Showing 21 - 30 of 65 annotations contributed by Davis, Cortney

Body Language

Studer, Constance

Last Updated: Mar-10-2009
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Body Language, a beautifully crafted and expansive memoir by retired nurse Constance Studer, spans a range of issues within the narrative of the author's life: a childhood marred by a medical procedure--a hasty frontal lobotomy that left her father incarcerated in a mental institute-- and, in later years, by her own illness, one caused by the Hepatitis B vaccine.  These two events are the bookends that frame Body Language, a memoir that examines family life, nursing, medicine, medical ethics, personal survival and illness in language that is poetic and compelling.  Studer, a writer as well as a nurse, intersperses her own story--which is novel-like in its intensity--with literary allusions, research material and knowledge culled from her years as a nurse in Intensive Care.  In her memoir, she writes not only with the authority of one who has been on both sides of the bed, as professional caregiver and as suffering patient, but also as a family member who has witnessed how unwise and unchallenged medical decisions might affect generations. 

What I especially admire about this memoir is that it is not simply a "telling about."  Instead Studer brings us into the action of the narrative, for example giving us imagery and dialogue as her father prepares for the surgery that he doesn't know will deprive him of memory and sense ("Holy Socks" p. 21).  She also intertwines many narrative strands, giving us the fullness of her family history and her professional adventures, so that when we reach the narrative of her own illness we have a sense of a life, a full life, that has been forever altered.

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Second Opinion

Kendrick, Leatha

Last Updated: Apr-19-2008
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

Poet Leatha Kendrick is the author of two chapbooks, Science in Your Own Back Yard (see annotation) and Heart Cake. In this full-length collection she continues to examine themes explored in her first titles: love and loss; the fleeting of time; and her personal experience of breast cancer. Second Opinion is divided into three sections: the first two sections have 14 poems each, the final section has 13, perhaps to indicate that for this passionate and articulate poet the the final poem is yet to be written. The first poem in the collection, "A lesson in Love Unleashed," sets the theme for the poems that follow: "yes, I think, even in their distorted flesh, / I still desire what's gone. What I'm leaving" (p. 3). In the first and third sections, the poet writes of marital and familial trials and triumphs, both past and present, and in the second section--for me the most vivid in the collection--she writes about breast cancer and how this experience weaves in and out of her other loves and losses. This weaving is given both visual and emotional expression in the poem "Tonight Weaving" (p. 28)

Throughout the book, Kendrick's poems take varying forms and tones, and yet there is always the assurance of a constant voice--personal, passionate and often humorous. In the second section, the poems become more visually complex and fractured, poetic representation of the "distortion" of the flesh as the narrator considers the diagnosis and treatment of her breast cancer. In this section's opening poem, "The Calculus of a Cracked Cup," the poet writes, "Our position is never certain, only our / velocity" (p. 27), adding the concern of the swift passing of time to the collection's overall theme. In "Second Opinion," the title poem, she notes, "I want to believe in sudden remission, / in some way to avert what we are certainly / headed for" (p. 34). But while time rushes on, the reality of cancer, the loss of a breast becomes a "stopped surface" under which a "lost life" wants "its old course, not subject to IVs or a knife" (p. 35).

It is life--difficult and sweet--that is ultimately celebrated in these poems and that overcomes the losses. The most wry poems are found in the breast cancer section: "Christmas, Adolescence, Yin and Yang" (p. 32) is a sort of ode to "Skeeter and Bite," so named by a first love; now "they'll lift / one out, the eye sewn shut by mastectomy." "Costume. Fakery. The Sell." is a tough, nervy poem that has the narrator claiming acceptance for who she is, post surgery: "Alive! Tender, I'm not hiding" (p. 39). Throughout the book there is a subtle triple play on the word "tender": woman as caregiver; woman as collateral in a society that values cleavage; and woman as injured, post op, and physically vulnerable.

In the collection's final poem, "What You Leave Me," the theme of love and loss balanced against time comes to some resolution as the narrator and her partner join in a "sweet tangle": "the blossoming / hide, this bounded / time against brevity" (p. 64).

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Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

A woman is pregnant. She is a nurse married to a physician, Jeff, and they have a young son, Willie. The couple is pregnant with their second child. Long before her due date, the woman--author Susan LaScala--begins experiencing signs of premature labor. Because she is a nurse, because she is married to a doctor who takes call, she doesn't want to over-react or bother her obstetrician unnecessarily. But when vague aches turn into cramps, the author enters, as a patient, the world she had known, until then, only as a caregiver.

It is impossible, in a brief annotation, to describe fully the richness of this memoir. Because the author is a nurse, she brings to the story of the premature birth and survival of her daughter, Sarah, a wonderful double vision: LaScala tells this tale not only as a mother and a patient but also as a clinician able to explain, in simple language, the complex technologies used to sustain the life of her one pound nine ounce baby. The author's rendering of the bells and whistles of neonatal medicine, whether describing the process of intubating a preemie (p. 23) or ultrasounding a baby determined to survive (p. 182-3) are precise and haunting.

Equally compelling (and instructive for caregivers) are the author's candid revelations of how it feels to be a patient. She takes to "grading" the doctors and nurses--an "A" for the staff that lets her see her newborn girl (p. 3), and a "C" for a nurse with "No kind words. No warmth" (p.11). She describes her own bodily sensations in language both lovely and informing: the pushing and tugging she feels during her C-Section is a "quiet violence" (p.21); standing beside her daughter during the ventilator weaning process she feels "a witch's brew of fear and panic mixing and growing inside" (p. 225).

In an introduction, physician Barbara Wolk Stechenberg, describes the "gift" that the author has given by writing this memoir. The author has allowed Dr. Stechenberg, who was part of the team that saved Sarah, "a rare glimpse into two worlds" (p. xii). One was the world of intensive care nurses and how "they truly are the primary caregivers" (p. xii). The other world was that of physicians, who "may feel we are empathic and caring, but we really have no idea of the emotional roller coaster many of our parents are riding" (p. xii).

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Bringing Vincent Home

Mysko, Madeleine

Last Updated: Jan-27-2008
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Within the first few pages of this novel, the reader is thrust into the midst of a family--their past history, their present tragedy, and their future healing.  Kitty Duvall, a middle-aged woman living in Baltimore, Maryland, receives a phone call informing her that her son, soldier Vincent Duvall, has been injured in Viet Nam and now lies, severely burned, in the Intensive Care Unit of Brooke Army Medical Center.  Kitty packs her bags and rushes to his bedside.  Thus begins this straight forward and yet complex story, one that weaves between past and present, one that examines the lives of caregivers, especially nurses; the lives of patients, particularly those young men and women sacrificed to war; and the lives of the parents who must, as Kitty does, find their places alongside their dying or healing children, always wondering how best to help them. 

Although this book is a novel, it reads like a memoir.  Indeed, the events of the novel seem so right and so accurate because the author served as a lieutenant in the Army Nurse Corps at Brooke Army Medical Center during the Vietnam War.  Her own experience as a nurse, her own memories of the burned and wounded men, inform this novel and bring to it an accuracy and an urgency that takes the reader behind the scenes into unforgettable images of war and recovery.  Although set in the Vietnam era, this story is especially relevant today, when once again soldiers and their families must deal with the physical and emotional wages of battle.

 

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Clinician's Guide to the Soul

Masson, Veneta

Last Updated: Nov-06-2007
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry and Art

Summary:

Veneta Masson's latest poetry collection is a clinician's guide not to illness and disease but to the souls touched by illness, both the patient's and the caregiver's. In 45 poems, she reviews her life in caregiving, from her early days in nursing to her work as a nurse practitioner in a community clinic and finally to her decision to use her hands "to write and to bless" (p. 93). Her poems are enhanced by the artwork of Rachel Dickerson, whose woodcuts and etchings are paired with poems to provide another voice, another way of looking into the soul of caregiving. For an example of this wonderful pairing, see the print that accompanies "The Screamer in Room 4" (p. 24). The print allows us to see the frustration of the screaming child, the child's mother, and the caregiver.

As always, Masson's poems center on the patient-caregiver experience; in this volume, as we follow her through her various adventures in nursing we also travel with her through the changes she has witnessed in healthcare and the politics that continue to affect its delivery. "Rx" (p. 22) examines Medicare and Medicaid and the political decisions that often deny medications to the elderly who need them most. "Gold Standard" (p.34) looks again at medicine and money, juxtaposing the medical pill against the placebo of the caring healer. One of my favorite poems, "The Doctor's Laptop" (p. 40) laments how technology might deprive patients of the doctor's time, attention and touch.

Other themes that are central to this collection are the unexpected presence of humor in caregiving (see "Conga! at the Rio," page 50), of spirituality (see especially "Rescue," page 36, "Refuge," page 45, and "Prevention," page 82), and of the personal. In several moving poems Masson looks at her own sister's death and her reaction to it, writing about her conflicting roles as sister and nurse (see, among others, "Matinee," "Hilda and Snow White," and "The Nurse's Job," pages 70, 72 and 74). In an excellent final poem, "Winter Count," Masson takes us through her own nursing history, a chronicle of work, joy, disappointment and survival that any caregiver will recognize.

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Just Breathe Normally

Shumaker, Peggy

Last Updated: Sep-18-2007
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Author and teacher Peggy Shumaker was involved in an unexpected and terrible biking accident.  Out of that accident and her following slow recovery she has crafted a remarkable memoir---one that both examines her interactions with the medical community and her family and charts her return from disability---in short essay-like chapters, individual memories that comprise and inform her life before and after illness.  Reading these gem-like pieces, I could imagine her, in the process of recovery, having time and patience to look back at family, friends, custom and community in order to recreate who she was before and who she would be after her accident.  The longest of these "chapters" is several pages; the shortest, only a few sentences.  There is no table of contents guiding readers through the six sections of this book---and how could there be, as the book itself reflects the healing mind as it searches for continuity in the midst of disruption. 

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The Enemy

Campo, Rafael

Last Updated: Aug-26-2007
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

The poems in physician Rafael Campo's latest collection examine familiar themes: lost homelands, the agonies of patients and providers, local and global abuses, love and betrayal, of both the heart and the body.  In this book, Campo expands these themes, writing of child abuse, war, and the certainties and uncertainties of maturing love.  As in his earlier collections, Campo investigates these themes in poems that are expertly crafted and often in form, as if form might contain this poet's empathic and deeply felt connection to the world.  While Campo has always been a reliable witness, especially to the world of healthcare, in this volume his vision becomes even more incantatory, paradoxical and mature.  The narrator's personal losses and responsibilities expand into the universal, into a world that cries out to us to care, to act, to heal, to notice, to tell, to "realize the human" (92).

Divided into four sections, the first section begins with a poem, "Dialogue with Sun and Poet," dedicated to June Jordan, a deceased activist and poet whose poems once made Campo uncomfortable but now mobilize him to "arise."  Following poems tell of local abuses--an abused woman ("Addressed to Her"), the displacement of memory ("Elsa, Varadero, 1934" and "Night Has Fallen"), the crushing of the spirit ("Personal Mythology") and the reality of evil, evil that calls poets to "refuse nostalgia's reassurance that the way was clear" ("Brief Treatise on the New Millennial Poetics").  This section ends with a translation from Neruda's "Book of Questions," a poem that asks if we are in control and if we are indeed capable of change (22).

In the second section, Campo takes us, in sonnets, through "Eighteen Days in France," another country and yet one in which he is still haunted by melancholy, by both sadness and joy--when one sees clearly one cannot leave behind suffering or the potential for suffering.  These sonnets speak of loss, fear, doubt and death grounded in moments of pure happiness.  

The book's third section, "Toward a Theory of Memory," opens with another masterful Neruda translation, one that speaks of love's convolutions, "just as life is of two minds" (47).  Following are exceptionally beautiful poems that speak of the misuse of love and power ("Granymede, to Zeus") and of the deep joy and deep complications of long-married love (see especially "The Story of Us").

Section Four, "Dawn, New Age," is a collection of laments for human selfishness, for war, for the inevitable passage of time, for the emotional depressions we might lose ourselves in, for the patients we cannot cure.  In "Tuesday Morning," the poet says, "No poet cares / for such deceptions anymore, and words / don't cure" (93).  Perhaps words alone cannot cure, but these poems, intelligent and very often incredibly beautiful, can sustain us and remind us that only human connection, human love might help us survive.

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What Becomes You

Raz, Hilda; Link, Aaron

Last Updated: May-09-2007
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

Aaron Raz Link was born a girl, named Sarah, and loved as a daughter. Twenty-nine years later, after inner turmoil, deep thought and relentless examination of how society views gender, Sarah became Aaron, a gay man. This starkly open and moving book describes, in Aaron's words and then in his mother's words, both the costs and the rewards of this journey.

The book is divided into two sections: the longer, beginning section is Aaron's, an intense rendering of what might be called an inner dialogue: Aaron talking to himself about his place in a gendered world; Aaron talking to society about the role of men and women; and Aaron talking to us, the readers, as if we were his close friends, gathered around him as he revealed his life.

The second section belongs to his mother, Hilda Raz. In musing, episodic scenes, she writes about herself as Sarah and then Aaron's mother, about her own work as a poet and editor, and most poignantly about losing her breast to cancer.

On page 86 Aaron says, "A stereotype is a kind of camouflage; the eye finds what it expects to find, and passes over details." Throughout this book we are asked to look at, directly but never sensationally, our bodies' organs, our gender "details," not only as functional anatomy but as symbols of identification.

In both sections, I felt pulled along on this journey, both as someone invited and as someone looking on, an emotional voyeur, and in both sections I observed the unflinching honesty of the authors' revelations. But it in was this final section, the mother's story, that I felt most keenly the love between the two authors. It is this love that becomes the strength of the narrative, the ground on which this incredible story unfolds.

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Diva

Campo, Rafael

Last Updated: Nov-28-2006
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

In his third collection, Campo presents visceral poems that grow organically from the body: his own body and the bodies of patients, lovers, family, and friends. He doesn't write about being a gay physician of Cuban background--rather he crafts poems that address pain, love, and memory within a metrical framework so seamlessly that readers might feel they are healing, seeking, and singing alongside him.

Outstanding poems include "Sonnet in the Cuban Way," "The Return," "The Dream of Loving Cuba," "Madonna and Child," "Baby Pictures" (a prose-poem sequence), "A Poet's Education," "The Changing Face of Aids," and "Recognition." Section V, "Lorca," gives us Campo's translations of Federico Garcia Lorca's Sonnets of Dark Love.

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The Man in the Box

Moran, Thomas

Last Updated: Nov-28-2006
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Dr. Robert Weiss passes through the town of Sankt Vero in the Tirol and rents a room from the Lukasser family. During the night, the Lukasser's son, Niki, develops acute appendicitis; the visiting doctor operates right there on the kitchen table, saving the boy's life. Years later, when war rages in Europe, the Jewish doctor returns to Sankt Vero and knocks on the Lukasser's door. He tells of soldiers forcing men, women, and children into railroad cars, and how he himself--he who had saved Niki years before--needs asylum.

To hide Dr. Weiss, Mr. Lukasser boards him up in a small room in the back of the hayloft, a space one meter wide and three meters high. For two years, the doctor exists in this box. Niki and his friend, a blind girl named Sigi, bring Dr. Weiss food once a day and, for ten minutes or so, they stay and talk. Sustained by Niki and Sigi's lives--the stories of their discoveries of sexuality, cruelty, and love--the doctor survives.

Although Sigi is blind, she has the insight to recognize and try to alleviate the doctor's growing depression by encouraging him to tell his own stories. It is through these stories and through the doctor's observation of Sigi and Niki's blossoming adolescence and struggles with morality that we experience both the doctor's confinement and the powerful conflicts and transformations that rage behind the doors of Sankt Vero.

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