Showing 121 - 130 of 227 annotations contributed by McEntyre, Marilyn

Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Having remarried after a long and partly happy life with a woman who bore him three sons, novelist Campbell Armstrong lives in rural Ireland with his second wife. He learns that his first wife, who works in Phoenix, has advanced lung cancer and, with his second wife’s blessing, goes to spend time with her and their grown sons. In the course of that trip, he reflects on their life together, their romance, his alcoholism and its effect on their family, their move to the U.S., their losses, and the remarkably enduring affection between them and, surprisingly, between the first wife and the second.

Completely surprising all of them, a daughter his first wife gave up for adoption, who has searched for years for her birth mother, shows up in the months before Eileen’s death and makes the trip to Phoenix to meet her birth mother. Her appearance turns out to be a gift to the whole family. She assuages decades of sorrow and longing in both her and her mother’s hearts. She herself has cancer, not as advanced as her mothers. Both she and her mother work in health care professions. Much psychological and spiritual healing is accomplished between them in the short time they have before Eileen’s death several months later.

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An Acquaintance with Darkness

Rinaldi, Ann

Last Updated: Oct-16-2006
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

The novel is set in Washington, DC in April, 1865. At fourteen, Emily is sole caretaker of her mother who is dying of tuberculosis. Her neighbor, Annie Surratt, is her best friend, though their mothers have been estranged for some time. Both families have deep roots in the South. Annie’s brother, Johnny, an object of Emily’s romantic fantasies, has recently left on a secret mission. The war is nearly over. Emily’s uncle Valentine, a physician, wants to take custody of her after her mother dies, but because her mother has also felt estranged from him, Emily resists. Still, after her mother’s death, she does go to live with her uncle, and learns that he (with his two assistants, one of whom is a woman who is 1/8 African American) has a lively practice among the poor and the African Americans who have flooded the streets of Washington since the emancipation.

Valentine is called to Lincoln’s bedside the night of his assassination, and participates in efforts to track down John Wilkes Booth and his accomplices, one of whom appears to have been Johnny Surratt, who has escaped to Canada. In the course of her time there Emily discovers that her uncle and his assistant are involved in elaborate, marginally legal, schemes to obtain bodies for study at the medical college. Emily, at first horrified by this discovery, comes to recognize the good that comes of anatomical studies and to sympathize with her uncle’s efforts to bring about legislation making the acquisition of bodies for medical research easier. Annie’s mother is hanged as an accomplice in the Booth conspiracy, Annie leaves town, and Emily comes to understand a great deal more about the harsh terms on which life must be lived in times of national crisis and ideological warfare. The story ends with her growing interest in medicine as a possible career path.

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Baptism by Fire

Davis, Heather

Last Updated: Oct-16-2006
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

At seven months, Remy, daughter and second child of Heather and Lon Davis, is hospitalized with a seizure that, after several days of agonizing uncertainty, is traced to a brain tumor. This narrative of her diagnosis and treatment, told by her mother and very much from her mother’s perspective, is not only a chronicle of a medical event, but, perhaps more centrally, of a spiritual awakening in the mother’s life. From a person uncertain about and largely indifferent to prayer, faith, and spirituality, Ms. Davis becomes, over the course of her daughter’s treatment, convinced of the presence of God, the power of prayer, and the availability of grace in precisely those circumstances that threaten life and lifestyle and bring individuals face to face with their deepest fears and deepest needs.

A series of “coincidences” makes her more and more aware of how little she controls in the grueling process, and how much of comfort, relief, and unexpected aid comes as unsolicited gift from un expected places. The child recovers, unlike several others the mother encounters during her weeks of witnessing hospital life. The mother emerges profoundly different for the experience, and clearer in her purposes as a writer and, eventually, a teacher.

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Summary:

This lively volume of medical history chronicles the forms of suffering, illness, injury, and treatment endured by the members of the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1805. Beginning with three chapters of political and medical history to set the context, the story follows the adventures of the extraordinarily fortunate "Corps of Discovery" among whom Lewis was the most trained in the medicine of the time (having studied in preparation for the trip under Dr. Benjamin Rush of Philadelphia), and he only an amateur. Even professional medicine of the time was approximate and largely ineffectual, limited mostly to purgatives, opiates and laudanum for pain relief, bleeding, and topical applications of various compounds or herbal substances.

The story chronicles the main events of the trip based on the extensive journals of Lewis and Clark as well as other historical account, maintaining focus in each chapter on the medical incidents including gastrointestinal distress from parasites and contaminated water; effects of overexposure like hypothermia and exhaustion; infections from wounds and scratches; syphilis; dislocations; muscular spasms; mosquitoes and other insect bites; snakebites and other animal attacks.

Along the way Peck pauses to explain the rather rudimentary medical theories upon which treatments were based, the effects of particular known treatments, and what Lewis and others likely knew, guessed at, or didn’t understand about lead, mercury, opium, and certain herbal substances they used. He speculates about the contexts of their medical decisions and offers occasional contemporary analogies to help readers imagine the circumstances and tradeoffs the explorers faced.

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May I Cross Your Golden River?

Dixon, Paige

Last Updated: Aug-31-2006
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

Jordan, an 18-year-old athlete, finds his joints weak and begins to stumble unaccountably. The local doctor who has known him all his life sends him to the Mayo clinic where a diagnosis of Lou Gherig’s disease is confirmed. His mother, three brothers, sister, and brother-in-law (an Episcopalian priest) accommodate to his illness, with its promise of early death, in various ways.

The family is supportive, though the youngest brother goes through weeks of denial that look like rejection before he allows himself to feel the emotional impact. Jordan’s adored girlfriend can’t rise to the challenge of loving a boy with no future, and distances herself, but leaves it up to him to acknowledge and effect a separation that leaves her free to pursue other relationships, and him to burrow deeper into the loving family that sustains him in his final months. He takes one last trip to the Colorado mountains with his younger brother where they meet an old mountaineer who senses immediately what might be happening and becomes for Jordan the type and figure of the wise old man.

Here as in other stories of this kind, time seems to conflate for the young person facing death; maturity comes in sudden leaps, and a certain calm descends before the end. One of Jordan’s final acts is to serve as godfather at the baptism of his sister’s baby, his namesake. The act and the letter he writes the child gives him a sense of leaving behind a legacy that matters.

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Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Literature

Genre: Anthology (Mixed Genres)

Summary:

This volume nicely supplements the few other anthologies of literature on medical themes currently available in that it covers a wider historical span. Selections from the Bible, Giovanni Boccaccio, William Shakespeare, Rabelais, as well as 18th-century writers including Pepys, Daniel Defoe, Malthus, Schiller, and Goldsmith provide an array of historical touchstones that offer windows onto medical and literary history and points of comparison for the larger selection of works from the 19th and 20th centuries.

The selections are mostly short--averaging around 10-12 pages. Each is introduced with lively, often witty, comments by Gordon, whose popular Doctor in the House series was adapted for stage and screen in England, and whose associations with the medical world include an editorial position on the British Medical Journal as well as a wife and two children who are physicians. Many of the selections focus on the figure of the physician viewed variously from the viewpoints of patients, other physicians, and him or herself.

Selections from novels by three Victorian women doctors as well as selections from several physicians’ diaries provide unusual additions to a useful collection of excerpts from well-known literature including works by Scott, John Keats, Jane Austen,George (Marian Evans) Eliot, George Bernard Shaw, Hardy, Aldous Huxley, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sinclair Lewis, F. (Francis) Scott Fitzgerald, Waugh, Orwell, and more recent and popular fiction, up through Erich Segal.

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Loose Threads

Grover, Lorie Ann

Last Updated: Aug-30-2006
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

Kay, a 7th grader, lives with her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. She is particularly attached to her grandmother, who is diagnosed with breast cancer. Kay’s subsequent waves of response to Grandma Margie’s illness include denial, fear, withdrawal from friends, discovery of a new friend whose mother, it turns out, died of cancer, and discovery of new kinds of intimacy with her mother and great-grandmother. During the illness her grandmother teaches her to knit--one last gift before she dies. After her grandmother’s death, she finds herself a little more grown up, recognizing in herself some of her grandmother’s features and habits, and reclaiming her own life on new terms.

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Invincible Summer

Ferris, Jean

Last Updated: Aug-29-2006
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

Invincible Summer introduces illness and death into what might otherwise be a standard teen love story. Here, first love is also a last look at life, and the rites of passage into romance, sexuality, and intimacy are intensified and thrust into profound paradox by approaching death. Robin and Rick meet in the hospital where she has come for a battery of tests, and he for chemotherapy. Both have acute lymphocytic leukemia. He’s been sick for two years. She’s just finding out about her own condition.

Robin lives with her father, who can hardly bear to be around her illness, and her grandmother, who, since her mother died years ago in a car accident, is the primary caretaker. The father’s love has to be understood and accepted in light of his emotional limitations. The book thoughtfully explores how sickness rearranges family systems as well as treating familiar young adult themes of separation from friends, wanting sex, embarrassment about physical appearance, uncertainty of remission, and how to talk about the future.

After Rick’s death, at which Robin is present, Robin recalls a game her mother used to play, called "The Worst Thing." "What’s there to be afraid of? What’s the worst thing that could happen?" The aim of the game is to look at the worst case until it seems manageable, because for every worst thing, there is some way through to remedy or acceptance. The game, reproduced as internal dialogue, drives to ultimate questions, ending with something like Pascal’s wager--a version of intellectual comfort that will do in the absence of positive faith in the promise of afterlife.

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Dirt Cheap

Miller-Lachmann, Lyn

Last Updated: Aug-28-2006
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Nicholas Baran, a one-time student activist, is now in his 40s, teaching at a community college in rural Connecticut after having been denied tenure at an Ivy League school. The tenure denial, despite consistent teaching awards and high performance was clearly politically motivated and instigated by a right-wing professor protecting his turf and the school from a labor-oriented, media-challenging progressive. Nicholas has leukemia, and, upon noticing that he appears to be living in a cancer cluster, begins a private investigation of the large chemical company located just upstream on the river that runs through the town near his neighborhood.

The investigation becomes more intense after he comes upon a local rescue squad retrieving the body of a small boy who has drowned in the river, but whose body reveals effects of considerable acid in the water. Though his wife fears for him and resists his efforts, even to the point of temporarily allying herself (and engaging in a dailliance with) a powerful local real estate broker, Nick finds an ally in his son's teacher, hesitant, but committed to finding out the truth.

Though Nick's disease is progressing rapidly, he and Sandy, the teacher, manage to break into the company's files and retrieve enough damaging evidence to expose deliberate deception of the public as well as documenting the high incidence of cancers in the immediate neighborhood. Before his death Nick manages to supply enough material to the major media to expose the scandal, and leaves a hard-won legacy of truthtelling to his children.

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Butterfly Effect

Humes, Harry

Last Updated: Aug-24-2006
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

These poems offer a rich series of impressions of the speaker's present life, surrounded by family, a garden, and pockets of natural life that evoke memory after memory of a childhood lived in relative poverty with a father whose years as a coal miner damaged his lungs and finally killed him. Allusions to his chronic and worsening illness and his death thread through the poems like a long shadow.

Recurrent images of his blood-stained handkerchief, his coal-smeared face and hands, are echoed in images of the death of an uncle, the deaths of animals, and of a mother strained by poverty and taking frugal measures to preserve small things. The final poem in the collection recalls her in old age, barely able to see, but still "stitching it all together."

The title poem, one of the best, pauses over the famous idea that the flutter of a butterfly's wings might be the source of large effects continents away. Together the collection invites us, without sentimentality, to consider how things are connected over time and come together in memory in compositions one couldn't have anticipated.

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