Showing 181 - 190 of 204 annotations in the genre "Memoir"

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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Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

In 1996, George Delury was sentenced to four months in jail for assisting in the suicide of his wife, Myrna Lebov. In this book, Delury tells the story of his marriage, his wife's struggle with multiple sclerosis, her decision to end her life, his own role in helping her achieve this, and the subsequent legal and media ramifications that culminated in his indictment.

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All the Days of His Dying

Frick, Marlena

Last Updated: Aug-17-1998
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

The author narrates this account of the death of her husband, Miecu, a Polish physician, from cancer of the esophagus. The couple meet in 1954, marry in 1962, and in 1966 Miecu is found to have "heart trouble" and some "gastric problems." A gastrectomy is performed, but the cancer has metastasized and, after more surgery, his wife takes him home, and cares for him until he dies.

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Outside Passage

Scully, Julia

Last Updated: Aug-17-1998
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Subtitled, A Memoir of an Alaskan Childhood, this spare, compelling work recalls young Julia's difficult and unusual life in a splintered family living "at the edge of the world." When Julia was born in 1929 the family had just moved to Seattle and entered an economic crisis--"somehow, my father had been bilked out of their money." (17) The marriage went downhill as poverty and the father's serious illness compounded an underlying conjugal incompatibility.

Julia was only seven years old when she and her older sister Lillian found their father dead--a suicide. "Nothing is said about how my father died, or even, in fact, that he is dead." (8) Not long thereafter Julia's mother, Rose, without any explanation or advance warning, left the girls at the Pacific Hebrew Orphan Asylum; there they remained for two years. Rose went to Nome, Alaska to try to find work. "Meanwhile, I strive to be a model orphan. I do all my chores . . . I'm quiet, do well in school, am extremely polite. And most of the time, I'm afraid." (33)

There follows another stay in a different orphanage. Here "I never hear my name . . . No one ever touches me. And, in my memory of that time, that place, I am always alone." (72) Finally, they join their mother again in a remote mining outpost of Alaska where Rose operates a roadhouse. Moving with the seasons back and forth between the outpost and the city of Nome, Julia's life takes on a semblance of normalcy. The environment is strange but interesting, the men who frequent the roadhouse are rough but friendly--there is a sense of camaraderie.

As Julia reaches puberty she becomes subliminally aware of a relationship between her mother and the owner of the Nome liquor store, Cappy. Cappy is married--his family is back in Seattle. There is never any open display of affection between Cappy and Rose, but he eats his meals with them and is almost a surrogate father to Julia and her sister. Suddenly Rose decides to move the family to Fairbanks. Here there is a "secret scenario" that Julia only pieces together many years later. As the events unfold in Fairbanks, Julia knows only that her mother is "distracted, not there." And that a man "carrying a small black satchel" comes to the house and leaves her mother moaning in bed.

Once more, Rose leaves her now teenaged children behind as she returns to Nome. It is wartime and Lillian and Julia find jobs at the military base in Fairbanks. As suddenly as they came to Fairbanks, they are summoned back to Nome--no questions asked, no explanations given. Cappy's son is missing in action. Once again, Julia cannot understand the silence, the absence of grief displayed--"Isn't anybody sad? Isn't anybody upset?" (181) Rose's relationship with Cappy quietly ends.

As Julia finishes high school she fantasizes about leaving Nome, going to college, becoming a journalist--fantasies inspired by Rosalind Russell's role in the film, His Girl Friday, and by Sinclair Lewis's critique of small town life in the novel, Main Street. "I begin to discern, vaguely, tentatively, that somewhere there exists a world where the accepted language is the one that Sinclair Lewis speaks--a language of ideas and, even, of feelings." (212) Indeed, as the book jacket notes, the author graduated from Stanford and became a magazine editor; she lives in Manhattan.

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Return to Ithaca

Newborn, Barbara

Last Updated: Apr-16-1998
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

At the age of 21, shortly after moving to Ithaca, New York, to begin a new life with her fiance, the author experienced a stroke that left her aphasic and partially paralyzed. She returned home to Altoona, Pennsylvania, where she underwent months of physical therapy and rehabilitation.

This memoir takes us through the process of self-discovery by which Barbara Newborn learned first to understand and cope with her disabilities and then to overcome them. It recounts her depression and determination, her disappointment and exhilaration. Return to Ithaca ends about nine months after the stroke when the author had indeed returned to Ithaca to begin (once again) a new life.

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