Showing 31 - 40 of 228 annotations tagged with the keyword "Humor and Illness/Disability"

Annotated by:
Woodcock, John

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

In December 1995, at the age of 43, the author suffered a sudden and severe stroke in the brain stem and emerged from a coma several weeks later to find himself in a rare condition called "locked-in syndrome" (LIS). Although his mind was intact, he had lost virtually all physical control, able to move only his left eyelid. There was no hope of significant recovery. This memoir, composed and dictated the following summer, consists of Bauby's brief and poignant reflections on his condition and excursions into the realms of his memory, imagination, and dreams.

The composition of this book was an extraordinary feat in itself. Unable to write or speak, Bauby composed each passage mentally and then dictated it, letter by letter, to an amanuensis who painstakingly recited a frequency-ordered alphabet until Bauby chose a letter by blinking his left eyelid once to signify "yes." In what was likely another heroic act of will, Bauby survived just long enough to see his memoir published in the spring of 1997.

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Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Richard (Kenneth Branagh) is assigned alternative service as a consequence of a misdemeanor. A social worker connects him with the mother of a young woman, Jane (Helena Bonham Carter), who is suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease. Feeling reluctant and unequipped for such responsibility, he starts taking her on tame outings suggested by her mother. Initially she is hostile and resistant; gradually he gives way to her insistence on unpermitted activities: he takes her on a carnival ride, drives her around in his jeep, makes her dinner at his shabby rural cottage, about all of which the mother remains clueless.

Jane acknowledges that he is the only one who treats her like an adult. In a rare moment of vulnerability, she asks him to help her lose her virginity, not necessarily to "do the awful deed" himself, but to help her hire or find someone who will give her an experience of sex before she gets to the point where it’s impossible. He refuses, she won’t see him, and for a time her mother tries to find another caregiver--a hopeless failure--a woman who talks down to her.

Richard attempts other community service and runs into comic difficulties attempting to help old women, clean toilets, and finally retreats to his outpost where he is building a plane out of scrap metal and junk in a barn. He’s insolvent, but determined to carry through his project, if only, like the Wright brothers, to keep it aloft for 12 seconds. His landlord announces that he’s selling the place and Richard and his airplane will have to clear out within a month. This impels him to try his biplane.

In the meantime, Jane searches internet dating agencies, advertising herself as a "hideously crippled woman" seeking sex, but gives it up. Missing her, Richard finally comes to her home and consents to take her to "get shagged" if she won’t blame him for any of the consequences. They go to London and seek agencies for the disabled that are willing to help her experience sex. The only positive response she encounters is at a nightclub specially for the disabled. She’s horrified.

They go upscale, to a hotel where "gigolos" might be available. Richard hilariously serves as her go-between. He finds one who, alas, charges 2000 pounds. Finally she says, "Okay, then, you’ll have to do it, Richard." This brings him to acknowledge that he’s "a cripple," meaning that he’s been impotent for some time. Instead of offering her himself, he offers to rob a bank. He doesn’t, however, go through with the robbery, but returns to take Jane home with him where she remains as she’s dying.

Ultimately, Jane and Richard both discover that love and friendship are what matter. He takes her up for the one flight his plane is capable of: a few glorious minutes over the sheepfields. The experience caps her life and seems to promise a beginning of his. She tells him, "You have a future, Richard. Either take it or switch bodies with me." She leaves him a final message on the voice machine which is the only way she can communicate, encouraging him to claim his life, and reflecting, "The only life you can have is the one that is available to you."

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The Great Mysterious

Landvik, Lorna

Last Updated: Feb-12-2010
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Geneva Jordan, a successful stage actress in New York, reluctantly agrees to stay for a month with her thirteen-year-old nephew who has Down syndrome so that his parents can take a long-postponed and much-needed vacation. She is unmarried and has no children herself, has always found herself a little intimidated about close interaction with the boy, and leads a complicated personal and professional life in New York which the requisite month in Minnesota will interrupt.

Nevertheless, she takes on the job and gradually finds herself adapting to rural life, substitute parenthood, and the special needs of her nephew. She makes friends with the mother of Rich's best (and only real) friend, Conrad, who has cerebral palsy. After the month is over, she returns to New York, only to realize that her life lacks a dimension that caregiving gave it.

She also realizes she left a good man behind in Minnesota--a local divorced father who has become an unsought love interest. Nevertheless, she remains on stage and in the city until the death of her nephew's friend calls her back to Minnesota, and to the man with whom she can finally imagine taking on a family life of her own.

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We Mad Climb Shaky Ladders

Wagner, Pamela

Last Updated: Feb-12-2010
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

Each poem in this collection is preceded by brief comments both by the author/patient and by her psychiatrist.  Together the poems chronicle incidents in the interior life of a woman who has lived with schizophrenia for 35 years, been hospitalized, changed doctors and medication, undergone intense feelings of isolation, and also has experienced remarkable support and love from a twin sister and a few loyal friends.  The poems range in tone from matter-of-fact tellings of psychotic episodes to reflections on relationships, both personal and professional, that have been important in the course of treatment.  The book is organized as a chronology that traces the trajectory of diagnosis, illness, treatment and recovery; the final section is entitled "Beginning Again."  Read in sequence, they give a rich sense of the writer's life, struggles, resilience, and unusual self-awareness.  

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The Good Soldier

Ford, Ford Madox

Last Updated: Feb-11-2010
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The meeting of John and Florence Dowell and Edward and Leonora Ashburnham in a German health spa is the center of a train of lies, deceptions, adulterous love triangles, and deaths. John Dowell, a memorably "unreliable" narrator, calls it "the saddest story I have ever heard" (7). His narrative distance stems partly from the pastness of the events, partly from his absence for some of them, but mostly from his ignorance or denial of realities as intimate as his wife's serial deceptions of him.

Heart disease is the central narrative trope, a literary device easily unpacked as a site of irony: Each of the two major characters who have a "heart" (i.e. heart condition) is faking it, in service of his/her serial "affairs du coeur." Florence fabricates her heart trouble before her marriage is ever consummated, using it to turn Dowell into a cardiac nurse and keep him out of her bedroom. Edward Ashburnham fakes his illness to escape his military post and take his latest love object (and his stoically Catholic wife) to Germany.

The extramarital romps occasioned by Dowell's solicitude for Florence's "heart" comprise the main gag of this novel's comic beginning. When the focus shifts to Edward, Leonora, and their ward Nancy Rufford, The Good Soldier becomes a tragedy of emotional sadism, sentimental martyrdom, madness, and moral exhaustion that leaves us unsure about who in this novel has a literal or figurative heart.

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Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Anthology (Essays)

Summary:

Most of the twenty works in this anthology are first-person narrative essays. They represent a wide range of women’s experiences of embodiment, spanning both the average lifespan and the particularity of individual lives, focusing on puberty and menstruation, weight-consciousness and eating disorders, facial disfigurement, multiple sclerosis, infertility and pregnancy, cosmetic treatments and surgery, breast cancer, and aging. A few essays offer a valuable cross-cultural lens on the experience of embodiment.

Hanan al-Shaykh’s Inside a Moroccan Bath (see this database) explores her dual experiences of being stigmatized in Middle Eastern culture for her thinness, and then having her stigma recast as value when she moved to a European city. Judith Ortiz Cofer’s "The Story of My Body," which begins "I was born a white girl in Puerto Rico, but became a brown girl when I came to live in the United States," (299) offers another perspective on the cultural instability of the criteria for female beauty. Linda Hogan’s "Department of the Interior" positions her experience of embodiment within the intertwined contexts of American Indian culture and the physical landscape of the West.

Some of the contributors are well-known for their texts on embodiment ( Lucy Grealy, Nancy Mairs, and Naomi Wolf, for example), whereas others are well-known creative writers (Margaret Atwood and Linda Hogan). Pam Houston’s Out of Habit, I Start Apologizing is also annotated in this database.

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Learning Sickness

Lang, James

Last Updated: Feb-11-2010
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

James Lang was diagnosed with Crohn's disease in 1996, when he was twenty-six years old. Five years later, however, a particularly severe bout with Crohn's, including a hospital stay, dramatically changed his relationship to the disease. Lang's memoir explores his ongoing relationship to Crohn's disease, both in the context of medical reassessments and diagnostic adjustments and in relation to his personal and professional development in his first year as a tenure-track professor of college English.

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Saint Ursula and Her Maidens

O'Connell, Mary

Last Updated: Jan-21-2010
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Five women find fellowship and comfort in the swimming pool at a community center managed by Ursuline nuns. Each woman suffers from a chronic disease--lupus, multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease, and rheumatoid arthritis. One is also being treated for ovarian cancer. The diverse group includes a pregnant woman, an elderly nun, and a retired nurse who currently peddles Avon products. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, they participate in aquatic therapy. The one-hour sessions temporarily soothe the body and boost morale. It is a welcome reprieve from the burden of disease and the complications of life.

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A World of Light

Skloot, Floyd

Last Updated: Jan-20-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Poet and essayist Floyd Skloot gives us his third memoir; each of the three concerns a somewhat different facet of his attempt to recover from and live with mental and physical damage resulting from a viral illness that struck him in 1988. This book, written approximately 15 years after the initial insult, "is a memoir of the reassembled life" (ix). Life for Skloot is different than before, but a kind of order--Skloot calls it "harmony"--has been constructed out of memory loss, mental disorder and incoherence: "I have learned to savor the fragments themselves, and to live in the moment" (xi). A World of Light is perhaps more a collection of essays than a memoir.

Most of part one and some sections of parts two (Ch. 5, "1957") and three (Ch. 15, "Taking Stock") concern Skloot's interaction with his aged mother as she slides further and further into dementia. Anyone who wants an idea of what it is like to interact with a person who has Alzheimer's disease should read these sections. Skloot masterfully reproduces the often bizarre conversations that occur--the sometimes maddening repetition of comments during attempts at conversation.

Skloot's mother admires his wife, Beverly, and repeatedly instructs them to marry each other, no matter how often they assure her they are already married. She forgets their previous visits to her in the nursing home, although they visit regularly, and becomes anxious when they leave, even though she isn't certain who they are. Skloot writes about how receptive his mother is to music, which delights her, and how she sings snatches of old songs triggered by the words of any offhand comment--phenomena that have been noted in some other descriptions of Alzheimer's patients.

The essays in part two look back on Skloot's childhood, his family's background, and on his development as a writer. Part three centers on his current life with his wife, Beverly, whose home in rural Oregon provides a refuge for them both (although they are now in the market for different surroundings).

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Marvin's Room

McPherson, Scott

Last Updated: Jan-14-2010
Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Play

Summary:

Bessie, who has been caring for her invalid aunt and her father who is helpless after suffering a stroke, discovers she has leukemia. While this does not seem like a subject for comedy, this warm-hearted play really has some funny moments. Laughter is good medicine in this caregiving household. Bessie’s sister, Lee, who has been out-of-touch for years, arrives with her two sons in the hopes that one of them might be a bone-marrow match for Bessie. For Lee the idea of devoting her life to caring for helpless aging relatives would be wasting it.

One reason Lee doesn’t want to take over the caregiving for her father is that she has plenty of trouble trying to be a mother to her two sons, particularly Hank who has been committed to a mental hospital because he burned down the family home. She tells the hospital psychiatrist "Hank is something I cannot control, so what is the point of my visiting?" While Bessie will not find a cure for her leukemia, an important start on healing does occur in the play as Bessie helps both Hank and Lee to care for each other.

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