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Extremis

Krauss, Dan

Last Updated: Dec-05-2016
Annotated by:
Redel-Traub, Gabriel

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Extremis, a Netflix documentary directed by Dan Krauss, follows Dr. Jessica Zitter a palliative care ICU physician at Highland Hospital in Oakland, California. The documentary begins with an exasperated Dr. Zitter trying to communicate with a patient on a ventilator: “Is this about the breathing tube? You want it out?” she asks. When the patient nods in affirmation, Dr. Zitter replies, “What if you die if I take it out?” The questions confronting the physicians, patients and their loved ones get no easier over the course of the film. The documentary is propelled by a dramatic tension between its protagonists: on one side Dr. Zitter, who is compassionate but dogmatically pragmatic, on the other side the family members of patients who are driven above all by hope and faith. This tension manifests itself in palpable ways. In one particularly powerful scene, a patient’s daughter says to Dr. Zitter: “it would feel like murder to pull that life support. That’s what it would feel like to me…I feel like maybe as a doctor, you know, being as smart, and being as knowledgeable, and being inside medical journals, it can dwindle your optimism a little bit.” Dr. Zitter replies simply, “I’m just trying to help you make a decision that’s right for your Mom.”  Of course, for Dr. Zitter there does appear to be a categorically appropriate decision in all of these cases. In most of her conversations, she is transparently trying to get family members to see that there is no realistic chance of meaningful recovery for their loved ones. That is not to say that she is insensitive to the family’s wishes or the complex bioethical conundrums which arise around her. In fact, her bravery and deftness in broaching these serious and difficult topics is on full display throughout the film. 

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Psychobook

Rothenstein, Julian

Last Updated: Nov-30-2016
Annotated by:
Glass, Guy

Primary Category: Literature / Literature — Secondary Category: Visual Arts /

Genre: Photographs with Commentary

Summary:

The subject of Psychobook is psychological tests, both classic tests and newly created ones. Oversized, with more pictures than text, it is truly an art book.    

Psychobook begins with an introduction by Lionel Shriver, a journalist and novelist, which proves to be a very personal indictment of psychological testing.  There follows a more even-handed historical essay by Oisin Wall, a curator at the Science Museum in London.    

The bulk of Psychobook is comprised of photographs of tests and archival material related to tests.  For example, along with intelligence tests designed to screen potential immigrants, we find images of new arrivals being tested at Ellis Island.  Likewise, we see beautifully reproduced Rorshach inkblots along with pictures of Rorshach and older inkblots that may have inspired him.
 The Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) is a projective test in which subjects respond to images with their fantasies.  Here we see the 1930s originals cut out of magazines alongside updated images especially commissioned for this volume. Each is provocative in its own way.  As an added bonus, a series of photographs of psychotherapists in their offices from the 1930s to the present is interspersed with the content on psychological testing.     

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Emergency Room Notebook, 1977

Berlin, Lucia

Last Updated: Nov-28-2016
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The narrator Lucia works in a California city emergency room. Her job title is not specified - possibly a registration clerk or triage nurse. She enjoys working in the ER and marvels at the human body: "I am fascinated by two fingers in a baggie, a glittering switchblade all the way out of a lean pimp's back" (p90). Death, however, is a regular visitor.

All day, ambulances back up to the emergency room, gurneys rumble by, and charts accumulate. The staff is too busy. Patients are restless, frightened, and angry. She notes how everything associated with the ER appears gray - patient's skin, blankets, emergency vehicles. And perhaps the prognosis of patients as well: "Everything is reparable, or not" (p90).

Lucia describes Code Blues, the deaths of gypsies, an encounter with a blind man whose wife was DOA, drunks, and suicide attempts. She wonders why the elderly fall down so frequently. She's frustrated by the large number of people who come to the ER without an actual emergency and longs for "a good cut-and-dried stabbing or a gunshot wound" (p93). But Lucia worries that she has become too desensitized working in the emergency room, maybe even inhuman. Yet the flow of patients doesn't slow down - those with true life-threatening conditions and those who probably don't need to be there.

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Mijito

Berlin, Lucia

Last Updated: Nov-28-2016
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

It is a strange and cruel world that Amelia finds herself in. The 17-year-old woman from Mexico who speaks very little English travels to Oakland, California to marry her boyfriend Manolo. Soon after, he is sentenced to 8 years in prison. Amelia is already pregnant. She and her newborn son, Jesus Romero, move in with Manolo's aunt and uncle. Amelia refers to the baby as "mijito" (an affectionate Spanish term for "little son"). He cries constantly and has a hernia that requires repair. But the teenage mother is overwhelmed and frightened. She receives little support.

Amelia and Jesus go to the Oakland Children's Hospital where they meet a cynical but kind nurse who works with a group of 6 pediatric surgeons. Most of the surgical practice consists of Medi-Cal welfare patients and lots of illegal aliens. The nurse encounters crack babies, kids with AIDS, and plenty of disabled children. When the surgeon examines Jesus, he notes bruises on the baby's arms. They are the result of Amelia squeezing him too hard to stifle his incessant crying. Surgery is scheduled but doesn't get done.

Later, the uncle makes sexual advances and, while drunk, rapes Amelia in the bathroom. The aunt insists Amelia and Jesus leave the apartment. She deposits them at a homeless shelter. Amelia spends her days riding buses and her nights at the shelter where she is harassed and robbed. All the while, Jesus cries. Amelia notices his hernia is protruding and she is unable to push it back in place as she was instructed. After office hours, the same nurse evaluates the situation and accompanies them to the emergency room where surgery is performed.

Amelia and Jesus return to the ER. She has been sedated and is staring blankly. Jesus is dead with a broken neck. The nurse from the surgical clinic is at Amelia's side and learns that Jesus was crying in the homeless shelter and keeping others there awake. Amelia shook the infant to try to quell the crying. She didn't know what else to do.

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Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This ambitious novel presents unusual events ten years after an international adoption.  Because of the Chinese one-child policy, Chinese peasant woman Xiao Lu abandons her second daughter Chun in a rural market, knowing that the child will be sent to an orphanage. An American couple adopt the child, calling her Katie. As a celebration for Katie’s tenth birthday, they return to southwest China, hoping to meet the birth mother.  

In a series of unusual events, they find Xiao Lu, and it is, at first, a joyous event. Troubles mount, however, as the birth mother wants Katie to stay with her, and Katie feels a mystical bond between them. Xiao Lu, having left her husband, now lives as a hermit in a hut on the slopes of The One Hundred Mile Mountain. She sweeps the 100 steps of The Elephant Temple daily and practices calligraphy in her hut.  

Pep and Clio Macy, having married late, could not get pregnant. The novel satirizes them as aging Yuppies, spoiled and materialistic. Clio wears a Movado watch worth hundreds if not thousands of dollars. The family’s cockerpoo has been boarded at home. Katie dislikes being the only Chinese American in her private school.  

After the birth mother has been found, the mood of the book changes. Xiao Lu wants her child returned, and the Macys fear that they are in danger. In the last 100 pages, nature itself attacks the Americans with snakes, monkeys, bats, a huge millipede, and even the weather. Pep is injured and receives rough, traditional medical treatment from a monk; it appears to be effective, however, in healing his heart physically and spiritually—a resonance with the book’s title. Katie becomes more and more like Xiao, learning calligraphy and some Chinese language. When Xiao is grievously injured by the monkeys, the Macys effectively care for her, and previous conflicts are resolved.

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The Wound Dresser

Coulehan, Jack

Last Updated: Nov-23-2016
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry

Summary:

The collection is prefaced and named for a poem by Walt Whitman, The Wound Dresser, annotated in this database by Jack Coulehan. In “On Reading Walt Whitman’s ‘The Wound Dresser’” Coulehan sees Whitman as a nurse tending the Civil War wounded, and, while using some of the words and language of Whitman’s poem, imagines himself moving forward in that created space of caring for patients: “You remain / tinkering at your soldier’s side, as I step / to the next cot and the cot after that.” (p. ix) The poem introduces us to all the ‘cots’ of the book – where we step from patient to patient, through history and geography, and through the journey of medical training.   The book is comprised of 4 sections without overt explanation, although there are 4 pages of Notes at the end of the book with information about select individual poems. In general, the themes of the sections can be described as: 1.) clinical care of individual patients and medical training; 2.) reflections on historical medical cases, reported anecdotes or past literary references; 3.) meditations on geographically distinct episodes – either places of travel or news items; and 4.) family memoir, personal history and the passage of time.   Many of the poems have been previously published and a few are revised from an earlier chapbook. Notable among the latter is “McGonigle’s Foot” (pp 42-3) from section 2, wherein an event in Philadelphia, 1862 – well after the successful public demonstration of anesthesia was reported and the practice widely disseminated, a drunk Irishman was deemed unworthy of receiving an anesthetic. Although it is easy to look back and critique past prejudices, Coulehan’s poem teaches us to examine current prejudices, bias and discrimination in the provision of healthcare choices, pain relief and access to care.   There are many gems in these 72 poems. Coulehan has an acute sensibility about the variety of human conditions he has the privilege to encounter in medical training and clinical practice. However, one of the standouts for me was “Cesium 137” based on a news report of children finding an abandoned radiotherapy source (cesium) in Goiania Brazil, playing with the glowing find and suffering acute radiation poisoning. He writes: “the cairn of their small lives / burst open…their bodies vacillate and weaken / hour by hour, consumed by innocence / and radiant desire.” (p. 68).   Following another poem inspired by Whitman, Coulehan concludes the collection with a sonnet “Retrospective.” He chronicles a 40-year career along with physical aging, memories of medical training “etched in myelin,” and the search for connection across that span of career including, “those he hurt, the woman / he killed with morphine, more than a few he saved.” Ultimately, he relies on hope with fitting understatement: “His ally, hope, will have to do.” (p. 97)

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Annotated by:
Teagarden, J. Russell

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

As the movie opens, the married artists Einar and Gerda Wegener are working out of their apartment in Copenhagen. The year is around 1908 and they have been married for just a few years. They do not have children as yet, but they have hopes that they would soon.  

Einar is a painter of Scandinavian landscapes and Gerda is a figurative painter. When the model for a painting Gerda is working on fails to appear one day, she asks Einar to take the model’s place. Einar would need to pose with the model’s dress and assume a feminine posture. In posing as a woman, Einar's simmering desire to become a woman comes to a boil.

At first Gerda finds Einar’s interest in posing as a woman an interesting diversion and as a means to have some fun at various social events. But, Einar becomes more and more serious about his interest in transitioning to a woman in more than just wardrobe and affect. As an early step in that direction, he takes on the name Lili Elbe and the pronoun "she."  She gives up painting and becomes Gerda’s primary model. Gerda’s paintings become highly sought after with her new model.  

Lili’s quest to become a woman intensified over the subsequent years and extended to hoping to acquire a uterus so that she could give birth. With Gerda’s help, Lili eventually finds a surgeon in Germany who is willing to perform a series of risky procedures that will make her into a woman. After the operations, Lili was transformed into the woman she wanted to be, but without the availability of anti-rejection drugs and antibiotics, she died in the hospital with Gerda at her side.

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Talking with Doctors

Newman, David

Last Updated: Nov-08-2016
Annotated by:
Redel-Traub, Gabriel

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Talking with Doctors, a memoir by David Newman, follows the author’s dizzying journey to find a physician and treatment plan after being diagnosed with a rare malignant tumor perched dangerously near his brain stem. Despite the author’s education, money, connections and geographic privilege (Mr. Newman is a New Yorker surrounded by “the best” hospitals and the “the best” doctors), he finds himself struggling to make any sense of the conflicting medical advice he receives. The vertigo induced by the deluge of advice he gathers in his countless trips to multiple medical centers, is only exacerbated by the egotism and childishness of some of the doctors he sees. The indecencies range from the routine—waiting hours for doctors that are running behind schedule—to the utterly bizarre—a doctor returning Mr. Newman’s $10 copay as a gesture of good will after explaining that his tumor was inoperable and would likely be fatal.   Mr. Newman’s career as a psychotherapist is intimately interwoven into the fabric of the memoir. His analytical eye strongly informs his search for a physician whom he can trust. Moreover, knitted into the narrative is Mr. Newman’s experience with his own patients whom he is forced to refer to other therapists while he is receiving treatment.   Coloring the tone of the entire memoir is the fact that Mr. Newman has survived the tumor around which the memoir is framed. Nonetheless, Talking with Doctors is a harrowing and suspenseful read.

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The Sick Child

Munch, Edvard

Last Updated: Nov-08-2016
Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Painting

Summary:

In this painting, Edvard Munch shows, as the center of attention, a stricken young girl, propped on a thick white pillow, covered with a heavy blanket, at the end of her short life. A grieving companion sits next to her, her head so deeply bowed that we can only see the top of her head, not her features. The companion is so overcome with grief that she can neither hold her head up, nor look at the dying girl. Only the young girl's haunting profile is visible, as she looks steadily toward a dark ominous drape, perhaps representing the unknown or the mystery of death. Her reddish hair appears thin, damp, and uncombed against the pillow.The two figures make contact by holding hands for comfort. The artist omits the details of fingers, and just indicates a simple connected shape for both hands. Striving for only simplified and essential forms, Munch enhanced each surface by impassioned brushstrokes, nuanced colors, and thick layers of impasto paint.

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The Sick Child

Munch, Edvard

Last Updated: Nov-08-2016
Annotated by:
Teagarden, J. Russell

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Painting

Summary:

Edvard Munch’s painting, The Sick Child, hanging in the Tate in London, England is his fourth version of the painting. This version is done in oil on canvas and was completed in 1907. The first version was painted in 1885.  

As we come upon this painting, we quickly realize we are standing at the end of a bed intruding upon a poignant moment. In this impressionistic painting, we can discern an adolescent girl propped up in bed. She is facing an older woman sitting at her side. We don’t see this woman’s face because her chin is on her chest in a way that makes her look distraught. We can easily conclude that she is the girl’s mother and that the girl is sick, very sick.
 

When we look around the room with the view Munch gives us, we see little in the way of medical supplies or equipment. There is only a bottle on a nightstand that might be some potion and a glass of water on a dresser. Nothing more is to be done for this child. She seems to know it and so she tries to comfort the woman who is attending her. The painting reminds the viewer that often those who are dying offer comfort to the ones attending them as well.

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