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Massad, Stewart

Last Updated: May-08-2006

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The narrator is an aging, male gynecologist who works in a small North Carolina town. The National Health Service sends a young doctor, Rachel, to work in the clinic. From Boston, she is unused to the town's racial politics. She learns slowly to understand the motivations and concerns of her patients. As she campaigns for condom distribution, she ends up insulting the white men who run the town by calling them racists.

The narrator protests that they have power in the town only because no blacks ever run for office and that their policies are meant to distribute wealth evenly. He encourages Rachel to be more gentle and womanly. She will get her way more easily if she smiles. But Rachel eventually turns her back on the narrator, too, when in order to get a violent black man out of the clinic's lobby he calls the man "boy" and threatens to call the police. Rachel moves in with a black man. The town has revenge when a hit and run driver kills her lover and Rachel is hounded out of town.

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Epiphany

Sams, Ferrol

Last Updated: May-08-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Novellas)

Summary:

Three novellas by a master storyteller. For the title story, see the separate entry in this database (Epiphany). "Harmony Ain't Easy" is a tale in which Dr. and Mrs. Sams (he retains his own name here) get stranded when their car is disabled on a country road, thanks to Dr. Sams's bull-headedness. After a warmly humorous series of reverses, they are finally saved.

In the last story, "Relative and Absolute," aged Mr. McEachern is approached by three high school students who want to interview him for their oral history project. They ask him questions about living conditions and race relations in their county when he was young. During the series of interviews, as he tells them anecdote after anecdote heavy with homey wisdom, the old man and the adolescents learn to like and respect each other.

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Epiphany

Sams, Ferrol

Last Updated: May-08-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novella

Summary:

The story consists of a series of Dr. Mark Goddard's dictated office notes regarding the care of his patient Gregry McHune, interspersed with the narrator's description of these physician-patient interactions. McHune first presents as a standard case of high blood pressure; however, in subsequent visits the man tells his harrowing story.

Goddard learns that his patient was unjustly jailed for killing a black man in self-defense. McHune tells him about racism in the penitentiary and his fight for survival, both in prison and later. Eventually McHune and his family are hounded out of town by the son of the man he killed.

Through all these losses, McHune maintains his sense of humor and easy-going integrity. Meanwhile, the elderly Dr. Goddard is repeatedly harrangued by the clinic administrator (a vacuous young man) for including extraneous details and poetic language in his dictations. As time goes on, and he is transformed by his relationship with McHune, Goddard includes more and more poetry in his office notes.

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The Shooting Party

Chekhov, Anton

Last Updated: Apr-26-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Chekhov wrote The Shooting Party during his final year in medical school, and it was published serially in 32 weekly segments during 1884 to 1885. The book's plot is essentially a murder mystery, although in its depictions of setting and character the story anticipates Chekhov's mature style.

"The Shooting Party" is the name of a manuscript that an unknown author, who appears out of nowhere, begs a publisher to read and publish. The author agrees at least to read it, and the author says that he will return in three months for the verdict. The body of the book then is this mysterious manuscript, which is written as a first person narrative. Its narrator and central character is the author recounting his own experience. In a "Postscript" the publisher tells us what happened when the author's returned three months later.

The narrator is the local magistrate in a rural region. His good friend and drinking partner, Count Alexei, has an estate nearby. Count Alexei's bailiff, Urbenin, is a middle-aged widower with two children. Also living on the estate are Nikolai Efimych, an old retainer who has gone crazy, and his beautiful daughter Olga. During the first part of The Shooting Party we learn that Count Alexei is a drunk and a lecher; Urbenin is a decent, hard-working, and lonely man; and Olga is caught between her presumably "true" love of the narrator and her desire to advance in life by marrying Urbenin. However, after marrying the bailiff, she takes another step upward by leaving her husband for a live-in affair with the Count, meanwhile secretly protesting her love for the narrator.

The climax occurs during a hunting party in the woods, when Olga goes off by herself and is later found murdered. All the evidence leads to her husband as the culprit. When an unexpected witness who might be able to implicate a different killer appears, the witness himself is mysteriously murdered. At the end of the manuscript, Urbenin is convicted of murder and sent to prison. However, in the "Postscript" the publisher, who proves to be a far better detective than the narrator/magistrate, identifies the real killer from clues that he has observed in the manuscript.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

Williams's autobiography recounts his life from his first memory ("being put outdoors after the blizzard of '88") to the composition of "Patterson" and a trip to the American West in 1950. The book's 58 short chapters epitomize the writer's episodic and impressionistic style, presenting a series of scenes and meditations, rather than a narrative life story.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Anthology (Poems)

Summary:

This large, wide-ranging anthology is subtitled Poems for Men. The editors consider 16 aspects of male life and experience, and present groups of poems illustrating each aspect. Each section is introduced by a few pages of commentary. Representative sections include Approach to Wildness, Father's Prayers for Sons and Daughters, War, I Know the Earth and I Am Sad, Making a Hole in Denial, Anger Hatred Outrage, Earthly Love, and Zaniness.

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Ward Rounds

Beernink, K. D. (Kenneth Dale)

Last Updated: Apr-24-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

This is a collection of poems about patients, written by a young physician in the late 1960's. The book is organized around the theme of a hospital ward. Each poem is named for a patient and has the patient's disease as its subtitle. The poet composed this work during his own illness, when (as he says in the Introduction) "my patients reappeared to me and I lived again in my mind all the many emotions we experienced together."

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Wishbone Dance

Downie, Glen

Last Updated: Apr-24-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

Subtitled "New and Selected Medical Poems," this volume includes poems on illness and healing from Downie's three previous collections, along with several new poems. A longer piece called "Learning Curve Journal" serves as a framework for the book.

Beginning with the desperate voice he hears on his first night as a "suicide line" volunteer, the poet reveals the shape of his own medical learning curve, moving poem by poem from "Orientation" through the realm of "Patient Teaching" and "Teaching Rounds" to "Pronouncing Death." Among the many strong poems in this collection are "Diagnosis: Heart Failure," "Louise," "Sudden Infant Death," "Wishbone," "Living with Cancer," and "Ron and Don."

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Summary:

This biography begins on April 20, 1995 when the ashes of Marie and Pierre Curie were transferred from their graves in a Paris suburb and re-interred in the Pantheon, thereby placing the Curies among the "immortals" of France. Thus, Marie became the first (and so far the only) woman to be honored in this way. Goldsmith's biography is a straightforward and well-written narrative that eschews hagiography, wordiness, and psychological interpretations.

The story of Marie Curie (1867-1934) is well known. Born into an intellectual but impoverished Polish family, she struggled to obtain a scientific education, first in Poland and then at the Sorbonne in Paris. While a graduate student, she met and married the young chemist Pierre Curie. Together, with essentially no funding and dismal laboratory space, they discovered and characterized radioactivity. Later, on her own Marie discovered and isolated two new elements, polonium and radium. Subsequently Marie and Pierre created the Curie Institute, where Marie was in the forefront in envisioning medical applications of radioactivity and radium.

The story is especially powerful in its depiction of bias against women in science. Marie had to fight for many years to obtain a faculty position at the Sorbonne (unheard of for a woman), or even space to conduct her experiments. When the Nobel Committee awarded its 1903 Prize in Physics, Pierre had to fight to have his wife included in the citation, even though the bulk of the brains and energy behind the discovery of radioactivity were clearly Marie's. Marie was later vindicated when she won her second (and solo) Nobel Prize in 1911 for the discovery of radium.

Obsessive Genius doesn't shy away from Marie Curie's recurrent clinical depressions, which began during her adolescence, nor from her obsessive, hard-driving personality. The book presents an even-handed picture of repeated conflict between her love of her husband and children (one of whom, Irene Joliet-Curie, in 1935 became the second woman scientist ever to win the Nobel Prize); and her passion for her work.

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Maimonides

Nuland, Sherwin

Last Updated: Mar-29-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Summary:

This concise and well-written biography is meant to be, as Sherwin Nuland tells us, "a guide for the perplexed," for those who may recognize the name of Maimonides and his historical importance to Jewish religion and culture, or who may even have read some of his works, but have no knowledge of the man behind the name. The story begins, as it should, in Medieval Spain with its vibrant Judaeo-Islamic culture, in which the historical relationship between Judaism and medicine developed and later expanded throughout the European and Islamic worlds. Though they were outsiders in both civilizations, Jewish physicians became the most sought after healers in the Christian and Muslim worlds.

Moses son of Maimon (also known as Maimonides and the Rambam, 1138-1204) was born in Cordoba, the cultural and political center of Muslim Spain. He and his family had to flee Cordoba to avoid persecution in 1148. They wandered through Spain until 1160, when they settled in Fez, Morocco. Again fleeing from persecution, Maimonides moved to Fustat, Egypt, when he was 30 years old and remained there for the rest of his life. During these early years, the young rabbi wrote numerous biblical commentaries, culminating in the Mishneh Torah, his great code of Jewish law. Later, he attempted to reconcile faith with reason in another great work, The Guide for the Perplexed, completed in 1190.

Maimonides's specifically medical work is difficult to characterize and evaluate. The traditional historical assessment is that he was "unique in his time in the theory and practice of medicine." Essentially, he practiced Galenic medicine, as transmitted and developed in the flourishing Islamic tradition. We don't know how he acquired his medical knowledge, but by the time he reached Fustat, Maimonides was acknowledged to be a leading physician and in 1190 he was appointed personal physician to the vizier of Egypt. Late in life, Maimonides wrote a number of medical treatises, most importantly his Medical Aphorisms, which presents a coherent, well-organized, and practical medical system based on Galen and Aristotle.

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