Showing 221 - 230 of 258 annotations tagged with the keyword "Illness Narrative/Pathography"

Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Journal

Summary:

This memoir of a clinical psychologist (also a professor of psychology) chronicles her own depression over a period of a year and a half, from early symptoms, through near despair, electroconvulsive therapy, and hospitalization to recovery. The journey is detailed, not only in its treatment of her emotional states, but of her struggle to maintain family and professional life, keep her house and office organized, and attend to a dying friend.

As her bouts of panic and disorientation grow more apparent, first to herself and finally to others, she seeks refuge in spiritual retreats and in conversation with colleagues, ultimately submitting to treatment. She names the emotional "undercurrents" suggested in the book's title with moving precision: panic over sudden disorientation, anxiety about what to keep secret, frustration with her own unreliability, dread of small duties and ordinary appointments, heartache over her faltering efforts to be a good and present mother.

The consent to hospitalization costs a great deal in humility, in risking a controversial treatment, and in letting go of a professional persona she doesn't know whether she'll be able to retrieve. But clearly the book is written by a woman whose clarity is a testimony to regained mental health and exceptional intellectual clarity. It is not a professional record, but an intensely personal memoir of what was both an encounter with serious mental illness and a spiritual journey.

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Vigil

Shapiro, Alan

Last Updated: Aug-15-2000
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Alan Shapiro, poet and professor of English at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, chronicles the life and death of his sister, Beth, who died of breast cancer at the age of 49. Beth lived the last four weeks of her life at a hospice in Texas--this memoir traces those weeks in particular and refracts them against decades of family dynamics, turmoil and triumph. The memoir is composed of 14 tersely named chapters ("The Death," "The Joke") followed by "Afterwords": six poems about Beth.

Alan is the youngest of 3 siblings; Beth was the oldest and David, an actor is the middle child. Despite, or perhaps because of their age difference, Beth and Alan were very close. It was he whom she asked to write her eulogy and it was he who stayed the entire 4 weeks of hospice, save for a brief trip home. From Alan's love and devotion grows an admiration for Beth's integrity in life and death.

Beth married an African-American man, fought for liberal causes, and suffered complete estrangement from her parents due to her choices. Her husband, Russ, must deal not only with the loss of his wife and their daughter's loss of her mother, but also with the prejudice of the Shapiro parents and the medical establishment. At one point Shapiro describes how, whenever he accompanied his sister and her husband to the doctor's office, Alan, not Russ, was treated as the spouse and decision-maker.

Shapiro vividly depicts the poignancy of parent-child relationships. Gabbi, the seven-year-old daughter who loves horses, gallops through the house with grace and abandon not possible at the hospice. Alan's anger at his father's actions and his forgiveness of his mother's accomplice role are also strongly demonstrated. A great strength of this book is the choice of detail: the mother completes a book of crossword puzzles during the vigil; the brother becomes infatuated with a particular joke he wants to memorize; nurses leave a solitary rose on the bed of the newly dead at the hospice.

Shapiro is keenly interested in being with his sister right at the moment of her death. He describes the end: "one long, deep, and profoundly eerie moan . . . That moan, I'm certain, marked the end of Beth, the end of life, though the body went on breathing for another minute or so, each breath a little fainter, weaker, the body's electricity guttering down, dissolving, till there was no breath at all." (pp. 111-2)

He also analyzes whether this was "a good death." There had been many gifts: Beth's recognition of her importance, her reconciliation with her father, and her acceptance of her mother's devotion. However, Shapiro also keeps the reader cognizant of Beth's suffering and the now motherless child, the spouseless husband and the myriad other ways that Beth's death marked a void.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

After a stressful trip to cold-war Russia in 1964, Saturday Review editor Norman Cousins tells how he developed a debilitating illness which confines him to bed. He is admitted to hospital for tests and treatments, and is diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, but his condition deteriorates and he is given a gloomy prognosis. He notices that the depressing routine of hospital life tends to produce side effects that aggravate his condition.

With the blessing of one of his doctors, he checks out of hospital and into a comfortable (yet less expensive) hotel where the food is better and he can watch funny movies while he medicates himself with high doses of Vitamin C. He is convinced that the slow improvement in his condition is owing to his individualized methods of therapy and his having taken charge of his own situation.

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Annotated by:
Sirridge, Marjorie

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

This book is the very personal story of one woman's struggle against a debilitating mental illness, which fortunately she was helped to overcome in time to allow her to complete her medical education and become a practicing physician. She says that the material was recalled partly from a diary kept during the time of original events, from memories of others, and from medical records.

The first chapter describes the author as a medical student assigned to a psychiatric service; subsequent chapters go back to the beginning of her personally perceived problems at age six, concluding with her amazing recovery after being treated with dialysis and her eventual acceptance to and success in completing medical school.

Dr. North's descriptions of her own perceptions of the sensations she experienced, the voices which talked to her and her remarkable persistence in school despite this are mesmerizing. Also, her description of treatment by physicians and care in mental institutions is very instructive. Her description of family relationships is intrinsic to the telling of her story. This book describes the anguish of mental illness from the inside.

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Diary

Summary:

Gottlieb, nearing thirty years old, discovered her childhood diaries in a closet in her parents' home as she searched for some chemistry notes to aid in her quest to attend medical school. This book is "based on diaries" she wrote when she was diagnosed with and underwent treatment for anorexia nervosa. It is the writing of a precocious, strong-willed preteen who enjoys chess, being unique, writing, and getting straight A's in school, yet who is lonely and desperate to fit in and be popular.

Lori is eleven years old, lives in Beverly Hills, California with her fashion-conscious, loves-to-shop mother, her somewhat distant stockbroker father, her older brother David who now is into music and friends and not-Lori, and her best friend Chrissy, a pet parakeet. Lori's diary entries are filled with astute observations of adults (teachers, parents, relatives, medical personnel, even a television star she meets, Jaclyn Smith) and classmates.

She is wry and witty. An early entry gives an English essay she rewrote to get an "A". These "power paragraphs" are generously and hilariously sprinkled with "proper transitions" such as "to begin with", "moreover", and "on the other hand" that her teacher insists are necessary for readability. This essay provides telling insights about Lori's perceptions of her family, particularly (note transition word) her mother's superficiality.

Lori is surrounded by messages of the glories of thinness for women. Every female she encounters, from peer to adult, is on a diet, counts calories, avoids desserts and gossips about how other women and girls look. The culture is not only anti-obesity, but pro-superthinness. Hence it is logical that Lori, angry about being taken from school to go on a family trip to Washington, D.C., begins her rebellion and search for control by skipping meals and dieting.

She gets the attention she craves from her parents. Her schoolmates ask her for diet advice and admire her weight loss. Self-denial, obsession with calories (that she believes can even be gained by breathing), and secret exercising lead to an alarming weight loss in this already skinny kid.

Her mother takes her to the pediatrician, who prescribes whole milk which Lori refuses. He refers her to a psychiatrist, who eventually hospitalizes her for behavior modification, observation, and a possible feeding tube. At the hospital, Lori meets medical students, nurses and fellow patients, but becomes progressively more depressed, dehydrated and lonely. She attempts to run away and makes a suicide gesture. Finally, she sees herself for what she has become--an emaciated stick figure.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

The author of this memoir is a poet and writer who developed systemic lupus erythematosis (SLE) during her first year at the University of Pennsylvania. Initially, her condition was difficult to diagnose, which led to her first negative encounters with physicians and the health care system. Later, Ms. Goldstein developed unusual neurological manifestations of SLE. Once again, she had trouble convincing her doctors that her symptoms were not only real, but also disabling. She was fortunate enough to come across a few good physicians who respected her as a person and earned her trust.

Despite her chronic illness, Ms. Goldstein thrived throughout college and graduate school. She approached each new challenge with such a positive attitude that some of her doctors considered her emotionally unstable. (I guess they thought it would be more "normal" for her to lose hope and turn herself into an invalid.) Her graduate work in literature focused on the new field of literature and medicine.

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In a Tangled Wood

Dyer, Joyce

Last Updated: Feb-29-2000
Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

In this lyrical, funny, sad, heartwarming work, Joyce Dyer takes us inside an Alzheimer's unit where she visits her mother daily and watches as she experiences the many absurdities and contradictions of this disease over several years. Dyer records not only the behavior of her mother and other patients in the unit but also her own feelings of worry, anger, frustration and then acceptance. The prose-poem style of this writing makes the work especially wonderful to read, because it is a work of art as well as a very helpful document.

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Travels with John Hunter

Murray, Les

Last Updated: Jan-27-2000
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The poem's title refers to John Hunter Hospital, where Les Murray lay near death for three weeks as a result of a liver condition. He "turned yellow as the moon / and slid inside a CAT-scan wheel," then found himself emerging from a "time warp" of unconsciousness 20 days later. Murray reports that he is "the only poet whose liver / damage hadn't been self-inflicted."

He goes on to explain what had happened to make his liver rehearse "the private office of the grave." When he was over the crisis, he signed a "Dutch contract," presumably an advance directive of some sort. Surprisingly, surviving his bout of acute liver failure seemed to cure his other problem, "the Black Dog, depression." The poem ends with a paean of gratitude for "the project of seeing conscious life / rescued from death." [80 lines]

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

The writer describes her experience as a cancer patient, thrust into "the Land of the Sick" by the diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer four years earlier. Although she is not ill, the fear of mortality embedded in a diagnosis of cancer is a dragon that haunts her existence.

To cope with the dragon she relies on talismen: her doctors, personal will, and her garden peas, an emblem of everyday life and its constant renewal. The talismen create the semblance of control over her situation. She observes that "doctors and patients are accomplices in staging a kind of drama" and that the patient and her continued well-being become talismen for the doctor too.

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Summary:

This collection about the experience of suffering and recovery from physical and emotional illness is unique in that each essay is composed by an established writer who uses his or her literary skills in the rendering of the narrative. The nature of the illnesses lived varies from chronic depression to a broken leg, from progressive and potentially fatal disease to the intermittent disability of connective tissue disorder.

Some of the stories are poetic in their use of metaphor and symbol, others are circumspect about the reality of the effect of illness, as well as healing, on the creative process. Together, they make an interesting cross-section of narrative responses to disruption of life plans.

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