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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.
Summary:This is a compendium of original critical essays on a wide range of topics written by a diverse group of scholars of what has traditionally been called "medical humanities." The editors argue for a change of name to "health humanities," pointing out that "medical" has a narrow frame of reference - evoking primarily the point of view of physicians and their interaction with patients, as well as the institution of biomedicine. Such a focus may exclude the myriad allied individuals and communities who work with patients and their families. The editors quote Daniel Goldberg, who notes that the health humanities should have the primary goal of "health and human flourishing rather than . . the delivery of medical care" (quoted on page 7).
Summary:Soldier Girls is an exhaustively researched, intimate report by a journalist of the lives and deployments of three women in the Indiana National Guard, who, through serving together in Afghanistan, become friends. Each of the women joined the Guard prior to 9/11/2001, mostly for economic reasons. Thorpe selected women who were vastly different in age and background. Debbie Helton becomes a grandmother during deployment and has served in the guard for decades - she is eager to be deployed. Michelle Fischer (a pseudonym) is newly out of high school, has liberal political views and sees the Guard as a way to pay college tuition. Desma Brooks is a single mother of three with a fractured and unreliable support system. All three have alcohol and or drug dependency issues. Brooks and Helton are deployed a second time - to Iraq.
In his introduction, the author summarizes the history of polio’s first appearance as an epidemic in the United States, the ensuing research, subsequent applications of new information, attempts at abatement and ultimate success in the development of preventative measures.
Embedded in the successes and failures of the research applications are the details of human interactions. Their impact on the goal of achieving near extinction of polio in America constitutes a dramatic subplot, which the historian adroitly weaves into the work.
For the reader who has only a sketchy knowledge of this important period in medical research, this history provides details of human exchanges, conflicts and resolutions necessary to bring the scientific developments to fruition. Central among the multiple struggles rests the basic disagreement between Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin, two of the most prominent scientists working against the clock to develop the most effective and safest form of immunization. Each new surge of the disease added to the urgency of the problem as well as to the question of the best solution. Salk felt strongly that the immune system should be stimulated by a killed virus preparation, while Sabin was equally convinced that only the living virus could provide this need. Each view had its own cadre of supporters and of opponents.
Funding issues also troubled those fighting the polio epidemics. The March of Dimes is credited with raising a record $55 million in the fight against polio in early 1954, becoming the first major infectious disease battle to benefit from a concerted public awareness campaign and demonstrating the power of such volunteer driven efforts to supplement public and other private funding efforts.
Summary:In the course of sharing her own experience of breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, the writer offers personal reflections on coping with each of a number of specific challenges most American women with breast cancer face: desperation, fear, sadness, anger, guilt, overwhelming choices about treatment, side-effects of treatment, grief, adjusting to a new "normal," shifts in relationship, and rethinking spirituality. She raises hard questions in a compassionate way, encouraging readers to use the experience of illness as an occasion for examining and growing into a new phase of psycho-spiritual maturity.
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.
Summary:A chubby boy with a vivid imagination and a terminally ill man intent on suicide share an adventure in survival on an extremely cold day. Robin plays make-believe as he heads to a pond in the woods. In the distance, he spots an emaciated man who appears to be wearing only pajamas. Fifty-three year old Don Eber is dying from cancer that's in his brain. Surgery and chemotherapy have not prevented its progress. He's come to the woods on this frigid day to die with dignity.
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.
Annie Howard is beginning high school in Tacoma, Washington in 1950, four years after her father returned from World War II, having been blinded in combat. Her mother has opened her own beauty salon as a way of coping with her husband’s disability and the loss of earning power it has meant. Annie loves her father, and maintains a close relationship with him, but is dismayed by his recurrent depressions and his steady refusal to get a guide dog, go out into the world, and respond to invitations to volunteer with an organization that helps other veterans similarly afflicted. As the school year begins she meets two new friends, a Dutch brother and sister—refugees whose parents were killed in the war and who now live with an aunt and uncle. Through them, and ultimately through her father, Annie learns some hard truths about the lasting effects of trauma, about the role of acceptance in healing, and about how a more grown-up love involves willingness to accompany others through some of the darker dimensions of suffering.