Showing 161 - 170 of 1273 annotations tagged with the keyword "Death and Dying"

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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One Breath

Clark-Sayles, Catharine

Last Updated: Sep-03-2010
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

This suggestively titled collection of poems provides a lyric record of a physician’s way of seeing.  The situations to which the poems bear witness are not only medical, though many are.  Some are cityscapes into which are woven surprisingly astute observations of homeless people or hitchhikers or ducks in the park.  Some explore the geography of a body where memories are held in “neuron chains.”  Some articulate bits of personal history from the point of view of a woman who has spent years in medicine, caring for the elderly, seeing bodies with the double vision of a clinician and a person whose spirituality clearly informs all she sees.

Titles like “ER Alphabet of Hurt” or “Looking for God On the Radio” or “Hippocrates Voyeur” or simply “Scars” may give some sense of the range of focus.  Her vision and voice are strongly local; those who know Marin County, north of San Francisco, will recognize the places that become the poet’s personal geography.  Those who don’t will still see in these poems a sensibility shaped and refined by the knowledge that comes from deep habitation.  

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Annotated by:
Spiegel, Maura

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

The story follows the final twelve or so hours in the life of a 62 year old widow, emblematically named Dante Remus Lazarescu, (Ioan Fiscuteanu). Suffering with stomach distress and a terrible headache (eventually diagnosed as a subdural hematoma and late stage liver cancer), he spends his last night being shuttled by ambulance, or rather by an ill-equipped van serving as ambulance, from hospital to hospital, unable to secure the emergency surgery that would save him. The hand-held camera and long uncut takes -some are six or more minutes- give the movie the feel of unfolding in real time. In places, it has the look of a documentary, and it has been compared to Frederick Wiseman's Hospital (1970).

Before the odyssey begins, we meet Mr. Lazarescu in the cramped, unkempt Bucharest apartment he shares with his three cats. Of his circumstances we learn that he is a retired engineer whose only daughter has emigrated to Toronto, and that despite having had ulcer surgery years earlier, Mr. Lazarescu drinks heavily. In his every encounter -with neighbors and with a string of doctors- he is reprimanded for his drinking, implicitly or explicitly blamed for his ill-health. From the television blaring in his apartment we hear news of a truck gone out of control that has rammed a tourist bus. Casualties from the accident are taxing hospital resources, which accounts in part for why this ill-smelling elderly man who appears to be drunk (but turns out to be having a cerebral bleed) is a low priority, although this doesn't account for the callousness with which he is treated by much of the medical staff.

The most significant relationship in the film is between Mr. Lazarescu and the ambulance nurse, Mioara (Luminita Gheorghiu) who shepherds him throughout the night. Almost everything we know about her is what one knows from watching someone at her job; in Puiu's hands, this vantage turns out to be richly informative. (Ms. Gheorghiu's body language speaks volumes.) Mioara and Mr. Lazarescu hardly speak to one another; they don't "open up" to one another or have a "meaningful moment," nothing to compare, for example, to the Popsicle scene between the nurse, Susie, and patient, Vivian Bearing, in Wit (see annotation). The power of the relationship in this film is in what is not overt, but what is palpable nonetheless -that Mioara's presence means very much to Mr. Lazarescu, and that doing her job includes letting him know that she is standing by him, that he is the priority, the only priority. Mioara staunchly meets the irascibility and chastisement of various physicians in her efforts to advocate for her patient as he is passed off from one hospital to the next.

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Chronic Progressive

Cohen, Marion

Last Updated: Jul-29-2010
Annotated by:
Schilling, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

In Chronic Progressive, a collection of 151 short poems divided into three parts, Marion Deutsche Cohen, a well spouse, continues her startlingly candid account of caring for her husband Jeff that began in her previous collection, Epsilon Country (1995, see annotation).  Part I of Chronic Progressive describes Cohen's frustrations during the last of the 16 years that she cared for Jeff at home, as multiple sclerosis left him almost completely dependent on her.  Mother of four, a prolific writer, a poet, and a mathematician, Cohen describes unrelenting stress when family services and insurance providers fail her, when she feels she must protect the sanctity of her home as health care aides and agencies treat it like a hospital or nursing home, or when she's exhausted, which is most of the time.  "It's a state, a / chronic state, a chronic progressive incurable state," she writes (55).

The middle section, the longest, follows Cohen during the ten years Jeff resides in Inglis House, a Philadelphia care facility.  These poems mix reflections on the past with working out the rhythms of life without Jeff in the house, but still unshakably on her mind.  In this section, she also writes "The Last Love Poem for Jeff" and anticipates his death in "A New Vow": "I will give you the best deathbed anyone ever had" (108).  In Part III, Cohen experiences relief and begins life with a new spouse after Jeff's death.  She recalls herself as ". . . the one he began with, the one he'll end with / the one who's been too much in the middle" (162).  But she quickly turns to "Wedding Preparations Former Well Spouse Style" and the "Love Poem for Her New Love."

Taken altogether, the poems reveal a profound effort to sustain vitality and remake ways of living-with integrity-at the edge of human endurance.  "Yes, how readily we reclaim our territories," Cohen observes near the end of her book (180).

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