Showing 221 - 230 of 381 annotations tagged with the keyword "Narrative as Method"

The Bell Curve

Gawande, Atul

Last Updated: Oct-04-2005
Annotated by:
Sirridge, Marjorie

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

Subtitled "What happens when patients find out how good their doctors really are," this article starts with an important statement: "Every illness is a story, and Annie Page's began with the kinds of small unexceptional details that mean nothing until seen in hindsight."

This is the introduction to a look at a child with cystic fibrosis and how her family sought the best care for her.

The author, Dr. Atul Gawande, goes on not only to tell their story but also the story of the way in which the understanding of this disorder has increased and the unusual rigor with which centers that specialize in the disease are evaluated.

He also includes stories of other sufferers to emphasize the importance of surveillance of their care.

These stories allow him to generalize about the way physicians' care is evaluated in general by the public and our medical organizations and how difficult it is to be at the high end of the Bell Curve. The author concludes, "When the stakes are our lives and the lives of our children, we expect averageness to be resisted."

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Annotated by:
Marta, Jan

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novella

Summary:

Through his own studies and brilliance, a peasant servant of two students becomes an educated man. Persuaded by an army recruiter of the soldier's good life, he travels Europe before returning to his studies and becoming a licensed graduate of the law. An enamored woman inadvertently poisons him with a presumed love potion, leaving him crazy, believing he is made of glass. The Glass Graduate gains fame and fortune for his wit and wisdom, despite (because of) his folly. Cured by a cleric, his former large following rejects the now sane professional. He returns to the good life of soldiering.

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My Mother Dying

Johnson, Hillary

Last Updated: Aug-26-2005
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

The title of this variegated narrative hardly does it justice. Though some of the most eloquent passages are about the lingering death of the author's mother, Ruth Johnson, from esophageal cancer, it is, just as centrally, the writer's memoir of growing up with the woman she has just seen through her final years of diminishment and loss, and commentary on her mother's art as testimony to her quirky, original, unconstrained, sometimes jaundiced, often hilarious view of the human comedy.

Hillary Johnson returned to Minneapolis from New York to be with her mother and stepfather after years of only intermittent contact and in the process of reentering her mother's life, came to reassess her own. Ruth chain-smoked, drank freely, lived spontaneously, painted uninhibitedly (40 illustrations include examples of her artwork) and often bestowed her art without price wherever it was appreciated. She was a local celebrity and the daughter, who has achieved her own success, finds in her mother's life a new measure of her own. In retrospect, she recognizes the costs, both to her mother and to herself, of the bohemian way of life she knew as a child, and the pain she didn't at the time fully recognize as such.

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Annotated by:
Woodcock, John

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Case Studies)

Summary:

This is a collection of two dozen case studies, written for non-medical readers, of patients with right-brain disorders. The chapters are divided into four groups: "Losses," dealing with loss of memory, cognition, and proprioceptive sense; "Excesses," with tics and other cases of overabundance; "Transports," with seizures and various "dreamy states," and "The World of the Simple," concerning mental retardation. In every case, Sacks focuses on the interior or existential world of the patient as the foundation of diagnosis and treatment. Sacks argues that this approach is appropriate for the right hemisphere, which compared to the left is less dedicated to specific skills and more dedicated to a "neurology of identity."

Sacks openly proposes these studies as a corrective to the field of neurology, which has tended to focus on the left hemisphere and therefore, he argues, has wound up treating patients solely in terms of specific deficits, often to their detriment. In "the higher reaches of neurology," and in psychology, Sacks argues, disease and identity must be studied together, and thus he recommends that neurologists "restore the human subject at the centre" of the case study. Sacks warmly recommends music, story-telling, and prayer as therapies that work by ignoring physiological defects and speaking to the patient's spirit or soul.

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Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Literature

Genre: Anthology (Mixed Genres)

Summary:

As Bertman says in her introduction, this book "is meant to refuel therapists, counselors, social workers, physicians, nurses, clergy and all others who are committed to providing support to those in grief." While the caregivers' focus is on those in grief, they also have to give some attention to their own bodies, minds and spirits. This collection of essays, poems and stories, illustrated with drawings and photographs, examines grief from several perspectives.

The opening section looks at professional roles in experiencing and understanding suffering and empathy. Section two provides several descriptions of how caregivers use the arts for themselves and for those they companion. Section three is devoted to lessons from old and new cultures. The final section explores basic needs of grieving people.

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To a Distant Island

McConkey, James

Last Updated: Jan-31-2005
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Summary:

During a sabbatical year in Florence, English professor and writer James McConkey immersed himself in reading Anton Chekhov’s works, as well as biographies of the Russian writer. He began to feel a particular affinity for Chekhov’s crisis of 1889-1890 and his resolution of that crisis by traveling alone to Sakhalin Island off the eastern coast of Siberia to investigate conditions in the penal colonies that the Russian government had established in that distant region. Perhaps because McConkey himself was recovering from a series of traumatic experiences in his own life, he felt a kinship to this depressed young Russian author and his search for a new direction in life.

McConkey responded to this feeling of kinship by writing To a Distant Island, which is partly biographical, in that it retells the story of Chekhov’s six month long journey to Sakhalin Island in 1890; and partly a memoir, in that McConkey relates Chekhov’s life events to the feelings and events of his own life at the time. McConkey establishes this perspective from the beginning, when he explains why he refers to Chekhov throughout the book as "T": "I honor the man too much to call him by name throughout an account, which. . . is bound to be a fiction of my own" (8).

To a Distant Island dwells especially on the motivation for Chekhov’s journey to Sakhalin, a question scholars have debated for a hundred years now. Of the many contributing reasons for the trip, McConkey chooses to highlight and fictionalize "the suicidal tendency that surfaced again a decade later in the marriage his health simply couldn’t afford" (26). McConkey refines this to "T. wants to escape--he wants out, at whatever the personal cost" (27). It is in this state of mind (or soul) that the brilliant and sensitive T. begins his journey to the end of the earth.

Perhaps as a metaphor that characterizes any human quest, McConkey devotes most of the writing and energy to T’s justification, preparation, and outward-bound journey. Only 37 pages remain for the story of what happens to his hero once the goal is achieved; and less than 6 pages for the homeward trek (or homeward "sail" in this case). [This is a technique, come to think of it, quite the opposite of Homer’s in "The Odyssey"!]

The conclusion? "Sakhalin, then, gave to T. nothing he hadn’t known all along. . . Perhaps despair--that absence of hope--is a requisite for any deepened understanding of a universal hope for something never to be found in the present time or place" (82).

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Doctor Jazz: Poems 1996-2000

Carruth, Hayden

Last Updated: Jan-31-2005
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

Written while Carruth was approaching or had reached the age of 80 years, this collection understandably reflects the recognition of aging, loss, and of a changing world. Also, there are memories--of jazz and jazz players, relatives, pets, youth. And there is life in the present--with grown children, old friends, the Vermont countryside, writing, remembering, coping, not coping. Throughout, Carruth has a no-nonsense style; a mixture of straight talk, irony, irreverence, contemplation--and wonderful craft.

Carruth's adult daughter, Martha, died miserably of cancer in the late 1990s; in Part II, "Martha," Carruth describes himself as "blocked and almost silent / for two years. Titled "Dearest M --", this is a 15-page elegy that accomplishes "a release of some dire kind" (46) for Carruth, but he can't take pleasure in the release, feeling shame instead ("how shaming, how / offensive!"). Even in his mourning, Carruth raises questions about the ethics of writing such poems, and questions whom he is addressing ("not Martha. The absence / is like a hollow in my mind" [48]).

Section IV, "Faxes to William," is a series of 54 short poems addressed in "faxes" to a mysterious William: "William, do you know why / I like writing these faxes / to you? Because you / don't have a fax machine" (75). The poems instruct William about writing poetry ("some poets write blurbs, William, / and some do not. And it is by / a law of nature that the former / envy the latter desperately . . . They have unmade / their beds and they must schlepp in them" [67]); and life ("William, for the things / life didn't give us / we have no / compensation. None." [7]); and pose conversational questions ("You say I shouldn't write / so much about old age?) that have their own answers (I always / told my students to write / about what they know" [86]).

Section V, "Basho," is in dialogue with a 17th-century Japanese poet who is considered to be the best haiku poet during the time this form was being developed. Carruth's haiku-like poems in this section blend reflections on aging with reflections on writing poetry.

The final section, "Second Scrapbook," continues to explore memories ("Memory," in which Carruth learns of a former wife's death and can remember her--fondly--only as she was years ago. "My dear, / How could you have let this happen to you?" [116]); growing old ("Senility": "week after week, the mist gathering" [120]); representation ("Something for the Trade": Please note well, all you writers, editors, directors / out there: when a phone call is terminated / by the other person you do not, NOT, hear / a dial tone" [121]).

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Annotated by:
Sirridge, Marjorie

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

Gabriel Garcia Marquez was born in 1928 and is best known in the English-speaking world for his novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, which appeared early in his career in Spanish (1967) and later in English (1970). He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982 and in 1988 published the novel, 0008 (see annotation), which received considerable attention for its evocative story of love and memory.

Garcia Marquez's autobiography is recent (2002, 2003); it covers the first twenty-seven years of his life in Columbia, ending in 1955 when he is sent as a journalist to Geneva to cover the Big Four Conference for his newspaper in Bogota. Although he remained in Europe for three years after that the book does not cover that period.

Garcia Marquez was born in Aracataca, Columbia in his grandparents' home, the first child in a family that grew to include ten younger siblings. He had a hectic childhood being reared by his parents' large extended family, which included several children sired by his father with women other than his mother.

Finances were always tenuous; when he worked as a journalist he was an important supporter of the family. He received a broad classical education at the Jesuit College in Bogota, where he began his writing career. Later he studied law and journalism but did not finish law school. He read extensively from all genres of literature.

Garcia Marquez's family relationships and personal experiences were traumatic in many ways as was the political situation in Columbia. It was a tumultuous initiation to a life of creative writing. His words quoted on the flyleaf describe the book: "Life is not what one lived, but what one remembers and how one remembers it in order to recount it."

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Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Summary:

Physician and poet Rafael Campo sometimes gives poems to his patients, tucking them in with educational materials and prescriptions. He knows that poetry can be therapeutic for both patient and caregiver, and in this beautifully organized and executed book he tells readers why and how poetry can enhance healing.

The chapters (in which Campo ponders questions such as: Is poetry necessary for survival? How does poetry locate us inside the experience of illness? Why is poetry therapeutic?) follow the arc of illness itself. In Chapter 4, "Inklings," Campo discusses how not-yet-diagnosed symptoms of sickness may be revealed in poetry, the patient "divining" signs of illness "from the clues discernible in a sentient relationship to the world around us" (p. 52).

In following chapters ("Diagnosis," "Treatment," "Side Effects," and "End of Life"), he expertly unfolds, through brilliant poem analysis, how "At every station of the disease experience, poetry has suggested an ulterior discourse that, as it accumulates, forms a composite picture of a humane idea of wellness" (p. 127). In other chapters ("Daniel," "Clara," "Sunny," "Eduardo," and "Mrs. Twomey") he discusses how poetry has changed and informed his clinical and personal interactions with patients.

Fully aware that poetry is not a "cure" for illness and that relationships between patients and caregivers are not always ideally sympathetic, Campo demonstrates how, nonetheless, poetry can be a valid healing modality. In the "Afterword," he urges readers to imagine poetry "as a metaphor itself for the process of healing" and "to experience it through the stories and voices of real people who have themselves called upon it as they faced illness" (p. 188), and he states his wish to see "non-poet physicians use this book with their own patients and medical trainees" (p. 190). An excellent "Further Reading" appendix provides wide-ranging selections for further study.

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This Room Is Yours

Stein, Michael

Last Updated: Oct-11-2004
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The story begins soon after the narrator has moved his elderly mother into Cherry Orchard, an "independent living" facility near his home in Providence, Rhode Island. Because of progressive dementia, she was no longer able to maintain her own home in New Jersey, or her relationship with Warren, her boyfriend of 20 years, with whom she spent part of each year in Florida. Thus, the narrator and his sister arranged for her move to an apartment in the exclusive Cherry Orchard, where her symptoms of Alzheimer's disease had to be hidden in order to ensure her eligibility.

The mother and son have never been close, especially after the boy's father died during his early adolescence. She was a pleasant, but distant parent, more interested in her own social and cultural affairs than in taking care of her children. The narrator is 34 years old now, married, with his own son. He has little emotional attachment to this woman who is slowing losing her mind, yet now he feels duty-bound to visit her at least weekly at Cherry Orchard.

The mother has almost entirely lost her short-term memory, yet at first blush seems surprisingly intact because of her ability to cover-up with social skills. She writes notes to herself. The texture of her life unravels. She begins to wander. Other residents complain. Occasionally a glimmer of insight appears, but quickly dies. Fighting his inclinations every step of the way, the narrator provides ever increasing physical and emotional support, while at the same time gaining a deeper understanding of how his mother was (and is). In the end nothing is changed--the mother spirals slowly downward. But in another sense everything has changed. The narrator concludes, "I had taken her in so that I could understand why I had agreed to take her. I would do it again."

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