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Summary:Linden, a professor of neuroscience, has written a book for a general audience on the subject of touch. A synthetic thinker, he combines insights from science, anatomy, neurophysiology, psychology, and social behavior. He argues that touch pervades much of human experience: “From consumer choice to sexual intercourse, from tool use to chronic pain to the process of healing, the genes, cells, and neural circuits involved in the sense of touch have been crucial to creating our unique human experience” (p. 5). Case studies of medical oddities enliven his account.
Summary:The nameless narrator has been hospitalized for months. A terrible accident while driving his Jeep. He survived, more or less. The other occupants of the vehicle - his wife and two children - did not. He watched them die. A traumatic brain injury and locked-in syndrome have left him unable to communicate. Although his body is useless, he assures us that he is completely lucid and resentfully aware of his circumstances. He desperately wants to die and admits, "I am already dead with grief" (p. 245).
Summary:Carol Levine's anthology of stories and poems about the intimate caregiving that takes place within families and among friends and lovers reminds us that the experience of illness reaches beyond clinicians and patients. It can also touch, enrich, and exasperate the lives of those who travel with patients into what Levine calls the land of limbo. This land oddly resembles the place where some Christian theologians believe lost souls wander indefinitely between heaven and hell. For Levine the limbo of familial caregiving is an unmapped territory. In it caregivers perform seemingly endless medical, social, and psychological labors without professional training and with feelings of isolation and uncertainty. Caregiving in this modern limbo, created by contemporary medicine's capacity to extend the lives of those with chronic conditions and terminal illnesses, has become, according to Levine, "a normative experience" (1).
This story centers on Lena, an immigrant teen from Ukraine, whose entire family has been traumatized and uprooted by family deaths during a violent pogrom. Relocated to Chicago, in a tiny apartment on Bittersweet Place, the family struggles to survive in the years prior to World War I. Wineberg’s tale of disrupted life and resettlement is weighted by formidable issues that stretch beyond the ordinary range of family experiences.
Lena, the intelligent, highly observant and resilient adolescent, narrates an unvarnished tale of survival for the extended family clustered together in this strange new world, but especially for herself. While the family’s economic and financial circumstances are difficult, her own life is made worse by an unkind teacher, mean-spirited classmates, and hormonal impulses. Her uncle touches her inappropriately, a favorite uncle goes mad, a cousin dies, and her mother, who is unfamiliar with the new world setting and mores, drives her crazy.
Nevertheless, Lena is a clear-eyed survivor exhibiting a surprising toughness of character and determination. For example, her introduction to sex is far more direct than might occur with most girls of that time. In addition, when her teacher fails cruelly to support her artistic talents, she shows amazing defiance. When she discovers that her father has a beautiful female friend, undoubtedly a lover, her consideration of this circumstance does not render the crushing blow that might be expected. In retrospect she is more adult, more mature than most young women might be in each of these situations. She is a remarkable young woman with a spirited edge.
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.
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: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.