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Editors Angela Belli, professor of English at St. John’s University in New York, and Jack Coulehan, physician-poet and director of the Institute for Medicine in Contemporary Society at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, have selected 100 poems by 32 contemporary physician-poets for this succinct yet meaty anthology. The book is subdivided into four sections, each of which is prefaced by an informative description and highlights of the poems to follow.
Section headings take their names from excerpts of the poems contained therein. There are poems that describe individuals--patients, family members ("from patient one to next"), poems that consider the interface between personal and professional life ("a different picture of me"), poems that "celebrate the learning process" ("in ways that help them see"), and poems in which the poet’s medical training is brought to bear on larger societal issues ("this was the music of our lives").
Several of the poems have been annotated in this database: Abse’s Pathology of Colours (9); Campo’s Towards Curing AIDS (13) and What the Body Told (94); Coulehan’s Anatomy Lesson (97), I’m Gonna Slap Those Doctors (21), The Dynamizer and the Oscilloclast: in memory of Albert Abrams, an American quack (129); Moolten’s Motorcycle Ward (105); Mukand’s Lullaby (33); Stone’s Talking to the Family (79) and Gaudeamus Igitur (109).
Other wonderful poems by these authors are also included in the anthology, e.g. Her Final Show by Rafael Campo, in which the physician tends to a dying drag queen, finally "pronouncing her to no applause" (11); "Lovesickness: a Medieval Text" by Jack Coulehan, wherein the ultimate prescription for this malady is to "prescribe sexual relations, / following which a cure will usually occur" (131); "Madame Butterfly" by David N. Moolten, in which the passengers in a trolley car are jolted out of their cocoons by a deranged screaming woman (142).
Space prohibits descriptions of all 100 poems, but each should be read and savored. Some others are particularly memorable. "Carmelita" by D. A. Feinfeld tells of the physician’s encounter with a feisty tattooed prisoner, who ends up with "a six-inch steel shank" through his chest as the physician labors futiley to save him (23). In "Candor" physician-poet John Graham-Pole struggles with having to tell an eight-year old that he will die from cancer (27). Audrey Shafer writes of a Monday Morning when she makes the transition from the "just-awakened warmth" of her naked little son to tend to the patient whom she will anesthetize "naked under hospital issue / ready to sleep" (72).
In "The Log of Pi" Marc J. Straus muses about being asked "the question / I never knew" that he "pretend[s] not to hear" whose "answer floats on angel’s lips / and is whispered in our ear just once" (113). Richard Donze wants to know why "Vermont Has a Suicide Rate" (132). Vernon Rowe remembers the "hulk of a man" who shriveled away from an abdominal wound and begged, " ’Let me go, Doc,’ / and I did" (44).
The book begins with a "Twenty Question Multiple Choice Self-Help Quiz." Each question is actually a short chapter. For example, the first chapter deals with the "amnesic self" and asks why amnesia is a favorite device in fiction and especially soap operas. Other chapters deal with the nowhere self, the fearful self, the promiscuous self, and so forth.
The second part of the book is an essay on the nature of the self, complete with numerous diagrams and arrows. The third section presents discussions of various manifestations of the self as transcendent, orbiting, exempted, lonely, and demoniac. The last part is called "A Space Odyssey" and is captioned "What to do if there is no man Friday out there and we really are alone?"
Obviously, this summary says virtually nothing about what the book is about. Suffice it to say that Percy brings his playful humor to the central existential question of human meaning and he presents it in the form of a self-help manual.
This remarkable collection of essays, both personal and scientific, is written by a remarkable man, Stephen Hawking, theoretical physicist and Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University (a chair once held by Isaac Newton). Unlike Hawking's earlier bestseller, A Brief History of Time, which was written for the lay public to explain current theories of the universe, this book is a mix of essays, speeches, and even a radio show transcript that were originally produced from 1976 to 1992 and whose intended audiences were varied, although none of the works are purely technical.
Hawking was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease in the USA, motor neuron disease in the UK) at the age of 21 during his first year of graduate school at Cambridge, though he had already noticed weakness the prior year at Oxford. As he describes in "My Experience with ALS," Hawking experienced a rapid deterioration of function and hence depression.
However, during his hospitalization, he also saw a boy die of leukemia, which made him realize that things could be worse. Hawking married, finished his dissertation, fathered children, and went on to develop innovative theories in physics, such as thermal emission by black holes.
The book begins and ends with personal topics-–the first two essays concern his childhood and education, and the last is a transcript of the BBC radio show, "Desert Island Discs," in which the celebrity is asked to name and describe 8 musical selections and one book he or she would choose to have if stranded on a desert island. Hawking describes how important communication is to him, and the computer program designed by Walt Woltosz, which enables him to have an artificial voice (albeit with an American accent), since he lost his natural ability to speak due to the tracheostomy that was required in 1985. Hawking's incredible will to live and his sense of humor come through in this broadcast, as they do in the scientific curiosity so evident in the essays about physics.
In Gain, Richard Powers interweaves two narratives. One is the story of Laura Bodey, a forty-two-year-old divorced realtor with two adolescent children, who lives in the midwestern U.S. town of Lacewood. Sometime in the late 1990s, Laura is diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The account of her illness, treatment, and eventual death is set against the story of the Clare Soap and Chemical corporation, whose headquarters are in Lacewood, from its inception as a trading company at the beginning of the nineteenth century.
The Clare corporation is implicated in Laura's death: pollutants from its Lacewood plant have been associated, not quite unquestionably, with abnormally high cancer rates in the area. A class-action suit against the company succeeds, but Clare, globally powerful and massively differentiated, is ultimately immune: no matter how much we might sympathize with individual members of the Clare company (and Powers ensures that we do), the corporation has become a kind of monster beyond human control.
Summary:As the title explains, the painting depicts Rene Laennec, French physician and inventor of the stethoscope, in a hospital room, his ear pressed to the chest of a male patient, who is sitting up in his bed. In his left hand he holds an early model of the stethoscope. Three other figures appear to the back and right: one is likely another physician, another is a sister/nurse.
Rachel is married to passive Leon who is utterly dependent on her care and organizational skills. They live in a vast, blanc-mange of a suburb where Rachel constantly looses her way while driving home from work. One night, she seeks direction from Wilkes. A strange recluse, he is obsessed with his teenage memory of the lost "girl on the bus" and leads a support group for agoraphobics.
Through contact with Wilkes, Leon gradually grows more independent and finds himself a job. Rachel becomes obsessed with the search for the meaning of "Harry," a mystery man who recurs in her husband's dreams and begins to take over her thoughts. She consults a psychologist, Alex Silver, who soon has Rachel enrolled in a study with two other women. Silver uses dream-deprivation with the goal of enhancing insight about her marriage, her life, and her friends.
Cameo appearances of three depressive, mid-life siblings, Dick, Jane, and Sally, with their dog, Spot, and cat, Puff, emphasize that life in modern suburbia can be a pathology in itself. In Jane, Wilkes finds his lost girl on the bus. Rachel dumps Leon and finds happiness with the agoraphobic developer of the aptly named "Arcadia Centre," where expense, space, light, greenery, and intimacy are employed unstintingly to create a non-pathogenic space for human collectivity.
Perri Klass, who had already written of her medical school education (A Not Entirely Benign Procedure: Four Years as a Medical Student, see this database), took notes, made dashed journal entries, and saved sign-out sheets and other written memorabilia during her internship and residency in pediatrics at The Children’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. Because she is a writer, she looked at her experiences in medical training with an eye towards what stories were happening. This book then is a compendium of stories and essays (some previously published) about Klass’s pediatrics training.
Klass reflects on the difficulties of being a writer and physician: "I have been a double parasite, not only learning off patients, but also writing about them, turning the agonies of sick children into articles, using them to point little morals either about my own development as a doctor or about the dilemmas of modern medicine." (p. 297) But she also notes the benefits of writing during training: "between life at the hospital and with my family, it seemed that all my time was spoken for, and spoken for again. I needed some corner of my life which was all my own, and that corner was writing . . . I could describe the astonishing contacts with life and death which make up everyday routine in the hospital." (p. xvii)
Part of the book concerns issues of women in medicine; Klass debunks the mystique of the "superwoman"--the professional, wife and mother rolled up into one incredible ball of efficiency and perfection--with a month of laundry spilling over the floor. Klass, as a successful writer, struggles with this label and includes an essay on her experiences with a "crazy person" who anonymously and publicly accuses her of plagiarism in the midst of the stress and responsibilities of residency.
However, most of the book is about being a new doctor--the terror, the patients, the procedures, the other doctors and staff. She writes of first nights in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, delivery room crises, adolescents with chronic illnesses, and her struggles as a sleep and time deprived mother.
She addresses difficult issues: moral dilemmas, suffering, loss, the rape and abuse of children, children with AIDS. Throughout the book is a concern for the patient’s experience, as well as the doctor-in-training’s experience. After her first night on call caring for very premature infants she notes: "Maybe my first patient and I have more in common than I realized: we are both too immature to be out in the world, but with a lot of help, we may just make it." (p. 15)
The austere and homesick Breton doctor, René T.H. Laennec (1781-1826) (Pierre Blanchar) and his religious friend, G.L. Bayle (1774-1816) are caring for the hundreds of patients dying of epidemic tuberculosis in the Necker Hospital of Paris. They conduct autopsies on the dead, but cannot predict the findings before the patients' demise, nor can they offer any treatment.
Laennec's sister, Marie-Anne, arrives from Brittany with news of their brother's death from tuberculosis. He confesses his despair over this devastating scourge to his friend, but quickly realizes that Bayle too is doomed. A distant cousin, the widow Jacquemine Guichard Argou, becomes Laennec's housekeeper and companion in philanthropic work for the sick after he is able to reassure her about her health; she engages the widow of Bayle in the same enterprise.
One day in 1816, Laennec is invited by urchins to hear to the scratching of a pin transmitted through the length of a wooden beam. He is thereby inspired to fashion a paper tube to listen to the chests of his patients. With Jacquemine at his side, he joyously announces that he can hear sounds from inside the chest. Feverish research ensues as he links the chests sounds of the dying to the findings at autopsy.
He turns his wooden, cylindrical stethoscopes on a lathe in his apartment, publishes his findings, and marries Argou. Fame and notoriety follow, as Laennec is able to distinguish fatal disease from minor illness and to predict the need for operations; however, he is ridiculed by jealous colleagues. Suffering now himself, Laennec consults his friend Pierre Louis, who tells him that he has tuberculosis. In the final scene, he returns to his native Brittany only to collapse on the stairs of his beloved home and die.
A pediatric intern encounters her first dying child. Her initial response is to care for the child, hold him, and try to comfort him. She is told by her attending physician that this behavior is unprofessional. When she cries in response to her stress and grief, she is told she will never be an effective physician. The narrator then describes how she ultimately came to terms with her impulse to cry at stressful times, and how she interacts with patients in her current practice.
The poem is divided into six stanzas, each titled by a successive day. The subject of the poem is a woman's reaction to mammography and the unexpected "spot" that is discovered. The woman is shown the spot on the mammogram, and the agony begins: does she have breast cancer? The exam occurs on Thursday; she must wait until the following Tuesday to find out.
Meanwhile, life and relationships take on new meanings and tenderness. For instance, at a large family reunion, she is determined to laugh with the family about childhood reminiscences, even though her laughter is now bittersweet (she keeps her torment private from all but her lover).
Other days are filled with worry and nightmare. At long last, during a perfunctory call from her physician, she finds out that the spot is merely a protein deposit. Relieved, she thanks the physician, who remains uninformed of the depth of her patient's recent torment.