Showing 121 - 130 of 3158 annotations

Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

This thoughtful essay from the author of The Emperor of All Maladies expounds on information, uncertainty, and imperfection in the medical setting. The author recalls witnessing a difficult operation when he was a medical student. The attending surgeon admonished the operating room team, "Medicine asks you to make perfect decisions with imperfect information" (p.5). This essay is constructed around that idea as the author shares three personal principles that have guided him throughout his medical career.
     Law One: A strong intuition is much more powerful than a weak test. (p. 22)
     Law Two: "Normals" teach us rules; "outliers" teach us laws. (p. 38)
     Law Three: For every perfect medical experiment, there is a perfect human bias. (p.54)

He views the medical world as a "lawless, uncertain" place and stresses that biomedicine is a "softer science" than chemistry or physics. Clinical wisdom, in his opinion, is imperfect, fluid, and abstract whereas the knowledge base of other basic sciences is concrete, fixed, and certain. He laments, "My medical education had taught me plenty of facts, but little about the spaces that live between facts" (p. 6).

His own "laws" of medicine are actually laws of imperfection. Clinical diagnosis can be thought of as a "probability game" where human bias creeps into the process. And ultimately common sense trumps pure statistical reasoning. Woven into the discussion are considerations on a variety of topics - children with autism, Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, genomics, radical masectomy, and randomized, double-blind studies. Nods to Lewis Thomas (The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher), Thomas Bayes (Bayes' Theorem), and Johannes Kepler (Kepler's Laws of planetary motion) fit in nicely with the thrust of the treatise.


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A Lucky Life

Goldbloom, Richard

Last Updated: Nov-11-2015
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

Born into a Montreal Jewish family in 1924, Richard Goldbloom was always sensitive to minorities and at ease with difference. Jewish and Christian, French and English, music, theatre, and the arts in all forms were prevalent and valued in the family home. He became a skilled pianist and a gifted storyteller. Richard trained in medicine with his father and at McGill University then specialized in pediatrics at Harvard with the famous Charles A. Janeway at Boston Children’s Hospital.

He met the vivacious, intrepid Ruth Schwartz at McGill when they both auditioned for a play. Also Jewish, she hailed from Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. They married in 1945 before his studies were complete and had three children. Unlike many male physicians of his era, Richard was in awe of this tiny dynamo and attributes his happiness and success to her.

In 1967, the family moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where Richard became Professor of Pediatrics, Physician in Chief and director of research at the new children’s hospital. Ruth was instrumental in a wide array of philanthropic endeavors that inevitably involved her husband. She developed a remarkable museum at Pier 21, the point of arrival for generations of immigrants to Canada—a place to gather their stories and their achievements.

Many anecdotes about clinical practice and scientific innovations are told with accessible enthusiasm and gentle humor. He dispels myths, exposes hidden agendas and explains with clear examples the importance of listening to children and their parents. Underlying the entire narrative is a refreshing humility and gratitude for his “lucky life.” 

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Best Boy

Gottlieb, Eli

Last Updated: Nov-09-2015

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Best Boy is a novel about Todd Aaron, a 54-year-old autistic man who has lived for 40 years in a Payton LivingCenter (sic); he was involuntarily committed to this facility. Todd has been in five previous places for congregate living, but Payton seems to be the best for him, thanks in part to a loving caregiver, Raykene. Todd has accepted the institutional “Law” of Payton and takes his drugs right on schedule, including Risperdal, an antipsychotic that slows him down, making a “roof” over him and muffling, he says, “the voice in my brain.”  The story is told from Todd’s point of view, often with startling imagery:  he pictures his dead parents turning into giant cigars, a raindrop “explodes,” and, when upset, he rocks back and forth and feels “volts.”  Now and then he recalls that his mother called him her “best boy.”
   
Into this stable setting come three personified disruptions. The first two are fellow patients, Terry Doon (a pun on “doom”?), a brain-injured roommate who teases, torments, and bullies Todd, and Martine Calhoun. While Terry disrupts Todd’s living space, Martine is a siren who lures him to different parts of Payton’s campus; she is also a rebel who urges him to stop taking Risperdal and shows him how to hide the drug in his hand and get rid of it later.   

The third is Mike Hinton, a day staffer who lies, manipulates, and in general mistreats Todd. Todd understands Hinton as evil and entertains violence against him—but does not act. Hinton has sex with a female patient who dies, apparently a suicide, although the language of Payton’s staff, as reported by Todd, euphemistically hides the truth.

Todd has the “Idea” of escape and sets out, on foot, to go 744 miles to “home.” A state policeman soon returns him to Payton.

Now and then Todd’s younger brother Nate calls, often while drinking. Near the end of the book, Nate and his wife Beth take Todd to his childhood home, where he had been abused physically and mentally. In a moving scene, Todd enters the only unchanged area, a crawl space and feels the return he yearned for.            

All three tormentors leave Payton, and there is a surprising resolution for Todd.  The balance and harmony of Payton’s LivingCenter are restored, and Todd, reminded by Raykene, affirms that “Somebody always loved me.” 

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Black Man in a White Coat

Tweedy, Damon

Last Updated: Nov-09-2015
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This memoir focuses on the various ways in which his being an African American affected Tweedy’s medical education and early practice as a medical resident and later in psychiatry. Raised in the relative safety and privilege of an intact family, he found himself underprepared for some of the blatant forms of personal prejudice and institutional racism he encountered in his first years of medical education at Duke Medical School.  One shocking moment he recounts in some detail occurred when a professor, seeing him seated in the lecture hall, assumed he’d come to fix the lights.  Other distressing learning moments occur in his work at a clinic serving the rural poor, mostly black patients, where he comes to a new, heightened awareness of the socioeconomic forces that entrap them and how their lives and health are circumscribed and often shortened by those forces.  Well into his early years of practice he notices, with more and more awareness of social contexts and political forces, how the color line continues to make a difference in professional life, though in subtler ways.  The narrative recounts clearly and judiciously the moments of recognition and decision that have shaped his subsequent medical career.    

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The Theater of War

Doerries, Bryan

Last Updated: Oct-30-2015
Annotated by:
Glass, Guy

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Essay

Summary:

This is a book about the author's passionate love affair with ancient Greek plays, how he goes beyond merely making them relevant to our time by finding therapeutic benefit in them, and how he finds ways to adapt them for a variety of populations and uses.  

Doerries begins by telling us about two formative relationships, representing opposite extremes, that have influenced his worldview.  In the first case, we learn how his father, a diabetic, effectively commits suicide over a period of decades by gorging himself on sweets. He rationalizes his behavior to his son by suggesting that, no matter what he does, his life is destined to end in disaster anyway like "those Greek plays." (p. 17) In contrast, we hear of the author's relationship with a young woman, doomed by cystic fibrosis, who manages to make every moment of her all-too-brief life matter. She goes on to provide an object lesson in how to die with grace and dignity.  These experiences afford Doerries an insight into mortality beyond his years. He also gains insight into his own destiny, eschewing an academic career for a path of his own making.  He follows his intuition which tells him "If I could present readings...maybe something healing could happen." (p. 66) He then begins to devise his own translations from the original Greek which he directs in dramatic readings, and he seeks out the audiences that will benefit from them.

One of the plays that captures his imagination, Sophocles's "Ajax," tells of a warrior who loses his friend to war, becomes despondent, and takes his own life. Doerries discovers that this storyline is familiar territory to sufferers of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.   Consequently, when he presents it at military bases it produces an abreactive effect. Indeed, the pent-up emotion he elicits has no other outlet, and he and his performers become folk heroes.  Of course, there are detractors as well.

In the remainder of the book, Doerries finds additional applications for his method, from prisoners in Guantanamo Bay to hospice providers to victims of natural disasters.


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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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Fire Shut Up in My Bones

Blow, Charles

Last Updated: Oct-11-2015
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Blow’s account of growing up in rural Louisiana, exposed to negligence, sexual molestation, violence, and loss focuses on a child’s strategies of survival first, and then on sexual confusion, social ambition, and discovery of the gifts that led him to his life as a writer for the New York Times.  A major theme in the memoir is his learning to claim his bisexuality after years of secrecy and shame.  That emergent fact about his identity, along with moving to New York after a life in the rural South required an unusual level of self-reflection and hard, costly choices that challenged norms at every level.  His account of learning to assume a leadership role in a college fraternity and deciding to finally leave it behind offers a particularly vivid example of what it takes to resist perpetuating rites of humiliation and conformity designed to curb individuation.     

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The Normal Heart

Kramer, Larry

Last Updated: Oct-06-2015
Annotated by:
Glass, Guy

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Play

Summary:

New York, 1981.  As the play opens, Ned Weeks sits outside a doctor’s office with a friend who has developed worrisome symptoms of a mysterious “plague” that strikes homosexuals.  The doctor, Emma Brookner, complains that she cannot make headway in getting the gay community to take the threat seriously.  This encounter inspires Ned, a writer, to dedicate himself to becoming the spokesman for the growing ranks of disenfranchised patients. He attempts to convert others to his cause, including his heterosexual brother, a closeted bank executive, and a reporter for the New York Times (whom he begins to date).  When it becomes clear that the City is not interested in assisting, he co-founds a grassroots activist organization.  As the epidemic veers out of control, the man he loves falls ill as well.  Over time, Ned’s abrasive, confrontational approach, as well as his focus on abstinence, makes him many enemies within the gay community.  Ultimately, he is forced out of his own organization.  At the same time, there are hints that, as a result of his work, the disease is beginning to be taken seriously.  At the end of the play, Ned’s lover Felix becomes the latest gay man to succumb to the epidemic. 

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Not God: A Play in Verse

Straus, Marc

Last Updated: Oct-06-2015
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry

Summary:

Not God is a "play in verse" with two characters, a hospitalized patient and the patient's doctor. The scare quotes indicate the fluid quality of Not God, which the author originally conceived as a sequence of poems spoken in a patient's voice. Subsequently, he added the doctor poems (monologues) to create a "dialog" between the two voices. Once again, scare quotes suggest the atypical quality of this dialogue, since the two characters express different feelings and perspectives on the situation, but do not directly address one another. The play version has received several performances at colleges and small theaters.The patient speaks first in a monologue that begins "A man's cough bounces down the hallway / like pick up sticks... " and ends with "I am here two weeks." (p. 7) It soon becomes evident that he/she has cancer and is receiving chemotherapy. The doctor has changed this person's life by speaking "one word," after which "nothing / would ever be the same again." (p. 10). The patient is knowledgeable, accepting of his/her condition, a keen observer with a good sense of humor, as in "Doldrums" (p. 19) and "Cricket" (p. 23), and a person who affirms life in spite of adversity. The doctor is burdened with the power of medical knowledge. In particular, he understands the deadly meaning of signs and symptoms: "We say / excess water and swelling of the belly, knowing / full well... / an ovarian cancer is almost certain." (p. 33) But the meaning this represents is chaos: there is nothing humane or transcendent about cancer. Unlike his baseball card collection in childhood ("Shoebox," p. 35), cancer is neither confined nor orderly. In the second act, the patient sympathizes with the doctor whose "head is so cluttered / with obligatory data." Paradoxically, the doctor must be protected because he is "filled with dying." (p. 41) The doctor becomes angry with the burden, "Why / ask me a question that only God can answer?" (p. 49) and cries out that his work is "alchemy, / potions and witches' brews." (p. 54) In the end, while dying, the patient imagines "a bridge that can cross / the Atlantic." (p. 68), while the doctor speaks a prayer, "The word cure, dear God, is always / near my lips, though I have been constrained from / saying it aloud." (p. 66)

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One Word

Straus, Marc

Last Updated: Oct-06-2015
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry

Summary:

In this collection (80 pages), Marc Straus speaks of the inadequacy of communication and knowledge in medicine; the pauses, the distance, the hesitations. You think you know what you are doing, "But no, they always ask the question / I never knew." ("The Log of Pi") "The question / might be so simple, so clear / that you’re unprepared to answer." ("Questions and Answers") Though words are in one way inadequate, the medical word carries great power: " . . . I knew that moment / I would say one word for her and nothing / would ever be the same again." (One Word, annotated in this database.)The poet comes to understand that he represents both sides of medicine, both the detached and distant Dr. Gold, and the warm and trustworthy Dr. Green. (See annotation of Dr. Gold & Dr. Green) Unfortunately, this knowledge only comes about after the patient has died ("Dr. Gold & Dr. Green, II"). We learn from experience, sometimes too late.

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