Showing 211 - 220 of 229 annotations tagged with the keyword "Humor and Illness/Disability"

A Poet in the Family

Abse, Dannie

Last Updated: May-11-1999
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

This short, anecdotal autobiography begins with the author's birth in Cardiff in 1923 and ends in the mid-1960's when the author had become a successful writer and physician in London. Much of the story concerns Abse's childhood and youth. The theme is self-definition: how did it come about that, like Anton P. Chekhov, the young Dannie Abse chose to devote his life to "chasing two hares" (medicine and writing).

His lower middle-class Jewish parents, especially his father, found no redeeming social value in having a poet in the family. Influenced by his older brother Wilfred (who became a psychoanalyst), Dannie gravitated toward medicine as a career, although he almost fainted when he observed his first surgery.

When Dannie was a student in London, poetry energized his life. He published "After Every Green Thing," his first volume of poetry, while still in medical training (1949). He also met Joan, his future wife, in 1949 and they were married in 1951.

He was assigned to reading chest x-rays while serving his time in the Royal Air Force. Subsequently, Dannie took a part-time job as a civilian in the RAF chest clinic in London and began his dual career as chest physician and writer. Near the end of A Poet in the Family, Dannie describes the death of his father in Llandough Hospital in 1964.

View full annotation

Spin Dry

Hollingshead, Greg

Last Updated: Feb-08-1999
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

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.

View full annotation

Barium

Kirchwey, Karl

Last Updated: Jan-26-1999
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

This poem describes the ineffable experience of

having a barium enema to answer the question, "has time betrayed you yet?" While it is summer outside, inside the room "numbers flee across / banked screens." The narrator tries not to be there, but he is. Soon he will "pass a gallon, / more or less, of latex enamel, / as blooms of cramp go on and on." He sees the barium as it moves through the compartments of his large intestine, and he reflects that "life is so common"--but not his life.

View full annotation

Raising Lazarus

Pensack, Robert

Last Updated: Jan-13-1999
Annotated by:
Martinez, Richard

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Dr. Pensack writes in the first chapter of his memoir: "Through a lifetime I have been in the process of dying, consistently surprised when reminded that life is appallingly brief, and briefer still for me. The prospect of an early death has amounted to little more than embarrassment and loneliness, even though the routine of living can be, and usually is, just one goddamn thing after another. A new heart was somehow supposed to be my bloody-red carpet of victory." (p. 7)

At age 4, Pensack's mother died of IHSS, Idiopathic Hypertrophic Subaortic Stenosis--now known as HCM, Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, a genetically inherited, progressive disease of heart muscle that results in early death. At age 15, Pensack receives the terrible news of his own fate--the disease afflicts both Pensack and his older brother--and thus launches a life of near death experiences, numerous hospitalizations, early experiences at the National Institutes of Health with early investigators of the disease, pursuit of his own medical training and eventual specialty training in psychiatry, marriage and children, and ultimately, the waiting and eventual transplantation of a younger man's heart into his chest at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center when Pensack was 43.

Raising Lazarus tells of Pensack's journey through much of this, including his descent into madness, his fury and anger with medical colleagues, his poignant relationship with the heart surgeon who eventually performs the transplant, and the importance of his family in his refusal to die. While much of the book tells of the events leading to the transplant and post-operative period of Pensack's life, the reader learns of Pensack's early losses, including the death of his mother, and how these experiences shape the values of a gutsy and determined survivor, a man who continually returns to the struggle.

View full annotation

Harvey

Hull, Josephine; Koster, Henry; Stewart, James

Last Updated: Jan-12-1999
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

With regret, Veta Simmons (Josephine Hull) decides to have her affable brother Elwood P. Dowd (James Stewart) committed to an asylum. His drinking and his unshakeable delusion of Harvey, a six-foot rabbit who is his constant companion, are interfering with her plans to find her daughter a suitable mate.

The young doctor is a psychiatric zealot, and when Veta claims that she is so fed up that she can sometimes "see that rabbit," he cleverly commits her instead. The error is discovered and rectified, but the gentle manners of Dowd (and his rabbit) eventually convince the young doctor, his nurse, their boss, and even Veta herself that he does not deserve to be locked up. They release him at the very moment he is about to receive a new chemical treatment guaranteed to rid him of the delusion. Dowd happily sets out to share the rest of his life with Harvey.

View full annotation

All the Western Stars

Williams, Philip Lee

Last Updated: Nov-25-1998
Annotated by:
Taylor, Nancy

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Narrated by Jake Baker, a 73-year-old who'd been sent to a nursing home by his niece, this novel recounts the adventures of Jake and Lucas Kraft after they leave a nursing home to become cowboys. Lucas is a writer whose pessimistic view of life is the opposite of Jake's. Never able to tell the truth about himself, Lucas has lost both fame and love but not his lust for life.

The two men hitchhike west (with a series of crazy drivers) and eventually find jobs on a Texas ranch. Jake falls in love with Betty, perhaps the foulest-mouthed cook ever invented; Lucas finds Sally Crandall, his ex-wife, a movie star, and the love of his life, who's performing in a cowboy-and-Indians movie not far from the ranch. Jake and Lucas actually do become cowboys (in the movie).

View full annotation

Summary:

Eleanor Lightbody (Bridget Fonda) and her husband Will (Matthew Broderick) travel to the Battle Creek Sanitarium for the cure. On the train, they meet Charlie Ossining (John Cusak) who hopes to make his fortune in the booming breakfast food industry. The san is run on strict rules of vegetarianism and sexual abstinence by John Harvey Kellogg (Anthony Hopkins), inventor of the corn flake. Regular enemas, exercises, outings and baths are prescribed, but Will repeatedly breaks the rules and is lured into liaisons with a chlorotic fellow patient and his nurse.

Eventually, he and Eleanor turn to other unconventional treatments, which are not sanctioned by Kellogg, including nudism and sexual stimulation. Meanwhile Charlie joins up with George Kellogg (Dana Carvey), the Doctor's adopted but estranged son, who taunts his father when he is not extorting money from him. George sets the san on fire, but is reconciled with Kellogg during the conflagration when he sobs "Daddy give us a cuddle." The Lightbodys go home to a moderate pursuit of health.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

In 1984 Handler was a moderately successful 23 year old New York City actor, when he developed acute myelogenous leukemia. Strongly supported by his girlfriend and family, Handler underwent induction and, later, consolidation chemotherapy at Sloan-Kettering Memorial Hospital, where he also began his long experience (the "comedy of terrors" or, perhaps more appropriately, the "tragedy of errors") of a harsh, hostile medical environment populated by arrogant physicians, condescending nurses, and a host of unhelpful minor characters.

Handler carries us briskly through his first remission, the impact of his illness on his family and personal relationships, his experience with nonconventional healing (Simonton Cancer Center), his return to work on Broadway, his relapse, and the agony of a second round of induction chemotherapy at Sloan-Kettering.

Subsequently, he goes to Johns Hopkins Hospital to undergo the rigors of an autologous bone marrow transplant. At Hopkins he discovers to his surprise a medical setting far different from Sloan-Kettering: communicative, compassionate physicians and a patient-centered healing environment. Even the two hospitals' sperm banks reflect this radical difference in approach.

After surviving his transplant and a subsequent round of serious infections, Handler resumes his life. He realizes that most of the time nowadays he is not in touch with the sense of joy and gratitude for each moment that the illness taught him. Yet, these feelings exist below his consciousness; sometimes he steps through "a little doorway near the floor of my consciousness" and experiences his life in a simpler, more profound way.

View full annotation

Afternoon Memory

Soto, Gary

Last Updated: Mar-26-1998
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The narrator find himself in the kitchen where "the faucet drips" and "The magnets on the refrigerator crawl down / with the gravity of expired coupons and doctor bills." He looks into the refrigerator, trying to remember whether he has seen any of its contents before. He is preoccupied with his body, which is aging. His mind wanders. Suddenly, he is alert again, oriented to the present and ready to take charge--of his diet and of his life. "I'm full of hope. / I open the refrigerator. / I've seen this stuff before."

View full annotation

The Road to Wellville

Boyle, T. Coraghessan

Last Updated: Mar-08-1998
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In the fall of 1907, Will and Eleanor Lightbody, a wealthy, neurotic couple from Peterskill, New York travel to Battle Creek, Michigan to immerse themselves in the routine of the famous sanitarium run by corn-flake inventor, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg. They meet Charlie Ossining who is seeking his fortune in the fickle market of Battle Creek's breakfast food industry. The Lightbodys have just lost their infant daughter and Eleanor is taking Will to the "san" for the cure. An inveterate meat-eater with a sexual appetite, Will was addicted, first to alcohol, and then, to opium, after his wife spiked his coffee with an off-the-shelf-remedy for drink.

At the sanitarium, they must occupy separate rooms, refrain from sex, and piously eat inflexible non-meat diets. Therapies include five daily enemas, exercises, "radiated" water, and an electrical "sinusoidal bath," which accidentally fries one of the residents. Kellogg is gravely disappointed in Will's inability to toe the "physiologic" line, but he is more deeply disturbed by his adopted son, George, whose chosen life on the street is a perpetual embarrassment.

Worried about his sexual prowess and deprived of his wife, Will becomes obsessed with his beautiful nurse and opts for the stimulation of an electrical belt; equally frustrated and bent on self-starvation, his wife turns to the quack "Dr Spitzvogel" who specializes in nudism and "manipulation of the womb." Brought to their senses by humiliation, Will and Eleanor go home.

Meanwhile, Charlie has joined with George Kellogg and borrowed from Will to keep his business afloat, but he realizes that he has been swindled. He only narrowly escapes jail, during a fiery commotion created by George who is then murdered by his adoptive father.

View full annotation