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None of the Above

Gregorio, I.W.

Last Updated: Jul-16-2015
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In this young adult novel, Kristin Lattimer is a high school senior who seems to have everything – good looks, two best friends Vee and Faith, excellent athleticism especially in hurdles, a scholarship to State University, and a hunk of a boyfriend. She and her boyfriend are even voted Prom Queen and King. Kristin’s dad is a single parent, as her mother died of cervical cancer when Kristin was in 6th grade. Hence Kristin’s primary sources of knowledge of adolescent changes are her Aunt Carla and her peers, and she is able, at age 18 to chalk up her lack, not only of menstruation, but also of menarche to her running practice. But when she experiences painful and incomplete intercourse, she seeks the advice of a friend’s gynecologist.

 Dr. Johnson quickly diagnoses “androgen insensitivity syndrome” and explains that AIS is “a unique genetic syndrome that causes an intersex state – where a person looks outwardly like a female, but has some of the internal characteristics of a male.” (p. 37) The gynecologist then stumbles through further explanations and concludes, “Miss Lattimer, I think that you might be what some people call a hermaphrodite.” (p. 38) To the now stunned teen, the physician further explains karyotypes, hormone levels and the “better term” intersex. Since Kristin has undescended testes, the discussion includes possible cancer risk, and Kristin’s dad is called into the doctor’s office as well.

 The reader follows Kristin’s journey of discovery – meeting a ‘specialist,’ urologist Dr. Cheng, who provides the definitive diagnosis of AIS and explains that “chromosomal sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation are all separate concepts.” (p. 59) Issues of privacy, friendship, betrayal, sexuality, community, ostracism, social media, athletic rules vis-à-vis gender, and support groups are woven into the story and Kristin learns to cope with her new diagnosis and self-awareness.

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The Bad Doctor

Williams, Ian

Last Updated: Jul-13-2015
Annotated by:
Lam, Gretl

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Graphic Novel

Summary:

The Bad Doctor is a graphic novel describing the daily life of Dr. Iwan James, a general practitioner in a small Welsh town. At the time of the story, Dr. James is an established, middle-aged physician, with a wife and two grown sons. Initially it appears that despite his outward success, Dr. James is simply dissatisfied with his life and career – with his early marriage, with his overbearing colleague, and with his patients, who come to him with all sorts of ailments, from silly to tragic to creepy. However, the readers learn that Dr. James is also struggling mentally with himself. Through flashbacks to his childhood and his medical school years, and through his clinical interactions with a patient suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder, it is revealed that Dr. James has also wrestled with this disorder since childhood. In between composedly caring for all of his patients, releasing his frustrations on long bike rides through the Welsh hills, and sharing his concerns with friends, he learns to understand his compulsions and confront his own sense of inadequacy.

The author, Dr. Ian Williams, has in fact worked in a rural general practice in Wales. Although this novel is a work of fiction, and “any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental” (pg. 2), the story is naturally and richly informed by his personal experiences.

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On the Move: A Life

Sacks, Oliver

Last Updated: Jun-22-2015

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

On the Move:  A Life describes the extraordinary life of Oliver Sacks from his childhood during World War II to shortly before its 2015 publication.  Using his journals (“nearly a thousand,” he writes), correspondence, and memories—as well as his 14 or so books—Sacks has given himself free rein to describe and analyze his long, productive, and unusual life.

A dozen chapter headings nominally corral his wide variety of interests, adventures, and travels, including his medical career, his homosexuality, and diverse writing projects.

Sacks came from an English medical family, including some observant Jews, but not him. As a youth he loved (prophetically) writing and chemistry. He rode motorcycles then and for many years to come. He did poorly on his Oxford practical anatomy exam but immediately (and drunk on hard cider) sat for a competitive essay on anatomy and won a large prize.  Later, he was warned away from bench science and focused successfully on patient care, patient narratives, and personal essays of many sorts, including A Leg To Stand On, the account of his injured leg and recovery.

Sacks left England for Canada, then the US.  He quotes from some of the journals about his travels. In LA, he worked out at Muscle Beach (setting a California squat record) and did drugs, including amphetamines. A shy man, he thought of himself as Doppelganger: Dr. Sacks by day, a black-garbed biker by night. 

Fascinated by vision and photography, Sacks includes 58 photos from the ’50s to 2006; some black and white, some in color.  These are printed together on slick paper and well illustrate his text.   

Neurology training concluded, Sacks served various institutions in New York but read widely, ever eager to find theories of brain chemistry, anatomy, perception, behavior, and more. As readers of his books know, he enjoyed using his own interests in drugs, music, and travel, as well as personal medical experiences such as his injured leg and his lack of facial recognition. He describes his meetings with patients with unusual dilemmas: the postencephalics of Awakenings, as well as people with Tourette’s syndrome, deafness, colorblindness, autism, or migraines. He became fascinated—obsessed, one might say—with these and wrote so voluminously that cuts had to be made from his huge manuscripts to yield books.

Sacks describes interaction with editors, film crews, playwrights and others wishing to collaborate. His audiences grew as he became an intermediary to the non-medical public. We read about Peter Brook, W. H. Auden, Jonathan Miller, Bob Silvers (New York Review of Books), the cartoonist Al Capp (a cousin), Abba Eban (another cousin), Stephen Jay Gould, Temple Grandin, Francis Crick, and others. One striking passage describes taking Robert DeNiro and Robin Williams to see locked-in patients in preparation for the film version of Awakenings.

In his 70s, his robust health faded. He had a melanoma in his right eye, with more than three years of treatment before it became blind. Being Sacks, he observed interesting phenomena as his vision changed, “a fertile ground of enquiry” (p. 376). His left knee was replaced. He had sciatica.   

He fell in love again after 35 years of celibacy; he dedicates his book to his partner Billy Hayes.

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Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal is both ambitious and synthetic, qualities that well suit his difficult subject, death.  In Western culture, there are taboos against death because it fits neither into post-Enlightenment notions of progress and perfection nor into medical notions of control, even domination of human biology. A surgeon and an investigator, Gawande draws on his patients, his family, and travels to various hospitals and other caregiving places in order to confront death and see how approaches such as hospice and palliative care can improve our understanding, acceptance, and preparation for death.

Gawande has harsh words for contemporary medicine, the supposed caregiver for the dying and their families.  Relying heavily on technique and industrial models, it ignores the deep needs of the dying and provides, instead, versions of “warehoused oblivion” (p. 188), for example long, futile stays in ICUs.

As opposed to traditional societies like India, Westerners prize the independence of individuals, a status that is, of course, never permanent. In the chapter “Things Fall Apart,” Gawande describes how longer lives are now the norm but they include chronic illnesses and inevitable decline in vitality.  Our deaths are now routinely in hospitals, not at home, and often extended—sometimes brutally—by technical support and unwillingness of doctors and families to stop aggressive treatment.       
       
Also, sadly, there are fewer and fewer geriatricians at a time when there are more and more elderly.  A good geriatrician takes a long time with each patient, is not well paid, nor does s/he do income-generating procedures. Worse yet, some training programs are being discontinued.  

Gawande illustrates his ideas with case studies of patients and describes, from time to time in the book, the elderly journeys of his grandmother-in-law and his own father.  These passages make vivid the abstract ideas of the book. But it’s not just elderly patients who face death: health calamities can come to anyone, for example, a 34-year-old pregnant woman found to have a serious cancer. Various treatments are tried without success, but family and doctors act out “a modern tragedy replayed millions of times over” (p. 183) of a medically protracted death. Finally her mother calls a halt to treatment.
               
Family members often bear a heavy load in caring for a sick elder, but many nursing homes are often worse, designed for control, not support of the patients. 

The chapter “A Better Life” describes the first in a series of places that offer much improved settings for the elderly, with birds, animals, gardens, and, in general, richer lives that have a sense of purpose.  Gawande describes hospice care, palliative care, and advanced directives (including Do Not Resuscitate orders) as improvements needed to break the norms of “treat at all costs.” The old roles of Dr. Knows-Best and Dr. Informative need to give way to physicians and others who talk with patients and families about their values, their wishes for the last days, and their preparations for death. In short, aggressive treatment should no longer be the “default setting” for hospital care.     
        
The book ends with a dozen moving pages about the death of Gawande’s father. The “hard conversations” have clarified his wishes, and hospice care has provided “good enough” days.  Pain control has done well. Then, finally, “No more breaths came.” The family travels to India to spread his ashes on the Ganges. 

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Lament

Millay, Edna St. Vincent

Last Updated: Jun-11-2015
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry

Summary:

Lament is a twenty-two line dirge in free verse with one rhyme, at the end of the poem, which is almost certainly intentional. The poem represents a mother’s terse lament over the death of the father of the two children whom she is addressing. More of a soliloquy than a dialogue, one receives the distinct impression that the children may not even be present as the mother announces matter-of-factly that their father is dead, that they must soldier on, and describes the manner in which she will distribute the coins and keys in his pocket to them. The final couplet succinctly sums up the poem’s sentiment:


Life must go on,
And the dead be forgotten;
Life must go on,
Though good men die;
Anne, eat your breakfast;
Dan, take your medicine;
Life must go on;
I forget just why.

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Annotated by:
Schilling, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

Carol Levine began a roiling odyssey as a caregiver when a car accident left her husband paralyzed and in need of 24-hour care. She regards her husband’s survival as “a testament to one of American medicine's major successes — saving the lives of trauma patients.” But once he returned to their home, Levine encountered a healthcare system that was fragmented, chaotic, and inequitable. Unprepared to address chronic care, it remained oblivious to her needs as her husband’s primary medical “provider,” as they would say. Written nine years after the accident and eight years into her care giving, Levine’s essay recounts the stress and isolation she experienced attempting to navigate that system, to perform unrelenting chores, and to sustain her employment. Her job was, after all, the source of her husband’s managed care insurance, which regularly managed to leave Levine with unpaid bills. Even her work in medical ethics and healthcare policy could not help her locate the assistance she needed to assure the well being of her husband or herself.  Or of other care-giving families.

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Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction — Secondary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Graphic Memoir

Summary:

A nurse-poet well-known for her empathic descriptions of patients, Cortney Davis suddenly found herself in the hospital bed with a life-threatening condition.  Although she is a masterful writer, she could not find words to capture what she experienced as a patient.  Instead, she started painting her emotions—fear, suffering, and loneliness expressed through color, line, and tone.  The first of 12 paintings in this pathography shows her lying naked on a white slab, not literally what happened but expressive of how vulnerable and helpless she felt.  Each of the 12 paintings carries an emotional and spiritual truth—often raw and miserable.  Davis accompanies each painting with a brief commentary about how and when the painting was done, explaining, for instance, why some of the figures have no facial features. But the vivid paintings speak for themselves, and they add a different way of knowing not available through words.

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Annotated by:
Lam, Gretl

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction — Secondary Category: Visual Arts / Visual Arts

Genre: History

Summary:

This book examines the rise of the obesity epidemic through the perspectives of art, literature, and medicine, particularly in Britain, with brief mention of continental Europe and North America. In the first chapter, the authors set the scene by explaining the medical significance of obesity: namely, how and why obesity leads to illness. The remainder of the book is devoted to discussing historical perceptions of obesity, the history of eating, the history of exercise, and the history of weight loss remedies. Historical perceptions of obesity are addressed from several angles, including the business of “fat folk” circus freaks; the portrayal of obese figures in art, from Paleolithic stone sculpture to seaside post cards to modern film; and the depiction of obese figures in writing, from Chaucer to J. K. Rowling. Throughout the book, the authors are careful to emphasize that obesity is not simply a self-inflicted product of gluttony and sloth, but a condition brought about by many factors, including genetics and social influences. They conclude the book by urging society to take a more aggressive stance against obesity by reminding readers that obesity kills.

David Haslam is a general practitioner in the United Kingdom, He is also Clinical Director of Britain’s National Obesity Forum, a charity formed in 2000 to increase awareness of obesity as a medical condition. Fiona Haslam is a historian of medicine and art, with a doctorate from the University of St. Andrews. She is also the author of From Hogarth to Rowlandson: Medicine in Art in Eighteenth Century Britain (Liverpool University Press, 1996). 

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Hurt Hawks

Jeffers, Robinson

Last Updated: Mar-22-2015
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry

Summary:

"Hurt Hawks" is a narrative poem about a wounded hawk in free verse of 27 lines divided by the poet into two parts. Part I, which is 17 lines long, describes the setting of the poem in third person. Part II is 10 lines long, written in first person, and comprises the resolution of the carefully constructed tension set up in Part I. Some critics feel that Part II is sufficiently different in style and focus that it was originally an altogether separate poem (see below). Succinct yet lyrical, elegaic yet harsh, Hurt Hawks is, like the hawk that is the center of the poem, fiercely and unrelentingly an advocate of the natural - as opposed to the civilized - world. Hawks held a special place in Jeffers' heart, whether it be this poem or the longer "Cawdor," "Give Your Heart to the Hawks" (the name of a 1933 collection of his poetry), or "Hawk Tower," the edifice that he built for his family in 1920 on Carmel Point in California.

Part I sets the stage for the action in Part II, an Ecce Homo stage where the Homo is an injured hawk living in and around the poet—who makes clear, however, that the hawk is not a prisoner, either in the poet's eyes or its own. The poem opens with:

The broken pillar of the wing jags from the clotted shoulder,
The wing trails like a banner in defeat,
No more to use the sky forever but live with famine
And pain a few days:

Midway through Part II, Jeffers notes that

We had fed him six weeks, I gave him freedom,
He wandered over the foreland hill and returned in the evening, asking for death,
Not like a beggar, still eyed with the old
Implacable arrogance.

This poem is arguably not only Jeffers' most famous poem but often the only one still taught, when Jeffers is taught at all, in undergraduate courses. One reason for the inclusion of this poem in the curriculum is the famous first line of Part II, "I'd sooner, except the penalties, kill a man than a hawk." Aside from its popularity and this rather striking sentiment, the poem has proved a fertile source of discussion amongst critics for other reasons. First is the striking shift in voice from Part I to Part II, leading some to state that this poem was welded together from two distinct poems. Secondly, the plural "Hawks" in the title is mysterious and unclear since there is only one hawk mentioned in the poem—or is there? One interpretation of the plural is that in fact Jeffers and his family harbored two hawks and only the second was killed. Tim Hunt feels the second injured hawk in the poem refers to the saddened, or emotionally hurt hawk, i.e., the poet of Part II.

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Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry — Secondary Category: Literature /

Genre: Poetry

Summary:

Bursting with Danger and Music  reveals Jack Coulehan’s  characteristic sensitivity to contradictions, tensions, and creative energy. The book is divided into six sections, thematically held together with such headings as “All Souls’ Day” and “Levitation.”  Many of the poems are first person narrations by patients,  physicians, and observers of the natural world.  Sometimes the patients are near death, as in “Darkness is Gathering Me” and “Slipping Away,” where they observe their own dying without fear but with wonder and even a sense of celebration:   “I’m pouring through the pores/ of this room, I’m already/ feeling the jazz and hormones begin” (p. 39). In “The Internship Sonnets,” he experiences the world of the medical intern, often scared and exhausted, who is caught between his subservient duty to the chief of medicine and his own violations of that duty, such as telling the truth to patients.  Where is his primary duty?  What ought he to do in these conflicting value systems?

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