Showing 181 - 190 of 248 annotations tagged with the keyword "Medical Advances"

Middlesex

Eugenides, Jeffrey

Last Updated: Nov-16-2003
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The narrator of this fictional autobiography is Cal Stephanides, an American of Greek descent with a hereditary 5-alpha-reductase deficiency that gives her the prepubertal anatomy (and thus the social upbringing) of a girl, but at puberty begins her transformation into ambiguity, then maleness, and then, gradually, masculinity.

The novel is a kind of biography, not just of Cal, but also of the mutant gene that causes her/his condition. It is transmitted from a small village in Smyrna, through his grandparents, who were also brother and sister and who married on the ship to America, apparently leaving behind family as well as national identity. Their Greekness and the gene come with them, and the consequences of their incest haunts Cal's grandmother, Desdemona, until the very end of the novel.

The family settles in Detroit, and a third biographical strand is the story of the Greek immigrant community in 20th century America, from Ford's assembly lines to bootlegging during the prohibition, through Detroit race riots and then to affluent suburbia.

Cal's family settles in the suburb of Middlesex, and the focus narrows to the individual. Calliope is raised as a girl, but in adolescence, Callie learns about hermaphroditism, narrowly escapes sex-assignment surgery, becomes a performer in a seventies sex show in San Francisco, and finally returns home to Middlesex, Grosse Point, Michigan, as a male. The story is framed by Cal's much later adult life as a man in Berlin, and his successful romance with a woman he meets there.

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Buying Dad

Aizley, Harlyn

Last Updated: Nov-16-2003
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

In this memoir, subtitled "One Woman's Search for the Perfect Sperm Donor," lesbian author and academic Harlyn Aizley confronts her approaching fortieth birthday by deciding to have a child. She and her partner, Faith, begin the process of choosing its biological father. The first major decision: a known or unknown sperm donor? Eventually they choose an unknown one, from a sperm bank with an identity-release program that will allow their child the option of meeting her biological father after she turns eighteen.

Aizley narrates, in absorbing and often very funny detail, the eight months it takes her to conceive, and then the nine months of pregnancy culminating in the birth of a daughter. Sad but telling counterpoints to this narrative are the terrorist attacks in September 2001, which occur during Aizley's pregnancy, and the experience of her mother, who dies three months after the baby's birth, of ovarian cancer.

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

This book, "a humanistically oriented sociocultural history of medicine" (p. x), focuses on the interactions between patient and doctor in western medicine from the nineteenth century through contemporary times. Furst, a Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, uses literary works to chronicle the changing patterns of medical practice, the social positions of doctors, and effects of medical education as they relate to "the doctor-patient alliance." (p. x) By "mapping cultural history in and through literature" (p. x), Furst enriches our understanding of the development of various roles and expectations of doctors and patients since approximately 1830.

The first chapter details the concept of the book and clarifies its purpose. Most histories of medicine concern famous discoveries, introductions of new technologies, and lives of renowned physicians and researchers, yet they neglect to examine patients' perspectives. Furst's mission is to reinstate patients into medical history and contemporary analysis. She chooses to focus on everyday-type of medicine, and more specifically, "to chart the evolution of the changing balance of power in the wake of the advances made in medicine in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, drawing on literary texts as sources." (p. 17)

The other seven chapters are topic oriented and placed in general chronological order. The chapters vary in the number of sources examined. For example, Chapter 2, "Missionary to the Bedside" is a comparative analysis of Anthony Trollope's Doctor Thorne (see this database) and Elizabeth Gaskell's Wives and Daughters, and Chapter 3, "Seeing-and Hearing-is Believing" almost exclusively concerns Middlemarch by George Eliot (see this database).

Other chapters, however, include commentary on more sources. A chapter on twentieth century hospital-based practice and medical education, "Eyeing the Institution," begins with a review of various films, television shows, and novels and follows with an in-depth comparative analysis of three autobiographical accounts of medical education and training: A Year-Long Night by Robert Klitzman, A Not Entirely Benign Procedure: Four Years as a Medical Student by Perri Klass (see this database), and Becoming a Doctor by Melvin Konner.

Furst examines the effect of gender on patient and physician experiences and expectations. In Chapter 4, "A Woman's Hand," five novels about "doctresses" (a term used for women doctors in the late nineteenth century) are compared. How and why the protagonists became doctors, what sacrifices they made, how patients viewed having a woman doctor, the range of solutions to career and/or marriage choices, and the personalities of the protagonists are some of the comparisons made. These novels are placed in historical context with information about the lives and attitudes of physicians such as Elizabeth Blackwell and Mary Putnam Jacobi.

Other topics include evaluations of the nineteenth century hospital, the role of research and the laboratory (Sinclair Lewis's Arrowsmith annotated by Felice Aull, also annotated by Pamela Moore and Jack Coulehan --see this database--and A. J. Cronin's The Citadel), and the impact of contemporary changes in reimbursement and management on the power relations in medicine. A sensitivity to the effects of language on power relations is a theme throughout the book, and is more fully examined in the final chapter, "Balancing the Power." After an analysis of several books by Oliver Sacks , and his attempts to truly understand his patients' perspectives, Furst concludes, "The balance of power cannot be even, but it must at least strive to be fair." (p. 251)

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The Heart of a Dog

Bulgakov, Mikhail

Last Updated: Oct-28-2003
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

A bedraggled street dog is about to perish in the cold winter night, after having been scalded by boiling water earlier in the day. Suddenly, an elegant man feeds him and takes him home. The dog's savior is a famous and wealthy medical professor who rejuvenates people by hormonal manipulations.

As soon as the dog becomes accustomed to his new life of plenty, he finds himself the subject of a strange experiment--the professor and his assistant implant the testicles and pituitary gland of a dead criminal into the dog's body. After a rocky post-operative course, the dog gradually begins to change into an animal in human form and names himself Poligraph Poligraphovich Sharik. The half-beast-half-man, who gets along very well in the prevailing proletarian society, turns his creator's life into a nightmare--until the professor manages to reverse the procedure.

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Annotated by:
Woodcock, John

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

This medical thriller begins with two crazed naked men escaping from an unmarked urban institutional building. One of them winds up in the Gramercy Hospital (NYC) Emergency Room under the care of the young Dr. Guy Luthan (Hugh Grant). The patient dies while exhibiting baffling symptoms and under suspicious circumstances. Dr. Luthan decides to investigate, against the advice of his boss, but with the assistance of ER nurse Jodie Trammel (Sarah Jessica Parker). Suddenly, police are breaking into his apartment and finding (obviously planted) cocaine. Luthan is fired by the hospital, his promising career apparently ruined by a faceless criminal conspiracy.

Still intrigued by the mystery patient, Luthan follows some street leads that take him to the Inferno-like caverns underneath Grand Central Station and the homeless people who live there. He is pursued by armed agents, is wounded, and wakes up in a hospital bed paralyzed from the neck down. Enter the prize-laden Dr. Lawrence Myrick (Gene Hackman), who explains to Luthan that he is trying to develop a medical procedure that will regenerate human nerve tissue and has been secretly using the homeless as guinea pigs. He rationalizes this practice on the basis of its huge potential benefits and tries to enlist Luthan on his side, explaining that his paralysis is temporary (but under Myrick's control) and in part an attempt to stir up Luthan's empathy for the patients who could be helped by Myrick's procedure if it is developed.

Of course, Luthan escapes from the bed. On the way out he encounters Myrick and his armed agents in the lobby, where there is one last round in the ethical debate before Myrick is accidentally killed by one of his henchman. Luthan's career is reconstituted, he is awarded a fellowship, and the film ends with Myrick's widow standing at the gate of the NYU School of Medicine giving Myrick's data to Luthan, saying that her husband was trying to do good but in the wrong way. She hopes that Luthan will use the data in the right way. Luthan smilingly enters a stone building with "Neurology" carved in the lintel.

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Annotated by:
Martinez, Richard

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

In Rethinking Life and Death: The Collapse of Our Traditional Values, Peter Singer argues that "the traditional western ethic has collapsed" as we enter "a period of transition in our attitude to the sanctity of life" (pp. 1). The book begins with the tale of Trisha Marshall, a twenty-eight year old woman, who in 1993 was seventeen weeks pregnant when a gunshot to her head left her in an intensive care unit, her body warm, her heart beating, a respirator supporting her breathing. However, she was brain dead.

Her boyfriend and her parents wanted the hospital to do everything possible so that the baby would be born. The ethics committee of the hospital supported the decision. For the next 100 days, Trisha Marshall continued to be supported in the ICU until her baby was delivered by cesarean birth. After a blood test showed that the boyfriend was not the father, and after three weeks in the intensive care unit, the baby went to live with Marshall's parents.

Singer uses this introduction to pose the many ethical questions that are raised because of medicine's ability to keep a "brain dead" body warm for an extended period of time. "How should we treat someone whose brain is dead, but whose body is still warm and breathing? Is a fetus the kind of being whose life we should make great efforts to preserve? If so, should these efforts be made irrespective of their cost? Shall we just ignore the other lives that might be saved with the medical resources required?

Should efforts to preserve the fetus be made only when it is clear that the mother would have wanted this? Or when the (presumed?) father or other close relatives ask for the fetus to be saved? Or do we make these efforts because the fetus has a right to life which could only be overridden by the right of the pregnant woman to control her own body--and in this case there is no living pregnant woman whose rights override those of the fetus?" (pp. 17-18).

In the chapters that follow, Singer argues that whether western society will acknowledge it or not, we have, in our actions and decisions, moved to an ethic where "quality of life" distinctions trump "sanctity of life" positions. Yet, many continue to raise the "sanctity of life" position when it is clear that our legal and ethical positions in western society have embraced the "quality of life" stance. For Singer, this paradox results in an incoherent and illogical approach to the ethical challenges presented by modern medicine.

Throughout his book, Singer presents evidence for his argument through ethical and historical analysis of brain death, abortion, physician assisted suicide and euthanasia, organ donation, and the nature of persons. For those uncomfortable with Singer's position on "infanticide," this book allows one to follow Singer's argument and his recommendations in the last chapter for a coherent approach to these "quality of life" decisions.

He closes his book with the recommendation that a new ethic should embrace five new commandments to replace the old "sanctity of life" commandments. His commandments are: 1) Recognize that the worth of human life varies; 2) Take responsibility for the consequences of our decisions (in end of life care); 3) Respect a person's desire to live or die; 4) Bring children into the world only if they are wanted; and 5) Do not discriminate on the basis of species.

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Summary:

This thorough and fascinating treatment of the politics of anatomy studies in 19th-century America provides a variety of perspectives on the vexed question of how appropriately to study human anatomy while also maintaining respect for the human body and honoring the various, deeply held community beliefs, and attitudes toward treatment of the dead. Sappol seeks, as he puts it, to "complicate the cultural history of medicine in late-eighteenth- and nineteenth-century America. . . by telling it from an anatomical perspective."

That statement of his objectives hardly suggests the startling range of approaches to the topic he takes in the book's nine chapters. These cover such issues as the legacies of belief about the "personhood" of the dead human body; the status of anatomy as both a legitimate and valuable study and also as an "icon of science"; the relationship of dissection and anatomy study to medical status and professionalization; the political tensions engendered by the "traffic in dead bodies" that most often expropriated corpses from marginalized communities; and the relationship of anatomy studies to sexual commerce and sensationalist fiction.

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Demon in the Freezer

Preston, Richard

Last Updated: May-10-2003
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Investigative Journalism

Summary:

This gripping narrative traces the history of the efforts to eradicate smallpox in the 1970s, the top-level decisions to keep a few vials of it for emergency purposes in American and Soviet freezers, and the reemergence of smallpox not only as a health threat, but as a potential bioweapon of unequaled destructive power. Preston details maverick natural cases that surfaced after worldwide eradication efforts, how it was discovered that undocumented reserves of smallpox were not only being kept, but researched and possibly "weaponized," and how hotly, in the US, teams of scientists and military intelligence personnel debated funding new smallpox research in the US with a view to developing a new vaccine as a defense.

The ethical issues in those debates are unprecedented in the scope of the possible public health threat and the variables that might make traditional vaccination ineffective against the weaponized virus. As in his previous books on biological threats, The Hot Zone and The Cobra Event (see annotation), Preston follows the work and lives of several key scientists and includes scenes from interviews with a variety of persons involved in confronting the political, ethical, and medical dilemmas posed by smallpox research and efforts to track and control it.

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Essays)

Summary:

This masterful collection of essays was written by Gawande while he was a general surgery resident. The book consists of fourteen essays divided into three sections: Fallibility, Mystery, and Uncertainty. Although some of the essays fall clearly within the boundaries of the section title (such as "When Doctors Make Mistakes" and "When Good Doctors Go Bad" in the Fallibility section), others cross boundaries or don’t fall as squarely in these general themes ("Nine Thousand Surgeons," an anthropological essay on the cult and culture of a major surgical convention, is also located in the Fallibility section). Nevertheless, the many pleasures of the individual essays, the range of topics explored in depth, and the accuracy of the medicine portrayed are the true strengths of this work.

The book begins Dragnet-style with an Author’s Note: "The stories here are true." (p. 1) And it is this attention to fidelity that makes the essays so compelling. Because even when the truths are hard--the terrible acknowledgment by the medical neophyte about lack of skill and knowledge, the mistakes in judgment at all levels of doctoring, the nature of power relations and their effects on medical pedagogy and on the doctor-patient relationship, the gnawing uncertainties about so many medical decisions--the author confronts the issues head on with refreshing rigor, grace and honesty.

Many of the essays reference scientific and medical research (historical and current) as part of the exploration of the topic. This information is imbedded within the essay, hence avoiding a dry recitation of statistical evidence. Typically, the reader’s interest in an essay is immediately piqued by a story about a particular patient. For example, the story of an airway emergency in a trauma patient, her oxygen saturation decreasing by the second as Gawande and the emergency room attending struggle to secure an airway, surgical or otherwise, sets the scene for "When Doctors Make Mistakes."

This leads to a meditation on not only the culture of the Morbidity and Mortality Conference, with its strange mix of third-person case narrative and personal acceptance of responsibility by the attending physician (see Bosk, Charles, Forgive and Remember: Managing Medical Failure, U. Chicago Press, 1981 for an in depth analysis of this culture), but also a positive examination of the leadership role that anesthesiologists have played in improving patient safety via research, simulator training and systems improvement.

Gawande’s journalistic verve takes him beyond the confines of his own hospital and training to interview patients and physicians on topics as diverse as incapacitating blushing ("Crimson Tide"), chronic pain ("The Pain Perplex"), malpractice and incompetence ("When Good Doctors Go Bad") and herniorraphy ("The Computer and the Hernia Factory"). In addition, he visits his own post-operative patients at home ("The Man Who Couldn’t Stop Eating" and "The Case of the Red Leg") which gives a longer view of postoperative recovery and a broader exposure to patients’ perspectives.

Some of the most telling moments come with the introduction of his children’s medical problems into the text. These range from the relatively straightforward (a broken arm, but a chance to comment on detection of child abuse in the emergency room) to the downright parental nightmare scary (severe congenital cardiac defect in their oldest child and a life-threatening respiratory infection in their prematurely born youngest).

These last two experiences are introduced to provide an angle on issues of choice. Choice of a fully trained, attending physician rather than a fellow to provide follow-up cardiac care for their oldest, and the choice to opt out of the decision-making process for whether to intubate the trachea of the youngest and hence leave the medical decisions up to the care team.

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Progressive Health

Dennis, Carl

Last Updated: Jan-22-2003
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

A corporate narrator ("We here at Progressive Health") thanks the poem's addressee (presumably the poet) for "being one of the generous few who've promised / To bequeath your vital organs to whoever needs them." However, the narrator goes on to point out that there is another, even more generous, step he could take, by "acting a little sooner than you expected." In fact, why not turn tomorrow morning's routine physical examination, which wouldn't ordinarily benefit anyone except the poet himself, into a splendid opportunity to save six lives?

Yes, indeed, at this very moment there are six persons whose lives are hanging by a thread in the ICU, and the poet is a good tissue match for every one of them. If he would agree to have his liver, spleen, lungs and kidneys removed, and transplanted into these patients, he would save six lives.

Of course, the poet would die, but look at the situation from a cost-benefit analysis: The poet, who is "an aging bachelor," has perhaps 20 more years of life left in him and the poems he might yet write--even assuming they are better than those he has thus far written--are not going to "raise one Lazarus from a grave / Metaphoric or literal." On the other hand, the six potential beneficiaries have a multiplier effect because of their husbands and wives, parents and children.

The great gratitude of so many people will mean that the poet will be remembered after death--"Summer and winter they'll visit your grave, in shifts, / For as long as they live, and stoop to tend it, / And leave it adorned with flowers . . ."

Alternatively, if he chooses selfishly to refuse, and to grow old and die, his friends will likely forget him after death; and, moreover, his conscience will probably be stricken by having failed to respond to these patients' needs. The poem concludes, "You could be a god, one of the few gods / Who, when called on, really listens?" [48 lines]

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