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Richard Kraft is about as burnt-out as a fifth-year resident in pediatric surgery can be. Overwhelmed by his stint in an inner-city, public hospital in Los Angeles, he seeks to hide from the misery of his patients by avoiding any personal connection with them. Then he meets twelve-year-old Joy, an Asian immigrant trying desperately to learn the puzzling ways of her new culture. She speaks words that trigger memories from Kraft's own childhood as the son of a U.S. agent in Joy's country, and he loses his distance.
He performs surgery on a life-threatening cancer in her leg, pulling back at the last minute in an unreasonable fear that he will hurt her if he cuts too deep. The implied result: incomplete excision of the cancer and a death sentence for the child he now tries, unsuccessfully to avoid. His avoidance is repeatedly foiled by Linda Espera, the physical therapist with whom he is falling in love and who will not let him abandon the emotional needs of any of the children in Joy's ward.
This is the second of 13 short autobiographical pieces in the book, Naked. In it, Sedaris describes, in vivid and humorous detail, the obsessive compulsive behavior that plagued his life from grade school into college. From licking every light switch encountered, to counting each of "six hundred and thirty-seven steps" on the way home from school, "pausing every few feet to tongue a mailbox" and having to retrace his steps if he lost count, Sedaris was compelled to " . . . do these things because nothing was worse than the anguish of not doing them."
Each year, a teacher called on his mother to discuss the strange tics. His mother took his behavior and these visits in stride: "The kid's wound too tight, but he'll come out of it. So, what do you say, another scotch, Katherine?" "She suggested my teachers interpret my jerking head as a nod of agreement. 'That's what I do, and now I've got him washing the dishes for the next five years.'"
Life became more complicated when Sedaris entered college and had to contend with a roommate. There are amusing descriptions of the elaborate stratagems that he devised to conceal or explain the tics. Finally, "my nervous habits faded about the same time I took up with cigarettes . . . more socially acceptable than crying out in tiny voices."
Novelist Isabel Allende's daughter, Paula, died after entering into a coma following an acute attack of a porphyria disease. Allende was at her daughter's side in a hospital in Spain, where Paula was living with her husband, and later in Allende's home in California, where Paula spent the last months of her life.
When Paula first lost consciousness, Allende began writing for her an account of her illness, which soon grew into a memoir of Allende's own life: "Listen, Paula, I am going tell you a story, so that when you wake up you will not feel so lost" (p. 3), Allende begins. As Allende tells of her childhood, political and feminist awakenings, and her growth as a writer, she also watches Paula sink deeper and deeper into coma. She remains insistent, however, that Paula will recover, works in secret with a sympathetic physician to wean Paula from the respirator that breathes for her, then flies her back to California for rehabilitation.
In the end, though, she faces the reality that Paula will not recover, and, as she finishes telling Paula the story of her own life, she discovers that she has found the strength to let Paula go. Paula dies in a sunny room in Allende's house, surrounded by family and friends.
Seventy-nine year old Dame Lettie Colson begins to receive anonymous phone calls from a man whose message is, "Remember, you must die." Soon, her octogenarian brother, her senile sister-in-law, and many of their tottery friends begin to receive similar phone messages.
The novel takes us through a year or so in the lives of this group of eccentric elderly upper-class Brits and a few of their not-so-privileged servants and caretakers. As they pursue the source of the "memento mori" message, we discover a complex matrix of infidelity and deception, ranging from youthful love affairs and harmless perversions to manipulation and blackmail. In the end, though, Death will not be denied.
Summary:The urgent voice in this poem tells the patient to "Be still." The patient is about to undergo a brain scan (CT or MRI?) and the poem consists of a series of instructions. Don't worry about the discomfort or the side effects of the dye, the poem demands, "forget that your cradled head / may reveal a hard secret soon," the only thing that matters is "the subtle / shading of mass, some new darkness afloat / in the brindled brain sea." [16 lines]
The author knows that the virus's attack "is not personal." His individuality means nothing to the virus. Yet, for three years he has been ill, he has been "occupied by an unseen / enemy," he has lost control. Thus, being human, he must take it personally.
In fact, as a result of the infection, he is no longer the self he once was, but has seen "the banks / of self erode." Though the virus has changed the story of the writer's life, the virus does not really need him "to live any more than faith / needs a body of truth / to thrive." [50 lines]
This book is a series of essays about the illness experience. The author developed chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) after a viral illness in 1988. Suddenly, this 41-year-old public policy analyst, who was also a successful writer and a competitive runner, was thrust into the world of severe disability. He developed subtle but extensive neurological deficits that affected his concentration and memory. For months he could hardly get out of bed. He discovered that not only was the cause of CFS unknown, many physicians did not even believe it was a "real" illness.
"Double Blind" tells the story of Skloot's participation in an ill-fated clinical trial of Ampligen, an experimental treatment for CFS. Other essays describe the author's experience with alternative medicine, including an intensive course of Ayurvedic "detoxification" ("Healing Powers") and a visit to Germany to encounter Mother Meera, an avatar of the Divine Mother ("Honeymooning With the Feminine Divine").
"Home Remedies" presents his comic experience with helpful calls and letters telling him how to get rid of the illness. Other essays deal with Skloot's learning to cope with chronic disability. A final section includes poems about the illness experience of several composers and artists (e.g. Carl Maria von Weber, George Gershwin, and Vincent van Gogh).
Summary:This eight-part poem presents the wisdom of home remedies. The first voice tells the sick person to drink the juice of half a lime each day. "No virus can stand up / to a lime." The second voice explains the toxic effects of electromagnetic waves. Another tells him to submerge himself in garlic. Still another says to "visualize little men / in white overalls / scrubbing the lesions / from your brain." With regard to diet, one home remedy advises abstinence from bread, vinegar, dairy products, bread, corn, caffeine, alcohol, chocolate, vitamins, fruit, meat, fish, and fowl. In the end the only solution is to "embrace your illness . . . . "[133 lines]
Summary:The author, a pediatrician by training who has gradually moved into psycho-oncology and training others in relationship centered care, writes about life in this collection of short vignettes and analyses. She blends stories of her own experiences as patient and as woman with those she has gathered from a long history of patient encounters. There is no temporal sequence, but the work is grouped into thematic segments. The author shares selected, carefully garnered and assessed narratives of life events intended to be spiritually healing to those who are ill or who care for the sick.
Dr. Terry McKechnie works in the emergency room in a Los Angeles hospital in the early 1990’s, and is having an affair with Virginia Lee, the new wife of an old friend of his from medical school. Virginia works with snakes. She is attracted to danger. She falls in love with Terry immediately after deciding to marry the reliable Rick, with his predictable dermatologist’s hours and habits.
Virginia is bitten by a rare snake and drives herself to Terry’s hospital. The drive is terrifyingly described, time seeming to move at two speeds at once, as Virginia sits stuck in traffic trying not to panic, the terse prose capturing her efforts at clarity even as the rapid effects of the venom begin to cloud her thoughts. Because she is allergic to horses, the antivenom, made of horse serum, cannot be given to her, and she begins to bleed. Unfortunately, she also has an extremely rare blood type.
As well as being a doctor, Terry is a "universal donor": his blood can be given to people with most other blood types without danger of rejection. His gift fails him at this point, however: Virginia must be given blood of her own type. One person has such blood: a psychopath on the run from the police whom Terry had previously allowed to escape. The novel’s plot culminates in Terry’s search for and encounter with the convict, in which he persuades him to give his blood (and, necessarily his freedom--he is arrested in the hospital) and Virginia survives.