenomenology, and psychoanalysis to consider "what sort of subject is formed in the practice of writing . . . illness narratives," the kind of knowledges articulated by such writing, whether and how such writing can transform "expert medical knowledges," how language operates in these memoirs, and "what sort of ethics emerges out of such scenes of loss and the attempts to capture them in writing" (viii).

The book is divided into Introduction, five chapters on specific memoirs, and Conclusion. Chapter 1, "Patients and Biopower: Disciplined Bodies, Regularized Populations, and Subjugated Knowledges," draws on Foucault's theory of power to discuss two mid-20th-century memoirs of institutionalization for tuberculosis. Betty McDonald's the Plague and I is compared with Madonna Swan: A Lakota Woman's Story. Dividing practices and regularization are shown to serve different functions in these two incarcerations, figurative in the case of Betty McDonald, and literal in the case of Madonna Swan.

Chapter 2, "Politicizing Patienthood: Ideas, Experience and Affect," draws on Foucault's approach to the subject and on his discussion of "practices of the self" in contrasting Audre Lorde's The Cancer Journals with Susan Sontag's Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and Its Metaphors (see annotations). Diedrich also brings into her analysis Eve Sedgwick's theory of queer performativity and Sedgwick's own illness narrative, White Glasses. Diedrich views all of these as counter narratives to the clinical medical narrative of illness but she shows how they differ in stance.

Chapter 3, "Stories For and against the Self: Breast Cancer Narratives from the United States and Britain" looks at "the arts of being ill" as they are represented in two cultures, two "conceptions of the self in these countries at a particular historical moment" (61). The narratives discussed are Sandra Butler and Barbara Rosenblum's narrative, Cancer in Two Voices and Ruth Picardie's Before I Say Goodbye (see annotations). Diedrich associates Cancer in Two Voices with an American notion of self-improvement and Before I Say Goodbye with a British "emphasis on the cultivation of an ironic self" (55). The author works in this chapter with Freud's idea of the uncanny, Benedict Anderson's concept of "imagined political communities" and Elaine Scarry's discussion of pain, language, and the unmaking of the self.

Chapter 4, "Becoming-Patient: Negotiating Healing, Desire, and Belonging in Doctors' Narratives," treats Oliver Sacks's illness narrative, A Leg to Stand On, Abraham Verghese's autobiographical My Own Country: A Doctor's Story of a Town and Its People in the Age of AIDS, and Rafael Campo's book of essays, The Poetry of Healing (see annotations). Here Diedrich considers "the possibility that doctors, especially AIDS doctors, might become patients through desiring-and writing-productions" (83) and she utilizes the rhizome model of Deleuze and Guattari to make her case. She discusses how Verghese and Campo are each both cultural insiders and outsiders and how they each "bring the body into language through their writing" (88).

Chapter 5, "Between Two Deaths: Practices of Witnessing," focuses primarily on Paul Monette's writing about the loss of his partner to AIDS, and on John Oliver Bayley's books about the loss of his wife, Iris Murdoch, to Alzheimer's, and her ultimate death (see annotations in this database). In this chapter Diedrich invokes Lacan's concept of the real and his formulation of "the ethical possibility of being between two deaths" (117). She draws also on trauma theory and the work of Kelly Oliver, a contemporary feminist philosopher who has written on witnessing.

Finally, in her "Conclusion: Toward an Ethics of Failure," Diedrich returns to Elaine Scarry's "phenomenological discussion of the experience of pain" and brings in Jean-François Lyotard's concept of incommensurability and his suggestion between the two poles of what is seemingly incommensurable one might search, in Diedrich's words, for "new rules for forming and linking phrases between . . . subject positions" (150). In that context she analyzes physician Atul Gawande's discussion of medical uncertainty and error in his book, Complications (see annotation) and philosopher Gillian Rose's book, Love' s Work. Diedrich concludes that the basic incommensurability between doctor and patient can be a starting point for a new ethics, an ethics of failure and risk "because by taking such risks [of failure, of relations], we open up the possibility of new routes, new treatments: in and between art, medicine, philosophy, and politics" (166).

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How Doctors Think

Groopman, Jerome

Last Updated: Aug-06-2007
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

In How Doctors Think, Jerome Groopman explores clinical decision making with a particular emphasis on the poor communication skills and cognitive errors that often lead to misdiagnosis and inappropriate treatment. He uses a narrative approach, filling the book with compelling stories that illustrate the world of patient-physician interactions. Why did a second doctor quickly conclude that Blanche Begaye suffered from aspirin toxicity, while her first doctor mistakenly diagnosed viral pneumonia? Why did several physicians fail to diagnose Maxine Carlson's ectopic pregnancy until the day it ruptured? Groopman's storytelling skill permits him to convey complex concepts (e.g. availability bias, anchoring, and Ockham's razor) through conversation and narrative.

Three major themes run throughout the book, and each is presented with several variations. The first theme is that doctors who don't listen to their patients are likely to make serious mistakes in diagnosis and treatment. The second is that doctors frequently don't have the self-awareness to understand their own errors, especially those that involve dealing with ambiguity and understanding the importance of emotions. The final theme is that that patients ought to be active participants in their own care. This is not a new message, but Groopman frames it in a new way. Given the complexity of clinical decision making, and the many cognitive errors physicians may fall prey to, patients can improve their own care by helping their doctors minimize or avoid such errors. Among other things this means asking thought-provoking questions like "What else could it be?", "What is the worst thing it could be?," or "Is it possible I have more than one problem?"

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When the Emperor Was Divine

Otsuka, Julie

Last Updated: May-25-2007
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This short novel tells the story of a Japanese-American family’s internment during World War II. They are living comfortably in Berkeley, California, when their nightmare begins. Soon after Pearl Harbor the husband/father is arrested by the FBI--taken away in his housecoat and slippers. We learn of this through the narration of the eight-year-old son, his ten-year-old sister, and their mother--who are rounded up several months later and sent to a camp in Utah. The father remains shadowy--a figure of memory, wishful thinking, and censored letters stamped "Detained Alien Enemy Mail." The reason for his arrest is never explained, as if there is no reason to question the man’s loyalty.

After her husband’s arrest, the mother is left to take care of her children and the house. A few months later she must pack up the household belongings, give away the family cat, kill and bury the family dog, tell her daughter to let loose the pet macaw. They are allowed to bring with them--where to they do not know--only what they can carry. They take an endless train ride through the Nevada desert to reach an internment camp in Utah, "a city of tar-paper barracks behind a barbed-wire fence on a dusty alkaline plane high up in the desert" (49).

Here they remain until the war ends, some three and a half years later. They learn to live in one room with a single light bulb; to stand on line for everything; to eat in the mess hall; to avoid rattlesnakes, scorpions, and the sun; and to "never say the Emperor’s name out loud" (52). They are unable to avoid the desert dust that covers and gets into everything. The children attend makeshift classes, play cards, are bored, lonely, and confused. The boy misses and has fantasies about his father, the girl reaches adolescence and becomes cynical, the mother is too depressed to eat or read.

At the end of the war, the three are allowed to go home "with train fare and twenty-five dollars in cash" (117). Their house has been vandalized; neighbors, teachers, and classmates either ignore them or are openly hostile. Finally their father is released from detention in New Mexico, a changed man both in appearance and spirit.

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