Showing 271 - 280 of 369 annotations tagged with the keyword "Mental Illness"

Pilgrim

Findley, Timothy

Last Updated: Sep-18-2001
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction — Secondary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The novel opens with a man known only as Pilgrim hanging himself in London in 1912. Despite being pronounced dead by two physicians, he somehow lives. Pilgrim has attempted suicide many times before but is seemingly unable to die. He claims to have endured life for thousands of years but has tired of living and only longs for death. He has crossed paths with many historical figures including Leonardo da Vinci, Saint Teresa, Oscar Wilde, and Auguste Rodin.

After his most recent suicide attempt, he is admitted to a psychiatric facility in Zurich as a patient of the famous Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung. Pilgrim eventually escapes from the institution and masterminds the successful theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre. Next, he sets the cathedral at Chartres on fire. The novel ends with Pilgrim driving a car into a river on the eve of World War I. His body is never found.

View full annotation

Code Blue

Berlin, Richard

Last Updated: Aug-20-2001
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

In his first chapbook of poems, Richard Berlin, a psychiatrist, writes about his current work with patients ("What a Psychiatrist Remembers," "Rough Air," "Berlin Wall," "Jumpology"), about his experiences on medical wards and as a student ("Anatomy Lab," "Sleight of Hand," "Alzheimer's Unit," "Obstetrics Ward, County Hospital"), about love and family and how medicine sometimes infiltrates even these sanctuaries ("How JFK Killed My Father," "Tools," "Our Medical Marriage") and, most effectively, about the complexities inherent in the role of physician and healer ("What to Call Me," "After Watching Chicago Hope," "Code Blue," "What I Love"). In other poems, he observes the human condition through the veil of medicine ("Hospital Food," "PTSD").

The lure of these poems is Berlin's facility with metaphor; he has a talent for spinning a particular image or observation into revelation. He is also willing to allow puzzlement, doubt, and fear into his poems, effectively conveying both the virtuosity of the teacher and the wonder of the student. Reading this collection, I felt as if the poet was a presence both within the poems and outside of them, like the psychiatrist who must enter the mind of the patient and, at the same time, step back and become a safe guide. It is this double vision that sets his poetry apart.

View full annotation

Manhattan, When I Was Young

Cantwell, Mary

Last Updated: Aug-17-2001
Annotated by:
Dittrich, Lisa

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

In the second volume of her trilogy of memoirs (which begins with American Girl and ends with Speaking with Strangers), Mary Cantwell, a former fashion magazine editor and writer, describes her marriage, the birth of her two daughters, her career advancements, and her divorce, with Manhattan in the 1950s as the backdrop.

View full annotation

Stevie in the Mirror

Wittlinger, Ellen

Last Updated: Aug-13-2001
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story for Young Adults

Summary:

This first-person narrative of a runaway girl's short stay in a residential mental health center develops her impressions, resistances, and accommodations from her admission ("I can see right away it's a nuthouse") to her release. These include reluctant interviews with the staff counselor, uncomfortable encounters with nurses, observations of other patients' erratic behavior, and efforts, finally, to communicate with a very detached roommate.

"Stevie" speaks from a place of anger and mistrust. She attempted suicide in the girl's bathroom by slicing her wrists, but regards herself as otherwise quite competent. A turning point comes for her when her silent roommate sings a song she's written which ends with the words, "Don't forget to cry." This moment of vulnerability, which also unveils surprising talent and beauty, moves Stevie from anger toward curiosity and sympathy.

She takes steps toward friendship with her roommate, and finally toward reconciliation with her mother who, she realizes, really wants her home. As she leaves, Zena really addresses her for the first time, reminding her, "Don't forget to cry."

View full annotation

Kaddish

Ginsberg, Allen

Last Updated: Aug-09-2001
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

Dedicated to the poet's mother, Naomi Ginsberg, the poem is a narration and a lament arising from Ginsberg's memories, three years after Naomi's death, of her life and of his life with her. This long poem is subdivided into 5 sections that address the dead woman directly.

The highly poetic Part I is a reflection on death, life ["all the accumulations of life, that wear us out" (p. 11)], mortality, the link between the dead and the living, the great unknown that lies beyond death--not in the abstract, but in the signs and symbols of Naomi's life/death and in the issues that remain for her son: "Now I've got to cut through--to talk to you / --as I didn't when you had a mouth." (p. 11)

Part II is a long narration of Naomi's life story, especially the history of her mental illness and of the role it imposed on Ginsberg himself. Ginsberg "was only 12" when he brought his mother to what was intended as a rest cure; instead, she became psychotic and was hospitalized, leaving Ginsberg with an everlasting sense of guilt. Separated from her husband, Naomi spent years of paranoia in chaos and institutionalization; son Allen vacillated between pity, disgust, escape in travel, and (homo)sexual exploration.

At the last meeting with his mother, in a mental hospital, she didn't recognize him. While living in San Francisco, two days after Naomi died, he received a letter from her: "Strange Prophesies anew! She wrote--'The key is in / the window, the key is in the sunlight at the window--I have / the key--Get married Allen don't take drugs . . . .' " (p. 31)

These passages give a vivid sense of mental disease and its impact on the family. Ginsberg is not self-pitying or self-indulgent in his description of the illness that laid siege to his mother's life and which so strongly influenced his own life for years. Modestly, he inserts: "I was in bughouse that year 8 months--my own visions unmentioned in this here Lament--" (p. 25)

The brief "Hymnn," is a blessing: "Blessed be you Naomi in Hospitals! Blessed be you Naomi in solitude! Blest be your triumph! . . . Blest be your last year's loneliness!" Part III (one page long) is a short recapitulation of Naomi's life, and uses her own cryptic words to try to make sense out of her life as well as of all life and death: "But that the key should be left behind--at the window . . . to the living . . . that can . . . look back see / Creation glistening backwards to the same grave . . . ." (p. 33)

Part IV, a chant, reaches beyond the personal to social history: "O mother / what have I left out"; (p. 34) "with your eyes of shock / with your eyes of lobotomy; " "farewell / with Communist party and a broken stocking"; "with your eyes of Czechoslovakia attacked by robots . . . ." (p. 35) Ending with the short part V, Ginsberg cries out to the shrieking crows circling in the sky above His mother's grave, "Lord Lord O Grinder of giant Beyonds my voice in a boundless / field in Sheol" (p.36) [Sheol is a Hebrew word meaning "the abode of death."]

View full annotation

Summary:

This memoir begins in Africa, where Dr. Grim is with Médecins sans Frontières managing a meningitis outbreak in Nigeria. Conditions are appalling, but she has come here because of burnout: "so I won't be back home and in the ER" (11). Later in the book, she describes her other "escapes" from the Emergency Room, caring for war refugees in the Balkans.

The book centers, however, on life in an American emergency department, as Grim remembers it from the vantage point of Africa (where she does eventually become nostalgic for well-stocked supply cupboards and a more comprehensible chaos). She organizes her stories into a series of "Lessons in Emergency Medicine," in which she addresses the reader directly. After going through a step-by-step account of death in the ER, illustrated with several moving and alarming cases, she concludes: "Congratulations: you have successfully declared someone dead. Now, as an encore . . . you'll get to do it all over again" (28).

The ironic, even bitter, tone warns us of the difficulty of working in such perpetually crisis-ridden circumstances, but it does not conceal a vulnerability that seems necessary to doing the job well, such as when Grim has to tell a family that the father has died of the heart attack he had at his daughter's wedding: "you just stood there," she says, "looking at the corsage, the tuxedo and the pearls . . . You had no idea what to say and you don't really remember what you finally came out with" (26).

The stories are organized around several lessons: "How to deliver a baby," "How to crack a chest," "How to write a prescription" (which includes a discussion of addiction to prescription medication and a withering account of the doctor who overprescribes), and, as if it's as inevitable as the rest, "How to burn out."

By the book's final chapter, emergency medicine has merged, along with the vaccination of refugee children and the impossibility of treating tetanus in Nigeria, into the story of almost unreasonable determination in the face of endless frustration--but this, Grim shows in her final chapter, "Why I do what I do," is the point. Against this backdrop her final story, about the rescue of a child, makes its point: the feeling of saving a life explains all the rest.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Kennedy, Meegan

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)

Summary:

Warren here supposedly presents the papers of a late friend, detailing the interesting cases he had encountered as a physician. In fact, the "cases" are sensational short stories, presented as a novel due to the framing chapter introducing the narrator's "Early Struggles" to make a living as a physician. Other stories investigate typically Gothic themes like ghosts, duels, graverobbing, elopements, and broken hearts, with other scandalous problems like gambling, dissipation, murder, domestic abuse, and suicide. Medical topics include mental illness, epilepsy, hysterical paralysis ("catalepsy"), cancer, toothache, consumption, syphilis, heart disease, alcoholism, disease of the spine, gout, amaurosis (blindness), puerperal hemorrhage, measles, and stroke ("apoplexy").

View full annotation

Bringing Out the Dead

Connelly, Joe

Last Updated: May-18-2001
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Frank is an emergency medic and ambulance driver working night shifts for Our Lady of Mercy hospital in Hell's Kitchen, New York City. The novel begins with Frank's resuscitation of an elderly man called Mr. Burke, who has had a heart attack, and ends a couple of days later with Mr. Burke's death in the hospital. Frank is haunted by the patients he has failed to save, some of whom inhabit his experience like kinds of ghosts.

Most insistent is a teenage girl called Rose who died during an asthma attack, in part because Frank was unable to intubate her in time. He is also unable to forget his marriage, which ended because of the deadening effects of his work. And now Frank is also haunted by doubts about the value of restoring life.

He has successfully started Mr. Burke's heart, but the man is brain dead. Frank thus watches as Mr. Burke's family is first given hope and then must learn that there is none. Frank almost falls in love with Mr. Burke's drug-addicted and disillusioned daughter, Mary, perhaps seeing in her an opportunity for a mutual restoration to health.

But when her father finally dies--when the attending realizes that the patient's struggle hasn't been the "survival instinct" but rather a "fight to die"--she blames Frank, who recognizes that his purpose is not simply to keep people alive (or to bring them back from the dead), but rather that "saving lives" means preserving their value, somehow, in his memory. He walks away from the hospital, and when he gets home, Rose--her ghost, and Frank's own symbol for all the patients he hasn't resurrected--is waiting there, to forgive him.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Aull, Felice
Chen, Irene

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The narrator distinguishes between madness and sanity: the beliefs of the majority constitute sanity, whereas those who dissent are considered insane.

View full annotation

Ode on Melancholy

Keats, John

Last Updated: May-07-2001
Annotated by:
Moore, Pamela

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

Keats urges his reader not to respond to melancholy by committing suicide. He says to avoid poisons like Wolf's-bane, nightshade, and yew berries. Instead, when most depressed, "glut thy sorrow" on the beauty of a rose or the rainbow of salt and sea. Likewise, if your mistress is angry with you, look into her eyes and feast on their ephemeral beauty.

Contrast is the key to pleasure. Melancholy is not the moment for death, but an opportunity for a fine experience. It is the fine balance between pain and pleasure that is ideal. The final stanza rephrases this idea. Beauty is always ephemeral; joy is always about to leave, but these are man's highest moments.

View full annotation