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Editors Angela Belli, professor of English at St. John’s University in New York, and Jack Coulehan, physician-poet and director of the Institute for Medicine in Contemporary Society at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, have selected 100 poems by 32 contemporary physician-poets for this succinct yet meaty anthology. The book is subdivided into four sections, each of which is prefaced by an informative description and highlights of the poems to follow.
Section headings take their names from excerpts of the poems contained therein. There are poems that describe individuals--patients, family members ("from patient one to next"), poems that consider the interface between personal and professional life ("a different picture of me"), poems that "celebrate the learning process" ("in ways that help them see"), and poems in which the poet’s medical training is brought to bear on larger societal issues ("this was the music of our lives").
Several of the poems have been annotated in this database: Abse’s Pathology of Colours (9); Campo’s Towards Curing AIDS (13) and What the Body Told (94); Coulehan’s Anatomy Lesson (97), I’m Gonna Slap Those Doctors (21), The Dynamizer and the Oscilloclast: in memory of Albert Abrams, an American quack (129); Moolten’s Motorcycle Ward (105); Mukand’s Lullaby (33); Stone’s Talking to the Family (79) and Gaudeamus Igitur (109).
Other wonderful poems by these authors are also included in the anthology, e.g. Her Final Show by Rafael Campo, in which the physician tends to a dying drag queen, finally "pronouncing her to no applause" (11); "Lovesickness: a Medieval Text" by Jack Coulehan, wherein the ultimate prescription for this malady is to "prescribe sexual relations, / following which a cure will usually occur" (131); "Madame Butterfly" by David N. Moolten, in which the passengers in a trolley car are jolted out of their cocoons by a deranged screaming woman (142).
Space prohibits descriptions of all 100 poems, but each should be read and savored. Some others are particularly memorable. "Carmelita" by D. A. Feinfeld tells of the physician’s encounter with a feisty tattooed prisoner, who ends up with "a six-inch steel shank" through his chest as the physician labors futiley to save him (23). In "Candor" physician-poet John Graham-Pole struggles with having to tell an eight-year old that he will die from cancer (27). Audrey Shafer writes of a Monday Morning when she makes the transition from the "just-awakened warmth" of her naked little son to tend to the patient whom she will anesthetize "naked under hospital issue / ready to sleep" (72).
In "The Log of Pi" Marc J. Straus muses about being asked "the question / I never knew" that he "pretend[s] not to hear" whose "answer floats on angel’s lips / and is whispered in our ear just once" (113). Richard Donze wants to know why "Vermont Has a Suicide Rate" (132). Vernon Rowe remembers the "hulk of a man" who shriveled away from an abdominal wound and begged, " ’Let me go, Doc,’ / and I did" (44).
Katie, the twelve-year-old protagonist and narrator, lives with her sister, Diane, and their father, a military man with a violent temper, on a military base in Texas. She remembers their mother, now dead, as a kind, gentle presence, able to temper their father's violence, though Katie begins to realize that the mother had also lived in apprehension of his outbreaks.
The story develops Katie's strategies for coming to terms with the loss of her mother, the fact that her mother never succeeded in protecting her from her father's violence, and eventually the loss of her sister who runs away. She begins to learn how to negotiate with her father and seek and receive nurture both from others and from herself.
Most of the thirteen stories in this collection portray interactions among pension guests in a German spa town; a few represent the lives of the town's permanent residents. The minor health problems (mostly digestive ailments, or unspecified "internal complaints") of the guests are not the crux of the plot but rather what gives it its texture. Talk about eating, "internal complaints," sexuality, body image, and pregnancy is the vehicle through which people try to relate.
Most of the stories are about failed communications: between men and women, for example, or between German and English people. Several stories are narrated in the first person by a young Englishwoman whose bodily and marital status (ill? pregnant? married or not?) are pointedly ambiguous.
Two stories represent childbirth from "outsider" perspectives. In "At Lehman's," a virginal serving girl sees her mistress's pregnancy as an "ugly, ugly, ugly" state; later, her sexual explorations with a young man are interrupted by her mistress's screams in labor. In "A Birthday," a man waiting for his wife to give birth focuses on his own suffering rather than hers. "The Child-Who-Was-Tired" follows a child-servant through a day of repeated abuses to body and spirit that culminates in infanticide.
To escape accusations of plagiarism, Swedish neurosurgeon Stig Helmer (Ernst Hugo Jaregard) has come to work at The Kingdom, a large Copenhagen hospital. He is a surgical butcher with lamentable bedside manners and utter contempt for Denmark, but he resembles his colleagues in his medical positivism and abhorrence of spiritualism. His inadequacies are easily perceived by the hospital staff and resident Dr. Hook (Soren Pilmark), but his fellow consultants celebrate his arrival and make him a member of their lodge.
The malingering spiritualist Mrs. Drusse (Kirsten Rolffes), admitted for a variety of fictitious ailments, discovers The Kingdom is haunted by a little girl murdered there a century ago by her scientist stepfather. Drusse engages the help of her son, who is an orderly, to trace the child's secret.
Tangents to the main plot involve a pathologist, who is so obsessed with obtaining research tissue that he has a cancerous liver transplanted into himself, and the psychopathic medical student son of the hospital director, whose sick sense of humor leads him to mutilate corpses in the hospital morgue. The ending is pure horror.
In Roddy Doyle's novel, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, young Patrick is so distressed over his parents' fighting with each other that he stays up all night trying to prevent their quarrels. Like many children whose parents break up, Patrick thinks he is somehow responsible, but he does not understand what is going wrong or why. He loves both of them, especially his mother.
He acts out his anxiety over the discord between his parents by often getting into fights and by being mean and abusive to his younger brother. For awhile he thinks that if he were to run away, his parents would stay together. He thinks of questions to ask them so they will talk to him and not fight with each other. But his father leaves for good, and Paddy is left with the teasing chant of his schoolmates: "Paddy Clarke, Paddy Clarke, Lost his Da, Ha, Ha, Ha."
This is the story of a twelve year old who accidentally sets fire to the house where she lives with her grandmother. The grandmother decides that Erendira must pay her back for the loss, and sells her into prostitution in order to make money. The story takes on the characteristics of a bizarre fairy tale, with the evil grandmother forcing her Cinderella-like granddaughter to sell her body. They travel all over for several years, with men lining up for miles to enjoy her.
Meanwhile, Erendira falls in love. Her lover tries to poison the grandmother with arsenic in a birthday cake and to blow her up with a homemade bomb, but she survives all this and continues to dominate, until Erendira's lover finally stabs the grandmother to death. By the time he regains his composure, Erendira has fled alone.
Perri Klass, who had already written of her medical school education (A Not Entirely Benign Procedure: Four Years as a Medical Student, see this database), took notes, made dashed journal entries, and saved sign-out sheets and other written memorabilia during her internship and residency in pediatrics at The Children’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. Because she is a writer, she looked at her experiences in medical training with an eye towards what stories were happening. This book then is a compendium of stories and essays (some previously published) about Klass’s pediatrics training.
Klass reflects on the difficulties of being a writer and physician: "I have been a double parasite, not only learning off patients, but also writing about them, turning the agonies of sick children into articles, using them to point little morals either about my own development as a doctor or about the dilemmas of modern medicine." (p. 297) But she also notes the benefits of writing during training: "between life at the hospital and with my family, it seemed that all my time was spoken for, and spoken for again. I needed some corner of my life which was all my own, and that corner was writing . . . I could describe the astonishing contacts with life and death which make up everyday routine in the hospital." (p. xvii)
Part of the book concerns issues of women in medicine; Klass debunks the mystique of the "superwoman"--the professional, wife and mother rolled up into one incredible ball of efficiency and perfection--with a month of laundry spilling over the floor. Klass, as a successful writer, struggles with this label and includes an essay on her experiences with a "crazy person" who anonymously and publicly accuses her of plagiarism in the midst of the stress and responsibilities of residency.
However, most of the book is about being a new doctor--the terror, the patients, the procedures, the other doctors and staff. She writes of first nights in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, delivery room crises, adolescents with chronic illnesses, and her struggles as a sleep and time deprived mother.
She addresses difficult issues: moral dilemmas, suffering, loss, the rape and abuse of children, children with AIDS. Throughout the book is a concern for the patient’s experience, as well as the doctor-in-training’s experience. After her first night on call caring for very premature infants she notes: "Maybe my first patient and I have more in common than I realized: we are both too immature to be out in the world, but with a lot of help, we may just make it." (p. 15)
Doctor Marigold, named for the man who delivered him, is a "cheap-jack" who hawks sundries from a traveling cart he inhabits with his wife and his daughter Sophy. The mother beats Sophy, but Marigold, feeling powerless, does nothing to stop her. When the child dies of a fever, her guilt-wracked mother commits suicide.
Doctor Marigold's lonely fortunes reverse when he adopts a deaf and mute girl whose mother is dead and whose stepfather, owner of a traveling circus, beats her. Marigold acquires the child for three pair of braces (suspenders), names her Sophy, invents his own system of sign language to teach her to read and converse with him, and finally sends her to a "deaf-and-dumb establishment" in London to complete her education.
When Sophy falls in love with another student, her father encourages her marriage, while feeling it as a terrible loss. Sophy writes him of her baby's birth and of her fear that the child will be deaf. The story culminates in Sophy's return and Doctor Marigold's realization that his granddaughter can hear.
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.
Medea killed her brother and left her father in order to follow Jason and his captured Golden Fleece to Corinth. They marry and have two sons. As the play opens, Medea is distraught with jealousy because Jason has repudiated her to marry the daughter of Creon, King of Corinth. He insists that his new status will be for her own good and that of her children.
Medea and her sons are to be banished, but she begs a day's reprieve. She contrives to poison the princess bride with gifts that catch fire, consuming her and her father too when he tries to save her. In her madness, Medea "reasons" that she must kill her beloved children in order to avenge herself upon her husband.
The boys' cries can be heard from off stage as she slays them with a sword. The grieving Jason wishes that he had never begotten his sons, just as Medea wishes that she had never followed him out of her home.