Showing 171 - 180 of 671 Nonfiction annotations

Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Summary:

The author, a scholar of autobiography and other forms of life writing, has expanded his scholarship to include what he calls "autopathography"--autobiographical narratives of illness and disability. This book is the result of an extensive study of such narratives. The works discussed are full-length and recently published--most were published in the 1980s and 1990s. Couser is particularly interested in issues of narrative authority, in how autopathography can be counterdiscursive to the prevailing biomedical narrative, and, especially, in how autopathography is counterdiscursive to the cultural stigmatization and marginalization that often accompany illness or disability ["insofar as autobiography is the literary expression of the self-determined life" (182)].

Since social/cultural counterdiscourse is of particular importance to Couser, he has focused on four specific illnesses/disabilities that have been associated with stigma: breast cancer, AIDS, paralysis, and deafness (182). His analysis of each condition is diachronic because he is searching for "the enrichment of the genre by successive writers who defy, complicate, or refine its conventions" (44). In addition, Couser asks, to what extent do authors "integrate illness narrative into a larger life narrative?" (14). He considers who narrates illness stories (biographer or autobiographer), how the stories are constructed, whether and how they achieve a "comic plot" and narrative closure.

The book's introduction (chapter 1, "Human Conditions--Illness, Disability, and Life Writing") provides a framework, relating what will follow to current issues in life writing, "identity politics," the culture of medicine, and illness experience, as well as to other work on illness narratives such as Anne Hunsaker Hawkins's Reconstructing Illness: Studies in Pathography and Arthur Frank's The Wounded Storyteller (annotated in this database).

Chapter 2, "Medical Discourse and Subjectivity," develops further the questions of narrative authority, representation, and resistance to a dominant medical or cultural narrative. Each subsequent section--breast cancer, AIDS, paralysis, deafness--is prefaced by an informative discussion of the cultural and narrative issues that are relevant to the particular condition; the subsequent analyses of individual texts further elaborate these themes.

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Codeine Diary: A Memoir

Andrews, Tom

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

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Contrary to what the title might suggest, this is not a memoir of drug addiction. Writer and poet Tom Andrews has hemophilia, and codeine is the analgesic he requires during excruciatingly painful internal bleeding episodes. In this diary, begun while recovering from a leg injury, Andrews reflects on his particular experience of life and hemophilia. He makes clear that " . . . hemophilia is only one of the stories my life tells me . . . " (p. 29)

The memoir interweaves the author's physical, emotional, and existential journey through the convalescent period with flashbacks of childhood and his relationship with his ailing brother, now dead, to whose memory the book is dedicated. Brother John's fatal illness with kidney disease shaped--and continues to shape--Tom's life as much as did the hemophilia.

On the one hand their parents' concern for John took Tom out of the spotlight and allowed him to pursue his own interests. These extended to motorcycle racing, playing in a punk band, and setting a record for continuous hand clapping--at age 11--that was recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records. On the other hand, Tom's guilt over surviving John's early death may account for an almost reckless disregard of his own precarious physical condition. A constant subtext is the deep grief and abiding love of the living brother for the dead one.

But this is not a mournful book. It is an engaging memoir that provides unusual access and insight into the world of hemophilia, especially with regard to the painful "bleeds." It is the sense of exile and separation from others that is most disturbing for Andrews when in the throes of unrelieved pain. He takes us through the mental concentration required to endure this pain and the liberating relief to mind and spirit provided by codeine. Memory, perception, and writing provide the additional resources he needs to re-connect with the world.

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This Lovely Life

Forman, Vicki

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

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Vicki Forman's twins, Evan and Ellie, were born in 2000 at twenty-three weeks' gestation.  Fetuses could legally be aborted up to twenty-four weeks, but rules regulating treatment of extremely premature babies differed from one hospital to another.  Daughter of a doctor, Forman knew how slim were the chances of survival and how great the chances of serious disability if either of the twins did survive.  Grieving, but realistic, she and her husband asked for a DNR order, but learned that such orders did not strictly apply to the situation of children like their twins.  Instead, the line between  the parents' authority and the doctors' remained blurry and decision-making vexed not only by technical and emotional complications, but by conflicting legal guidelines as they made their way through many months of hospitalization and home treatment of their surviving son.

Ellie, the daughter, died at four days.  Evan lived for eight years with disabilities that completely reorganized family life, and required constant monitoring, management of equipment, and careful orchestration of parental relationship to their older child, Josie, and their special-needs child.  Much of the narrative covers the period of hospitalization during Evan's early months and the negotiations between parents, physicians, and other caregivers.  It also touches on Forman's own emotional responses to the strenuous learning curve required of a parent who suddenly finds herself with a special-needs child.

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The Wounded Storyteller

Frank, Arthur

Last Updated: Dec-29-2009
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

Frank argues that the modernist conception of illness is a form of "colonization" in that the ill person hands over his or her body (and life narrative) to biomedical expertise. In a post-modern conception, however, the ill person reclaims the authority and ability to tell his or her own story, and to construct a new life narrative from the "narrative wreckage" of serious illness or injury.

Frank identifies four dimensions by which one's relationship to the body may be understood: control versus contingency, self-versus other-relatedness, dissociation versus association with the body, and desire versus lack of desire. Frank presents a diagram (p. 30) in which he sketches four "ideal typical bodies" that arise from various combinations of control-contingency, etc. These include (a) the disciplined body, (b) the mirroring body, (c) the dominating body, and (d) the communicative body. While the first three lead to problems in constructing a satisfactory illness narrative, the last is an "idealized type" in that it is not only descriptive, but also "provides an ethical ideal for bodies." (p.48)

Frank then categorizes patients' illness narratives into three main themes: (a) restitution narratives, in which the plot involves returning to one's previous state of health; (b) chaos narratives, in which all life events are contingent and no one is in control; and (c) quest narratives, in which illness is seen as a spiritual journey. This understanding serves as a starting point for a narrative ethic of illness.

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In the Land of Pain

Daudet, Alphonse

Last Updated: Dec-29-2009
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

The French writer Alphonse Daudet (1840-1897) developed the form of tertiary syphilis called tabes dorsalis in the early 1880’s. Tabes progressively destroys the structures of the dorsal column of the spinal cord, leading at first to lower extremity ataxia and neuropathic pain, and eventually to paralysis of the legs associated with intractable pain. Daudet sought treatment from the leading neurologists of his time, including J. M. Charcot and C. E. Brown-Séquard, but the disease progressed relentlessly.

At some point Daudet began making notes for a book about his illness. He spoke to several of his contemporaries about this project, but the book never became more than a collection of brief notes, which were collected and published posthumously as "La Doulou" (Provencal for "pain"). This short book, translated here by Julian Barnes, consists of "fifty or so pages of notes on his symptoms and sufferings, his fears and reflections, and on the strange social life of patients at shower-bath and spa." (p. xiii)

The notes are generally in chronological order, beginning with short comments like "Torture walking back from the baths via the Champs-Elysées" (p. 4) and "Also from that time onwards pins and needles in the feet, burning feelings, hypersensitivity." (p. 6) In a long section toward the end Daudet comments on his experience at Lamalou, a thermal spa that he visited annually from 1885 to 1893. "I’ve passed the stage where illness brings any advantage or helps you understand things; also the stage where it sours your life, puts a harshness in your voice, makes every cogwheel shriek." (p. 65)

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

The author introduces his book by saying, "I should like to write a book to help people cope with inexplicable pain and suffering." He is "profoundly suspicious" of the genre of books that attempt to explain why a good and all-powerful God allows us "to undergo suffering for seemingly no reason." Thus, he distinguishes his investigation from theodicy in the traditional sense (an explanation of why God allows suffering); rather, Hauerwas wishes to explore why human beings believe it is so important for us to ask why God allows suffering.

The narrative backbone of this book is provided by fictional and non-fictional texts about the suffering and death of children. The prime fictional example is The Blood of the Lamb, Peter De Vries's 1961 novel about an 11-year old girl who dies of leukemia and the anguish of her father. This fiction, however, was based on De Vries's personal experience. [See annotation in this database.] Hauerwas also explores several non-fictional accounts of dying children, especially Where Is God When a Child Suffers? by Penny Giesbrecht, The Private World of Dying Children by Myra Bluebond-Langner, and Lament for a Son by Nicholas Wolterstorff.

Traditionally, suffering and death were interpreted in the context of religious meaning (e.g. part of God's plan, punishment for sin, etc.) Yet, the fact that God allows evil--in the form of suffering--to occur poses a problem, if God is both all compassionate and all-powerful. Modern medicine dispenses with the meaning of illness--disease and suffering are pointless and should be eliminated, if possible. Likewise, in modern society our preferred death is sudden like a bolt of lightning (no suffering), while in the past people looked for a "good death," which might involved a period of suffering during which the person could become reconciled to family, friends, and God.

Nonetheless, even if we adopt a scientific point of view, as human beings we can't help attributing narrative meaning to our illnesses. Thus, when adults suffer, we place their suffering in the context of a life story that may include a number of layers and dimensions. We "dilute" the suffering in the context of story. However, childhood suffering and death appear to truncate narratives, sometimes even to abolish them. Therefore, the suffering seems particularly meaningless, and it feels more "evil" and more devastating.

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Summary:

Dr. Thomas Graboys is an eminent Boston cardiologist who developed Parkinson's disease in his late 50s. Shortly after his wife died in 1998, Graboys noticed unusual fatigue and mental sluggishness. He attributed these symptoms to grief, but they continued and he later experienced episodes of stumbling, falling, and syncope. During 2003 Graboys confided to his diary that it was "increasingly difficult to express concepts." ( p. 30) He also noticed tremor, problems with dictation, and frequent loss of his train of thought, symptoms "typical of Parkinson's." (p. 24)

While Graboys recorded these concerns in his diary, outwardly he denied that anything was wrong, even to family and close friends.  In fact, his denial continued until the day in 2003 when a neurologist friend accosted him in the parking lot and pointedly asked, "Tom, who is taking care of your Parkinson's?" (p. 27) Dr. Graboys faced an even more difficult challenge in 2004 when he developed the vivid, violent dreams and memory lapses that led to a diagnosis of Lewy body dementia, a form of progressive dementia sometimes associated with Parkinson's disease. With the cat out of the bag at last, the author finally began to confront the issue of professional impairment. In mid-2005 Graboys's colleagues seized the initiative and told him that "it was the unanimous opinion of my colleagues that I was no longer fit to practice medicine." (p. 36)

Writing now with the assistance of journalist Peter Zheutlin, Graboys reviews these events with unblinking honesty. He confronts his anger and denial, but also reveals the thoughtful, generous and passionate side of his character. "What will become of me?' This is the question that now lies at the center of Dr. Graboys' personal world. He knows that his loss of mental and physical control will worsen. With almost superhuman effort and his family's strong support, the author has been able to adapt to his limitations and maintain a sense of meaning in his life. Will that continue? In a chapter entitled "End Game," he addresses the question of suicide. Reflecting on his condition, especially the dementia, Graboys asks, "Will I lose myself, my very essence, to this disease?" (p. 161)

In the last chapter, Graboys acknowledges that he has no "simple prescription that will help you or someone you love live a life beyond illness, or tell you how to tap the hope that lives within." (p. 181)  However, he then goes on to make several suggestions of the advice-manual variety: "Use your family and friends as motivation to live life with as much grace as you can muster." "Find a safe place... to unburden yourself of anger." "Acceptance is key to defusing anger, stress, and self-pity."  "Use your faith in God, if you believe in God."  (pp. 181-182)

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Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Essays)

Summary:

A thirty-five year old English professor (and brilliant writer) diagnosed with ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease) is told he has less than five years to live. Nine years later he publishes a series of 12 personal essays that chronicle his remarkable journey from diagnosis ("Getting Up in the Morning") to being mindful, "cultivating the eternal present" ("Living at the Edge"). He shares with us the interim of conundrums, spirituality, and the quotidian by reflecting on his New Hampshire life: Unfinished Houses, Wild Things, Mud Season, Winter Mind.

In almost every essay Simmons reflects on the rewards of "mystical seeing". We all have "within us this capacity for wonder, this ability to break the bonds of ordinary awareness and sense that though our lives are fleeting and transitory, we are part of something larger, eternal and unchanging." (p. 152) "Most of us have found that a line of poetry or scripture, a passage of music, the turning of a leaf in sunlight, or the sight of a child splashing in a stream can suddenly become a doorway through which, as William James writes, ’the mystery of fact, the wildness and the pang of life, steals into our hearts and thrills them.’" (p. 101)

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

Shay, a psychiatrist who specializes in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), juxtaposes the narrated memories of his patients who are Vietnam veterans to the story of Achilles in Homer's Iliad. He finds that the roots of their illness, like that of the ancient hero, lie in betrayal of duty by senior officers who failed to do "what's right," in the repression of grief, and in the social limitations imposed on expressions of love between men.

These stressors lead to guilt, wrongful substitution, and dangerous rage, called the "berserk" state. The mental pathology is fostered by an equally wrongful failure to honor the enemy; return to "normal" is never possible. The book concludes medically with recommendations for prevention.

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Father, Son, and CIA

Weinstein, Harvey

Last Updated: Dec-10-2009
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

A son’s story of his father’s illness, treatment, and resultant destruction by the "psychic-driving" experiments of Dr. Ewen Cameron at Montreal’s Allan Memorial Institute in the 1950’s. The effect of the father’s illness on the family is recounted, as is the son’s gradual realization, only when he is himself about to become a psychiatrist, that something abnormal must have taken place during those long hospitalizations. Weinstein tells other patient stories in some detail as he recounts the legal fight for compensation awarded finally in October, 1988.

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