Showing 21 - 30 of 121 annotations contributed by Shafer, Audrey

Alzheimer's

St. Andrews, B. A. (Bonnie)

Last Updated: Nov-30-2009
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

A man begins to lose his word-finding abilities, his ability to perform everyday activities and his ability to communicate with his wife. He realizes his growing losses and incapacities. Even as he worries how to make amends to his wife, he grows distant and isolated. The poem ends with a vivid scene: the man stands in front of the woodpile with the axe raised--he looks at but does not recognize his wife screaming behind the closed bay window. "[H]e never / hears what it was she never said."

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Where is the Mango Princess?

Crimmins, Cathy

Last Updated: Nov-30-2009
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

The lives of writer Cathy Crimmins, her lawyer husband Alan Forman, and their seven-year-old daughter were changed forever on July 1, 1996, at a lake near Kingston, Ontario. "Alan’s brain got run over by a speedboat. That last sentence reads like a bad country-western song lyric, but it’s true. It was a silly, horrible, stupid accident." (p. 5). While Alan steered a small boat back to dock at the end of their vacation, a teenager drove a speedboat literally over him, causing major traumatic brain injury (TBI) including seizures, coma, hemorrhage and paralysis.

Crimmins chronicles her husband’s remarkable recovery with a mix of humor, medical information, anger at HMO denial of benefits, and gratitude for the care of physicians, nurses, therapists, EMT, friends and family during this grueling, and in many ways, never-ending ordeal. Although Alan survived -- and is now capable of walking, speaking, reading, loving, working and driving -- he is a different person. The injury to his frontal lobes causes him to be disinhibited, erratic, angry, irrational, petulant, obsessive, devoted yet cruel to his daughter, and prone to severe "cognitive fatigue."

TBI is a bizarre, unpredictable illness. Crimmins notes that the degree of Alan’s recovery is atypical for the force of his trauma. In addition, TBI survivors say and do wacky things: "Where is the mango princess?" was one of Alan’s first utterances after emerging from his coma. Alan’s pre-accident sharp-edged humor was replaced by bland affability and a disturbingly vacant gaze. Yet some of what he says and does is heart wrenching and poignant.

The book clearly documents that the trauma is not limited to the patient. As Crimmins so eloquently and honestly recounts, she, her daughter, and all who knew Alan were traumatized by the accident and its aftermath.

Crimmins is an aggressive caregiver, thrust kicking and fighting into the caregiver role. Her advocacy for her husband, including research into the best rehabilitation facility, day hospital, vocational rehabilitation program, doctors, therapists, etc., was unwavering and crucial to his optimal care and outcome.

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Three Junes

Glass, Julia

Last Updated: Nov-30-2009
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Constructed as a triptych, the novel chronicles several generations of a Scottish family, the McLeod’s, across three Junes: Part I Collies, 1989; Part II Upright, 1995; and Part III, Boys 1999. In the first part, patriarch Paul McLeod assuages his grief and loneliness following his wife’s death by traveling to Greece on a tour. He tells the tour guide about his wife’s lung cancer: "A terrible ordinary death, you might say. Or an ordinary terrible death." (p. 23) Paul’s unrequited yearning for Fern, a young artist, heralds a succession of missed opportunities for expressions of love involving the McLeod’s.

The second part is a first person narrative by Fenno, Paul’s eldest son. Fenno, the gay owner of a Manhattan bookstore, cares for Malachy, a New York Times music critic, who has AIDS. Paul’s death brings the three sons together (Fenno and his younger twin brothers David, a veterinarian who lives in Scotland with his wife Lillian, and Dennis, a chef, who arrives from France with his wife and children).

The family relationships are complicated, and David’s infertility leads to revelations about strengths and weakness of various family members. Meanwhile, Mal’s illness and his decisions about controlling the end of his life, also give Fenno insight into loyalties and family secrets.

The last section, a coda, reverts to third person narration and reintroduces Fern, now widowed due to a freak accident and also pregnant. Themes of parenthood, responsibility and relationships continue to be developed.

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Art with Commentary

Summary:

One Breath Apart: Facing Dissection is a pictorial and narrative account of gross anatomy class in medical school. The book highlights the educational, moral and metaphysical opportunities anatomy courses afford those who dissect and learn from the cadaver. Educator and thanatologist Sandra Bertman has expanded on her work with medical students previously summarized in her book Facing Death: Images, Insights, and Interventions (see annotation).

Written with the first year medical student in mind, One Breath Apart is a compilation of drawings and writings by students from the University of Massachusetts Medical School between 1989 and 2002 in response to course assignments. The book is dedicated to the professor of the anatomy course, Sandy Marks - of note, the medical humanities module, including assignments and events were integrated into the course. Bertman describes the course and provides a plethora of student work.

Additionally, the book is enhanced by photographs by Meryl Levin, with writings by Cornell-Weill medical students, excerpted from Levin's marvelous study,  Anatomy of Anatomy in Images and Words. Also included is a foreword by Jack Coulehan, who writes of his experience with his cadaver ("We named him ‘Ernest,' so we could impress our parents by telling them how we were working in dead earnest." p. 7) and the lifelong impact of dissection on the student.

Of particular note is the variety of content included in this intriguing volume. Artistry is not a medical school admissions criterion, yet a number of the drawings have design components which are thought-provoking and profound. For example, on page 80 a female doctor adorned with white coat, stethoscope and bag stands beside an upright skeleton. They are holding hands.

Bertman concludes the book with photographs, drawings and text related to the annual spring memorial service for the body donors. The section includes eulogies by students and responses by donor family members. Writes medical student Nancy Keene: "Studying his body provided an opportunity which enhanced my education. But it was the giving of his body, which has remained with me as a lasting memory." (p. 87)

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The Kite Runner

Hosseini, Khaled

Last Updated: Apr-16-2009
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In his debut novel, Dr. Khaled Hosseini tells a tale that begins in his homeland, Afghanistan, and ends in his adopted country, the United States. Amir, son of a wealthy Pashtun merchant, narrates the story. Amir and his father, Baba, are attended by two Hazara servants, Ali and his hare-lipped son, Hassan. Amir and Hassan are friends, but Amir is troubled by a guilty conscience over multiple slights and sly insults aimed at Hassan. The burden of guilt intensifies over an incident at a kite-flying contest when Amir is twelve years old.

Kite flying in Afghanistan is an intricate affair involving glass-embedded string that contestants use to slice the strings of other kites. The winner is not only the one with the last kite flying, but also the one who catches the last cut kite--the kite runner. At the close of the contest, Amir witnesses the traumatization of his friend Hassan, the finest kite runner, at the hands of an evil youth, Assef. Too shamed to help Hassan, Amir is nearly swallowed by his cowardice: the rest of the story follows the consequences of his guilt.

Amir and Baba emigrate to the United States during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, but Amir, as a young adult, returns during the Taliban regime in order to redeem himself and help Hassan's son. The story is filled with plot twists and revelations of secrets and hidden relationships, which enable Amir to confront some of his shortcomings. The oppression, torture, and murder of Afghanis by the Taliban are graphically depicted.

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Mind Talk: The Brain's New Story

Drake, Bob

Last Updated: Mar-10-2009
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Video

Summary:

This documentary film explores the interdisciplinary quest to understand the mind--its relationship to the brain, to the soul, to consciousness and sentience, and to the societal implications of free will. The film begins with the crisscrossing flow of people in a train station and an overvoice expressing the existential questions of "who are we?" and, ultimately, "who am I?"

This compelling image, filmed in black and white, serves as a representation of people as humanity and as individuals, as well as a metaphor for flow, such as of time or of impulses along a neural network. Hence, already in the introduction, the viewer is aware that this film will address some of the deep philosophical questions of all time complemented by visual imagery which enhances and enlarges on the dialogue.

The film is then divided into twelve sections: The Soul, The Body, Mental Disorder, Mind to Molecule, Bit to Brain, Consciousness, Free Will, Citizenship, The Moral Brain, The Brain on Trial, The Medical Mind, and Who Am I? Experts from multiple fields such as theology, neuroscience, psychiatry, law and justice, philosophy, sociology, history of medicine, physics, computer science, and filmmaking offer insights and questions either directly to the camera, or as voice-over for other imagery.

For example, to name just a few of the numerous eminent persons in the film, there are statements by mathematical physicist Roger Penrose (Shadows of the Mind: A Search for the Missing Science of Consciousness, and The Emperor’s New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds and the Laws of Physics), philosopher Daniel Dennett (Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life, and Brainchildren: Essays on Designing Minds), philosopher John R. Searle (Mind, Language and Society: Philosophy in the Real World) and neurologist Antonio Damasio (Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain). The multiple experts all address the basic question posed by the film: "What will a science of the brain add to the human story?" but the approaches to the question, and what aspects of the question are most important, vary considerably in this far ranging journey through religion, history, ethics, medicine and science.

A few of the many interesting segments of the film include sections on cognitive neuroscientist Nancy Kanwisher who studies specialization by parts of the brain, such as a face-recognition center; developmental neuroanatomist Miguel Marin-Padilla, who has studied the motor cortex for over 25 years, which he demonstrates by dissection to be smaller than the tip of his finger; and Dennett’s one-armed robot, Cog, which is "learning" in developmental stages as an infant would. Eloquent commentary is also provided by computer scientist Jaron Lanier, sociologist Howard Kaye, psychologist Nicholas Humphrey, and filmmaker Ken Burns, among others.

Much of the film deals with psychopathology and implications for morality, behavior, and responsibility for behavior (free will and crime). Segments include an interview with a patient with manic-depressive disorder, a historical note on Phineas Gage (whose dramatic wound of his frontal lobe so altered his behavior), and a lawyer, psychiatrist and judge discussing free will, diminished capacity, and the legal system.

The film concludes with some concerns about reductionism to the biologic model of the mind, the growing haziness of borders between human and artificial intelligence, and the role of psychoactive medications. Although full mapping of the brain may not lead to complete understanding of the mind, still, the film concludes, the quest is fun.

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Summary:

In the prologue to "The Anatomist" author Bill Hayes explains why he undertook the task of writing a biography of the author of the famous illustrated textbook "Gray's Anatomy." The reasons stem from his childhood and are multifold: an early interest in becoming a doctor, a fascination with religious (particularly Catholic) and artistic perspectives of the body coupled with an acceptance of his own homosexuality, a growing admiration for the writing and drawing in his bargain table copy of "Gray's Anatomy," and finally an attraction to a photograph of the enigmatic author in his anatomy lab - one of the few traceable artifacts of the man himself. Hence "The Anatomist" is not only a meticulous and fascinating biography of Henry Gray, the writer, and Henry V. Carter, the illustrator of "Gray's Anatomy," but also a memoir of the education and life of Bill Hayes himself during the period of research and writing this book. The book is a masterful mix of the history of medicine, anatomy education both current and historic, methodology of historical research, and poignant, insightful commentary on the frailties of human bodies and human relationships.

Hayes took three anatomy courses at University of California, San Francisco during the preparation of the book - one with pharmacy students, one with physical therapy students, and the final one with medical students. By the third course, Hayes was a pro at dissection and had first hand knowledge and appreciation of the skills needed to be an anatomist.

Because of the paucity of information available on Henry Gray, the bulk of the research rests on the diaries and letters of the tireless, self-critical and amazingly skilled younger member of the book's creative team - the artist-physician Henry Carter. Through Carter's diaries we learn of the formidable genius of Gray, his academic accomplishments, the genesis of the idea for the book, and Gray's early death at age 34.

Interestingly, in a pattern similar to that of Andreas Vesalius's "De Humani Corporis Fabrica," whose illustrator was most likely Jan Stephen van Calcar, the artist Carter receives scant reward or acknowledgement of his vast contributions to the book. Hayes's biography rectifies this hundred-and-fifty-year-old omission by tracking not only the career of Gray, but also Carter. Indeed, peppered throughout "The Anatomist" are more illustrations than quotes from "Gray's Anatomy."

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The Glass Castle

Walls, Jeannette

Last Updated: Apr-14-2008
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

The Glass Castle, a gripping memoir about growing up devastatingly poor in America, opens with this first line: "I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster." (p. 3) Jeanette Walls slinks down in the taxi's back seat and returns to her Park Avenue apartment. A few days later, she manages to contact her homeless mother and take her out for dinner, offering her help, yet again. But her mother refuses, and when asked what Jeannette is supposed to say about her parents, her mother replies "Just tell the truth...[t]hat's simple enough." (p.5) And with these words, Walls launches into the history of her upbringing, with all the deprivations, suffering, joys, shame, exasperations, tribulations and sorrows - the story of the Rex and Rose Mary Walls' family.

Rex Walls is an alcoholic and dreamer, his wife an artist and egoist; both are psychotically blind to the basic needs of their four children. Yet the parents do feed the children with love and intellectual stimulation, managing to keep the family unit intact while the children figure out how to survive. The reader first meets the child Jeannette at age three when she is on fire, cooking hot dogs on the stove in a trailer park, completely unsupervised. She requires multiple skin grafts but enjoys the regularity of hospital food, until six weeks later her father abducts her from the hospital in the first of a series of "skedaddles" that the reader learns is the way Rex Walls stays ahead of bill collectors and other authorities.

At each miserable turn, the reader wonders if things can get any worse. They do. The family winds up living in a rotting hut without plumbing in the coal mining town of Welch, West Virginia. Rex steals money from his children, Rose Mary buys herself art books instead of food for the family. The kids eat garbage they secretly remove from trash bins at school.

But finally, one by one, the kids do escape, although, like everyone, they carry the past within them. To varying degrees, each is scarred. Nonetheless, Jeannette works her way through Barnard in New York City and becomes a contributor to MSNBC. Ultimately the book is a tribute to the gutsy resilience of some remarkable individuals.

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Bonjour Tristesse

Sagan, Francoise

Last Updated: Jan-28-2008
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Bonjour Tristesse is a novel about a seventeen-year-old girl, Cécile, written by an eighteen-year-old, Françoise Quoirez (pen name Sagan). Published in 1954 in France and 1955 in the United States, the story was an immediate success.

Cécile's mother died when the girl was two, and she lives with her forty-year-old father, Raymond. Raymond enjoys parties, young women, drink and easy conversation. He, Cécile and his latest girlfriend, Elsa, sojourn on the southern coast of France, where Cécile meets and toys with a young law student. Cécile is mercurial in her thoughts, but once a true rival for her father's affections arrives at the summer house, her jealousy surfaces fully. Anne had been a friend of Cécile's mother, and, unlike Raymond's other love interests, is intelligent and similar in age.

Tragedy ensues from Cécile's plotting and her father's weaknesses, and the question remains whether suicide or an accident occurred.

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

John Grogan's best selling memoir of his and his family's life with an exuberant, loving Labrador retriever pup that grew into an overly boisterous ninety-seven pound member of the family chronicles the joys and tribulations of dog ownership. Particularly, of Marley ownership. Marley flunked obedience school, required tranquilizers to tolerate thunder storms, destroyed possessions and jumped on people, to name a few traits.

The young married couple adopted Marley before they had children. The reader learns of the pregnancies and births of the Grogan's three children, including a miscarriage, ‘performance failure' during sex timed to ovulation, and an episode of post-partum depression, with an eye to what Marley was up to during that phase of family life, and especially how he responded to his owners' emotional states. Marley's protective stance towards not only the children, but also to a knifing victim in the neighborhood and to Grogan himself when he was struck by lightning, proved the dog's loyalty and devotion.

Marley lived a full life; as he aged, his hearing, sight and mobility worsened. He required emergency abdominal surgery at an old age, recuperated, but then suffered the same stomach bloat and twist problem again.

Grogan, a newspaper columnist, decided, after a period of intense grief, to write an article about Marley. "‘No one ever called him a great dog - or even a good dog. He was as wild as a banshee and as strong as a bull. He crashed joyously through life with a gusto most often associated with natural disasters...' There was more to him than that, however... ‘He taught me to appreciate the simple things...And as he grew old and achy, he taught me about optimism in the face of adversity. Mostly, he taught me about friendship and selflessness and, above all else, unwavering loyalty.'" (p. 279)

The column generated an avalanche of responses; fellow owners of bad yet lovable dogs wrote to the newspaper of their own experiences. These responses were cathartic to Grogan as he and his family learned to live without Marley, the dog who had taught them all so much: "the art of unqualified love." (p. 287)

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