Showing 231 - 240 of 2728 Literature annotations

Stag's Leap

Olds, Sharon

Last Updated: Jun-21-2013
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

With the publication of Stag's Leap, it is very publicly (on the flyleaf) revealed that Olds is writing about the sudden, unexpected death of her 32 year marriage when her husband left to be with another woman. She waited 15 years after the event to publish this book, not wishing her children to have to face the immediate publicity.  Stag's Leap refers both to the favorite wine that she and her husband drank together, and to his leap out of the marriage.

The collection is divided into sections: the year of her husband's revelation and departure, beginning with "While He Told Me"; several years following, divided into seasons; and "Years Later." The poems detail her shock, grief, and eventual acceptance, covering a wide range of emotion, hindsight, and insight. Since the poems were written more or less in the moment, and extend over several years, the reader experiences Olds's evolving inner landscape along with her. The perspective is one of shock - with only the slightest hint of possible trouble ahead: while doing the laundry, she found a picture of the "other woman" in her husband's running shorts ("Tiny Siren," p. 56). But "he smiled at me, / and took my hand, and turned to me,/ and said, it seemed not by rote, / but as if it were a physical law / of the earth, I love you. And we made love, / and I felt so close to him - I had not / known he knew how to lie. . ."
 
Throughout much of the book there is this theme of blissful ignorance torn to shreds and a questioning of how the poet could be so deceived in her assumptions about the relationship - "when I thought he loved me, when I thought / we were joined not just for breath's time, / but for the long continuance" ("Unspeakable," p. 4). The realization of self deception and love lost is both annihilating and shameful: "if I pass a mirror, I turn away, / I do not want to look at her, / and she does not want to be seen  . . . I am so ashamed . . . to be known to be left" ("Known to Be Left," p. 18).

These poems are an intense self-examination and an attempt to understand what happened. "I was vain of his / faithfulness, as if it was / a compliment, rather than a state / of partial sleep" ("Stag's Leap," p. 16). "I think he had come, in private, to / feel he was dying, with me" ("Pain I Did Not," p. 26). "maybe what he had for me / was unconditional, temporary / affection and trust, without romance" and "what precision of action / it had taken, for the bodies to hurtle through / the sky for so long without harming each other." ("Crazy," p. 65 ). There is a recognition that their two worlds were vastly different - he a physician, she a poet - and that their personalities were vastly different - he taciturn, she verbal and open. Olds speculates that even her writing about family and marriage could have been a factor in the divorce: "And he did not give / his secrets to his patients, but I gave my secrets / to you, dear strangers, and his, too . . Uneven, uneven, our scales / of contentment went slowly askew" ("Left-Wife Bop," p. 83).

Still, Olds finds something redeeming: "I saw again, how blessed my life has been, / first, to have been able to love, / then, to have the parting now behind me  . . and not to have lost him when he loved me, and not to have / lost someone who could have loved me for life" ("Last Look," p. 14). "What Left?," the last poem in the collection, presents the marriage and its aftermath as a movement: "we did not hold still, we moved, we are moving / still - we made, with each other, a moving / like a kind of music: duet; then solo, / solo." (p. 89)

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Annotated by:
Kohn, Martin

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

This collection,  Jack Coulehan's 5th,  contains 69 poems, almost all of them published previously in medical journals or poetry magazines. Earlier versions of several of the poems also appeared in 3 of his 4 previous collections, The Knitted Glove, First Photographs of Heaven, and The Heavenly Ladder. The book is divided into 6 sections, all (except for After Chekhov), titled after one of the poem's found within the section: Deep Structures, All Soul's Day, After Chekhov, He Lectures on Grace, Levitation, and Natural History. Many of these poems express the tension between order and disorder, the expected and unexpected, and the tenderness and steadiness needed to care for others and our natural world. These works call the reader to open up to the deeper meaning and compassion necessary for the struggle to remain human while caring for suffering humanity.

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The Soul of the Nurse

Robinson, Elizabeth

Last Updated: May-23-2013
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

In her reflections on the vocation of nursing Robinson explores many myths and archetypes that give shape and energy to the identity of the nurse as it has evolved in Western culture, including the stories of Hygeia, Baubo, Hermes, Hecate, Cassandra, and the Dionysian Maenad.  The ancient stories of each of these figures and others articulate particular constraints, conventions, and conflicts involved in caregiving, especially in the ways women assume the role of caregiver.  She explains at the outset that she deals particularly with women in nursing, though now many men are nurses, since traditionally it has been a profession deeply shaped by cultural notions of female roles.  Another layer of this exploration is a chapter on the nurse in popular culture that considers ways in which the figure of the nurse has been both elevated and debased, made comic or tragic, sidelined or sexualized.  The multidimensionality of the nursing vocation and, consequently, the challenge it poses to women who enter it, is strongly emphasized throughout the six chapters, which together depict the work of nursing as a soul journey. This journey challenges nurses in new ways to work within institutions that suppress important aspects of their power to do healing work at a level of intimacy generally not accessed by doctors.

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Black Bag Moon

Butler, Susan

Last Updated: Apr-19-2013
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)

Summary:

Black Bag Moon is a collection (one is tempted to say a "mixed black bag") of short stories (but not clearly "short fictions" - clarified below) about medical patients. The reputed authors are identified as these patients' physicians, who recount these stories in first person. By my math, there are nine authors who narrate stories about 37 patients in 29 chapters. Most chapters have two patients in unrelated stories that sometimes share a theme. Several of the authors know each other as colleagues and two are a married medical couple. Most of the stories occur in Australia or New Zealand but some are in places are as far flung as England, Scotland and unidentified, possibly fictional, islands in the South Pacific. The practitioners are, for the most part, family physicians and care for people of all ages, providing care for everything from breast masses to congestive heart failure to trauma to occupational health to - almost overwhelmingly - mental illness threatening severe violence. The last - serious mental illness -  is, as are all the patients and their illnesses in this volume, almost exotically different from anything most readers of this database are likely to encounter as health care providers or readers. Think Crocodile Dundee or perhaps television's Dr. Quinn or ‘Doc' Adams of Gunsmoke. Or all the above but in the late 20th Century Outback.

Since most of the stories involve working men and women - mainly men - there is a decided flavor of  A. J. (Archibald Joseph) Cronin's The Citadel to the stories; but the peculiar aspect of Australia's frontier pervades each encounter with the patients in this book, whether they are being treated over the radio for breast lumps, being airlifted to the hospital for a badly broken elbow, or becoming demented from environmental toxins in a land and time wherein OSHA and DEP (and the principles underlying them) might as well be acronyms from Mars.

Curiously, for fiction, there are intermittent footnotes to literary (Honore de Balzac, Soubiran) sources, historical figures (Hippocrates) and relevant texts on subjects covered in the stories, e.g., petrol-sniffing, tropical diseases, and physical diagnosis. 

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Handle With Care

Picoult, Jodi

Last Updated: Mar-16-2013
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

At five years old, Willow O’Keefe has lived a life rich in love and exceptional learning; she reads beyond her years and has memorized a startling compendium of unusual facts.  She has also sustained over 50 broken bones, two of them in utero.  She has osteogenesis imperfecta, a congenital defect in the body’s production of type 1 collagen that leaves bones very brittle.  People with the disease generally suffer many fractures and often other conditions—exceptionally small stature, hearing loss, and bowed limbs.  Willow’s parents and older sister have organized their lives for five years around protecting her from damage and helping her heal from her many broken bones.  Though Amelia, her older sister, loves Willow, her parents’, Charlotte and Sean’s, intense focus on Willow’s condition often leaves her jealous and disgruntled.  Things go from bad to worse when their mother learns that a lawsuit for “wrongful birth” is legal in New Hampshire, and could bring them the money they need to cover Willow’s many medical expenses.  Such a step, however, means losing a best friend, since the obstetrician who oversaw Charlotte’s pregnancy and Willow’s birth, and who ostensibly overlooked signs of the disease and failed to warn the parents, has been Charlotte’s best friend for years.  A “wrongful birth” suit is based on the claim that medical information about a congenital defect was withheld that might have been grounds for a decision to abort the pregnancy.  Though Charlotte insists this drastic step is the best thing they can do to insure a secure future for Willow, Sean finds it repugnant enough finally to leave home.  It is clear that even a win will be a pyrrhic victory, and indeed, the outcome is ambiguous, costly, and life-changing for everyone concerned.

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Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)

Summary:

This collection of 16 short stories focuses on doctors and patients in San Francisco, where a wide variety of wealth and culture impact the delivery of medical care.  Further, there are many restrictions—financial, bureaucratic, ethical, and legal —that limit what doctors can do, especially in cases of patients near death.

The author, Louise Aronson, is a geriatrician who knows this terrain very well, having trained in San Francisco and worked as a physician there. A skilled writer and close observer, she has created dramatic and often funny stories that reveal social and bioethical complexity. About half the stories describe end-of-life issues for the aged and the dilemmas for their physicians and families.

In ‘The Promise,” Dr. Westphall orders comfort care only for an elderly patient who has suffered a massive stroke, but a hospital gives full treatment because there was no advance directive and the daughter told the attending to do “what he thought best.”

When Dr. Westphall sees this barely functioning patient in a skilled nursing facility seven months later, he tenderly washes her face and hair—although the text teases us that he might have been prepared to kill her.

In “Giving Good Death,” a doctor is in jail charged with murder; he has fulfilled the request of Consuela, a Parkinson’s patient, to help her die. When it appears that she may have died for other reasons, he is released, his life “ruined.” He leaves San Francisco, and, we surmise, medicine. In three other stories, doctors also leave the profession: the cumulative stresses of work and family and/or a sense that it’s not the right path bring them to that choice.

On the other hand, one of the longer pieces “Becoming a Doctor” celebrates the profession, despite all the rigors of training including sexism against women. 

The stories bring multicultural insights; we read of people from China, Cambodia, Latin America, India, Russia, and the Philippines. Some are African-American; some Jewish, some gay. These different backgrounds color notions of health, death, and medical care. There are also pervasive issues of poverty and, at another extreme, professionalism that is hyper-rational and heartless.

Indeed, a recurring theme is care and love for people, no matter their background or current health status. A surgeon realizes (regrettably too late) that the secret of medical care is “caring for the patient—for anyone—just a little. Enough, but not too much” (p. 135). 

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Night Duty

Breznik, Melitta

Last Updated: Feb-27-2013
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The first person narrator of this debut novel is a young pathologist, a woman who relates the story of her family over the course of the book. The story is bleak: a young German woman marries an Austrian soldier in WWII, moves to Austria with him and has three children - two sons (one of whom dies as a youth following abdominal surgery) and the narrator-daughter. In a running commentary, almost hallucinatory at times,  the narrator offers brief descriptions of  a traditional preliminary internship year during which she acts as a pathologist, cares for in-patients, and even makes a futile ambulance call to a fatally injured man in a freight yard.  Yet, virtually the entire novel revolves around her family:her father (whose tuberculosis is briefly described),  a factory worker with dreams of  inventing an electronic security relay (never realized); intermittent holidays of evanescent family happiness; and a long threnody about her father's eventual death at the end of the book from a hopeless and domestically abusive alcoholism. Her detailed description of his death traumatizes everyone around her and leads to a rupture in the family.

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Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

F. González-Crussi, professor emeritus of Pathology at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, has written several books on medicine and the human body. Carrying the Heart deals with five basic organ systems; he styles them as Digestive, Scatology, Respiratory, Reproductive, and Cardiovascular.

In his Foreword, he rejects a mechanical view of the body and medicine that treats patients as passive protoplasm. He seeks to engage the imagination of his readers so that they can become active participants in health care.

For each system, González-Crussi assembles an eclectic wealth of materials: views of authors from classical times onwards, scientists who changed perceptions of the body, his own hands-on view as a pathologist, parallel organs in other mammals, and, usually, an extended narrative of a person with an unusual anatomical history. These are highly personal essays, “rhapsodies,” we might say, which stitch together unusual and interesting facts, observations, and interpretations. It’s impossible to guess what will be on the next page, and the discoveries are many. A gifted stylist, González-Crussi writes with both erudition and wit. 

For “Digestive,” he cites Livy, Paracelsus, Joan Baptista van Helmont, and others before turning to Thomas Bartholin, who questioned the notion that the stomach was somehow the “king” of the body and the seat of the soul. González-Crussi writes, “the gastric cardia admits and stores impure food, without this having any discernible effect on the soul. Nor is the soul damaged by performers at circuses and country fairs who lower swords and knives into the stomach” (p.7). The text marches on through Réamur, Spallanzani and others, before turning to the well-known story of Dr. William Beaumont and his patient Alexis St. Martin, who had a hole in his side (from a gunshot). Beaumont experimented with materials placed directly into the stomach.

Next in the digestive process are the bowels, discussed on “Scatology,” literally the study of scat or excrement. González-Crussi is fascinated by cultural values of “death, putrescence, and dissolution” that attach to our scat. He draws on Rabelais, Luther, the Gnostics, Chuang-tzu, and the Aztecs for the views on the contents and process of the bowels—more than the nature of the actual bowels themselves. The next 30 pages deal with enemas, including the modern (and discredited) notion of “auto-intoxication” a justification bruited about even today for colonics.

Oddly enough, the enema theme continues in the “Respiratory” essay, because there were “smoke enemas” for some 200 years. Page 104 shows a French illustration of interlocked tubes for this purpose; indeed the same illustration graces the slipcover for the book. González-Crussi draws on Anaximenes, Pirandello, Plutarch, Hawthorne, and others. Some 15 pages describe a famous tuberculosis patient, Frederic Chopin, although perhaps he was actually a cardiac patient.

Part I of “Reproductive” is “Female.” We quickly learn that “The uterus is placed between the bladder and the rectum. As a piece of real estate, the uterus would be much devalued by the condition of the neighborhood” (p. 152). Nonetheless, the uterus is “immunologically privileged,” fending off germs that might infect a fetus (which in itself is “half foreign” because of the father’s genes). Drawing on many commentators, González-Crussi discusses menstruation, and pregnancy, although not genital pleasure or orgasm. Some insightful pages explore the normal death of cells within our body.

Part II, “Male” discusses erections, side-curving penises, and the famous penises of Napoleon, Rasputin, and Jesus.

The last essay, “Cardiology” briefly explores two types of knowing (from the heart, from the brain) before a lengthy retelling of the Lay of Ignauer; this strange story ends with women whom he has seduced eating his cooked heart. The last section discusses Harvey’s discovery of the heart as a pump. The final two pages see a new consideration of the heart as a second brain.

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Open Heart

Wiesel, Elie

Last Updated: Feb-01-2013

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Elie Wiesel, 82-years-old, has pain that he thinks is in his stomach or esophagus, perhaps caused by his chronic acid reflux.  After tests, however, doctors diagnose cardiac illness and insist on immediate surgery. Reluctant to go to the hospital, Wiesel dawdles in his office. When he does go, doctors believe a stent will do the job. Instead, the intervention becomes a quintuple bypass.

This brief memoir—a scant 8,000 words—presents the “open heart” of a gifted writer as he contemplates his open-heart surgery, his past life, and the future. He asks himself basic, even primal questions about life, death, and the nature of God.            

Although a man with an extraordinary career—prizes, fame, honorary doctorates, friends in high places, professorships—Wiesel experiences and describes ordinary feelings of anxiety, pain, and doubts about his cardiac emergency and possible death. His stylistic gifts describe frankly and vividly a patient’s fears. As many have observed, patients with a serious disease have two difficulties, the disease itself and their emotional responses to that disease.  As Wiesel is wheeled into the OR, he looks back on his wife and son; he wonders whether he will ever see them again.            

He writes that his “thoughts jump wildly; I am disoriented.” He recalls a friend undergoing similar surgery; she died on the table. He says he can’t follow the jargon of physicians. The texture of the prose is rhapsodic, jumping from the present to memories, many of them about war, his past surgeries, or important family events. This short book has 26 “chapters,” some just half a page; they are like journal entries.

As he slowly recovers, he feels pain and has visions of hell, including the concept of ultimate judgment. “Evidently, I have prayed poorly…; otherwise why would the Lord, by definition just and merciful, punish me in this way?” (p. 38).  Because he has a “condemned body,” he feels he must search his soul. In the longest chapter of the book, he reviews several of his writings.

Wiesel asks some of the questions from his famous novel Night (La nuit, 1958).  If there is a God, why is there evil? Auschwitz, he says, is both a human tragedy and “a theological scandal” (p. 67). Nonetheless, he affirms, “Since God is, He is to be found in the questions as well as in the answers” (p. 69).

At the end, he still has some pain but feels much gratitude for his continuing active life and for his grandchildren.

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Musee des Beaux Arts

Auden, W.

Last Updated: Jan-23-2013
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

This thought-provoking poem is best read with a representation of the painting to which it refers in view (the painting, Landscape with the Fall of Icarus by Pieter Bruegel, is reproduced in On Doctoring). Auden considers the nature of human suffering: "how it takes place / While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking / dully along . . . . " For each individual life affected by personal catastrophe (in the painting, Icarus falling from the sky into the ocean), there is the rest of humankind which must go about its daily business, either oblivious or unable to assist (in the painting, Icarus might almost be overlooked, flailing in the lower corner of the picture while the ploughman in the foreground has his back turned). Life, and death go on although the sufferer, and sometimes those who are paying attention, find this inconceivable. And what about the ship "that must have seen / Something amazing" but "had somewhere to get to"? What is the context in which suffering is noticed, what obligations exist, what can and cannot be remedied?

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