Showing 151 - 160 of 1266 annotations tagged with the keyword "Death and Dying"

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

This is a huge and wonderful book about cancer, the collection of diseases that sickens people all over the globe and kills many of them. An epigraph to the book states, “A quarter of all American deaths, and about 15 percent of all deaths worldwide, will be attributed to cancer,” but the book also describes medical advances that now heal, prevent, or palliate most forms of cancer.

Mukherjee, a cancer physician and researcher, has several strong themes. He sees cancer as an affliction with a long history, a story worthy of a biography; indeed recent discoveries show it to be rooted in our genes (although external factors such as viruses, asbestos, and tobacco smoke can cause genetic disruption). The story of cancer implies a surrounding triangle, the stories of sick people, treating physicians, and biological researchers, all of which Mukherjee artfully weaves across 472 pages. Cancer has Rohrschach blot qualities: depending on time, place, and role in life, humans have perceived different attributes of cancer. As the book ends, however, there is a coalescence of scientific understanding that is satisfying—although there is certainly more to be learned and we are all still vulnerable to genetic errors and, of course, we are intractably mortal.

Another strand is the nature of stories themselves, their twists and turns, presumed early solutions, and personal and social values embedded in them. Mukherjee threads throughout the book the case of a contemporary kindergarten teacher, Carla Reed, who has a leukemia. He bookends his text with ancient Persian Queen Atossa with (presumably) breast cancer. Reed, healed by the end of the book, was Mukherjee’s patient; Atossa was described by Herodotus: both suffered emotional turmoil because of their disease.  Mukherjee understands the affective dimensions of disease for patients and caregivers alike; literature represents these in various ways, and he quotes in his chapter epigraphs and in his prose many writers who describe human experience deeply: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Susan Sontag, Charles Dickens, Thomas Mann, William Carlos Williams, Carlo Levi, and Italo Calvino, to name a few.

The primary story, however, is the interplay of cancer and a large cast of observers, investigators, doctors, scientists, activists, and government officials. Sidney Farber and Mary Lasker dominate the first 100 pages with their two-decade war against cancer. While surgery—historically dramatic and disfiguring—had been a mainstay for treatment of cancer, Farber pursued a biochemical route, which elaborated into chemotherapy, the second major approach of the late 20th century.

Mukherjee also explains ancient views, Hippocrates’, Galen’s humors, Vasealius’ anatomy, Hunter’s stages, Lister’s antisepsis, and Röntgen’s X-rays, which became the third major approach. By 1980, however, the American “War on Cancer” had not been won.

Further advances in cellular biology and genetics would be needed to make targeted molecular therapy possible.  Mukherjee tells this complicated story clearly and engagingly, showing the human investigators to be personable and dogged in their pursuits.  

Another important approach is prevention. The biostatistical work of Doll and Hill, for example, showed the links between tobacco and lung cancer. Screening, such as Pap smears and mammograms, also saved lives, but the basic cellular understanding still eluded investigators.

The final 150 pages explain the search for and discovery of genetic factors, specifically oncogenes. Harold Varmus and J. Michael Bishop were the leaders, winning a Nobel Prize in 1989. Bert Vogelstein, Judah Folkman, Robert Weinberg and Douglas Hanahan took the work further, opening the doors for such drugs as Herceptin, Gleevec, and Avastin. 

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Summary:

Candice Millard portrays several figures in the 19th century whose lives came together to change history: newly-elected President of the U.S. James Garfield; the insane would-be assassin Charles Guiteau; Doctor Bliss, the arrogant physician who claimed control of Garfield's care; Alexander Graham Bell, who invented a device to find the bullet; and major political figures of the time. Ironically, Garfield attended the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876 where Joseph Lister was displaying his germ theory of infection and Alexander Graham Bell demonstrated his telephone. But when Guiteau shot Garfield in 1881, the bullets did not kill him.  What killed him after months of suffering was the massive infections caused by the doctors' probing without clean hands or clean instruments. At the autopsy, the doctors saw evidence of massive infections, but the bullet was encysted and harmless. All the probing by the doctors created a tunnel, but it was not the path of the bullet.  "Gentlemen, we have made a mistake," said the doctor.

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Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Haunted by his past actions and wartime experiences, the narrator empties his soul to a silent stranger - a woman sitting and drinking with him at a bar in Lisbon. He tells her about his participation in the colonial war between Portugal and Angola in the early 1970's. He admits to the conflict that still rages inside him. Six years earlier, as a physician in his twenties, he was drafted and shipped 6,000 kilometers from home for a slightly more than two year stint as an army doctor. He left behind a pregnant wife.

While in Africa, he witnessed the waging of a crazy war and was called upon to patch up its many casualties. He describes the maiming, inhumanity, and death that he observed. Questions about political power and morality trouble him. In the midst of this horror, he becomes increasingly cynical and skeptical. On his return home, the narrator acknowledges that he has lost part of himself in Africa. He gets divorced, feels hopeless, and is incapable of shrugging off loneliness.

He and the woman leave the bar and go to his apartment where they have a sexual encounter. She has been an adept listener. The narrator's lengthy confession may have been therapeutic for him. But like everything else in this doctor's post-military service life, any solace is brief. The war has polluted him, and he struggles to clean up the mess.

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The Story of San Michele

Munthe, Axel

Last Updated: Nov-14-2011
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

The author takes us on a highly colorful autobiographical tour of his medical career - his personal life never enters this account - from a classical medical education in Paris as a young expatriate Swede (he remains expatriate the entire book) to his internal medicine practice in France, including a tour of Naples as a volunteer during the cholera epidemic of 1881 and his finally settling in Italy. There are also anecdotes - many of them side-splitting and told with uncommon skill - about conducting a corpse back to Sweden, a truly thrilling journey to Lapland,  encounters with the legendary Charcot, his return to San Michele whence the book begins with a mythopoetic retelling of his first visit there, and his last years at San Michele as patron of a community (both local and international) and as collector and explorer of the nearby Mediterranean.        

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Summary:

Johanna Shapiro, Director of the Medical Humanities Program at University of California Irvine School of Medicine, brings her considerable skills and experience as medical educator, writer and literary critic to this unique volume of medical student poetry. Shapiro collected over 500 poems by medical students not only from her home institution but also from other US medical schools and performed a content and hermeneutic analysis. As Shapiro carefully details in her methodology section, she treats "poetry as a form of qualitative data, and [therefore] techniques of analysis developed for other sources of qualitative data (such as interviews, focus groups, and textual narratives) can be applied to an understanding of poetry." (p. 42)

Relying on the work of Arthur W. Frank (see The Wounded Storyteller), Shapiro devises a typology of student poems: chaos, restitution (and anti-restitution), journey, witnessing, and transcendence (this last category was not Frankian in origin). These categories are developed and explicated in Chapter 2: Functions of Writing for Medical Students. As the author notes, poems traverse the boundaries between types; nonetheless, the framework of the analysis rests with this typology. Further, Shapiro explores the metaphors of topography (illness as a foreign land) and quest (student on a heroic, however tentative or confused, journey) throughout her study.

The book contains many fully reproduced medical student poems, contextualized with academic theory on medical education. Hundreds of references, particularly in the fields of narratology and medical education, are cited. After three chapters of theory and methods, eight topics are explored using the outlined analytic tools: anatomy class, becoming a physician, patient experience, doctor-patient relationship, student-patient relationship, social and cultural issues, death and dying, love and life. Prefacing each of these topics is a scholarly essay providing historical and research foundations; every chapter concludes with a summation.

Within the chapters are examples of poems, not only organized by typology, but also by content. For instance in the patient experience chapter, the topics are: "patient pleas for empathy and compassion," "patient fears and suffering," "stigmatized voices," "vulnerability/courage of child patients," and "personal experiences of illness." Within each topic/subtopic, different poems are highlighted and fully analyzed. Additionally, other poems, not reproduced, are quoted as illustrative examples. Summary arguments are provided at the conclusion of each chapter as well as in the final chapter: "Strangers in a Strange Land: What Matters to Medical Students on Their Journey and How They Tell About It."

Although Shapiro states that her purpose "is not to address the literary and aesthetic attributes and value of the poems", she also notes "when students write authentically about their own experience, the results are uniformly moving, compelling and impossible to ignore." (pp 44-5) Indeed many of the poems are rewarding to read not only for content but also for word choice, word play, imagery and narrative line. For instance, in "Ode to the Peach" Brian McMichael explores the senses Neruda or Pollitt-like: "you invite me with / your voluptuous curves / your feminine little cleft". (p 236) Another example is the humorous, self-deprecating "Piriformis" by Curtis Nordstrom relating an early clinical experience by a medical student who hopes against hope that the patient's presenting complaint will require the student to demonstrate his acumen. Unfortunately the sum total of the student's knowledge base is limited to the location of the piriformis muscle; both the student and patient are "so screwed" when, "Alas, the patient presents with / an upper respiratory infection." (p. 16)

Shapiro's sensitivity and generosity of spirit vis-à-vis the medical student experience are evident throughout the volume. She concludes that "what may be most noteworthy about the analysis of these poems is that, amidst their own difficulties and fears, time and again these students reported engaging deeply with their patients." (p 259) She hopes that medical educators will be encouraged to support "in solidarity" the "idealism and high aspirations" expressed in these student poems. (p. 260)

In a postscript, Shapiro reveals her own experiences as a poet-patient. After noting that "[m]edical students are mostly annoyingly healthy, energetic, smart, and capable young adults who like order, structure, and control", (p 261) she also acknowledges how frequently students grapple with the topic of death and dying in their poems. That her poems emerged from advising a student creative writing group demonstrates how poetry can be renewing and vital not just to the student, but to the educator as well.

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Summary:

Creation tells the story of Charles Darwin (Paul Bettany) at home with his family in Down House during the last decade he researched and wrote, but hesitated to publish, The Origin of Species (1859).  The film represents the sorrow of those intellectually ripe years when he worked out his insights into the process of natural selection as his "radiant," beloved daughter Annie-Anne Elizabeth-(Martha West) became fatally ill.  These events were compounded by Darwin's own mysterious chronic illness, which he attempted to relieve through laudanum and trips to Great Malvern for Gulley's cold water cures.

In 1851 he took a very sick ten-year-old Annie with him to the waters and, inconsolable, left her to be buried in the local churchyard.  Through his physical and emotional suffering, he continued to dissect barnacles, breed and skeletonize pigeons, engage the village parson and local farmers alike, consult with supporters Thomas Hooker and Thomas Huxley, exchange hundreds of letters, and remain an affectionate father and husband. 

The loss of "the joy of the Household" strengthened his wife Emma's (Jennifer Connelly) religious beliefs, as it exhausted whatever might have existed of his. The story, artfully told in beautifully sequenced flashbacks, keeps the tensions and accommodations between Charles and Emma on the subject of religious faith in balance, emphasizing their loving partnership as spouses and parents.  Emma supported his work, read his manuscript, and understood its importance, even as she disagreed with its implications for her spiritual life.  Darwin contributed to the local parish church Emma attended.    

Some of the most compelling moments in the film occur during Darwin's joyous outings with his children when they suddenly witness the demise of woodland creatures.  In these scenes, the ineluctable struggles between life and death that Darwin's theory of natural selection eloquently describes resonate with his personal experience.  We see a fledgling fall from its nest near a sheep's skull and decay before our eyes.  We hear Annie explain to her horrified siblings that if the fox they encounter didn't kill the screeching rabbit in its jaws, its pups would die.

These scenes, along with the earlier view of the captive Fuegian child Boat Memory dying of small pox in an English hospital, suggest the fragility of the young that Annie's death makes devastatingly personal for Darwin.  The film simultaneously acknowledges Darwin's empirically derived logic of such deaths in his scientific treatise and his suffering from the brutal manifestations of that logic in the life of his family.  While scientific explanation fails to console him for the loss of Annie, the film suggests human affection as the best, though still potentially painful response.     

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Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Investigative Journalism

Summary:

In 1951 when Henrietta Lacks was dying of cancer in the colored ward of Johns Hopkins, cancer cells taken from her without her knowledge "became the first immortal human cells grown in a laboratory"(4).  Known as HeLa cells, they are still reproducing today and are used world wide in research for cancer, cloning, genetics, Parkinsons, and many technologies. Henrietta's family did not know she was the source of these immortal cells until scientists began testing the family members too.  Poor and black, they were very angry to find the white establishment had made fortunes using HeLa cells while the family got nothing for it and couldn't even get good health care. In her thorough and careful investigation, Rebecca Skloot interviewed the Lacks family; scientists, doctors, and others who worked with HeLa cells; historians; journalists; ethicists. This book traces the complex stages of her search for the truth about what happened to Henrietta Lacks, her HeLa cells, and her family.

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Anthology (Essays)

Summary:

As explained in the succinct yet thorough introduction by co-editor Kimberly Myers, an international conference on the topic of "The Patient" was convened at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania in 2006. This collection of essays, which range from personal experience to scholarly literary critique, results from the conference presentations.
 
Of the ten essays, four concern personal or familial experience of illness. These four cover a vast range: literature and disability specialist Kristin Lindgren describes her story of the elusive diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome and her coping skills; medical humanities and medical ethics expert Carol Schilling offers a poignant narrative of her experience as a mother of a previously healthy, athletic son who suffers a cervical spine injury from a skiing accident; Gayle Whittier places the story of her daughter's disability amongst a trio of nonfictional and fictional narratives of disability and illness; and renowned poet Tess Gallagher explores her relationship with and caring of her mother who has Alzheimer's disease. These essays, written as they are by women steeped in literature and writing, are not merely chronicles; rather they are infused with commentary on story and the meaning of life as story, journey and relationship.
 
The other six essays are likewise diverse and range from cultural/political studies from the Navajo to the Irish (which includes literary analysis of works by poets Eavan Boland and Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill), to insightful critiques of literary works such as  Hjalmar Soderberg 's Doctor Glas, Lauren Slater's Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir, Brian Clark's Whose Life Is It Anyway?, Alejandros Amenabar's film The Sea Inside (Mar Adentro), and George (Marian Evans) Eliot's Janet's Repentance.

Consistent with the nature of medical humanities, the essays cross boundaries. For example, Whittier weaves her experiences as a mother of a disabled child with reflections on embodiment and literary critique. Gallagher compares the notions of time in poem-making with the necessity to live in the moment when caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's. She notes: "Of the written arts, poetry is most responsive to the moment and so coincides with the condensed time frame of those with Alzheimer's - which oscillates between the distant past and the present moment." (p. 71) Schilling tenderly writes of her family (for an illness strikes not just the patient): "We live the best lives we can, folding each of our stories into one another's." (p. 40) Diedrich explores not just the (at times infuriating) play with deceit in Lying, but also examines the ways in which patients lie and medical language obfuscates illness. She further explores, with great insight, expectations: of literary reviewers, patients and physicians.

 

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Summary:

At first the title seems to relate to the main character's lay-off or departure from his job as a professional cellist in a bankrupt and dissolving orchestra.  As the story continues, the title's unpredictable meaning becomes clear. 

Not surprisingly, jobs for cellists are difficult to find. Shattered by his desperate situation, Daigo, the central character (Masahiro Motoki), and his wife Mika (Ryoko Hirosue), return from the city to his hometown where they begin to experience stresses and discomforts associated with joblessness.  After a long period of searching, Daigo responds to an ad for someone to work in departures. Believing that he is applying for a travel advisor job, he discovers that the position involves the ceremonial art of caring for the bodies of those who have recently died--or departed.  He learns about encoffination, the elaborate ritual of washing and dressing the body before placement in the casket prior to burial, from Sasaski (Tsutomu Yamazaki), his new employer. 

Mika is so appalled and ashamed when she learns about his new career, she decides to leave him.  In spite of his own unhappiness, Daigo continues on.  With the remarkably skilled Sasaski at his side, Daigo develops great sensitivity in the ritualized care that is provided before family mourners.  Each of the caring situations becomes for Daigo, a rich story about the textures of human life.  He seeks solace for himself and another measure of dignity for the departed by playing beautiful music on his cello.  Most viewers, including the eventually reconciled Mika, are impressed by the beauty of this probably unfamiliar Japanese ceremony.

Another moving dimension of Daigo's personal story occurs when information is revealed about the father who had abandoned him when he was a child.  Circumstances intervene so that Daigo's new skills and sensitivities contribute to an understanding of that distant past and an opportunity to provide his father with a dignified departure ceremony.    

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Wit

Edson, Margaret

Last Updated: Sep-07-2010
Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Play

Summary:

Wit takes place in a University Hospital Comprehensive Cancer Center. The main character, Vivian Bearing, Ph.D., is a John Donne scholar who has stage IV ovarian cancer. Much of the action takes place in the last few days/hours of her life, although flashback scenes to weeks, months, even years before are interspersed effectively throughout the performance.

Bearing has lived an isolated life. Her love is her teaching and research. She is a stern taskmaster, perhaps "non-humanistic" in her approach. Similarly, she faces doctors and a medical system that emphasize technique over caring. She does find, in the end, compassion from a nurse who prevents the medical team from carrying out a CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) attempt that she did not want.

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