Showing 251 - 260 of 360 annotations tagged with the keyword "Catastrophe"

Lucky

Sebold, Alice

Last Updated: Oct-21-2003
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

When Alice Sebold, author of the best-selling novel, The Lovely Bones (see this database), was completing her freshmen year at Syracuse University, she was assaulted and raped. Years after the fact, Sebold wrote this memoir about the rape and its aftermath. The book's title, "Lucky," is explained in the prologue: the police told Sebold that she was lucky to have escaped the fate of another girl who had been murdered and dismembered in the same spot. In point of fact, Sebold, a virgin before the rape, was in a sense murdered, since life as she had known it would never be the same: "My life was over; my life had just begun" (33).

In crisp, lively prose the author takes us relentlessly through the details of her rape and the police inquiry that followed. We learn also that the narrator had suffered from a poor body self-image, loved to spend her time reading, had day-dreams of becoming a poet. We learn about her family--a mother prone to severe panic attacks and a professorial father who hid behind his books, an older sister who helped Alice take care of their mother. The family was considered by neighbors to be "weird."

After the rape, Sebold felt even more isolated and "Other." She could not bring herself to tell her family, who tip-toed around her, all of the horrendous details of the assault. She realized that all who knew her were aware she had been raped and were uneasy in her presence. Her father could not understand how she could have been raped if the assailant's knife had dropped out of reach.

In spite of everything, Alice returns to Syracuse, taking poetry workshops with Tess Gallagher and a writing workshop with Tobias Wolff. Incredibly, she spots her assailant one day on the street near the college. The author notifies the police, the assailant is later arrested, and Alice agrees to press charges and to be a witness at the trial. Neither her father nor her mother have the stomach to come to the trial, but Tess Gallagher accompanies her. The account of the trial is detailed, agonizing, and fascinating.

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Summary:

The film opens with a bird's-eye sweep over the frieze of a post-engagement battlefield--mud, strewn with bodies and shards of machinery, all iron grey and relieved only by rare patches of crimson blood. Psychiatrist William Rivers (Jonathan Pryce) treats shell-shocked soldiers in the converted Craiglockhart Manor. He is obliged to admit the poet and decorated war hero, Siegfried Sassoon (James Wilby), because his military superiors prefer to label the much-loved Sassoon's public criticism of the war as insanity rather than treason. Rivers is supposed to "cure" the very sane poet of his anti-war sentiments.

At the hospital, Sassoon meets another poet, Wilfred Owen (Stuart Bunce), equally horrified by the war although he, like Sassoon, believes himself not to be a pacifist. A secondary plot is devoted to the mute officer Billy Pryor (Jonny Lee Miller) who recovers his speech, his memories, and a small portion of his self-respect through the patience of his doctor and his lover, Sarah (Tanya Allen). Vignettes of other personal horrors and the brutal psychological wounds they have caused are presented with riveting flashbacks to the ugly trenches. Sassoon, Owen, and Pryor return to active service. The film closes with a dismal scene of Owen's dead body lying in a trench.

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The Horse Stealers

Chekhov, Anton

Last Updated: May-27-2003
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

During Christmas week, Yergunov, a hospital assistant, is returning from a trip to another village when he gets caught in a snowstorm. He stops at a local tavern, where Kalashnikov, "an arrant scoundrel and horse-stealer" and Merik, "a dark-skinned peasant who had never been to the hospital," were also seeking shelter. Lyuba, the barmaid, cries, "Ugh! The unclean spirits are abroad!" The men start pondering the question of whether devils exist, and Yergunov tells the story of how he actually encountered a devil one day, while he (Yergunov) was out in the field vaccinating peasants.

When the storm quiets down, the men prepare to leave. Yergunov attempts to leave at the same time as Kalashnikov, because he is afraid the man will steal his horse, but Lyuba stands suggestively in front of the door, inviting Yergunov's caress. "Don't go away, dear heart," she murmurs.

Meanwhile, Kalashnikov proceeds to steal the horse, which, in fact, belonged to the hospital. After these delaying tactics, Lyuba raps the duped man on his head and tosses him out. Some months later, after he has lost his job because of drunkenness, Yergunov passes the tavern, wondering wistfully what it would feel like to be a thief.

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Frida

Hayek, Salma; Taymor, Julie; Molina, Alfred

Last Updated: May-26-2003
Annotated by:
Woodcock, John

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

This is the story of the life, loves, wounds, grit, artistic genius, and death of the well-known Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, played by Salma Hayek. At the age of eighteen Kahlo was in a near-fatal bus accident that left her with lifelong injuries to her pelvis, spine, and uterus. (The film does not include the fact that Kahlo had suffered some physical disability since a case of polio at the age of six.)

The life Kahlo survived to live was artistically enormously productive and successful, but it also had more than the usual share of physical suffering, medical procedures, attempts to self-medicate, and accompanying emotional distress. The film covers these things, as well as what Kahlo called the second disaster in her life, her marriage to the famous Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, played by Alfred Molina.

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Fever 1793

Anderson, Laurie Halse

Last Updated: May-12-2003
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

This historical novel for young adults details the horrors of the Philadelphia Yellow Fever epidemic in 1793 from the point of view of a fourteen-year-old, Mattie, who runs a coffeehouse with her widowed mother and grandfather. In the course of the story, her mother is taken ill, she herself falls ill on the way to the safety of the countryside, and her grandfather dies of heart failure after nursing her. Separated from her mother who is also removed from the city, Mattie finds herself scrabbling for survival in a mostly deserted town after the death of her grandfather, but relocates the free black woman, Eliza, who had worked for her family and who essentially becomes part of her family.

Eventually the mother returns, an invalid but alive, and Eliza and Mattie undertake to run the reopened coffeehouse together and care for Eliza's nephews and an orphaned child Mattie has rescued. Hope reappears with the first frost in the forms of a reopened farmers' market, the return of George Washington to the town, and the reappearance from enforced isolation of Nathaniel Benson, a young painter who gives Mattie a vision of a future life with friendship and love.

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Demon in the Freezer

Preston, Richard

Last Updated: May-10-2003
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Investigative Journalism

Summary:

This gripping narrative traces the history of the efforts to eradicate smallpox in the 1970s, the top-level decisions to keep a few vials of it for emergency purposes in American and Soviet freezers, and the reemergence of smallpox not only as a health threat, but as a potential bioweapon of unequaled destructive power. Preston details maverick natural cases that surfaced after worldwide eradication efforts, how it was discovered that undocumented reserves of smallpox were not only being kept, but researched and possibly "weaponized," and how hotly, in the US, teams of scientists and military intelligence personnel debated funding new smallpox research in the US with a view to developing a new vaccine as a defense.

The ethical issues in those debates are unprecedented in the scope of the possible public health threat and the variables that might make traditional vaccination ineffective against the weaponized virus. As in his previous books on biological threats, The Hot Zone and The Cobra Event (see annotation), Preston follows the work and lives of several key scientists and includes scenes from interviews with a variety of persons involved in confronting the political, ethical, and medical dilemmas posed by smallpox research and efforts to track and control it.

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Watson and the Shark

Murray, John

Last Updated: May-10-2003
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Three doctors confront catastrophe during a civil war in a central African country. The physician-narrator is new to the jungle and enticed by the power, risk, and control attached to his role as a trauma surgeon. His friend, Stefan, is a gifted French surgeon with years of experience who advocates a "philosophy of disaster." Chaswick is an eccentric anesthesiologist. Headquartered in a Catholic mission, these medical volunteers operate on a large number of injured refugees, many of them victims of brutal attacks by rebel soldiers and armed civilians using machetes.

While performing surgery, the narrator is shot in the shoulder by a young rebel soldier. The doctor's life is spared due to the resourcefulness of his colleagues. As the three physicians escape with their lives, the hundreds of refugees left behind in the medical mission are presumably being slaughtered.

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Summary:

When literature and cultural studies professor Michael Bérubé's son James was born in 1991, he was diagnosed with Down Syndrome. Negotiating various medical, social, and educational environments and the identities each assigns their son, Bérubé and Janet Lyon (his wife, a literature professor and former cardiac-ICU nurse), become effective advocates for Jamie and embark on a course of questions about the social systems that produce disabled identities and administer to those human differences termed significant ones. Bérubé engages these questions with a mixture of family experience (his own, and that of other families with disabilities), historical research, critical theory, and sophisticated critical analysis.

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Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Anthology (Poems)

Summary:

Beginning with an informative introduction on the form of lyric poetry known as elegy, this comprehensive anthology of English-language poems from the late middle ages to the present represents both what endures and what varies in modes of lamentation. The first section (pp. 35-147) is divided into four parts: watching the dying, viewing the dead, ceremonies of separation, and imagining the afterlife. The second, and much longer section (pp. 151-444), is composed of subsections lamenting the gamut of specific losses: dead family members, children, spouses and lovers, friends, those dead by violence, the great and beautiful, poets mourning other poets, self-elegies, and meditations on mortality.

Within each section poems are chronologically arranged "to show how historical and cultural differences have produced aesthetic changes" and to illuminate "the often strikingly transformed procedures for mourning devised by so many poets in our own era of mounting theological and social confusion." (p. 26) An index listing authors, poem titles, and first lines is another way of navigating this voluminous collection.

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Essays)

Summary:

This masterful collection of essays was written by Gawande while he was a general surgery resident. The book consists of fourteen essays divided into three sections: Fallibility, Mystery, and Uncertainty. Although some of the essays fall clearly within the boundaries of the section title (such as "When Doctors Make Mistakes" and "When Good Doctors Go Bad" in the Fallibility section), others cross boundaries or don’t fall as squarely in these general themes ("Nine Thousand Surgeons," an anthropological essay on the cult and culture of a major surgical convention, is also located in the Fallibility section). Nevertheless, the many pleasures of the individual essays, the range of topics explored in depth, and the accuracy of the medicine portrayed are the true strengths of this work.

The book begins Dragnet-style with an Author’s Note: "The stories here are true." (p. 1) And it is this attention to fidelity that makes the essays so compelling. Because even when the truths are hard--the terrible acknowledgment by the medical neophyte about lack of skill and knowledge, the mistakes in judgment at all levels of doctoring, the nature of power relations and their effects on medical pedagogy and on the doctor-patient relationship, the gnawing uncertainties about so many medical decisions--the author confronts the issues head on with refreshing rigor, grace and honesty.

Many of the essays reference scientific and medical research (historical and current) as part of the exploration of the topic. This information is imbedded within the essay, hence avoiding a dry recitation of statistical evidence. Typically, the reader’s interest in an essay is immediately piqued by a story about a particular patient. For example, the story of an airway emergency in a trauma patient, her oxygen saturation decreasing by the second as Gawande and the emergency room attending struggle to secure an airway, surgical or otherwise, sets the scene for "When Doctors Make Mistakes."

This leads to a meditation on not only the culture of the Morbidity and Mortality Conference, with its strange mix of third-person case narrative and personal acceptance of responsibility by the attending physician (see Bosk, Charles, Forgive and Remember: Managing Medical Failure, U. Chicago Press, 1981 for an in depth analysis of this culture), but also a positive examination of the leadership role that anesthesiologists have played in improving patient safety via research, simulator training and systems improvement.

Gawande’s journalistic verve takes him beyond the confines of his own hospital and training to interview patients and physicians on topics as diverse as incapacitating blushing ("Crimson Tide"), chronic pain ("The Pain Perplex"), malpractice and incompetence ("When Good Doctors Go Bad") and herniorraphy ("The Computer and the Hernia Factory"). In addition, he visits his own post-operative patients at home ("The Man Who Couldn’t Stop Eating" and "The Case of the Red Leg") which gives a longer view of postoperative recovery and a broader exposure to patients’ perspectives.

Some of the most telling moments come with the introduction of his children’s medical problems into the text. These range from the relatively straightforward (a broken arm, but a chance to comment on detection of child abuse in the emergency room) to the downright parental nightmare scary (severe congenital cardiac defect in their oldest child and a life-threatening respiratory infection in their prematurely born youngest).

These last two experiences are introduced to provide an angle on issues of choice. Choice of a fully trained, attending physician rather than a fellow to provide follow-up cardiac care for their oldest, and the choice to opt out of the decision-making process for whether to intubate the trachea of the youngest and hence leave the medical decisions up to the care team.

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