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Although Dr. Helman’s untimely death did not permit a final editing by this prodigious writer, the published edition is not a book-in-progress. An Amazing Murmur of the Heart: Feeling the Patient’s Beat represents a powerful and persistent continuation of observations and themes that grew out of medical education, close observations of physicians and patients, and his studies in anthropology. All of these forge an approach to patient care that is out of the ordinary.
As his previous writings suggest, Helman is passionate about medicine but concerned, equally about the emergence of those who fail to listen and to those who might be called techno-doctors. While professing his appreciation of and attraction to the magic machine or computer, he is mindful of its absence of emotion and ambiguity. “For this post-human body is one that exists mainly in abstract, immaterial form. It is a body that has become pure information.” (p. 11)
Chapters are comprised of stories about patients and their care providers, each representing complex facets that defy precise measurement, answers and conclusions. As Helman steadily notes, the physician must be an archeologist:
Most patients present their doctors with only the broken shards of human life—the one labeled infection, disease, suffering and pain each of these shards is only a small part of a much larger picture….the doctor will have to try and reconstruct the rest. (p.66)
In general, the chapters illustrate first an initial review of medical history, and then specific patient stories. Of the two, the story is most important. “Mask of Skin,” for example, begins with an overview of skin from Vesalius to the present: largest organ, stripped bare by anatomists, penetrated by disease, later scanned and X-Rayed, tattooed, re-fitted by surgeons, etc. That said, Helman the physician-anthropologist, moves from science to specific stories about patients whose skin may cover profound experiences, psychic and otherwise, that might be overlooked by a dermatologist. Although skin is involved in each of that chapter’s stories, the willing physician must dig deeper in his observations and caring manner to make more profound discoveries.
In a chapter entitle “Healing and Curing” the author describes an old friend, a practitioner who provides advice about patient care that ”was not included in his medical texts”. Patients are more than a diagnosis dressed in clothes. Doctors must make patients “feel seen, listened to, alive”. Always patients should be regarded as people who happen to be sick. From his admired colleague Helman learned to be an attentive listener to the "tiny, trivial, almost invisible things" in patient encounters and stories. To truly heal as well as cure requires the doctor to empathise with what the patient is feeling thereby requiring both an act of imagination and of the heart. The chapter, of course, continues with with stories that illustrate the points enunciated by his colleague and accepted by his disciple.
In the photograph, the camera frames the window of a rundown motel room on a snowy evening. Inside, a young mother in a pale green nightgown sits on the side of a bed gazing sadly at her sleeping baby curled up on the far side of the mattress. This is one of the hauntingly beautiful images in “Brief Encounters,” a documentary about the photographer Gregory Crewdson and his project “Beneath the Roses.“
The son of a Brooklyn psychoanalyst, Crewdson and his family spent summers at a lakeside cottage near Pittsfield in western Massachusetts. It is to this area, with its abandoned shops and dilapidated buildings, that Crewdson returns over and over again to search for settings for his intricately composed photographs. These towns, he says in the film’s narration, “were really backdrops for a more submerged psychological drama,” one that blurs the line between reality and fiction. Crewdson approaches his photographs as if making a film, with a crew of as many as 60 people and a cast composed of the townspeople he encounters in his travels. But unlike a film, the photographs capture a single moment in time. For Crewdson, what happens before and after is of no interest to him. Rather, he is concerned with just that one frame, “a perfect moment.”
Crewdson creates his worlds as a way to explore his own anxieties, fears and desires. The images he constructs are exquisitely detailed and psychologically complex, inviting multiple interpretations by viewers. An engaging narrator, he directly addresses his own fear of failure, how he struggles to overcome it and to continue working despite periods of self-doubt.
Summary:This book combines social history with personal memoir. It serves as a reflection on how the various challenges of living with chronic illness have shifted over time, and how they are still real and present for the increasing portion of the population who suffer from ills invisible to others and often hard to account for. The book's brief treatments of cultural and medical approaches to chronic illness, from ancient practices to "patients in the digital age," provide a broad perspective against which to consider current legislative, political, medical, and personal concerns for those coping with chronic illness or disability.
Summary:In this collection of essays on writers' end-of-life memoirs Berman combines a fine-tuned appreciation of literary strategies with reflections on how writers, who have defined themselves, their philosophies, their voices, and their values publicly, bring their life work to characteristic and fitting conclusions in writing about their own dying. The writers he considers cover a broad spectrum that ranges from Roland Barthes and Edward Said to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and Tony Judt to Art Buchwald and Randy Pausch. Each essay offers insights into the writer's approaches to death and dying against the background of his or her earlier work.
Roger Angell, longtime sports writer, senior editor and staff writer for the New Yorker, and a recent inductee to the Baseball Hall of Fame, gives us a deeply revelatory tour of old age in "This Old Man." Perhaps a lighthouse beam more accurately describes what his thoughts/scenes provide those of us who are younger — some much younger, since Angell is 93 years old at the time of the essay's publication — who are following him to the shores of old age. Through his words and images he provides brilliant flashes of the present, the near past and distant past, allowing us to see, feel and experience virtually his journey to becoming an "elder" (which he playfully places "halfway between a tree and an eel"). Most revealing are his thoughts on his relationship with his failing body, with memory intrusions ("What I've come to count on is the white-coated attendant of memory, silently here again to deliver dabs from the laboratory dish of me"), with being invisible, and with the still powerful need for intimacy, love and attachment.
Summary:Marie Commeford, daughter of Irish Catholic immigrants who grows up in Brooklyn, narrates her life story in episodes rich with reflection on the losses, failed fantasies, illnesses, and disappointments of a life at the edge of poverty, which is also rich with love and poetry and humor and the stuff of which wisdom is made. The story unfolds as memory unfolds, in flashbacks and reconstructions shaped by a present vantage point from which it all assumes a certain mantle of grace. From the opening story in which a neighbor girl slips on the steps to a basement apartment and is killed, to repeated glimpses of a blind veteran who umpires the neighborhood boys' street games, to the bereaved families Marie meets when she works for the local undertaker, to her gradual discovery of her brother's closeted homosexuality, and to her aging mother's death, the story keeps reminding us of how much of life is coming to terms with the "ills that flesh is heir to," and also how resilience grows in the midst of loss. Because much of the story represents the vantage point of a child only partially protected from hard things, it invites us to reflect on how children absorb large and hard truths and learn to cope with them.
Nora Kynd (born in 1825) was a central character in Barrett’s Ship Fever (in this database). She survived illness and quarantine at Grosse Ile, but lost contact with both her younger brothers, Ned and Denis. She reaches Detroit by 1848 where she learns about herbal remedies from a kindly landlady. She marries late and has a son, Michael, but never stops searching for her brothers. Her husband dies. One day in 1868, Nora sees Ned’s name as the proprietor of a hunting and fishing lodge in the Adirondacks. She packs up everything and moves there with her young son.
Ned takes Nora and Michael into his home. He carries on with the hunting business and taxidermy, but they increasingly cater to people with tuberculosis who come for “The Cure” of good food, fresh air, and lots of rest—as a reflection of the famous nearby sanatorium (unnamed but likely the Trudeau Sanatorium at Saranac Lake). In this capacity, they meet lodgers Clara and her two daughters Gillian and Elizabeth—the almost abandoned family of the naturalist Max from Barrett’s story “Servants of the Map” (also this database).
Young Elizabeth has a cough and an eye for Michael, but he has eyes only for Gillian whom he eventually marries. Together they take over Ned’s Inn. For her cough, Elizabeth becomes a resident of the sanatorium and finds her own husband in fellow invalid, Andrew. Together they open a nearby boarding house for other invalids and Nora joins them in the endeavor as the nurse, serving until her death. But Nora was difficult to replace and Elizabeth is now searching for a new nurse to help with the care of her ailing clients.
Summary:Benjamin Rubin is completing his surgical residency in a Tel Aviv hospital when the director of the hospital asks him to accompany him and his wife to India to rescue their daughter who is critically ill. This invitation distresses him, as he recognizes in it a way of removing him from competition for a position in surgery at the hospital. He makes the trip, however, and is entranced by Indian culture and mysticism, and, eventually, not by the daughter but by the mother he accompanied. Back in Tel Aviv, he has a brief affair with the mother, moves into an apartment she owns, leaving his mother's home, and, to allay his obsession with an unavailable woman, marries an independent-minded woman who has also traveled in India and absorbed Buddhist spirituality and Eastern philosophy she discovered there. Working as an anesthesiologist, Benjy continues in that setting, conflicted about both work and life, unable to connect deeply with any of those whose love he has received or sought. Eventually his wife leaves with their baby daughter to return to India, where she has found a spiritual home, and Benjy remains in a divided state of mind in a divided country where his own spiritual heritage remains to be plumbed.
Summary:The protagonist-physician, Dr. Aira, is an almost 50-year-old sleepwalker who resides in Buenos Aires. He's nearsighted, introspective, and paranoid. Dr. Aira's fame stems from his "miracle cures" - even though it's not clear that he's ever actually performed one. Dr. Aira does not believe in God.
Summary:A 50-year-old man is showering when he experiences pressure in his chest and throat associated with profound fatigue. An ambulance is called, and the emergency medical personnel inform him that he is having a heart attack. As he lays bare on his bed, his emotions switch from shock to indifference to a sense of calm with acceptance of impending death.