Showing 181 - 190 of 228 annotations tagged with the keyword "Humor and Illness/Disability"

The Heavenly Ladder

Coulehan, Jack

Last Updated: May-02-2002
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

The Heavenly Ladder is physician-poet Jack Coulehan's most recent chapbook, bringing together 48 poems, many of which have been published individually in various medical journals and literary magazines. The collection is divided into four sections.

Poems in the first section, "Medicine Stone," are written in the voice of patients or in the voice of the physician who treats them. The second section, "So Many Remedies," consists of five poems inspired by physician-author Chekhov. The poems of "The Illuminated Text" section reflect a wide-ranging interest in people who lived in distant times or in distant places. The final section, "Don't Be Afraid, Gringo," stays, for the most part, closer to home and includes a number of poems addressed to, or about, family members.

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The Transparent Man

Hecht, Anthony

Last Updated: Apr-08-2002
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The poem begins, "I'm mighty glad to see you, Mrs. Curtis." The speaker is a woman who is dying of leukemia and Mrs. Curtis is the lady who comes around periodically with the book-cart, offering patients something to read. While the other patients are celebrating the holiday with family or friends, the speaker, who has no visitors, feels conspicuous and lonely. Thus, she is grateful for Mrs. Curtis' regular visit, especially since the book-cart lady appears willing to sit down and listen.

The patient's father is afraid to visit, since he knows "that I will predecease him / which is hard enough." Chemotherapy hasn't helped. The leukemia makes her so fatigued that she doesn't even feel like reading. So instead, she sits by the window and looks at the trees. Since the leaves have fallen, the trees look like "magnificent enlargements / Of the vascular system of the human brain."

The patient has given names to these "discarnate minds." For example, "there, near the path, / Is the great brain of Beethoven, and Kepler / Haunts the wide spaces of that mountain ash." These trees remind her of "The Transparent Man," a toy one of her friends had when they were girls. "It was made of plastic, with different colored organs, / And the circulatory system all mapped out / In rivers of red and blue." At the time she and her friend giggled, but now she remembers the intricacy with amazement, and stares at the riddle of the trees.

The dying patient decides not to take one of the books, but thanks Mrs. Curtis again for coming. [120 lines]

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Tourette's Journey

Richman, Jan

Last Updated: Apr-08-2002
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

This poem employs language in ways that are characteristic of the involuntary outbursts seen in patients with Gilles de la Tourette's syndrome. The devices include frequent obscenities, word repetition, and a jerky, spasmodic forward motion. The male Tourette patient is thwacking "the roof of the car, knuckles / calloused and winking . . . " He is driving with his wife beside him, patting her thigh, "her thighs are warm as kettles, your palms moist / as hiss . . . " Whatever it is that happens in the last stanza, he becomes excited, "god damn, god fucking / damn, and god bless." [30 lines]

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Before I Say Goodbye

Picardie, Ruth

Last Updated: Feb-19-2002
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Ruth Picardie was a journalist working in London. Shortly after her marriage in 1994 to Matt Seaton, also a journalist, she found a breast lump. After testing, she was told it was benign. Two years later, and a year after giving birth to twins, the lump enlarged and this time she was diagnosed with advanced, inoperable breast cancer. She rapidly developed bone, liver, and brain metastases and died in September 1997, aged 33.

This book consists of a selection of Picardie's e-mail correspondence during the last year of her life, the columns she wrote for the Observer newspaper (a series about dying she called "Before I say goodbye"), readers' letters responding to her column, and an introduction and epilogue by her husband. While not, then, strictly a memoir, this collection of texts constitutes an intimate view of a witty, angry young woman undergoing an intolerable illness.

The expected elements are there: diagnosis, chemotherapy, radiation, hope, the loss of hope. What is unexpected is the way these are presented, and the vividness with which we share the prospect of saying good bye to her children, her gradual detachment from her husband, and, as the brain metastases spread, the loss of coherence and the appalling silencing of her powerful voice.

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The Nose

Gogol, Nikolai

Last Updated: Feb-07-2002
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Collegiate Assessor Kovalyov wakes up one morning and discovers that his nose is missing. At the same time in another part of St. Petersburg, Kovalyov's barber finds the nose in his breakfast roll. However, the barber, desiring to disassociate himself from the strange incident, proceeds to toss the nose into the Neva River. A little later, Kovalyov happens to see his nose riding in an elegant carriage and wearing the uniform of a State Councillor (a higher rank than Collegiate Assessor). He demands that the nose give itself up, but is rudely rebuffed.

At first neither the police nor the newspaper offer any help, but later a police officer, who happened to observe the barber throwing an object into the river, returns the lost nose to Kovalyov. However, a new problem arises. How will he re-attach the nose to his face? For this he consults a doctor, who recommends letting nature take its course, "it's best to stay as you are, otherwise you'll only make it worse." Poor nose-less Kovalyov! He becomes the laughing stock of St. Petersburg, until one morning he wakes up and finds his nose re-attached firmly to his face.

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Hearing Impairment

Murray, Les

Last Updated: Dec-27-2001
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

Hearing loss? Yes, loss is what we hear / who are starting to go deaf. This humorous poem surveys the specific deficits and behaviors that people develop as they progressively lose their hearing. Eventually they reach the point of needing hearing aids and being "wired / back into a slightly thinned world / with a faint plastic undertone to it."

An especially disabling (and potentially humorous) aspect of hearing loss is the inability to decipher speech. The poem provides several examples of garbled interpretation. In the first stanza, "the sad surrealism of the deaf" becomes "dad's a real prism of the Left, " thereby giving a verbal and visual example of the meaning of the phrase. Another illustration: "Hearing Impairment" ends with the line "I'm sorry, sir. It's a red alert!" An urgent statement that earlier in the stanza the hearing-impaired narrator has understood to mean, "a warrior is a ready flirt." [50 lines]

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The Fixed Period

Trollope, Anthony

Last Updated: Nov-01-2001
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In the late 20th century, Britannula, an island near New Zealand, has achieved its independence from Great Britain. Settled by a group of young men some 30 years before the action of this novel, Britannula has developed into a prosperous land governed by a President and a single-house legislative body, the Assembly. They have adopted a great social experiment called the "Fixed Period," by which the society and its citizens will avoid the suffering, decrepitude, and expense of old age. At age 67 each person will be "deposited" into a lovely, carefree "college" (Necropolis) where he or she will spend one delightful year before being euthanized.

The story takes place just as the time approaches for Gabriel Crasweller, a wealthy landowner and good friend of President Neverbend, to be deposited. Crasweller is the first citizen to have lived out his Fixed Period, and the President, whose brainchild the Fixed Period is, experiences a conflict between his love for Crasweller--who inexplicably does not want to die--and his determination to carry out the law. Mounting resistance to the Fixed Period among the older citizens (including his wife) also surprises Neverbend, although the Assembly, composed mostly of young people, reaffirms the law. Just as Crasweller is led off to Necropolis, a British gunship arrives in port to relieve Neverbend of his duties as President and re-establish direct control of Britannula.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)

Summary:

This is a collection of humorous sketches first published in 1850. They purport to describe the youthful experience (and antics) of an elderly "swamp doctor" named Dr. Madison Tensas. In fact, they are the work of Henry Clay Lewis, a young Jewish-American doctor who, after graduating from the Louisville Medical Institute in 1846, set up practice in MADISON County, Louisiana, along the banks of the TENSAS River.

The Introduction of this edition, written by Edwin T. Arnold, locates Henry Clay Lewis and his work within the context of 19th Century "South and Southwest Humor," and briefly discusses each piece. One of his major points is that the swamp doctor's "odd leaves" contain a dark, almost Gothic strain, thoroughly mixed in with their humorous and prankish sensibility. (Perhaps "lack of sensibility" would be a better phrase to use to describe these sketches.)

The first brief sketch compares characteristics of the "city physician" with the "swamp doctor." After this, we follow the growth and development of "Dr. Tensas" from childhood through medical school and into his practice in the swamp country of Louisiana. Among the more notable sketches are "Getting Acquainted with the Medicine," in which the student's preceptor conceals his bottle of whiskey by labeling it "tincture of arsenic"; "The Curious Widow," in which the student prepares a gristly surprise for his snooping landlady; "Being Examined for My Degree," which demonstrates the comic vagaries of oral examinations; "My First Call in the Swamp," in which the newly minted doctor cures his first patient (more or less); and "How to Cure Fits," which presents a novel and efficient treatment for hysterical disorders.

If you want to find some genuine clinical wisdom in this book, look no further than "My First Call in the Swamp," where the author observes, "if you wish to ruin yourself in the estimation of your female patients, hint that the disease they are laboring under is connected with hysterics" (p. 146).

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

A tiny figure slowly emerges from a vast expanse of snow, and a succession of short essays recreate moments in the life of the brilliant Canadian pianist, Glenn Gould (Colm Feore). From his unusual Ontario childhood to his musical debuts on the international stage, to his eccentric living, performing, dressing, driving, waking, and sleeping habits, this film offers insights into his loneliness, hypochondria, polypharmacy, and tragic death from a stroke at age 50 in 1982. The artistic vignettes are enriched by a tender humour, the intimate recollections of real-life friends, the abstract beauty of piano keys in motion, and above all, Gould's immortal playing.

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Annotated by:
Dittrich, Lisa

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Patsy (Genevieve Lemon), a middle-aged wife and mother of three grown daughters and a son (Russell Dykstra), is dying of cancer. Her children return home to spend time with and care for their mother in her final days. Each family member and Patsy's sometimes charming, sometimes abusive husband, Vic (Linal Haft), must face conflicts past and present as well as reconcile themselves to their mother's dying.

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