Showing 161 - 170 of 634 annotations tagged with the keyword "Disease and Health"

Charming Billy

McDermott, Alice

Last Updated: Jan-20-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The charming alcoholic, Billy, has been found unconscious, on a street in his home neighborhood of Queens, New York City. His cousin and lifelong friend, Dennis, must identify his body after he dies, and help his widow Maeve through the funeral and its aftermath--just as he has often helped Maeve to carry the stuporous Billy to bed. Billy's funeral is the occasion for the reminiscences about him by his friends and family that forms this novel's story. These reminiscences reveal the web of community and generational continuity that is at the narrative's core.

A central tragedy in Billy's life has often been invoked by his friends to account for his alcoholism. Recently back from the second World War, Billy had met the Irish girl, Eva, and fallen in love with her. When she returned to Ireland he was determined to bring her back, along with her family, so that they could be married. But, as the story goes, Eva died and Billy, heartbroken, never really recovered. We learn early on, however, that Eva's death was fabricated by Dennis, who could not bear to reveal to Billy and to the rest of the family that Eva had married an Irish beau and used the money that Billy had been sending her to set her new husband up in business.

Even though Billy eventually learns that Dennis has lied to him, their friendship is undiminished. Neither Billy nor Dennis enlighten anyone else with the truth, until Dennis tells his daughter, following Billy's funeral. It is as if the truth would force Dennis to confront the inexplicable--that a man so loved by all destroyed himself for no apparent reason, was unable to accept all efforts to help him, unable to help himself, and, in effect, abandoned and rejected those who cared for him. But the novel concludes with an affirmation of trust, faith (religious and secular), friendship, and family ties and with an acknowledgment that the stories we tell and believe may be more important than what actually happens to us.

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To Suffer a Sea Change

Phelan, Peggy

Last Updated: Jan-20-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

Professor of performance studies at New York University, Peggy Phelan narrates the story of a vision disorder that began when she was 23 years old, caused by "open-angle glaucoma," a difficult-to-treat condition in which the vessels draining ocular fluid periodically constrict. The episodes are excruciatingly painful and disorienting: "I feel a staggering push behind my right eye. The right upper half of my face is on fire: I am certain that my eye has fallen out of its socket . . . " (508).

Phelan resists patienthood, beginning with her first visit to the doctor, in which she underplays what has happened to her. Rejecting surgery, coping with side effects of the drugs she must take, and concerned about her ability to continue as a visual arts scholar, she muddles through for several years. Then she experiences a frightening, vividly described episode of temporary blindness, which is followed by a migraine headache. Six months later she agrees to have surgery.

During the surgery, under local anesthesia, "my eye, which is frozen, can still see things as they pass over it . . . colors I have never seen before . . . I am seeing the roof of my own eye from the interior side. It is utterly breath stopping. I cannot speak" (521-522). Enabled to see her eye from a perspective that was not available to the physician, and grateful for this "visionary experience," Phelan finally accepts her situation. She is not cured, although her condition improves. "My story is finally the same as those of all the other patients . . . The only difference between me and them comes from the words I’ve suffered to find and the words I’ve suffered to flee" (525).

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A Book of Reasons

Vernon, John

Last Updated: Jan-20-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

In his dedication to the book, the author addresses his sons: "The secret to life? Clean your room." The meaning of this becomes clear as Vernon traces the story of his brother, Paul, with whose death the book begins. Paul was 15 years older than the author and had been only a shadowy presence in his life. When Paul died, John Vernon had to exercise his duties as executor of Paul's "estate," an estate that turned out to be a festering, stinking nightmare of a house.

The house was filled with 20 years worth of trash that represented 20 years of Paul's life as a recluse. This memoir is an attempt to imagine Paul's life and to understand the reasons for the course it took. It is also an attempt to "bear painful news" and to reflect on his own reactions to what he discovers and to Paul's death.

In order to do this, Vernon calls on history, interweaving his memories and what was revealed of Paul's life after his death with discussions of the beliefs and discoveries of past eras. Finding himself nailing a thermometer to the outside of Paul's house, the author describes the development of thermometers, and the nature of heat ("Heat"). What, he asks, is meant by "normal" atmospheric pressure? How abnormal was his brother? After all, he bought nursing-home insurance a year before he died. And how normal is he, John Vernon, affixing a thermometer to this wreckage?

As he builds a primitive set of steps to the house, the author explores the history of tool making and speculates about what distinguishes humans from animals; did Cain murder Abel with a hammer, and is he, John Vernon, his brother's keeper? ("Tools") Similar expositions and speculations interdigitate in subsequent sections entitled "Body," "Corpse," "House," "Origins." [At the end of the book, there is a bibliography of references for each section.]

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As I Live and Breathe

Weisman, Jamie

Last Updated: Jan-20-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Before Jamie Weisman went to medical school and became a physician she wanted to be a writer. As she struggled to make a career out of writing, she was forced to acknowledge that the obscure, life-threatening condition that had plagued her since adolescence could not be factored out of her plans. Writers don't have easy access to affordable health insurance and her monthly intravenous infusions of antibodies and interferon were very expensive. Yet they were essential to fend off infection, for she had an immune system malfunction.

Of course, finances were not the only reason that Weisman decided to go into medicine. As is often the case, her own experience of illness was an important motivating factor, as was the fact that her father, of whom she is very fond, was a physician. This memoir describes significant stages of Weisman's illness, her interaction with the physicians she consulted, and the issues she grapples with as she pursues her life as a physician, wife, and mother (she graduated from Emory University's school of medicine in 1998 and practices dermatology).

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A World of Light

Skloot, Floyd

Last Updated: Jan-20-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Poet and essayist Floyd Skloot gives us his third memoir; each of the three concerns a somewhat different facet of his attempt to recover from and live with mental and physical damage resulting from a viral illness that struck him in 1988. This book, written approximately 15 years after the initial insult, "is a memoir of the reassembled life" (ix). Life for Skloot is different than before, but a kind of order--Skloot calls it "harmony"--has been constructed out of memory loss, mental disorder and incoherence: "I have learned to savor the fragments themselves, and to live in the moment" (xi). A World of Light is perhaps more a collection of essays than a memoir.

Most of part one and some sections of parts two (Ch. 5, "1957") and three (Ch. 15, "Taking Stock") concern Skloot's interaction with his aged mother as she slides further and further into dementia. Anyone who wants an idea of what it is like to interact with a person who has Alzheimer's disease should read these sections. Skloot masterfully reproduces the often bizarre conversations that occur--the sometimes maddening repetition of comments during attempts at conversation.

Skloot's mother admires his wife, Beverly, and repeatedly instructs them to marry each other, no matter how often they assure her they are already married. She forgets their previous visits to her in the nursing home, although they visit regularly, and becomes anxious when they leave, even though she isn't certain who they are. Skloot writes about how receptive his mother is to music, which delights her, and how she sings snatches of old songs triggered by the words of any offhand comment--phenomena that have been noted in some other descriptions of Alzheimer's patients.

The essays in part two look back on Skloot's childhood, his family's background, and on his development as a writer. Part three centers on his current life with his wife, Beverly, whose home in rural Oregon provides a refuge for them both (although they are now in the market for different surroundings).

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

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

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

This is a vivid, partly autobiographical tale of clinical depression and the struggle for selfhood, written by an early feminist. The story is told by means of a journal which the narrator secretly keeps against the orders of her physician-husband, who believes this intellectual effort is contributing to his wife-patient's nervous condition. The narrator, a new mother, has been brought to a country house for a "rest-cure" by her husband; he selects for her the room with the yellow wallpaper, the (former) nursery, where the "windows are barred for little children" and the bed has been nailed to the floor.

Forbidden to write and think, prescribed for and infantilized, the narrator becomes increasingly dysfunctional. She obsesses about the yellow wallpaper, in which she sees frightful patterns and an imprisoned female figure trying to emerge. The narrator finally "escapes" from her controlling husband and the intolerable confines of her existence by a final descent into insanity as she peels the wallpaper off and bars her husband from the room.

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This great literate novel is the tale of Hans Castorp, the "delicate child of life" whom we first meet at age 23, ambivalently embarking on a career as a ship-building engineer in his home city of Hamburg, Germany. Before beginning his professional work, however, he journeys on what is intended to be a vacation and a pro forma visit to see his tubercular cousin, Joachim Ziemssen, at a sanatorium in the mountain town of Davos, Switzerland. Yet as the train pursues its course through the alpine scenery, Hans and the reader become aware that this is no ordinary journey. The impressionable Hans is transported away from the life and obligations he has known, to the rarefied mountain environment and insular community of the sanatorium.

At first uneasy, he soon becomes fascinated with and drawn to the routine established for the "consumptives" and to the social scene which flourishes there. Ordinary life seems increasingly unreal to him; his perceptions are heightened and he becomes aware of his physical, spiritual, and emotional vulnerability, as well as of his own sexuality. He is greatly attracted to one of the patients, a married woman of Slavic background, Madame Clavdia Chauchat. She reminds him of a schoolboy to whom he had been strangely drawn as a child. The turmoil brought on by this romantic obsession seems even to be reflected in his physical state, which is unstable and feverish.

As his intended stay of three weeks nears its close, the director of the sanatorium advises Hans to stay on to recuperate from a heavy cold, which appears to reveal an underlying case of tuberculosis. Hans is almost relieved at this news, for it provides him with a reason for remaining near Madame Chauchat as well as the opportunity to continue intriguing, profound discussions and cogitation about illness, life, time, death, religion and world view initiated by another patient, Herr Settembrini.

Settembrini is an Italian man of letters and humanist who believes that reason and the intellect must and will prevail, in daily life as well as in world affairs. He is contemptuous of the foolish flirtations and empty talk in which most of the sanatorium inhabitants indulge, and warns Hans repeatedly of the dangers inherent in cutting off all ties to real life and responsibility.

Nevertheless, Hans remains at the sanatorium for seven years, freeing himself from the constraints and conventions of life "in the flatlands" and instead engaging in a prolonged "questioning of the universe." This questioning includes a critical flirtation with death, stunningly described in the chapter, "Snow." Hans does not return home until the outbreak of World War I, in which he fights and survives.

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Summary:

This story follows John and Aileen Crowley and their three children, the two youngest of whom have a rare "untreatable" genetic disease. Pompe disease gradually degenerates muscle until patients cannot breathe or sit up; it also dangerously enlarges the heart. Determined to try to save his children, John Crowley started up a biotech company to develop an enzyme that would replace the non-functioninging one in his children. Others researchers in other companies were trying different approaches. Everyone made mistakes and created problems along the way.

Finally, in "the mother of all experiments," the four promising drug developments were tested against each other in a double-blind trial. After five years of development, the "special medicine" was finally given to the Crowley children. Daughter Megan, a real fighter and outgoing personality, won over the hearts of the researchers. Interesting conflict of interest issues increase the tension in this race for a cure.

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This is an autobiographical novel in which the author relates the emotional life of a childhood and young manhood lived with cerebral palsy. The disease is never named (except on the fly-leaf of the book cover); its impact is revealed through incidents and personal relationships experienced by the protagonist in a narration which reflects by its style, the intellectual maturation from childhood to adulthood.

As a child, Felix spends long periods in a children’s home, to receive therapy and educational training, and to relieve his family of the strain of his care. Felix learns to walk with painstaking effort and surges of determination, but the reactions of others, even of his mother, make clear that he is not normal. His social life is complicated by anti-semitism and by just being from a different religious background. With puberty comes sexual longing and the need for female affection, and eventually the painful recognition that his desire will not be reciprocated. What saves Felix is the life of the mind and a love of literature and writing which a few influential mentors and a clever, similarly disabled friend help him to develop.

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Autobiography of a Face

Grealy, Lucy

Last Updated: Jan-09-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

Lucy Grealy, poet, tells the story of her childhood and young adulthood, a twenty year period of overwhelming physical and mental suffering. Yet the author is so resilient, so intelligent, so insightful, and such a good writer that her story transcends mere illness narrative. At age nine, first misdiagnosed and finally identified as having facial bone cancer (Ewing’s sarcoma), Lucy underwent several surgeries and more than two years of intensive chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Pain and nausea, anxiety and fear of more pain and nausea were only part of the ordeal.

The young Lucy became aware of what it is to be severely, chronically ill. Her sisters behaved differently toward her: they were polite. "Suddenly I understood the term visiting. I was in one place, they were in another, and they were only pausing." Even her father felt uncomfortable at her hospital bedside, and Lucy was relieved that he came infrequently.

But being at home was worse: in the hospital the other patients and the staff expected little from her and she felt no guilt or shame; amidst her family, she blamed herself for the tension, arguments over money, and her mother’s depression, even though these elements had existed prior to her illness. Her hair fell out and she became dimly aware that people were staring at her face. Nevertheless, "I . . . was naturally adept at protecting myself from the hurt of their insults and felt a vague superiority . . . . "

Well enough to return to school, Lucy’s disfigured face drew taunts from classmates; she understood finally that she was perceived as ugly and that she would not be loved. Only on Halloween, when she could mask her face, did she feel free and joyful, unconcerned about her appearance, "normal." Her moods now alternated between despair, determination, and escapism. She became convinced that only facial reconstruction and a restored appearance would make life bearable.

During years of reconstructive surgery Lucy evolved complex rationalizations to give meaning to her suffering. Two anchors had stabilized her existence throughout the misery: a passionate adolescent love of horses, and an adult love of poetry. Eventually outward appearance and inner life became harmonious. "The journey back to my face was a long one."

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