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In Sickness and Health

Jarman, Mark

Last Updated: Jan-29-1997
Annotated by:
Terry, James

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

In a short 28 lines, Jarman captures the hothouse images of a bout of fever and the dreariness of an urban apartment where he recuperates under the care of his spouse. He can feel the way that, as he gets better, his wife's emotions unravel. She has suppressed her hatred of the apartment and the city--and perhaps, of his requirements of her as a nurse, despite the title's reference to marriage vows. As she cries, Jarman addresses himself in conclusion: "You have married the patient wait for exhaustion."

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White Rabbit

Phillips, Kate

Last Updated: Jan-29-1997
Annotated by:
Wear, Delese

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

A very sad, discerning, funny novel about the final day in the life of smart, impatient, fiercely independent, cantankerous, what-you-see-is-what-you-get, imaginative, eighty-eight year old Ruth Caster Hubble. Now living a life full of routinized quirks (sleeping in a sleeping bag on top of her bed so she won’t have to make it) with her second husband Henry--"King of the Boobs," Ruth leads readers through the dailiness of a life shaped by memory, family connections, and a failing body.

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Summary:

This book offers an insightful, well-reasoned interpretation of the nature of medicine. Hunter, an English professor who teaches and coordinates humanities programs at a medical school, observed first-hand how an academic medical center functions--she joined various teams during their multiple rounds and conferences for two years. In sum, she "behaved rather like an ethnographer among a white-coated tribe." The resultant book details the profound importance of narrative in medicine.

Narrative is integral to the medical encounter, to communications by and about the patient, and to the structure and transmission of medical knowledge. For example, the patient's story is told to and interpreted by the physician, who then tells another story of the patient, in case format to other physicians, and records that story in a formulaic chart entry. Hunter observes that most of the rituals and traditions of medicine and medical training are narrative in structure, and explains why narratives such as cautionary tales, anecdotes, case reports and clinical-pathological conferences are central, not peripheral, to medicine. The thesis is further developed to maintain that, if the narrative structure of medicine is fully recognized by physicians, they will attend to their patients better and acknowledge the details and importance of their patients' individual life stories.

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Annotated by:
Wear, Delese

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

Part of Patricia Foster's collection, Minding the Body: Women Writers on Body and Soul, Houston's essay is a cynical, self-deprecating, painfully honest, and wryly humorous observation of contemporary American women's obsession with their bodies, most notably thinness. Musing on her own lifelong fixation with weighing less, she admits that "for a good part of my life I would have quite literally given anything to be thin . . . a finger, three toes, the sight in one eye." Her essay is a collection of snapshots in her life, moments that bring into focus her displeasure with her body shape and size: walking down Fifth Avenue sizing up other women's bodies; the dinner habits of her family of origin that prohibited bread, dessert, or seconds; her husband's (thin) women employees who eyeball her body; her ongoing relationship with mirrors.

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Hard Cash

Reade, Charles

Last Updated: Jan-29-1997
Annotated by:
Moore, Pamela

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Reade was known for writing "novels with a cause." Here, as in several other of his novels, his cause is the deplorable condition of mental hospitals in the early to mid-nineteenth century. Until late in the century, many considered the mentally ill untreatable. Hospitals were more like prisons than places for treatment. Admission policies were also fairly lax. Reade records a common fear that healthy people would be incarcerated.

In Hard Cash, a father incarcerates his son in order to cover up a crime. The doctors who admit him have a kickback scheme worked out with the hospital--they get money for each patient admitted. Once in the hospital, the hero tries to prove his sanity but finds it impossible to battle against doctors who refuse to look past the diagnosis that caused his admission to his actual mental condition. He also must negotiate with the head of the hospital, a woman who is madly in love with him and refuses to allow him out of her sight.

He cannot prove his sanity and only escapes when there is a fire in the asylum. There is one "good" doctor in the story who refuses to bleed patients, deny them food, or admit the sane to mental hospitals. The other doctors think him a quack, but he saves several lives.

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Summary:

Jordanova posits that medicine and science "contain implications about matters beyond their explicit content." Namely, they have historically made assumptions about women and their relation to science/medicine. Jordanova explores this relation through seven chapters.

Particularly interesting is Chapter Three, "Body Image and Sex Roles." Here Jordanova discusses the wax models used by medical students in the nineteenth century to learn about anatomy. These models were almost always female and sometimes even had flowing hair, pearl necklaces, and other realistic details. Jordanova argues that this gendering was no accident. The route to knowledge is historically associated with looking deep into the bodies of women.

Chapter Five pursues this theme, commenting on how nature is often configured as a female whose secrets will be revealed by masculine science. The final two chapters address twentieth century representations, including the gendered nature of drug advertisements in in-house medical magazines.

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Annotated by:
Stanford, Ann Folwell

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The speaker's nephew has drowned at a young age. After the funeral, the speaker visits the grave to say a final goodbye. The speaker puts his "hand on the earth / above [the child's] dead heart," and observes that "it will be night / for a long, long time." Finally the speaker gets up to go and acknowledges a truth that he and the dead child share: "the cold child in the casket / is not the one I loved."

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

This 14 line poem deals with a physician's compassion for a hopelessly ill patient ("An apparatus not for me to mend--") and his participation in active euthanasia. The patient, Annandale, was "a wreck . . . and I was there." The narrator asks the reader to view himself or herself "as I was, on the spot-- / with a slight kind of engine." (This "engine" is a hypodermic needle.) He concludes, "You wouldn't hang me? I thought not."

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The Shipping News

Proulx, E. Annie

Last Updated: Jan-29-1997
Annotated by:
Marta, Jan

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Here is an account of a few years in the life of Quoyle, born in Brooklyn and raised in a shuffle of dreary upstate towns, where the novel begins. In these few years Quoyle metamorphoses from the human equivalent of a Flemish flake--a one layer spiral coil of rope that may be walked on if necessary--to a multi-layered presence with the capacity for constantly renewed purpose and connection. Grief, love, work, friendship, family, necessity, and community effect this transformation, as does Quoyle’s ancestral home of Newfoundland, a place of beauty and hardship, of memory and reverie.

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A Report to an Academy

Kafka, Franz

Last Updated: Jan-29-1997
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

A former ape presents his report to a meeting of the scientific Academy. Less than five years ago, he was captured in the jungles of West Africa. While on the ship returning to Europe, the ape came to the realization that there was no way out: "I was pinned down." Even if he should escape from his cage, he knew there would be no way to go home.

However, the ape developed a profound inward calm, thanks in part to the kindness of the ship's crew. His close observation of the crew and other humans allowed him to imitate them. In general, they were easy to imitate, although some of the viler human habits like drinking schnapps were more difficult to get used to. Finally, he realized that the only way to stay out of the zoo was to become human enough to perform as an ape-turned-human on the vaudeville stage. That's what he did.

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