Showing 21 - 30 of 3322 annotations

The Winter Soldier

Mason, Daniel

Last Updated: Jun-20-2020
Annotated by:
Field, Steven

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

When The Winter Soldier opens, Lucius Kszelewski, youngest son of a patrician Polish family living in Vienna, is on a train bound in the dead of winter for a field hospital in the Carpathian Mountains.  It is 1915, and Austria-Hungary is at war with Russia.  Lucius, a medical student, has completed only six semesters of medical school, but World War I has intervened, and due to a shortage of physicians in the army the government has decreed that students may graduate early, become doctors, and immediately be commissioned.   Lucius has done so and is on his way to Lemnowice, a Galician village, where he believes he will work with other physicians and finally learn to be “a real doctor.” 

When he arrives, he finds that the hospital is an expropriated village church overrun by rats and ravaged by typhus, and he is the only physician.  The hospital is run by a nun, Sister Margarete, assisted only by orderlies, and the patient load runs the gamut from fractures and gunshot wounds to gangrenous legs and massive head trauma.  The front is only a few kilometers away, and the wounded arrive continuously; the quiet and formal Sister Margarete confidently and  surreptitiously guides him through rounds, surgeries, and battlefield medicine.  Lucius is initially wary of her, perhaps a bit awed by her, and ultimately falls in love with her.    

The transforming event is the arrival of the winter soldier, Jozsef Horvath, brought in from the snow mute and shell-shocked, but with no visible wounds.  Lucius is fascinated by diseases of the brain and mind, and this patient presents a tremendous challenge.  Lucius is sure that Horvath has “war neurosis,” what the British physicians of the time were calling shell shock and what we today would call PTSD, and he is determined to understand and heal him.  Lucius and Margarete make slow progress with their patient, but his attempts to care for Horvath have unintended effects, and Lucius must then deal with the consequences of his actions.  

The war, and the hospital routine, go on.  One day, while Lucius and Margarete are relaxing in the woods, Lucius asks her to marry him.  Margarete runs off, and Lucius returns to the village, but Margarete is not there.  While Lucius and the staff search for her, Lucius gets lost; he stumbles onto a battlefield and is dragooned into service with a regiment of the Austrian infantry.  He escapes and tries to make his way back to the field hospital, and to Margarete, but Lemnowice has fallen to the Russians.  The hospital has been evacuated—and Margarete has disappeared.   Lucius’ search for her will take him across the war-torn remnant of the Empire.

View full annotation

Hidden Valley Road

Kolker, Robert

Last Updated: Jun-15-2020
Annotated by:
Glass, Guy

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Summary:

The Galvins of Hidden Valley Road, just outside Colorado Springs, appear to be the kind of wholesome, all-American family that others might envy.  The tragic fact is that six of the twelve children go on to develop schizophrenia, a situation that is practically unprecedented.  In Hidden Valley Road, journalist Robert Kolker gives us the tale of the deterioration of six afflicted children and the traumatization of six healthy ones in an improbable, bucolic setting.  As one after the other reaches young adulthood in this “funhouse-mirror reflection of the American dream” (p. xxi) and inexorably succumbs to madness, the family struggles to cope.   

In their search for answers, the Galvins’s extraordinary circumstances come to the attention of researchers.  Ultimately, although there is no cure, the family makes a contribution through their genes to our understanding of schizophrenia, as a mutation is discovered that is shared by the afflicted children.   

Hidden Valley Road follows the travails of this “multiplex schizophrenia” family over so many years that there is a sea change in our understanding of the disease’s origins.  At first, it is taken for granted to be the result of a faulty upbringing at the hands of “schizophrenogenic” parents.  Later, biological explanations prevail.  Finally, a more balanced view is attained, with nature and nurture each thought to play a role.  

View full annotation

Pain Studies

Olstein, Lisa

Last Updated: Jun-10-2020

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

“All pain is simple” reads the opening sentence of this unusual and striking book. The next sentence reads, “And all pain is complex.” These two sentences foreshadow many puzzles to come: how do we live between chaos and control? Why can’t doctors figure migraines out? Why don’t they agree on a treatment for a particular patient? Olstein is a poet and long-term migraine sufferer. Her book offers many observations about pain, and her attempts to define it, describe it, and plumb its nature through language. There is no linear narrative or argument, rather 38 very brief chapters—usually three to five pages—and many of these could be read in a different order. 

Olstein uses the terms “studies” and “research” for her efforts to capture pain, to explain it, and to understand the cause(s) of her disease. Her mother had migraines; women have three times the rate of men; she had a childhood head injury. Do any of these factors explain her disease? No. And what treatments work? She lists some 50 drugs/supplements/activities she has tried to deal with her illness. None of these have worked in a definitive way. Further, she lists some 30 side-effects she has experienced from these various treatments (pp. 74-75). She has had multiple migraines, one lasting three months, but she also says drugs keep pain at bay: “mostly the medication does work” (p 90).

Some disparate figures help her focus her inquiry: Joan of Arc (possibly a migraine sufferer), the TV character Dr. Gregory House (racked with chronic pain, he is an opioid addict), Virginia Woolf, and Hildegard of Bingen (possibly a migraine sufferer). Also ancient writers such as Lucretius, Pliny the Elder, and Antiphon the Sophist, and contemporaries from different fields, such as mathematics and neurology. Also she refers to poems by Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Bishop, and C. D. Wright, as well as to an article on gendered literature by Siri Hustvedt. 

Largely written during a writing residency, these are incisive notes plus associations as she plumbs not only her illness but also her responses—as poet, as thinker, as searcher for healing—to the bizarre, long, difficult path of her migraines. (We have only brief mentions of her personal and family life.) While she refers to some scientific literature, it is more often that her insights come from artistic fields such a literature, sculpture, drama, and popular music. She writes that her work with a therapist over a dozen years has been helpful to her.

There is no conclusion…nor can there be. Her illness, treatment, and writing are all works in progress. Patients are different; doctors are different; science evolves. In their many forms and presentations, migraines are mysterious and complex, as this book creatively and powerfully shows. Olstein writes, “The beauty, the love, is in what we perceive” (p. 144). We may take this observation as the guiding principle for the book.   

View full annotation

The Eye in the Door

Barker, Pat

Last Updated: Jun-08-2020
Annotated by:
Field, Steven

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The Eye in the Door is the second volume in Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy (the first and third volumes, Regeneration and The Ghost Road are also annotated in this database).  It continues the story of Dr. William Rivers and the soldiers he treats for shell shock, what we today would call Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, in World War I era Britain.  The action has now shifted from Craiglockhart War Hospital, near Edinburgh, to London; and while Rivers remains a primary character, seeing patients now at a London clinic, this volume focuses on Rivers’ relationship with Billy Prior, an officer who was treated at Craiglockhart after a service-related nervous breakdown. 

Billy Prior, released from service on the Front and now serving on “home duty,” is working in the Intelligence Unit of the Ministry of Munitions, a domestic information-gathering and surveillance unit.  England, on wartime footing, is rife with paranoia and conspiracy theories, and the primary objects of state surveillance are two groups of people felt to be disloyal or untrustworthy:  conscientious objectors, or “conchies,” and homosexuals, who are seen as both abnormal and subversive.  The state is unremitting in its hounding and pursuit of these two groups, and is in fact “the eye in the door,” always watching and ready to pounce. 

Although Billy is an officer and has a position in the surveillance apparatus, he is living a double life, and is doubly at risk in this environment.  He is bisexual; the book opens with him failing to complete the seduction of a young woman and promptly thereupon having a liaison with a fellow officer whose wife and children are out of town.  This officer, who also works in the Ministry, has been vaguely threatened about his association with the presumed network of homosexual subversives.   In addition, while Billy is not a pacifist, he has friends from his childhood in working-class northern England who are conscientious objectors.  These friends may or may not have participated in terrorist activities, are either currently in jail or wanted by the police, and are no surer than Billy is as to exactly whose side he is on.  

Prior plays a dangerous double game, attempting to use his position in the government to help his old friends, and continuing treatment with Dr. Rivers, as his past psychological traumas continue to intrude upon, and complicate, his personal and professional lives, building to a powerful conclusion.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Brinker, Dustin

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Graphic Novel

Summary:

Compendium 1 (Volumes 1-8)
Taking place in a post-apocalyptic United States, these graphic novels follow the life and legacy of a former county police officer named Rick Grimes as he and those he encounters learn to survive and thrive in a world beset by zombies. The story begins in medias res as Rick awakens from a coma after being shot on the job a few weeks earlier. He finds himself in a seemingly deserted hospital and stumbles upon a sealed room, inside which walks dozens of decaying, groaning human bodies seeking to consume him. He flees the hospital to find a desolate landscape. In his home neighborhood, he runs into a father and son who tell him that the last national broadcast said for people to head to large cities for military protection. Thinking that his wife and son may have heeded the advice, Rick gathers what he can from police headquarters and begins toward Atlanta, the nearest large city. Galloping into Atlanta on horseback, he is overwhelmed by a large number of the undead. A young man named Glenn comes to his rescue, bringing him to a makeshift camp of roughly a dozen people. There, Rick finds his wife and 7-year-old son Carl along with his former police partner and a young woman named Andrea. Mishaps and death ensue, forcing the group to travel in search of more secure housing and food. It is revealed that everyone will become one of the undead upon death, bitten or not.  They eventually find a prison after leaving behind a small farm run by a tightknit, religious family with skewed notions of the undead, one member of which, Maggie, becomes romantically involved with Glenn and joins Rick’s group. After ridding the grounds of the undead, termed Roamers, the group encounters inmates who had been holed up inside. Conflict follows distrust, yet the leadership remains with Rick’s group. The group’s numbers are bolstered when a middle-aged black woman named Michonne arrives carrying a katana and accompanied by two jawless, undead guards. Soon after, the group encounters Woodbury, a hostile community led by a man calling himself the Governor. Members are taken hostage, and Michonne is brutally tortured and raped. The group manages to escape and return to the prison, but only after Michonne returns to claim revenge on the Governor, torturing, maiming, and leaving him for dead. The Governor survives and leads an assault on the prison, resulting in the separation of most characters and the deaths of many others, including Rick’s wife and their recently delivered baby. Only Rick and Carl are shown leaving the carnage alive.  

Compendium 2 (Volumes 9-16)
Rick and Carl survive on their own for a bit until they encounter three individuals in a large truck heading to Washington D.C. They are under the false assumption that one of the new group’s members, Eugene, knows how to cure the undead pandemic. Shortly after discovering his falsehood, the group is introduced to and integrated into a walled community near DC known as Alexandria, a haven of houses, electricity, and running water. Battles arise with scavengers, resulting in compromised walls, injury, and more death. While searching for supplies, the group encounters a man dubbed Jesus who is acting as a recruiter for another walled off community called the Hilltop. Rick ventures to the Hilltop with the hopes of rebuilding civilization, only to learn that their community is plagued by a pseudo-mercenary group known as the Saviors; “protection” from Roamers is forced upon the Hilltop by the Saviors in exchange for half of all food and supplies. To free the Hilltop and gain favor for trade, Rick agrees to challenge and eliminate the Saviors along with their leader Negan.

Compendium 3 (Volumes 17-24)
Upon confrontation, the Saviors pin Rick’s vanguard, and Negan savagely kills Glenn in front of a pregnant Maggie, using a barbed-wire-wrapped baseball bat named Lucille to do so. Negan forces obeisance from Rick, albeit under a vow from Rick to kill him. Returning to Alexandria, Rick’s group returns to normalcy, appearing to acquiesce to the demands of Negan. Unbeknownst to most of those under his care, Rick embarks with Jesus to enlist the leader of another community known as the Kingdom in an allied war effort against Negan and the Saviors. Rick’s arrival coincides with that of Negan’s lieutenant Dwight who also seeks to overthrow Negan. The four of them begin war preparations. Despite misfortunes, the allied group comes out victorious. Rather than kill Negan, Rick vows to keep him prisoner for life so that he may see how the communities rebuild civilization. The following new leadership is established: Rick and Andrea, now romantically involved, as the heads of Alexandria; Dwight as commander of the Saviors and their community, the Sanctuary; and Maggie as the chief of the Hilltop. The four communities effectively rebuild a functional society in the next two years, establishing a safe trade route and taking in stragglers as they find them. Eventually the communities face a new danger in the form of a wild group called the Whisperers, who disguise themselves in the skins of Roamers and follow a wolfpack social hierarchy, when they accidentally encroach on the unmarked territory of the latter. The leader of this group, known as Alpha, infiltrates the first community fair held by Rick’s people, covertly snatches away many members, and uses their undead heads as signposts to mark the boundary between territories.

Compendium 4 (Volumes 25-32)
In the shuffle of Rick and his communities declaring war on the Whisperers, Negan jailbreaks and manages to kill Alpha as a sign of good faith with Rick. The established communities survive the war, suffering enormous casualties in the elimination of the Whisperers. Meanwhile, Eugene discovers the existence of another large community in Ohio using a repaired CB radio. A team, including Eugene and Michonne, gathers for the long journey there. The results are beyond reasoning: an incredibly large community dubbed the Commonwealth. This community gives the appearance that an apocalypse never occurred, relying upon the class system of the old, pre-undead world to establish order. Amazingly, Michonne reconnects with one of her long-lost daughters and chooses to remain in the Commonwealth by resuming her old vocation as a lawyer. She attempts to mitigate underlying tensions between the classes of this newfound community, but ultimately fails to quell the waves of indignation and retribution from the labor classes towards their privileged elite. Rick and his crew inadvertently add the final spark to the brewing civil war within the Commonwealth, a war which is only narrowly stopped through Rick’s diplomacy and abdication of leadership from current governor. Despite the now solidified union of a new civilization, Rick is murdered by the self-righteous son of the deposed leader, never living to see the fruition of the new coalition. The story ends from the perspective of Carl living in a civilized, nearly undead-free world decades after Rick’s death. The final events reveal the glorification of Rick Grimes and his contributions during what is now known as the Trials.  

View full annotation

The Flight Portfolio

Orringer, Julie

Last Updated: May-21-2020
Annotated by:
Trachtman, Howard

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction — Secondary Category: Literature /

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Historical fiction, the artistic space that exists between actual persons and events and a writer’s imaginative ability to create a new story, is an established genre. The narrative usually is told by someone whose name does not appear in history books but who was a firsthand witness to events as they unfolded and the people who influenced their course. A variant are novels that are written from the perspective of someone who is in fact part of the historical record but is either unappreciated or overlooked. The extraordinary success of Hilary Mantel’s trilogy of Elizabethan novels written in the voice of Thomas Cromwell, a chief minister to King Henry VIII, attests to the appeal of this format. Julie Orringer’s wonderful book “The Flight Portrait,” falls nicely into this category.

The novel is written through the eyes of Varian Fry. His name is not well known today. But he was a well-regarded journalist who wrote from Berlin in The Living Age and the New York Times about Hitler’s savage treatment of the Jews in Germany in the mid-1930s, well before most of the world came to realize the existential threat posed by the Nazi regime. After a brief period in the United States, he returned to Europe in 1940 and formed the Emergency Rescue Committee (ERC). Over the next year, with money that he helped raise, Fry was able to help over 2,000 embattled artists, scientists, philosophers, and writers to escape Europe and find safe haven in the US. Among those Fry saved were Andre Breton, Marc Chagall, Jacques Lipchitz, Hannah Arendt, Max Ophuls, Arthur Koester and Claude Levi-Strauss. It is hard to imagine the counterfactual, a world deprived of the contribution of these people because they perished in Europe. The novel details the complications, emotional and physical, that Fry, a non-Jew from a wealthy family, endured as he arranged for safe passage across the Pyrenees or by boat out of Marseilles for his anxious petitioners. The fraught negotiations with Vichy officials and the against the grain support he received from some heroic individuals in the US consulate, specifically Hiram Bingham IV, are played across the taut chapters. The title refers to a collection of unique artworks that the artists created to call attention to their plight and help raise funds for the ERC. The tension is palpable, the threat is real, and outcome uncertain until the end. It is an intelligent and engrossing read.

View full annotation

Summary:

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone:  A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed is a memoir that takes the reader behind the closed doors of therapists’ offices and into the relationships that are formed between therapists and their patients.  The author and psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb, most familiar to readers as the writer of The Atlantic’s “Dear Therapist” column, explores the science, the role, and the goals of psychotherapy through her first-person narration.  The memoir is written chronologically with occasional flashbacks and is broken up into four parts, each progressively exposing more about Gottlieb’s and her patients’ experiences.

Though written by a therapist, the book approaches the therapeutic relationship from all angles.  Just as we see Gottlieb in her role as a therapist in Los Angeles, we also see her on the other side of the couch as a patient.  Coming to therapy in the midst of a breakup, she details her own struggles and relationships.  Interspersed between her sessions with Wendell, a therapist she deftly describes as one from “Therapist Central Casting,” and her own appointments with patients is Gottlieb’s long journey to becoming a therapist (including brief stops in Hollywood and in medical school) and how she came to understand the power of interpersonal relationships. 

View full annotation

The Bridge in the Jungle

Traven, B.

Last Updated: May-15-2020
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The Bridge in the Jungle is a novel about the tragic death of Carlos, an 8 or 9 year old (no age is given) hyperactive Mexican boy, and the aftermath of his mother's overwhelming grief for him, sometime in the early 20th Century in a very poor village deep in the jungle. (The lack of specific details are intentional, as I shall discuss below.) The narrator is an American man staying in the village while looking for alligator skins and bird feathers to sell in the U.S.. He observes the little boy's brother, who works in the oil industry in Texas and has just returned for the weekend, give his little brother brand new shoes. Carlos is overjoyed to wear them since all the villagers but the pump master's wife wear threadbare rags for clothes. This is the little boy's first pair of shoes, much less shiny new American ones. While sitting outside in the village with his host, both waiting for an outdoor party, the narrator hears an ominous splash that is Carlos falling to his death off the treacherous bridge, a bridge that has no railings. The remainder of the novel depicts the grief of the young mother - a grief that reaches the suffocating proportions of Greek tragedy - and her villagers' genuine support.

Described in minute detail by the narrator, the villagers - who have turned over every stone in the woods, dived many times in the river, and ridden to nearby villages to find Carlos - turn to an old man who requests a perfectly flat piece of wood and a stout candle. He then meticulously fastens the candle to the wood and carefully launches this raft of mystical exploration and recovery on the river. Every villager watches this ceremony with rapt attention. It is truly a riveting passage, for the raft travels under its own power from the river bank against the current, meandering slowly towards the bridge where it finally stops, despite the current, under the bridge, the only place no diver has yet looked:
"The board in the meanwhile has wandered farther under the bridge, but always in a right angle to the fifth post. Now it is under the middle of the bridge. From here it sails towards the fourth post, though only for about a foot. And here it stops as if it were nailed to the water. It does not mind the current nor the light breeze that sweeps softly across the surface of the river. The manner in which the board has halted is entirely different from that in which it stopped before. Now and then it trembles slightly, as if something were breathing against it from below. But it no longer whirls. ... The board begins softly to dance as if impatient. It seems that it wants to be relieved of its torture. It wriggles, swings about itself, though it does not move as much as two inches. One might think it is trying to go down to the bottom."
(page 110-1)
A villager dives and retrieves Carlos and hands his body to his mother:
"With an indescribable nobility and solemnity, and in his eyes that pitiful sad look which only animals and primitive people possess, he steps slowly forward. And Perez, the man whose daily task it is to fell the hard trees of the jungle and convert them into charcoal, lays that little water-soaked body in the outstretched arms of the mother with a tenderness that makes one think of glass so thin and fragile that a single soft breath could break it."
(page 113)
The villagers, in a procession that is tragicomic, take Carlos' body to the graveyard where a well respected teacher, now drunk from all the mescal others have offered him, gives an eulogy that suggests Christ's Sermon on the Mount. However, with inverted symbolism, this sermon is for, not by, Jesus and is delivered by a drunken priest-figure who is so drunk he falls into the open grave. To Traven's credit he introduces this farcical moment to emphasize how none of the villagers, much less the author, and, consequently, the reader, laughs at a decent man trying his best to honor Carlos. It is truly a most moving finale to a most moving book.



View full annotation

Summary:

Elizabeth Siegel Watkins reports on the use of estrogen alone and in combination with progestin for women during menopause and after menopause from the 1890s until the book was published in 2007. She concentrates on the sixty years between 1942 and 2002. The event Watkins uses to mark 1942 as an important moment is the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for the estrogen product Premarin as hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in women with menopause symptoms. The event she uses to mark 2002 is the release Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) findings that showed estrogen is not the “elixir of life” that many thought it was then.  

Watkins builds her story off the trajectory of estrogen use during this sixty-year period, which spanned two peaks followed by two crashes. The estrogens for HRT first crested in the early 1970s before its use dropped dramatically in 1975 on uterine cancer fears. Estrogen use began to rise in the early 1980s on regained confidence from combined use with progestin to reduce uterine cancer risk and from hopes that bone loss could be prevented and even reversed. This resurrection continued through the 1990s as estrogen use during and after menopause became “associated with reduced risk of colon cancer, prevention of tooth loss, lower incidence of osteoarthritis, increase in bone mass, reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and lower rates of death from all causes” (p. 241). 
 

Based on surveys of prescribers and prescription data during this time, Watkins concludes that “physicians who saw menopausal women as patients were…enthusiastic prescribers of HRT” (p. 244). They remained enthusiastic, making Premarin the most prescribed pharmaceutical product through much of the 1990s and until 2002 when the WHI trial was stopped three years early because it showed that HRT failed to produce the expected benefits, and even worse.
Women who took the estrogen–progestin pills, as compared with those in the control group who took placebo pills, increased their risk of breast cancer by 26 percent (relative risk of 1.26), coronary heart disease by 29 percent (1.29), stroke by 41 percent (1.41), and pulmonary embolism (blood clot) by 213 percent (2.13). (p. 271)
The investigators advised clinicians based on these results, that HRT “should not be initiated or continued for the primary prevention of coronary heart disease” (p. 271). Watkins quotes an editorial from the Journal of the American Medical Association that went further in saying that the trial “provides an important health answer for generations of health postmenopausal women to come—do not use estrogen / progestin to prevent chronic disease” (p. 273). HRT prescriptions plummeted.  

These clinical inputs into the trajectory of estrogen are just the bare bones of estrogen history. Watkins fills in the story: 
The story of estrogen is woven from several strands: blind faith in the ability of science and technology to solve a broad range of health and social problems, social and cultural stigmatization of aging, shifting meanings and interpretations of femininity and female identity, and the pitfalls of medical hubris in the twentieth century. (p. 1)
Watkins weaves these strands into the story of estrogen, which she tells in a chronological fashion, often as the subjects of individual chapters. Some include: the implications of rising feminism; pharmaceutical company promotional activities; the roles of patient advocacy organizations; FDA requirements for patient information about prescription drugs; generational differences in views of menopause; evolving research methods and evidence standards; and cultural shifts and mainstream media influences. 

View full annotation

5B

Haggis, Paul; Krauss, Dan

Last Updated: Apr-17-2020
Annotated by:
Teagarden, J. Russell

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

5B is a documentary about the special unit created at San Francisco General Hospital (Ward 5B) in 1983 to take care of people with AIDS. Three years later, it moved to the larger Ward 5A, where it remained in operation until 2003 after the introduction of treatments effective enough to drastically reduce the demand for hospitalization and standards of care for AIDS patients were in place throughout the hospital. The documentary covers the medical, social, and political considerations surrounding the opening of Ward 5B, and the AIDS epidemic during that time.

The story is told from various perspectives through interviews with key figures in its development and operation, and archival footage of the ward and AIDS activism in the community. The most prominent among the key figures is Cliff Morrison, a clinical nurse specialist who spearheaded the idea for the unit and then managed it. Several other nurses who served in staff and supervisory positions are featured. Participating physicians include Paul Volberding, an oncologist at the time who became pivotal in the development of effective HIV treatments, and  Julie Gerberding, a physician treating patients on the unit who later became the Director of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Lorraine Day, the chief of orthopedic surgery at the hospital when the unit opened is heard often as an opposing voice. Hank Plante, a local television news reporter also appears frequently to offer his perspectives on many of the social and political issues swirling around the unit. Among other participants are AIDS activists, volunteers, and family members of patients on the unit.

Several storylines frame the documentary including how nurses drove the unit’s inception and then were instrumental in running it. “Nurses were in charge,” said Volberding, admiringly. Interwoven throughout the film are the experiences of the patients and individual nurses, including one nurse who was infected with HIV from a needle stick. “Those nurses were the real heroes,” said one activist.  

The unit and those who worked there also encountered opposition from inside the hospital. The nurses of this unit practiced in ways they considered safe but not in such a manner that would preclude them from touching patients or require that they don so much protective gear they become unseeable. Nurses and other clinicians from other parts of the hospital objected and did not want to be compelled to adopt practices they thought endangered them on the occasions they took care of AIDS patients. The film follows this story through union grievances and public debates to their conclusion, which sided with the unit nurses and their advocates.

The story is told against a backdrop of gay rights activism in the 1970s that led to AIDS activism with its influence on how the unit operated. Also getting attention is the fear AIDS struck in society and the resulting social backlash at a time of federal government insouciance. This fear continued up to the time the federal government recognized the epidemic and began taking action, relieving some of the tension but never eliminating it. The documentary ends with key participants reflecting on their experiences with the unit; most were proud, some bitter, and a few a little of both.

View full annotation