Showing 251 - 260 of 666 Nonfiction annotations

Summary:

This is a gripping and poignant account of newsman Bob Woodruff’s brain injury and recovery. He was injured in Iraq by a roadside bomb on January 29, 2006, shortly after being named co-anchor for ABC’s World News Tonight. A public figure—even a celebrity—his injury and recovery were well publicized, bringing to light the injuries of many kinds suffered by soldiers (not to mention civilians) in war-torn Iraq. Woodruff received every benefit American military medicine could offer and had impressive support of ABC and various luminaries. He made a spectacular recovery against all odds.

The book is mostly told by Lee Woodruff, Bob’s wife, who flew to Germany on a moment’s notice to see him at the Landstuhl Military Hospital, who waited 36 days for him to wake up, who saw the CT scan with rocks embedded in his head, who managed their four children and household during the long recovery time, and who writes vividly and personably. There are also flashbacks about the lives of Lee and Bob, truly a remarkable couple: their courtship, their time in China and London, their decision to use a surrogate mother to have their second two children.

Bob himself contributes pages, before and long after the accident. Thirty-one photos, both black and white and in color, enliven the text. One photo shows the interior of a critical Care Air Transport Team, a C-17 cargo plane outfitted like an ICU to transport wounded soldiers.  Throughout, the costs of warfare on people, society, materials, and land (not to mention dollars) is dramatically evident.

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The Village Watchman

Williams, Terry Tempest

Last Updated: Aug-14-2007

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This is a short piece, a scant twelve pages, in which Williams remembers Alan, an uncle who had mental deficits. During his breech birth, Alan’s brain was starved of oxygen. In the dominant American culture, Alan is called “retarded, handicapped, mentally disabled or challenged.” Williams concludes, “We see them for who they are not, rather than for who they are.” (p. 29) The title of the work refers to an Alaskan totem pole figure whose expression reminds her of Alan. In Tlingit culture, there’s a story of a kidnapped boy who lived with the Salmon People. When he returned twenty years later, he was seen as a holy man, not an “abnormal.”

To the young Terry Tempest, Alan demonstrated enthusiasm and spontaneity, for example bowling with reckless glee, regardless of where the ball went. When she asked him how he was feeling, he said, “very happy and very sad,” explaining that “both require each other’s company.” (p. 31) She liked his direct answers, those of a person we sometimes call a wise fool. Later, he lived in a “training school,” a joyless, ugly, and smelly place where abnormal children in Utah were sent and warehoused. Suffering from epilepsy, he wore a football helmet to protect him from sudden falls.

At age 22, Alan made the choice to be baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Williams describes the ceremony and how the family supported him through it (including yet another violent epileptic episode). When Alan died at age 28, Williams was 18. Looking at the totem pole, she remembers Alan, seeing him for who he truly was.

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

Author Diedrich investigates ("treats") mid-late 20th century memoirs about illness (illness narratives) from an interdisciplinary perspective drawing on the disciplines of literature, social sciences, and philosophy. Her analysis uses the theoretical frameworks of poststructuralism, phenomenology, and psychoanalysis to consider "what sort of subject is formed in the practice of writing . . . illness narratives," the kind of knowledges articulated by such writing, whether and how such writing can transform "expert medical knowledges," how language operates in these memoirs, and "what sort of ethics emerges out of such scenes of loss and the attempts to capture them in writing" (viii).

The book is divided into Introduction, five chapters on specific memoirs, and Conclusion. Chapter 1, "Patients and Biopower: Disciplined Bodies, Regularized Populations, and Subjugated Knowledges," draws on Foucault's theory of power to discuss two mid-20th-century memoirs of institutionalization for tuberculosis. Betty McDonald's the Plague and I is compared with Madonna Swan: A Lakota Woman's Story. Dividing practices and regularization are shown to serve different functions in these two incarcerations, figurative in the case of Betty McDonald, and literal in the case of Madonna Swan.

Chapter 2, "Politicizing Patienthood: Ideas, Experience and Affect," draws on Foucault's approach to the subject and on his discussion of "practices of the self" in contrasting Audre Lorde's The Cancer Journals with Susan Sontag's Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and Its Metaphors (see annotations). Diedrich also brings into her analysis Eve Sedgwick's theory of queer performativity and Sedgwick's own illness narrative, White Glasses. Diedrich views all of these as counter narratives to the clinical medical narrative of illness but she shows how they differ in stance.

Chapter 3, "Stories For and against the Self: Breast Cancer Narratives from the United States and Britain" looks at "the arts of being ill" as they are represented in two cultures, two "conceptions of the self in these countries at a particular historical moment" (61). The narratives discussed are Sandra Butler and Barbara Rosenblum's narrative, Cancer in Two Voices and Ruth Picardie's Before I Say Goodbye (see annotations). Diedrich associates Cancer in Two Voices with an American notion of self-improvement and Before I Say Goodbye with a British "emphasis on the cultivation of an ironic self" (55). The author works in this chapter with Freud's idea of the uncanny, Benedict Anderson's concept of "imagined political communities" and Elaine Scarry's discussion of pain, language, and the unmaking of the self.

Chapter 4, "Becoming-Patient: Negotiating Healing, Desire, and Belonging in Doctors' Narratives," treats Oliver Sacks's illness narrative, A Leg to Stand On, Abraham Verghese's autobiographical My Own Country: A Doctor's Story of a Town and Its People in the Age of AIDS, and Rafael Campo's book of essays, The Poetry of Healing (see annotations). Here Diedrich considers "the possibility that doctors, especially AIDS doctors, might become patients through desiring-and writing-productions" (83) and she utilizes the rhizome model of Deleuze and Guattari to make her case. She discusses how Verghese and Campo are each both cultural insiders and outsiders and how they each "bring the body into language through their writing" (88).

Chapter 5, "Between Two Deaths: Practices of Witnessing," focuses primarily on Paul Monette's writing about the loss of his partner to AIDS, and on John Oliver Bayley's books about the loss of his wife, Iris Murdoch, to Alzheimer's, and her ultimate death (see annotations in this database). In this chapter Diedrich invokes Lacan's concept of the real and his formulation of "the ethical possibility of being between two deaths" (117). She draws also on trauma theory and the work of Kelly Oliver, a contemporary feminist philosopher who has written on witnessing.

Finally, in her "Conclusion: Toward an Ethics of Failure," Diedrich returns to Elaine Scarry's "phenomenological discussion of the experience of pain" and brings in Jean-François Lyotard's concept of incommensurability and his suggestion between the two poles of what is seemingly incommensurable one might search, in Diedrich's words, for "new rules for forming and linking phrases between . . . subject positions" (150). In that context she analyzes physician Atul Gawande's discussion of medical uncertainty and error in his book, Complications (see annotation) and philosopher Gillian Rose's book, Love' s Work. Diedrich concludes that the basic incommensurability between doctor and patient can be a starting point for a new ethics, an ethics of failure and risk "because by taking such risks [of failure, of relations], we open up the possibility of new routes, new treatments: in and between art, medicine, philosophy, and politics" (166).

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How Doctors Think

Groopman, Jerome

Last Updated: Aug-06-2007
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

In How Doctors Think, Jerome Groopman explores clinical decision making with a particular emphasis on the poor communication skills and cognitive errors that often lead to misdiagnosis and inappropriate treatment. He uses a narrative approach, filling the book with compelling stories that illustrate the world of patient-physician interactions. Why did a second doctor quickly conclude that Blanche Begaye suffered from aspirin toxicity, while her first doctor mistakenly diagnosed viral pneumonia? Why did several physicians fail to diagnose Maxine Carlson's ectopic pregnancy until the day it ruptured? Groopman's storytelling skill permits him to convey complex concepts (e.g. availability bias, anchoring, and Ockham's razor) through conversation and narrative.

Three major themes run throughout the book, and each is presented with several variations. The first theme is that doctors who don't listen to their patients are likely to make serious mistakes in diagnosis and treatment. The second is that doctors frequently don't have the self-awareness to understand their own errors, especially those that involve dealing with ambiguity and understanding the importance of emotions. The final theme is that that patients ought to be active participants in their own care. This is not a new message, but Groopman frames it in a new way. Given the complexity of clinical decision making, and the many cognitive errors physicians may fall prey to, patients can improve their own care by helping their doctors minimize or avoid such errors. Among other things this means asking thought-provoking questions like "What else could it be?", "What is the worst thing it could be?," or "Is it possible I have more than one problem?"

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Essays)

Summary:

This collection of essays by surgeon-writer Atul Gawande (author of Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science --see annotation) is organized into three parts (Diligence, Doing Right, and Ingenuity) and includes an introduction, an afterword entitled "Suggestions for becoming a positive deviant," and reference notes. Each part is comprised of three to five essays, which illustrate, as Gawande explains in the introduction, facets of improving medical care - hence the title of the collection: Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance. In typical Gawande style, even the introduction contains tales of patients - a woman with pneumonia who would have fared far worse had the senior resident not paid close and particular attention to her well-being, and a surgical case delayed by an overcrowded operating room schedule. Such tales are interwoven with the exposition of themes and the detailing of the medical and historical contexts of the topic at hand.

The essays, though loosely grouped around the improvement theme, can easily be read as individual, isolated works. The concerns range widely both geographically (we travel to India and Iraq as well as roam across the United States) and topically. For instance, we learn about efforts to eradicate polio in rural south India and the dedicated people who devise and implement the program. Another essay, far flung from the plight of paralyzed children, is "The doctors of the death chamber," which explores the ethical, moral and practical aspects of potential physician involvement in the American system of capital punishment (from formulating an intravenous cocktail ‘guaranteed' to induce death to the actual administration of such drugs and pronouncement of death).

In sum, the topics of the eleven essays are: hand washing, eradicating polio, war casualty treatments, chaperones during physical examinations, medical malpractice, physician income, physicians and capital punishment, aggressive versus overly-aggressive medical treatment, the medicalization of birth, centers of excellence for cystic fibrosis treatment, and medical care in India. The afterword comprises five suggestions Gawande offers to medical students to transform themselves into physicians who make a difference, and by including this lecture in the book, what the reader can do to lead a worthy life.

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Summary:

In this collection, twenty-two medical students and young physicians across the United States eloquently recount the process of medical education for those who do not believe they fit standard measures of student demographics. The editors, Takakuwa, an emergency medicine resident physician; Rubashkin, a medical student; and Herzig, who holds a doctorate in health psychology, group the essays into three sections: Life and Family Histories, Shifting Identities, and Confronted.

Each section is prefaced by an essay explicating the essay selection process, the history of medical school admissions policies and requirements, the basic progression of medical education and the reasons for this collection, such as "putting a human face" (p. xx) on the changing characteristics of admitted medical students: "With their diversity and through their self-reflections, we hope that these students will bring new gifts and insights to the practice of medicine and that they might one day play an important role in transforming American medical education into a fairer and more responsive system." (p. 141)

Additionally, a foreword by former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders outlines her experience as a black woman entering medical school in 1956, including eating in the segregated cafeteria. The book concludes with recommendations for further reading and improvements to the medical education process as well as with brief biographies of the contributors and editors.

The range of essays is impressive: diversity itself is given a new meaning by the variety of narrative voices in this volume. Contributors include people from impoverished backgrounds, both immigrant (Vietnamese, Mexican) and not. One student, marginalized by his academic difficulties, began a homeless existence during his first clinical year. Others were made to feel different because of being African or Native American.

In two essays, mothers defy labels placed on them (pregnant black teen; lesbian) and describe the trials and triumphs of their situations. Students write of being subjected to ridicule, ignorance and prejudice due to their gender, interest in complementary medicine, political and advocacy views, or religious beliefs. Due to pressures to conform, even students from what might be considered more mainstream in American culture (e.g., growing up in a small town, or being Christian) can experience the effects of being "different" when in medical school.

A number of essays communicate the difficulties of illness, disability and bodily differences. Issues include recovered alcoholism (rather tellingly, this is the only essay that is anonymous), obsessive compulsive disorder, sickle cell anemia, Tourette Disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, chronic pain, and obesity. The authors balance their narratives of hardship with insights into how their struggles improve their opportunities for empathy, perspective and fulfillment as physicians.

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Bedside Manners

Watts, H. David

Last Updated: May-25-2007
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Essays)

Summary:

The subtitle to this collection of insightful and compassionate essays by gastroenterologist David Watts is: "One Doctor's Reflections on the Oddly Intimate Encounters Between Patient and Healer." Watts provides 48 narratives, most of which concern his patients and are written in the first person. In the preface Watts states "The stories in this book are true" (xv), that he has received permission from his patients, and that he has "disguise[d]" his patients to respect their right to privacy.

The stories cover a range of settings, from Watts's home and locations in the San Francisco Bay area, to the clinic and hospital. They also cover a range of his experience from medical school ("Sylvester" and "Love is Just a Four-letter Word") to his current position as a practitioner and an attending physician at a teaching hospital.

Stories in which Watts clearly situates himself with the patient and details the encounter are most compelling. For example, in the opening essay, "White Rabbits" and later, in "Flu Shot," Watts allows the reader to discover that patience and listening are required to in order for the patient to expose why he or she is truly there. In that space, Watts becomes present for his patient, and one learns that what may initially appear tangential is central to the patient's concern.

Watts writes of some very difficult patients and families, such as a woman who stalks him ("The Stalker's Bridegroom"), a woman who obsesses over caring for her elderly mother ("Home Remedy"), and a woman who demands narcotics ("The Third Satisfaction"). In one of the longer pieces, "Codger," Watts describes an irascible, elderly Jewish patient who skewers just about anyone with his critiques, including Watts's young son, and yet who later exposes his vulnerability by unfolding the tale of his World War II service and discovery of a Nazi death camp. It is because Watts spends time with the Codger and recognizes that the doctor-patient relationship is above all a human relationship that the doctor receives the gift of the story: this terrible experience which informed the rest of the Codger's life.

A few of the vignettes explore the therapeutic potential of poetry. For instance, in "Annie's Antidote" a piano teacher, fearful of endoscopy, asks Watts to recite one of his poems. The poem concerns the tender relationship between Watts and his son and is a metaphor for Watts's patient encounters as well: "for this is one of those moments / that turns suddenly towards you, opening / as it turns, as if we paused / on the edge of a heartbeat. . . " The poem works, the moment opens, and the woman has her endoscopy.

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Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

Oschman, a former cell biology researcher, applies his scientific training to the emerging field of energy medicine. While previous investigators (Franz Anton Mesmer, Guillaume Benjamin Armand Duchenne, Edwin D. Babbitt, Harold Saxon Burr) were either ignored or selectively accepted, healers from ancient times have used touch to heal or even cure the human body, and the human body itself has sophisticated strategies to heal itself.

Oschman shows how the body is a living crystal with electricity, magnetism, and light flowing through it, often at higher speeds than the standard neurology model. Quantum physics applies here, as well as piezoelectricity (pressure electricity), explaining how energy flows through water molecules in the collagen that invests every internal structure of the body. Proteins in the body are semiconductors, and our brain waves may even be tuned to standing energy waves (Schumann resonance) that surround the earth itself.

Oschman collects data and illustrations widely, from acupuncture, Qi Gong, massage, yoga, meditation, Zen, and of course, standard medicine. The latter, he argues, whether through scalpels or pharmaceuticals, can be understood as energy medicine. Even better, in his point of view, would be an imaginative synthesis of standard medicine with many (other) forms of energy medicine.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Summary:

Born in Vienna, Alma Rosé (1906-1944) was a gifted violinist with an illustrious concert career. Her mother was the sister of composer, Gustav Mahler, and her famous father, Arnold, conducted orchestras. All the family members were non-observant Jews. Alma was talented, beautiful, audacious, and arrogant. After an unhappy early marriage to Czech violinist Vása Príhoda, she established a remarkable orchestra for women that toured Europe.

As the German Third Reich consolidated its power, her only brother, Alfred, fled to the USA. She managed to bring their widowed father to England, but displaced musicians crowded London making work difficult to find. Alma left her father and returned to the continent, living quietly as a boarder in Holland and giving house concerts when and where she could. She took lovers.

Despite the urging of her family and friends, she kept deferring a return to safety in England. In early 1943, she was arrested and transported to Drancy near Paris, thence to Auschwitz six months later. Initially sent to a barrack for sterilization research, she revealed her musical brilliance and was removed to marginally better accommodations and allowed to assemble an orchestra of women players.

The hungry musicians were granted precarious privileges, but Alma became obsessed with their progress and insisted on a grueling schedule of rehearsal and perfection. Some said that she believed that survival depended on the quality of their playing; others recognized that the music, like a drug, took her out of the horror of her surroundings.

In April 1944, she died suddenly of an acute illness thought to have been caused by accidental food poisoning. In a bizarre and possibly unique act of veneration for Auschwitz, her body was laid "in state" before it was burned. Most members of her camp orchestra survived the war.

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Summary:

Tracy Kidder met Paul Farmer in 1994 when the former was writing an article about Haiti. They next met again in 1999 but it was only when Kidder expressed an interest in Farmer and his oeuvre that Farmer emailed him back, writing "To see my oeuvre you have to come to Haiti" (17). Kidder did just that, following the peripatetic workaholic Farmer to Peru, Russia, Boston, and wherever Farmer flew, which is anywhere there is poverty and disease, especially infectious disease.

In Mountains Beyond Mountains (MBM), Kidder chronicles Farmer’s childhood, medical school years (almost a correspondence course with Farmer’s frequent trips to Haiti), his founding of Partners in Health (PIH) and the construction of the medical center in Cange, Haiti, where "Partners in Health" becomes Zanmi Lasante in Creole.

The story of Farmer’s crusade for a more rational anti-tuberculosis regimen for resistant TB; his political struggles to wrestle with drug manufacturers to lower the price of these and medicines for HIV; his charismatic establishment of a larger and larger cadre, then foundation of co-workers; the story of Jim Kim, a fellow Harvard infectious disease specialist; Farmer’s marathon house calls on foot in Haiti; endless global trips punctuated by massive email consultations from all over the world; and gift-buying in airports for family, friends and patients--these are fascinating reading. In the end one is as amazed and puzzled by the whirlwind that is Paul Farmer--surely a future Nobel Peace Prize laureate like Mother Teresa--as Tracy Kidder was and grateful to have the opportunity to read about it by such an intelligent writer.

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