Showing 261 - 270 of 680 Nonfiction annotations

Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Essays)

Summary:

Part of a series, "Letters to a Young . . . [fill in the career]," this collection of essays by pediatrician-author Perri Klass is addressed to her son Orlando during the recent period when he was applying to medical school. The essays follow a chronological sequence, beginning with the decision to apply to medical school, the first two years of medical school, learning how to examine and talk to patients, residency training, physicians as patients, making mistakes, grappling with the most fundamental human issues in medicine, and the mingling of professional work and life.

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Summary:

In this compelling memoir, Grace, a writer, artist and teacher, unexpectedly finds herself attracted to a carpenter, Howard Staab, whom she meets when looking at a new home. Shortly after their relationship begins, Staab is told in a routine physical examination that he has severe mitral valve regurgitation and will require surgery. Staab, an active, otherwise healthy fifty-three year-old man, has no health insurance. The cardiac surgery will cost over $200,000. Thus Staab and Grace embark on a quest to find an affordable, but excellent surgeon and hospital. Grace details her efforts to find the best care possible, including correspondence with her son, Bryan, a Stanford medical student with interests in international health. These inquiries lead to the possibility of surgery in India.

After a useful, explanatory preface the book begins when Staab and Grace land in New Delhi and enter the Escorts Heart Institute. Staab undergoes a series of tests confirming the need for surgery, which is subsequently performed by Dr. Naresh Trehan. Through Grace's eyes, we also meet nurses, aides, other physicians, administrators and friends. The narrative follows the hospitalization, including dramatic complications and eventual recovery, and also backtracks to better detail the search for care and the predicament of un- and underinsured Americans. Grace also describes the post-hospital phase, including venturing out beyond hospital and hotel walls.

The book, highlighting the fact that Grace and Staab face more than one cultural challenge in this journey, contains both a medical terms glossary and a short list of Hindi terms. Ultimately, Grace concludes she would consider returning to Escorts or a similar hospital should she or a loved-one require surgery, even without the insurance issue. She states: "India, the land of contradictions. Organized chaos. A third-world country with first-world state-of-the-art medical care available for a fraction of the cost of the same procedures here in the U.S." (p. 259)

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Just Breathe Normally

Shumaker, Peggy

Last Updated: Sep-18-2007
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Author and teacher Peggy Shumaker was involved in an unexpected and terrible biking accident.  Out of that accident and her following slow recovery she has crafted a remarkable memoir---one that both examines her interactions with the medical community and her family and charts her return from disability---in short essay-like chapters, individual memories that comprise and inform her life before and after illness.  Reading these gem-like pieces, I could imagine her, in the process of recovery, having time and patience to look back at family, friends, custom and community in order to recreate who she was before and who she would be after her accident.  The longest of these "chapters" is several pages; the shortest, only a few sentences.  There is no table of contents guiding readers through the six sections of this book---and how could there be, as the book itself reflects the healing mind as it searches for continuity in the midst of disruption. 

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Running with Scissors

Burroughs, Augusten

Last Updated: Sep-03-2007
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This memoir chronicles the pre-adolescent and adolescent years of the author, the son of an alcoholic, abusive mathematics professor father and a psychotic Anne Sexton-wannabe confessional poet mother. The only family member who does not abuse the boy in any way is estranged--an older brother with Asperger’s syndrome. Meanwhile, the amount of trauma to which young Burroughs is subjected boggles the mind. Just when one thinks it couldn’t get any worse, it does.

Burroughs, who loves bright, shiny, orderly things, also likes doctors--paragons of cleanliness, virtue and wealth. Unfortunately, his mother’s psychiatrist, Dr. Finch, described as a charismatic Santa Claus-look-alike, is unethical, bizarre and squalid. As Mrs. Burroughs becomes more and more dependent on Finch, she allows her son to be adopted into the crazy Finch household.

This family includes wife Agnes, who copes with her husband’s infidelity by sweeping madly; son Jeff, daughters Kate, Anne, Vickie, Hope and Natalie; grandson Poo; and adopted son, Neil Bookman, who is twenty years older than Burroughs and homosexual. When Burroughs is thirteen, and has told Bookman that he, too, is gay, Bookman forces the boy to have oral sex. They become lovers.

The Finches, meanwhile, exhibit their quirks and weird tendencies in multiple ways. "Bible-dipping" is popular to read the future, as is prophesying by examining Dr. Finch’s turds. A patient with agoraphobia, Joranne, lives in one of the rooms--in fact, she has not left the room in two years. Young Burroughs is allowed to smoke and drink. When Burroughs says he doesn’t want to return to school, Dr. Finch facilitates this desire by giving Burroughs alcohol and pills to fake a suicide gesture, then hospitalizes the boy.

Yet Burroughs manages to befriend a couple of the Finch daughters, and to survive his childhood. The book closes with his departure for New York City and with an epilogue outlining various people’s outcomes. Finch lost his license due to insurance fraud.

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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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