Showing 181 - 190 of 208 annotations in the genre "Memoir"

Vigil

Shapiro, Alan

Last Updated: Aug-15-2000
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Alan Shapiro, poet and professor of English at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, chronicles the life and death of his sister, Beth, who died of breast cancer at the age of 49. Beth lived the last four weeks of her life at a hospice in Texas--this memoir traces those weeks in particular and refracts them against decades of family dynamics, turmoil and triumph. The memoir is composed of 14 tersely named chapters ("The Death," "The Joke") followed by "Afterwords": six poems about Beth.

Alan is the youngest of 3 siblings; Beth was the oldest and David, an actor is the middle child. Despite, or perhaps because of their age difference, Beth and Alan were very close. It was he whom she asked to write her eulogy and it was he who stayed the entire 4 weeks of hospice, save for a brief trip home. From Alan's love and devotion grows an admiration for Beth's integrity in life and death.

Beth married an African-American man, fought for liberal causes, and suffered complete estrangement from her parents due to her choices. Her husband, Russ, must deal not only with the loss of his wife and their daughter's loss of her mother, but also with the prejudice of the Shapiro parents and the medical establishment. At one point Shapiro describes how, whenever he accompanied his sister and her husband to the doctor's office, Alan, not Russ, was treated as the spouse and decision-maker.

Shapiro vividly depicts the poignancy of parent-child relationships. Gabbi, the seven-year-old daughter who loves horses, gallops through the house with grace and abandon not possible at the hospice. Alan's anger at his father's actions and his forgiveness of his mother's accomplice role are also strongly demonstrated. A great strength of this book is the choice of detail: the mother completes a book of crossword puzzles during the vigil; the brother becomes infatuated with a particular joke he wants to memorize; nurses leave a solitary rose on the bed of the newly dead at the hospice.

Shapiro is keenly interested in being with his sister right at the moment of her death. He describes the end: "one long, deep, and profoundly eerie moan . . . That moan, I'm certain, marked the end of Beth, the end of life, though the body went on breathing for another minute or so, each breath a little fainter, weaker, the body's electricity guttering down, dissolving, till there was no breath at all." (pp. 111-2)

He also analyzes whether this was "a good death." There had been many gifts: Beth's recognition of her importance, her reconciliation with her father, and her acceptance of her mother's devotion. However, Shapiro also keeps the reader cognizant of Beth's suffering and the now motherless child, the spouseless husband and the myriad other ways that Beth's death marked a void.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

The author of this memoir is a poet and writer who developed systemic lupus erythematosis (SLE) during her first year at the University of Pennsylvania. Initially, her condition was difficult to diagnose, which led to her first negative encounters with physicians and the health care system. Later, Ms. Goldstein developed unusual neurological manifestations of SLE. Once again, she had trouble convincing her doctors that her symptoms were not only real, but also disabling. She was fortunate enough to come across a few good physicians who respected her as a person and earned her trust.

Despite her chronic illness, Ms. Goldstein thrived throughout college and graduate school. She approached each new challenge with such a positive attitude that some of her doctors considered her emotionally unstable. (I guess they thought it would be more "normal" for her to lose hope and turn herself into an invalid.) Her graduate work in literature focused on the new field of literature and medicine.

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In a Tangled Wood

Dyer, Joyce

Last Updated: Feb-29-2000
Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

In this lyrical, funny, sad, heartwarming work, Joyce Dyer takes us inside an Alzheimer's unit where she visits her mother daily and watches as she experiences the many absurdities and contradictions of this disease over several years. Dyer records not only the behavior of her mother and other patients in the unit but also her own feelings of worry, anger, frustration and then acceptance. The prose-poem style of this writing makes the work especially wonderful to read, because it is a work of art as well as a very helpful document.

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Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Registered Nurse, Muriel Murch decided, at mid-life, to return to college to obtain her BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing). She relates this odyssey through a series of generous and quirky letters written to her mother, her children, her husband, and, most strikingly, her deceased Uncle Harold, whose memory serves as Murch's spiritual touchstone.

The book works on two levels. Her struggles as an older woman and already-experienced nurse in a BSN program are delightfully detailed in letters to friends, but to Uncle Harold she reveals the turbulence of her quest: how at mid-life she must rethink her role as wife and mother and view patient care from a new perspective.

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A Whole New Life

Price, Reynolds

Last Updated: Jun-28-1999
Annotated by:
Borgenicht, Louis

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This is a personal narrative by one of America's most accomplished authors. For the past thirty years Reynolds Price has written novels, stories, poems, essays. In this memoir Price describes his battle with a spinal tumor detected in 1984 which left him with some neurological impairment. He struggled with his own rehabilitation and eventually recovered with the aid of biofeedback and hypnosis.

The most compelling part of the book is near the end. The author muses about the meaning of his illness, "advice I'd risk conveying to a friend confronted with grave illness or other physical or psychic trauma" (p.182). He puts the travails of life into a philosophical perspective that is almost Zen-like.

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Life Work

Hall, Donald

Last Updated: May-17-1999
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

The poet Donald Hall reflects in this journal-memoir on the meaning of work and "a life's work." He describes his daily life and work over a period of three months, interspersed with stories about his family, particularly his New Hampshire grandparents on whose farm Hall now lives.

Halfway through the book, Hall discovers that his colon cancer has metastasized to the liver. He undergoes surgery to remove part of his liver and subsequently recovers from the immediate effects of surgery. At the end of the book, he is ready to begin chemotherapy.

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Perri Klass, who had already written of her medical school education (A Not Entirely Benign Procedure: Four Years as a Medical Student, see this database), took notes, made dashed journal entries, and saved sign-out sheets and other written memorabilia during her internship and residency in pediatrics at The Children’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. Because she is a writer, she looked at her experiences in medical training with an eye towards what stories were happening. This book then is a compendium of stories and essays (some previously published) about Klass’s pediatrics training.

Klass reflects on the difficulties of being a writer and physician: "I have been a double parasite, not only learning off patients, but also writing about them, turning the agonies of sick children into articles, using them to point little morals either about my own development as a doctor or about the dilemmas of modern medicine." (p. 297) But she also notes the benefits of writing during training: "between life at the hospital and with my family, it seemed that all my time was spoken for, and spoken for again. I needed some corner of my life which was all my own, and that corner was writing . . . I could describe the astonishing contacts with life and death which make up everyday routine in the hospital." (p. xvii)

Part of the book concerns issues of women in medicine; Klass debunks the mystique of the "superwoman"--the professional, wife and mother rolled up into one incredible ball of efficiency and perfection--with a month of laundry spilling over the floor. Klass, as a successful writer, struggles with this label and includes an essay on her experiences with a "crazy person" who anonymously and publicly accuses her of plagiarism in the midst of the stress and responsibilities of residency.

However, most of the book is about being a new doctor--the terror, the patients, the procedures, the other doctors and staff. She writes of first nights in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, delivery room crises, adolescents with chronic illnesses, and her struggles as a sleep and time deprived mother.

She addresses difficult issues: moral dilemmas, suffering, loss, the rape and abuse of children, children with AIDS. Throughout the book is a concern for the patient’s experience, as well as the doctor-in-training’s experience. After her first night on call caring for very premature infants she notes: "Maybe my first patient and I have more in common than I realized: we are both too immature to be out in the world, but with a lot of help, we may just make it." (p. 15)

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Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Anne Finger, a writer and disabled activist whose childhood polio left her with a disability, tells the story of her pregnancy, her birth experience at home and in the hospital, and the serious health problems her newborn son experienced.

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Raising Lazarus

Pensack, Robert

Last Updated: Jan-13-1999
Annotated by:
Martinez, Richard

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Dr. Pensack writes in the first chapter of his memoir: "Through a lifetime I have been in the process of dying, consistently surprised when reminded that life is appallingly brief, and briefer still for me. The prospect of an early death has amounted to little more than embarrassment and loneliness, even though the routine of living can be, and usually is, just one goddamn thing after another. A new heart was somehow supposed to be my bloody-red carpet of victory." (p. 7)

At age 4, Pensack's mother died of IHSS, Idiopathic Hypertrophic Subaortic Stenosis--now known as HCM, Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, a genetically inherited, progressive disease of heart muscle that results in early death. At age 15, Pensack receives the terrible news of his own fate--the disease afflicts both Pensack and his older brother--and thus launches a life of near death experiences, numerous hospitalizations, early experiences at the National Institutes of Health with early investigators of the disease, pursuit of his own medical training and eventual specialty training in psychiatry, marriage and children, and ultimately, the waiting and eventual transplantation of a younger man's heart into his chest at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center when Pensack was 43.

Raising Lazarus tells of Pensack's journey through much of this, including his descent into madness, his fury and anger with medical colleagues, his poignant relationship with the heart surgeon who eventually performs the transplant, and the importance of his family in his refusal to die. While much of the book tells of the events leading to the transplant and post-operative period of Pensack's life, the reader learns of Pensack's early losses, including the death of his mother, and how these experiences shape the values of a gutsy and determined survivor, a man who continually returns to the struggle.

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Healing Lessons

Winawer, Sidney

Last Updated: Sep-30-1998
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Sidney Winawer is a New York physician specializing in gastrointestinal cancers. When his wife, Andrea, is diagnosed with stomach cancer, he is made to see his own work from a new perspective, that of the patient and her family. The experience gives him new insights into aspects of health care he had not considered before, such as the alienating effects of some hospital routines on patient and family, the patient's need to find hope from any source, regardless of its intellectual provenance, and, encouragingly, the life-enhancing effects on his family as they join Andrea in her determined struggle to prolong and enrich whatever time remains for her.

For the first time, Winawer explores alternative and complementary approaches to cancer treatment, including meditation, antioxidant therapies, hyperthermia, and other attempts to stimulate the immune system. At first resistant, he comes to recognize the need for the terminally ill and their families to have access to as many resources as possible, and eventually it becomes his "mission" to emphasize the need for practitioners of conventional medicine to learn as much as possible about integrative medicine.

An interesting subplot is the story of Dr. Casper Schmidt, Andrea's psychiatrist, whose remarkable knowledge of new treatments for terminal illness is explained when he dies of AIDS. As another physician led by personal experience of disease to explore beyond the boundaries of conventional therapies, Schmidt forms an illuminating counterpoint to Winawer himself.

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