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Summary:The speaker of this poem is a nurse who is recalling and attempting to come to terms with a disturbing clinical encounter she’d had the week before. (I should note at the outset that there’s no indication in the poem as to whether the nurse is male or female. I choose to think of her as female). What had happened is that a mother had brought her five-year-old son in for treatment, and the nurse’s exam revealed that the child had second- and third-degree burns on his torso—in the shape of a cross. The mother, weeping, confessed that her boyfriend had, as a punishment, applied a cigarette to the child’s body—while the mother had held her son. Seeing the mother’s tears, the nurse considered offering the woman some Kleenex, but could not bring herself to do so. The child retrieved the box of Kleenex, then clung to his mother’s skirt, and glowered at the nurse. Then the nurse had participated with three others in prying the boy away from his mother. In the present of the poem, a week after the encounter, the nurse attempts to deal with the guilt and shame she feels in her failure of professional decorum and compassion—at having failed to rise above her moral judgment against the mother and offer the woman basic human kindness and respect. In confronting the chaos of her emotions, the nurse turns to a story she’d learned in high school: the story of St. Lawrence. The significance of her attempt to think with this story can be overshadowed, for readers, by the intensity of the clinical encounter she recalls; but her endeavor is of at least equal significance as the encounter.
Summary:The Renewal of Generosity: Illness, Medicine, and How to Live contemplates the phenomenon of generosity as it is realized in the stories of physicians and patients. For Arthur Frank, generosity is grounded in the willingness of people to give themselves over to dialogical processes of communication wherein participants best realize themselves through relational engagement: generous, dialogical communication leads to a renewal and realization of human being. Health care systems today tend to impede communicative generosity, however, and the result is a de-humanization and de-moralization of both physicians and patients. As a remedy, Frank proposes, first, that we re-figure our conceptualization of the physician-patient relationship—from the economic or business metaphor of “provider” and “client,” we should turn to the metaphorical conceptualization of “host” and “guest,” which clearly has implications for manner of treatment and communication that occurs in the relationship. In addition, Frank turns to and thinks with stories of physicians and stories of the ill to reflect on the ways that generosity is realized. Drawing on the wisdom of the striking philosophical triumvirate of Marcus Aurelius (Stoicism), Mikhail Bakhtin (Dialogism), and Emmanuel Levinas to amplify the reflections emerging from the physician and patient stories, Frank ultimately proposes “exercises” for training to generate a vivifying generosity within the medical profession, which can in turn lead to a re-humanization and re-moralization for physicians, improved care for patients, and enhanced flourishing for all.
Summary:Andrew Schulman is a New York guitarist with a long history of playing in hotels, restaurants, small groups, and formal concerts—even in Carnegie Hall, the White House, and Royal Albert Hall. His memoir describes his experience as a patient in a Surgical Intensive Care Unit (SICU), where he was briefly clinically dead. Six months later he began a part-time career as a guitarist playing for patients and staff in that very same SICU.
Summary:Suzanne O’Sullivan is a neurologist in the British National Health Service. She has a particular interest in psychosomatic illnesses, and in this book, she covers what she has learned about them. O’Sullivan provides these learnings mostly from clinical experience rather than as findings from empiric studies on psychosomatic illnesses.
Summary:Wandering in Darkness is an intricate philosophical defense for the problem of suffering as it is presented by medieval philosopher Thomas Aquinas.The work addresses the philosophical / theological problem of evil, which might be expressed as follows: if one posits an all-good, all-powerful God as creator, yet suffering exists in the world, then (a) God must be evil, since he created it; (b) God is less than all-powerful, since suffering came to be in his creation, and he could not stop it; (c) God is evil and weak, since suffering came to be in his creation, and he did not want to stop it; or (d) suffering is an illusion. No alternative is, of course, very satisfying. In her book, Eleanore Stump augments Thomas Aquinas’s theodicy by reflecting upon what she calls “the desires of the heart,” a dimension of human experience that Aquinas leaves largely untreated in his consideration. Stump explores this dimension by breathtaking exegeses of Biblical narratives as narratives: the stories of Job, Samson, Abraham, and Mary of Bethany. “Understood in the contexts of [these] narratives,” Stump argues, “Aquinas’s theodicy explains in a consistent and cogent way why God would allow suffering" (22).
Summary:A young man lies propped up on pillows, his hand pointing toward a bandaged area on his side. The composition is a powerful diagonal sweep, the body in the bed forming a triangle. At its apex, the head of the man with its mass of dark hair is haloed in the white of the pillow. His dark, glistening eyes arrest the viewer, demanding attention and implicitly evoking sympathy. Neel’s expressionism is displayed in the elongated curvature of the neck, the ears splayed out from the head to rest on the pillow, and in the eloquent gesture toward the bandage.
Summary:The Alice Neel painting, T.B. Harlem, can be seen at the National Museum of Women in Arts in Washington, D.C.
Summary:This is an ethnographic work written by a Swedish anthropologist who has lived in Cairo, Egypt for several years curating the cultural tropes that are woven into the lives of her traditional Egyptian subjects. Malmström sets the scene for her work by describing a 1994 incident wherein CNN broadcast live the female genital cutting of a young girl in Egypt. A secret practice made public, Malmström uses this event to springboard her commentary on how female genital cutting is practiced, experienced, and viewed among Egyptians.
“A woman should always be soft towards a man...She should never accuse her husband of anything or argue with him. A woman should be strong and never show her true feelings. A woman must be beautiful. A woman will win through beauty, softness, and through cooking....A woman should not show her sadness because of him [her husband], since she turns ugly, loses her health and eventually, her husband. She should be even softer towards him and give him everything in life” (p. 169).