Showing 121 - 130 of 141 annotations tagged with the keyword "Epidemics"

The Masque of the Red Death

Poe, Edgar Allan

Last Updated: Oct-08-1998
Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

During the course of a plague, Prince Prospero calls together his friends to come to his castle for fun and frolic until the danger of pestilence has passed. A masquerade is planned, and in typical "Poesque" fashion the great halls are described in imagery that foreshadows a horror to follow. The night of the ball comes, the guests arrive in their costumes and the festivities begin.

The gaiety is interrupted by the arrival of a guest, dressed in the garments of the grave besprinkled with the scarlet blood associated with the plague of "red death." The intruder stalks the halls until confronted by the host in (of course) the black hall. Without explanation, the host falls dead at the masquer's feet and the revelers, setting upon the intruder, find that the costume is "untenanted by any tangible form." Whereupon, the guests began to die in their tracks as they acknowledge the presence of the Red Death.

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The Thanatos Syndrome

Percy, Walker

Last Updated: Aug-24-1998
Annotated by:
Martinez, Richard

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Dr. Tom More, from Love in the Ruins (see this database), now middle-aged, returns to Feliciana after spending two years in prison for selling prescriptions of Dalmane and Desoxyn at a truckstop. On his return to his psychiatric practice, More observes that two of his former patients are acting strangely. In his own words: "In each there has occurred a sloughing away of the old terrors, worries, rages, a shedding of guilt like last year's snakeskin, and in its place is a mild fond vacancy, a species of unfocused animal good spirits." (21)

More observes that his wife Ellen and his children have also undergone some mysterious personality change. More, the scientist-physician, with the help of his cousin Dr. Lucy Lipscomb, launches a search for the cause of these and other observations. More and Lucy discover that John Van Dorn, head of the computer division of the nearby Grand Mer nuclear power plant and Dr. Bob Comeaux, director of the Quality-of-Life Division of the Federal Complex overseeing euthanasia programs, are involved in social engineering, releasing Heavy Sodium into the water supply to "improve" the social welfare.

Throughout the novel, Dr. Tom More returns several times to evaluate and talk with Father Rinaldo Smith, a parish priest who has exiled himself to a firetower overlooking the vast pine forest of Feliciana. More has been asked by Comeaux, who sits on the probationary board overseeing More's return to practice, to declare Father Smith crazy, so that Comeaux can take over Father Smith's hospice and put it to better use. The conversations between More and Father Smith contain the philosophic and moral themes that support the plot and action of the novel.

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Anton Chekhov. A Life

Rayfield, Donald

Last Updated: Jul-16-1998
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Summary:

This is the most detailed and comprehensive biography of Anton P. Chekhov written to date. Rayfield is a Chekhov scholar who published an earlier biography of the writer in 1975. There are numerous biographies of Chekhov available. In the Preface to this book, Rayfield explains why he wrote it. Chekhov's life is documented by a vast amount of archival material, much of which was unavailable to Western scholars in the past. Russian scholars have studied these sources extensively, but the studies they have published use only a small part of the material. Rayfield's own study convinced him that by drawing liberally from these archives he could write a new biography that would increase our understanding of Chekhov's life and character.

Rayfield's approach is strictly chronological. The book consists of 84 short chapters, each one named and subtitled with the period covered (e.g. July - August 1894). Rayfield sticks closely to the texts, developing a rather staccato style that is heavy on factual statements and light on his own interpretations. He also chooses not to discuss Chekhov's writings as such, except to present brief summaries of the plays and some of the more important stories, and to indicate relationships between Chekhov's life and his art.

The new material gives us a much better view of the day-to-day texture of Chekhov's life, his interactions with family and friends, and his interesting and enigmatic relationships with women. The book also includes a helpful diagram of the Chekhov family tree, two maps of Chekhov's country, and many photographs.

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AIDS and Its Metaphors

Sontag, Susan

Last Updated: Jul-03-1998
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

This essay was written ten years after the author's Illness as Metaphor (see this database). Sontag begins by explaining the stimulus for her earlier essay: her own experience as a cancer patient. During that time, she discovered that cultural myths about cancer tended to isolate and estrange cancer patients. They suffered needlessly because of "meaning" attributed to their illness by society. A decade later, Sontag observes that attitudes about cancer have become more open and truthful. However, a new illness (AIDS) has arisen to carry forward the metaphorical banner.

AIDS brings together two powerful metaphors about illness. First, AIDS develops further the theme (seen earlier in cancer) of disease as invader: the enemy invades and destroys you from within. Thus, AIDS strengthens the use of military metaphors in medicine. The war against cancer is reincarnated as a war against AIDS. Secondly, because AIDS is a sexually transmitted disease, it also evokes the theme of plague-as-punishment.

Sontag's project in this essay is more focused than in the earlier book. She acknowledges that the medical and public health response to AIDS explicitly counters these myths. She concludes that "not all metaphors applied to illnesses and their treatment are equally unsavory and distorting" (p. 94). The metaphor she is most anxious to see eliminated is the military metaphor, both on an illness level (illness invades the person) and a societal level (social problems invade society).

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Summary:

Dr Bernard Rieux (William Hurt) says good-bye to his ailing wife at the Oran airport in South America. Their only child is dead. She has gone to the distant capital for tests and he plans to join her in a few days. But a mysterious epidemic of rats and what turns out to be bubonic plague breaks out. The city is sealed by draconian authorities who separate family members and drag people from their homes. Rieux decides to stay; months pass and his wife will die before he can see her again.

He befriends two stranded French journalists, Martine (Sandrine Bonnaire) and Tanto (Jean-Marc Harr), who volunteer as aides. They visit Joseph Grand (Robert Duvall) who keeps the cemetery statistics and writes an interminable novel. Tanto and Grand contract the disease but manage to survive under Rieux's care.

Constantly palpating her body in fear, Martine is desperate to flee, even as she strives to evoke passion from the emotionally numb Rieux. She is robbed and incarcerated by Cottard (Raul Julia) an unscrupulous profiteer. As the epidemic wanes, the journalists, the doctor, and Grand are reunited, but in that same instant Cottard shoots Tanto dead. Rieux and Martine are left sobbing in each others arms.

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Primary Category: Literature / Fiction — Secondary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

As a young woman, Fermina Daza kept a lengthy and passionate correspondence with Florentino Ariza, who was socially her inferior, but was desperately in love with her. They became engaged through their letters, exchanged through hiding places and telegrams in code.

But one day, when Fermina Daza comes close to Florentino Ariza in the market, she feels suddenly ill and tells him it was all a mistake. Instead, she marries Dr. Juvenal Urbino, a European-educated perfectionist, who falls in love with her on a medical visit. Their tumultuous but affectionate marriage lasts over fifty years, through a civil war, cholera outbreaks and the Doctor's brief affair with a patient. Juvenal Urbino distinguishes himself by instituting policies to combat cholera. He dies, falling from a tree as he attempts to catch his pet parrot.

Florentino Ariza comes to the wake. He is now about seventy and controls a wealthy shipping operation. After the other guests leave, he approaches Fermina Daza, saying, "I have waited for this opportunity for more than half a century, to repeat to you once again my vow of eternal fidelity and ever-lasting love."

She throws him out of the house, but continues to think of him. He becomes a regular visitor. Finally, they take a boat ride together, down the rivers that are being slowly drained and poisoned, listening for the cries of the manatees. They do not return, but prepare to sail on forever.

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The Horse and Buggy Doctor

Hertzler, Arthur

Last Updated: Feb-19-1998
Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Dr. Hertzler leads the reader, topically and generally chronologically, through the nature of the practice of medicine in rural America from the 1880's through the 1930's. His early narratives are those of a child observing the ravages of epidemic diseases in the face of medical futility.

The remainder of the work, divided into subject headings, is devoted to anecdotes and observations on such things as horse and buggy home visits, kitchen surgery, the proprietary hospital and physician education. Having served not only as a rural practitioner, but as a professor of pathology at academic centers and a consulting surgeon, Hertzler draws on a wide experience over a period of time known for rapid advances in basic biological science which would, near the end of the narrator's life, open the way for technological medicine as we know it today.

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The Cobra Event

Preston, Richard

Last Updated: Feb-19-1998
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The threat of biotechnological warfare and/or terrorism is the focus of this carefully researched and riveting novel by the author of The Hot Zone. The term "science fiction" doesn't quite do justice to this tale which lies just to the other side of Preston's usual domain of literary nonfiction. Though the particulars of this story of a genetic engineer who designs lethal virus bombs to thin the population and the counterterrorist group of scientists who attempt to stop him are fictional, the possibilities of such threats are real.

The counterterrorists are a motley and sometimes contentious group of recruits from the FBI, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the U.S. military. Their agendas and methods differ, but the immediate death threat to the unsuspecting inhabitants of New York and Washington D.C. unifies them into an effective if not always efficient team. They discover the virus when five cases appear of what seems to be an acute and horrifying permutation of a rare neurological dysfunction that induces violent seizures and compulsive self-destruction by chewing on one's own flesh. The virus turns out to be a graft that could only have been produced by artificial means.

The search for the "mad scientist" with equipment capable of this sophisticated work takes weeks during which a handful of people have to live with the secret that a potential pandemic could literally explode in a local subway. The resolution, while in some ways satisfying, hardly dispels the uneasy implications which invite readers not only to serious reflection on our collective attitudes toward weapons research and development, but to activism.

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

This history of western medicine focuses on British life in the eighteenth century. Williams begins his treatise by wondering if "we realize sufficiently what we have escaped by being alive in the twentieth, not the eighteenth, century." He then catalogues in the subsequent 12 chapters the agonies not only of illness but also of medical treatment in the 1700’s.

Topics are wide-ranging and include blood-letting, parturition, infant malnutrition, rampant infectious diseases, maltreatment of the insane, surgery prior to anesthesia, water therapy, and military medicine. Primary source quotations interspersed in the narrative add to the drama. For example, the deposition of a widower (his wife died while pregnant) is quoted: " . . . Being taken ill of a paine in her right side under her short ribb together with a great difficulty of breathing having but 14 weeks to go with Child Mr Hugh Chamberlen Senr was sent for to take care of her, who thereupon gave her in the space of nine days four vomitts, four purges, and caused her to be bled three times to the quantity of eight ounces each time: Then gave her something to raise a spitting after which swellings and Ulcers in her mouth followed . . . . " (p. 31)

A few medical advances at the close of the century are also described, notably the smallpox vaccine developed by Jenner and the administration of First Aid to wounded soldiers at the frontlines (developed by Larrey). The text is accompanied by black and white illustrations, such as an inside view of Bedlam (Bethlehem Hospital) by William Hogarth (A Rake’s Progress, plate VIII).

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The Island of the Colorblind

Sacks, Oliver

Last Updated: Jul-30-1997
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Case Studies)

Summary:

In Book I Oliver Sacks describes his visit to Pingelap and Pohnpei in the Caroline Islands (now a part of the Federated States of Micronesia). On Pingelap (population 700) 5-10% of the people are completely colorblind; i.e. they have a rare hereditary condition called achromatopsia in which the retina has no functional cone cells. Rod cells, which normally provide peripheral and night vision, are their only source of vision. While partial colorblindness is common, achromatopsia is normally very rare. Sacks and Knut Nordby, a Norwegian scientist who is himself achromatopic, examined dozens of achromatopes on Pingelap and in a village of Pingelapese people on the larger Pohnpei.

In Book II Sacks takes the reader to Guam where he investigates (with his friend John Steele, a neurologist who lives on the island) the neurological disease called "lytico-bodig." The "lytico" form of this disease is a progressive paralysis similar to amyotropic lateral sclerosis, while the "bodig" form resembles parkinsonism. Both appeared in Guam after the Second World Way and now seem to be dying out. However, no one has ever determined their cause.

Sacks tells the story of his visit, while also discussing various hypotheses that have been considered and discarded over forty years of study. The last section of the book describes a trip to Rota, a small island north of Guam, where Sacks visits a forest of cycad trees and discusses his life-long fascination with these primitive plants.

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