Showing 171 - 180 of 260 annotations tagged with the keyword "Illness Narrative/Pathography"

Out of the Shadow

Smiley, Susan

Last Updated: Jan-30-2006
Annotated by:
Jones, Therese

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

The documentary film opens with the filmmaker, Susan Smiley, in search of her mother, Millie, who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and who, once again, has disappeared into the woefully inadequate public health care system of middle America. Through old photographs and home movies, interviews with family members and health care professionals, and voice-over and direct narration by Smiley herself, the film chronicles the descent of a young, beautiful woman in her twenties into severe and chronic mental illness.

When Millie’s marriage to their father fails, Susan and her younger sister, Tina, are essentially abandoned to endure severe physical and emotional abuse by their mother. As the years unfold, Millie eventually loses her home and embarks on a journey of evictions, arrests, hospitalizations, and homelessness. At what seems to be Millie’s lowest point, warehoused in a nursing home where she is angrily refusing to take any medication, her daughters intervene, petition for guardianship, and navigate the system on behalf of their mother.

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A Million Little Pieces

Frey, James

Last Updated: Jan-30-2006
Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

At 23 years old, James is brought by his parents to a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in Minnesota to get treatment for his alcoholism and drug addictions. Physically and emotionally shattered, he slowly recuperates, sometimes insistently conquering his addictions with his own willpower, and at other times with the help of those around him. The consequences of his addictions, his struggle against the platitudes of the Twelve Step programs, and his relationships with his counselors build the tension in the book; his relationship with his family and several of his fellow addicts forms the heart of it.

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Strange Pieta

Fraser, Gregory

Last Updated: Jan-30-2006
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

In three sections of remarkable narrative poems, Fraser reviews how his own and his family's lives are utterly changed by the birth of his youngest brother, Jonathan, who is profoundly disabled by spina bifida and has survived into adulthood--long beyond what doctors predicted. An introduction provides the context: the poems chronicle a hard journey from denial, shame, and anger to acceptance. As Fraser writes toward the end of the final, title poem: "We must learn to cherish chance to have one." But chance has dealt his brother, and so his family, a particularly hard blow.

The first section focuses primarily on his own remembered reactions and reflections--his guilt, his cluelessness--as a child and adolescent; the second on relationships with family and friends as an adult, all of them partly shaped and shaded by the ongoing suffering of his disabled brother; the third and longest, an exercise in empathy-with his mother and with Jonathan, neither of whose suffering, he realizes, is entirely imaginable to him. The poems are regular free verse, rich with allusion, emotional precision, and narrative detail.

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Carnal Fragrance

Weinberger, Florence

Last Updated: Jan-30-2006
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

This collection traces the writer/speaker's journey through her husband's diagnosis to his death of cancer and through the first year after loss, ending with an eight-part poem entitled "The First Yahrzeit," (69) that commemorates the one-year anniversary of her husband's death. The poems vary richly in tone, structure, and focus, some vividly descriptive of the experience, some obliquely figurative, some simple pauses over a moment or an object that has become evocative or sacralized in the course of mourning. Every one offers a surprise line or image that is worth returning to. The whole chronicles a journey of a kind many have had to take, and offers a testimony of hard-won, ambiguous healing.

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Migraine Sonnets

Hacker, Marilyn

Last Updated: Jan-10-2006
Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poems (Sequence)

Summary:

A four sonnet sequence that pulses with Hacker's witty rhyming and half-rhyming, taking place late at night with the threat of a migraine, the repetitive frustrations of insomnia and memories of the "lie" that ended a relationship. The warning of wildness and danger ("A lie hung framed in the doorway, growing wild") running through the poem is held in tentative check by the sonnet form and the repetition of the last line of the previous sonnet as the first line of the next (a technique neatly described in the poem itself: "The double doors close back upon themselves. / The double doors close back upon themselves.")

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Dying: An Update

Brodkey, Harold

Last Updated: Oct-04-2005
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Journal

Summary:

A chronicle of the author's perceptions, thoughts, memories, and personal relationships during the months after he was diagnosed as having AIDS. Brodkey's mind and prose are as sharp as a knife's edge. Beginning with the desperate struggle for breath that signaled pneumonia and, retrospectively, "how my life ended. And my dying began," continuing with the reactions and decisions of himself and his wife, the first half of the essay spins out an observant, introspective, cerebral, even amusing account of his particular experience.

But AIDS is often a disease associated with more emotional baggage than other fatal illnesses, and in Brodkey's case we learn that he traces both his dying and his homosexual experiences to "the major drama of [his] adolescence", daily sexual abuse by his adoptive father, with the implied knowledge and acquiescence of his mother. Writes Brodkey, "I experimented with homosexuality to break my pride, to open myself to the story." "Now I will die disfigured and in pain."

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This Wild Darkness

Brodkey, Harold

Last Updated: Oct-04-2005
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Journal

Summary:

This is the last published entry in the journal kept by author Harold Brodkey, before he died of AIDS on January 26, 1996. Brodkey, ever the flamboyant writer, began a record of his diagnosis with AIDS and "my passage into nonexistence" in the pages of The New Yorker (see also earlier journal entry, Dying: An Update, annotated in this database).

In this last entry he focuses intensely on the end of consciousness that looms ahead. In spare poetic phrases he describes what he is attempting to grasp-- " . . . this wild darkness, which is not only unknown but which one cannot enter as oneself." He reflects also on memory, medication, creature comforts, family history, the legacy he leaves, and describes with amazement that he feels happy.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Summary:

In four lengthy chapters, the biographies of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert are carefully presented. Special attention is given to health, both physical and psychological, throughout life and at its end. Autopsy information is included. In particular, the author emphasizes the impact of illness on the composers' relationships with family members and doctors, and on their musical composition.

Evidence is derived from a wealth of primary sources, often with long citations from letters, poetry, musical scores, prescriptions, diaries, the remarkable "chat books" of Beethoven. Neumayr also takes on the host of other medical biographers who have preceded him in trying to retrospectively 'diagnose' these immortal dead.

Late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Vienna emerges as a remarkable city of musical innovation and clinical medicine. The composers' encounters with each other link these biographies. Similarly, many patrons, be they aristocrats or physicians, appear in more than one chapter, such as the Esterhazy family and Dr Anton Mesmer.

The disease concepts of the era, prevalent infections, and preferred therapies are treated with respect. Rigid public health rules in Vienna concerning burial practices meant that ceremonies could not take place in cemeteries and may explain why some unusual information is available and why other seemingly simple facts are lost.

Biographical information about the treating physicians is also given, together with a bibliography of secondary sources, and an index of specific works of music cited.

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Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

An automobile accident left Mary Swander nearly paralyzed and coping with chronic pain. After several incorrect diagnoses, she saw a neurosurgeon who told her that a disk in her neck ruptured "at C6 and punched a hole in the spinal cord. The flu virus went into the cord and infected it." She had central cord syndrome (which can paralyze arms) and myelitis (which can paralyze legs).

Other than traction, the doctors said they could not do anything more for her. She went to New Mexico where herbal medicines of a curandera and spiritual healing by a Russian Orthodox monk helped her. She now walks without a cane.

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To a Distant Island

McConkey, James

Last Updated: Jan-31-2005
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Summary:

During a sabbatical year in Florence, English professor and writer James McConkey immersed himself in reading Anton Chekhov’s works, as well as biographies of the Russian writer. He began to feel a particular affinity for Chekhov’s crisis of 1889-1890 and his resolution of that crisis by traveling alone to Sakhalin Island off the eastern coast of Siberia to investigate conditions in the penal colonies that the Russian government had established in that distant region. Perhaps because McConkey himself was recovering from a series of traumatic experiences in his own life, he felt a kinship to this depressed young Russian author and his search for a new direction in life.

McConkey responded to this feeling of kinship by writing To a Distant Island, which is partly biographical, in that it retells the story of Chekhov’s six month long journey to Sakhalin Island in 1890; and partly a memoir, in that McConkey relates Chekhov’s life events to the feelings and events of his own life at the time. McConkey establishes this perspective from the beginning, when he explains why he refers to Chekhov throughout the book as "T": "I honor the man too much to call him by name throughout an account, which. . . is bound to be a fiction of my own" (8).

To a Distant Island dwells especially on the motivation for Chekhov’s journey to Sakhalin, a question scholars have debated for a hundred years now. Of the many contributing reasons for the trip, McConkey chooses to highlight and fictionalize "the suicidal tendency that surfaced again a decade later in the marriage his health simply couldn’t afford" (26). McConkey refines this to "T. wants to escape--he wants out, at whatever the personal cost" (27). It is in this state of mind (or soul) that the brilliant and sensitive T. begins his journey to the end of the earth.

Perhaps as a metaphor that characterizes any human quest, McConkey devotes most of the writing and energy to T’s justification, preparation, and outward-bound journey. Only 37 pages remain for the story of what happens to his hero once the goal is achieved; and less than 6 pages for the homeward trek (or homeward "sail" in this case). [This is a technique, come to think of it, quite the opposite of Homer’s in "The Odyssey"!]

The conclusion? "Sakhalin, then, gave to T. nothing he hadn’t known all along. . . Perhaps despair--that absence of hope--is a requisite for any deepened understanding of a universal hope for something never to be found in the present time or place" (82).

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