Showing 31 - 40 of 347 annotations tagged with the keyword "Freedom"

Dying in Character

Berman, Jeffrey

Last Updated: Aug-31-2014
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Summary:

In this collection of essays on writers' end-of-life memoirs Berman combines a fine-tuned appreciation of literary strategies with reflections on how writers, who have defined themselves, their philosophies, their voices, and their values publicly, bring their life work to characteristic and fitting conclusions in writing about their own dying.  The writers he considers cover a broad spectrum that ranges from Roland Barthes and Edward Said to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and Tony Judt to Art Buchwald and Randy Pausch.  Each essay offers insights into the writer's approaches to death and dying against the background of his or her earlier work. 

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Someone

McDermott, Alice

Last Updated: Feb-13-2014
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Marie Commeford, daughter of Irish Catholic immigrants who grows up in Brooklyn, narrates her life story in episodes rich with reflection on the losses, failed fantasies, illnesses, and disappointments of a life at the edge of poverty, which is also rich with love and poetry and humor and the stuff of which wisdom is made.  The story unfolds as memory unfolds, in flashbacks and reconstructions shaped by a present vantage point from which it all assumes a certain mantle of grace.   From the opening story in which a neighbor girl slips on the steps to a basement apartment and is killed, to repeated glimpses of a blind veteran who umpires the neighborhood boys' street games, to the bereaved families Marie meets when she works for the local undertaker, to her gradual discovery of her brother's closeted homosexuality, and to her aging mother's death, the story keeps reminding us of how much of life is coming to terms with the "ills that flesh is heir to," and also how resilience grows in the midst of loss.  Because much of the story represents the vantage point of a child only partially protected from hard things, it invites us to reflect on how children absorb large and hard truths and learn to cope with them. 

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A Sunburned Prayer

Talbert, Marc

Last Updated: Oct-10-2013
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

Eloy’s grandmother—his abuela—is dying of cancer.  She has been his faithful companion, teacher and refuge in a home where his parents often fight and his older brother seems to have lost interest in him.  He believes the only thing that will save her now is for him to make the annual pilgrimage on foot to the chapel at Chimayo, 17 miles from their New Mexico home, but his parents, both of who work full time, can’t go with him and won’t hear of his going alone.  Desperate for a miracle, and believing she can be saved by the blessed soil distributed at the chapel where many seem to have experienced miracles of healing, he sets out in secret early in the morning.  On the way a friendly dog begins to follow him and, despite Eloy’s efforts to get rid of him, travels the entire 17 miles with him, sharing the water Eloy reluctantly offers him from the canteen that once belonged to his grandfather.  Much of the story follows Eloy’s thoughts as he travels, and the small difficulties and surprises along the way.  As he finally sees the chapel in the distance, he hears his brother driving by slowly in his low-rider with tinted windows.  Angry at the brother who has given him no support so far and seems to be mocking him, Eloy flips him the finger.  Later, as he stands in line for the sacred soil, his brother enters the chapel with their abuela on his arm.  She explains to Eloy that she is indeed going to die, and that God has other ways of answering prayers.  She sees that Eloy has been sent a companion, and encourages him to bring the dog, whom he has now named, home with him.  His parents, who have steadily refused to let him have a dog, accept him, and Eloy comes to new terms with his grandmother’s approaching death.

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Handle With Care

Picoult, Jodi

Last Updated: Mar-16-2013
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

At five years old, Willow O’Keefe has lived a life rich in love and exceptional learning; she reads beyond her years and has memorized a startling compendium of unusual facts.  She has also sustained over 50 broken bones, two of them in utero.  She has osteogenesis imperfecta, a congenital defect in the body’s production of type 1 collagen that leaves bones very brittle.  People with the disease generally suffer many fractures and often other conditions—exceptionally small stature, hearing loss, and bowed limbs.  Willow’s parents and older sister have organized their lives for five years around protecting her from damage and helping her heal from her many broken bones.  Though Amelia, her older sister, loves Willow, her parents’, Charlotte and Sean’s, intense focus on Willow’s condition often leaves her jealous and disgruntled.  Things go from bad to worse when their mother learns that a lawsuit for “wrongful birth” is legal in New Hampshire, and could bring them the money they need to cover Willow’s many medical expenses.  Such a step, however, means losing a best friend, since the obstetrician who oversaw Charlotte’s pregnancy and Willow’s birth, and who ostensibly overlooked signs of the disease and failed to warn the parents, has been Charlotte’s best friend for years.  A “wrongful birth” suit is based on the claim that medical information about a congenital defect was withheld that might have been grounds for a decision to abort the pregnancy.  Though Charlotte insists this drastic step is the best thing they can do to insure a secure future for Willow, Sean finds it repugnant enough finally to leave home.  It is clear that even a win will be a pyrrhic victory, and indeed, the outcome is ambiguous, costly, and life-changing for everyone concerned.

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Summary:

This book describes San Francisco’s Laguna Honda Hospital, where Victoria Sweet worked as a doctor for 20 years. In the tradition of the Hôtel-Dieu in Paris (literally “God’s Hotel”), Laguna Honda cares for the sickest and poorest patients, many staying there indefinitely because there is no alternative for them. Sweet learns from her long experience at Laguna Honda that “Slow Medicine” has benefits, that a holistic or unified view of patients works best, and that the reductionism and specialization of modern medicine has limitations and costs. During these years Sweet becomes fascinated by the medieval abbess Hildegard of Bingen and earns a Ph.D. focusing on medieval medicine. At the same time (and increasingly) various forces—economic, legal, political, bureaucratic—cause many changes at Laguna Honda, mostly contrary to Sweet’s vision of medicine.

            Part history, part memoir, part social criticism, the book is informative, entertaining, and important for its discussion of the care of our least-well-off citizens and for its perspectives on modern, Western medicine.         

            There are three intertwining strands to this engaging book: Sweet’s medical evolution as a physician, the changes in Laguna Honda, and her investigations of Hildegard of Bingen and other spiritual matters.

            Sweet joins up with Laguna Honda initially for only two months, but she finds the hospital and her work there so fascinating that she stays for 20 years. As an almshouse, Laguna Honda takes care of indigent patients, most with complicated medical conditions, including mental illness and dependencies on alcohol and/or drugs. Many of these cases come from the County Hospital with continuing (but not carefully reviewed) drug treatments. Every 15 or 20 pages, Sweet describes the dilemmas of a particular patient, and her medical (and personal) attention to that patient. The cases are vivid and instructive.

   Clearly Laguna Honda is a major figure on the book; we can even consider it (or “her”) a beloved character and a teacher to the young Dr. Sweet, who learns three principles from her work there: hospitality, community, and charity. 

Because Laguna Honda is old-fashioned in many ways, Sweet reads her own X-rays, goes the to lab to see results, and spends large amounts of time with each patient. Laguna Honda has an aviary, a farm with barnyard, and a solarium; such features help to heal the whole person. While respectful of modern medicine, Sweet slowly learns that a careful review of a patient through Slow Medicine is more accurate and more cost-efficient than standard, reductionist, high-tech medicine. She comes to respect approaches from “premodern” medicine, including that of Hippocrates and Hildegard.

  The second strand is the evolution of Laguna Honda itself. Sweet describes a variety of pressures: the recommendations of consulting firms, rulings from the Department of Justice, a lawsuit, financial difficulties (including fiscal mismanagement), administrators focused on a narrow concept of efficiency, a utilization review board, forms and more forms, and a pervasive sense that modern (including Evidence Based Medicine) is always good. All these and more create a “relentless pressure squeezing the hospital’s Old Medicine into the New Health Care” (p. 322). Sweet demonstrates that her Slow Medicine can actually save money in the long run. Confident that her way is better, she proposes an “ecomedicine unit” that she would match against the modern, “efficient” units in a two-year experiment. (For more information on her concept of ecomedicine proposal, see http://www.victoriasweet.com/.)

            As the hospital is “modernized,” many important features of the old place are gone and many “new and improved” aspects don’t work. Somehow there are no rooms for physicians in the new building while there is plenty of space for administrators and managers. A sophisticated computer system doesn’t work. Sweet doesn’t say “I told you so” directly, but we get the picture.

            The third strand is Sweet’s investigations of spirituality and pilgrimage. She is fascinated by Hildegard’s notions of the healing power of nature, the ability of the body to heal itself, and wholeness as an aim for a person and for a community. Sweet attends a Swiss conference on Hildegard. She hikes the pilgrimage route from France to Santiago de Compostela in four installments and considers notions of pilgrimage. She feels called to pursue her ecomedicine project and to write this book.           

            By the end of the book, both Sweet and Laguna Honda have changed and are now headed in different directions. 

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Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

Entering a school as the first student with a serious disability (cerebral palsy) after starting his education in a "special" school, Christopher Nolan had to develop careful and clever strategies for developing friendships, allowing others their curiosity, and finding ways to use his considerable gifts against the odds of both the disease and the prejudice it bred.  One of his strategies is the inventive, cryptic, poetic, Joycean idiom in which he writes his story.  He did, in fact, succeed in a school where he was accepted as a kind of experiment, in an area of Ireland not known for its progressive attitudes.  In this narrative he moves back and forth between inner life, family life, and life at school, allowing readers to get to know him as a deeply reflective, adventurously social, and courageous human being, living with his debilitating condition with a degree of consciousness that took full account of the losses as well as finding avenues of expression that allowed him, intellectually, at least, full range of motion.  The narrative takes us through his school years where he distinguished himself as a poet and also as a human being for whom life with a disability shaped an extraordinary dexterity with language.

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This Far and No More

Malcolm, Andrew

Last Updated: Sep-12-2012
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Summary:

Emily Bauer, mother of two small children, psychotherapist and teacher, social, smart, athletic, and strong-willed, finds, after a curious series of falls and other accidents, that she has ALS, "Lou Gehrig's Disease," a disease that involves slow atrophy of all muscular control, leading to complete paralysis and then death.  The disease is relentless, and treatments palliative at best. 

First in handwriting and later by means of a tape on which she can type, letter by letter, by moving her head to press a button as a cursor cruises through the alphabet, she keeps a diary up until just days before her death.  The diary, a remarkable record of her physical and emotional fluctuations, includes stories she laboriously writes for her daughters that gently mirror the confusions they encounter coming to see a profoundly disabled mother who can no longer hold them or speak to them.  The story culminates in Emily's plea for someone to turn off the ventilator that is keeping her alive, and the efforts her husband makes with the help of a meticulous and sympathetic lawyer and a courageous doctor to arrange for a voluntary death.  

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Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes

Crutcher, Chris

Last Updated: Sep-05-2012
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

Eric Calhoune is known to his classmates as "Moby" because of the extra weight he has carried since grade school.  Though his mother is young and athletic, he has inherited the body type of the father he's never known.  Now, in high school, the fat is turning to muscle under the discipline of hard swim team workouts.  But that transformation has been slow in coming, since for some time Eric has taken on a private commitment to "stay fat for Sarah Byrnes."  Sarah, whose name is a painful pun, was severely burned as a small child not, as we are given to believe early on, because of an accident, but because of a cruel and crazy father who stuck her face and hands into a woodstove in a moment of rage.  She has lived with him and his threats for some time; that and her disfiguring scars have made her tough, smart, and self-protective.  Eric and she became friends as social outcasts.  Well-matched intellectually and in their subversive wit, they write an underground newspaper together.  Sarah, however, lands suddenly in the hospital, speaking to no one, making eye contact with no one.  Eric faithfully visits her and, per nurses' instructions, keeps up a running one-sided conversation as if she could hear him.  As it turns out, she can.  She is faking catatonia because the hospital is a safe place, and she has chosen this as an escape route from her father.  Eric and a sympathetic coach/teacher go to great lengths to find Sarah's mother-who, it turns out, can't bring herself to be involved in her daughter's life because of her own overwhelming shame.  Ultimately the father is apprehended, and Sarah, nearly eighteen, is taken into the coach's home and adopted for what remains of the childhood she bypassed long before.  In the course of this main plot, other kids enter the story and in various ways come to terms with serious issues in their own lives, some of which are aired in a "Contemporary American Thought" course where no controversy is taboo.

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The Dark Light

Newth, Mette

Last Updated: Aug-30-2012
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

Tora lived happily on a mountain farm in Norway until her beloved mother's death  and her own subsequent diagnosis with leprosy, an illness common in early 19th-century Norway and one that drove her mother to suicide.  Upon diagnosis (at the age of 13) she is taken to the leprosarium in Bergen, from which very few emerge.  Most are left there by families whose fear of the disease leads them to abandon even much-loved children, parents, and spouses.  There, despite the misery of living among many who consider themselves the living dead, she finds a friend in Marthe, the chief cook and general caregiver, a woman of almost boundless kindness; and the "Benefactor," a pastor who is remarkably unafraid of the disease from which most flee, and who befriends Tora as she grows into an unpromising early adulthood.  Another unlikely friend is a noblewoman who has languished, embittered, behind a closed door with a trunk full of her old gowns and several cherished books, including the Bible, The Divine ComedyGulliver's Travels, and a popular Norwegian epic about the adventures of Niels Klim at the center of the earth.  She gradually softens toward Tora, who cares for her tenderly as the older woman teaches her to read.  Reading becomes not only Tora's consolation, but that of many of her fellow inmates.  Near the end of her own short, but surprisingly rich life, Tora's father shows up after years of neglect.  Forgiving him, almost against her will, she reaches a new level of acceptance of her own mysterious fate.  The book includes a short afterword about the actual leprosarium in which the story is situated and about Gerhard Armauer Hansen who in 1873 discovered the bacillus responsible for leprosy, the first bacterium proved to be the cause of a chronic human disease.

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Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This remarkable memoir/natural history chronicles the author's observation of a snail that occupies the flower pot at her bedside during a long immobilization due to chronic fatigue syndrome.  For months of relative isolation, she observes the habits of the snail and begins to research the lives, habits, species, and idiosyncrasies of snails by way of getting to know this one in greater specificity.  As she puts it, "When the body is rendered useless, the mind still runs like a bloodhound...," (p. 5) and her mind certainly does.  Peering into poetry and story as well as biology, she discovers both facts and lore about the lives of snails to complement her intimate curiosity about the life of this snail.  Along the way, and very much by the way, she reflects on the nature of her own complex illness, the likely brevity of life she has now to expect, and how to learn from another species how to live in time differently. 

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