Showing 31 - 40 of 667 Nonfiction annotations

Summary:

The aim of these reflections on uncertainty in medicine is not to discredit evidence-based medicine or to incite suspicion of the careful and caring processes by which most clinicians arrive at the advice they give.  Rather it is to change conversations among practitioners and between them and their patients in such a way as to raise everyone’s tolerance for the inevitable ambiguities and uncertainties we live with.  If the public were more aware of the basic rules of mathematical probabilities, how statisticians understand the term “significance,” and of how much changes when one new variable is taken into account—when a new medication with multiple possible side-effects is added to the mix, for instance—they might, Hatch argues, be less inclined to insist on specific predictions.  He goes on to suggest that there is something to be gained from the challenge of living without the solid ground of assurances.  When we recognize the need to make decisions with incomplete information (a condition that seems, after all, to be our common lot) we may refocus on the moment we’re in and see its peculiar possibilities. Changing the conversation requires a critical look at medical education which, Hatch observes, “measures a certain type of knowledge essential to medical practice, but it consequently engenders a conception of medicine best described as overly certain . . . .” 

View full annotation

The Lady and Her Monsters

Montillo, Roseanne

Last Updated: Jun-10-2016
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Summary:

The Lady and Her Monsters is a companion monograph of literary, cultural and scientific history to Frankenstein , the masterpiece written by a 20 year old Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (hereafter MWS). Starting, in its prologue, with late 18th Century Italian anatomists, it proceeds chronologically to add layers to the foundation on which MWS built her novel. Although many of these events and stories (grave-robbing, resurrectionists, infamous criminals like Burke and Hare, the setting of the composition of the novel in Switzerland) are well known to students of Frankenstein, the author adds less well known details and narrative flourish, ending with the 1831 edition and the remainder of Mary Shelley’s life following the death of her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley (hereafter PBS).  

The book begins with a prologue describing, narratively, the most proximate scientific influences on Mary Shelley.  The experiments of Aldini and his nephew Galvani form a significant portion of the backdrop for Shelley’s famous literary experiment approximately 30 years later, as famous for its product as it is for its lack of description of materials and methods.

Summary of chapters 1 through 9:

Chapter 1: “The Spark of Life”: biographical information about William Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft and the early years of MWS

Chapter 2: “Waking the Dead”: a return, with more detail, to late 18th C Italian anatomists and scientists using electricity to stimulate dead animals and their tissues: Vesalius, Galvani, Volta, Aldini

Chapter 3: “Making Monsters”: more on Aldini and the rise of resurrectionists in late 18th C and early 19th C England

Chapter 4: “A Meeting of Two Minds”: Paracelsus and Agrippa as antecedent scientists of interest to PBS and MWS; the couple’s romance

Chapter 5: “Eloping to the Mainland”: the famous story of the trip of the Shelleys, Byron, and Polidori to Castle Frankenstein in Switzerland

Chapter 6: “My Hideous Progeny”: more on the literary history behind the creation of Frankenstein and the continuing soap opera of the lives of the Shelleys, Polidori, Claire Claremont and Lord Byron

Chapter 7: “Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus”: suicide of Fanny Imlay (half-sister of MWS), marriage of Shelleys, publication of Frankenstein

Chapter 8: “The Anatomy Act”: more 19th C body snatching; Burke and Hare; and the passage of the Anatomy Act of 1832 in the U. K., controlling the supply of bodies to anatomy labs

Chapter 9: “A Sea Change”: death of PBS and Lord Byron

Epilogue: modern day (2004) grave-robbing; remainder of MWS’s life

Following the epilogue are notes to the chapters, a bibliography and index.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Kohn, Martin

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: History

Summary:

In this volume, Gonzalez-Crussi trains his sights on medical history, applying his lyrical writing skills to essays that he hopes will help preserve the humanistic core of the medical profession. Because of its brevity (250 pages), he apologizes for its focus on "Western medicine since the inception of the scientific method"(p.xi), but does note that he acknowledges "the continuity between ancient and modern medicine...[and] the contributions of the Orient, and of epochs predating the dominance of the rational spirit" (p.xi).What distinguishes this volume beyond the writing is the thematic organization. It begins with the Rise of Anatomy and Surgery, but then moves to Vitalism and Mechanism, The Mystery of Procreation,  and Pestilence and Mankind, before finishing with a look at Concepts of Disease, The Diagnostic Process and Therapy (including a brief focus on psychiatry). In the last section, Some Concluding Thoughts, Gonzalez-Crussi returns to his motivations for writing this short history, citing the mixed blessings of scientific progress whose gains, for example, are offset by those who "appear to try to 'medicalize' every aspect of human life" (p.210).

View full annotation

Summary:

This is the third book in a series on the history of medicine and medical education by Kenneth M. Ludmerer, a practicing physician and historian of medicine at Washington University of St. Louis. The first, Learning to Heal: The Development of American Medical Education, published in 1985, dealt with the history of medical schools and medical education in the US from their origins in the 19th century to the late 20th century. In 1999 he published Time to Heal: Medical Education from 1900 to the Era of Managed Care. This book, Let Me Heal: The Opportunity to Preserve Excellence in American Medicine, published in 2015, is a sweeping history of graduate medical education in the United States from its inception to the current day.

In 13 chapters and 431 pages (334 pages of text, 97 of reference and index), Ludmerer traces the residency from early apprenticeship days to its metamorphosis (at Johns Hopkins, of which he is a justly proud medical school alumnus) into the embryonic form of what we now call an internship and residency. Giants like “The Four Doctors” (to use the title of John Singer Sargent’s famous portrait of William S. Halsted, William Osler, Howard A. Kelly and William H. Welch - but known simply as “The Big Four” at Hopkins) were the godfathers of the American postgraduate medical model which emphasized clinical science, teaching, patient care and research. The rise of acute care teaching hospitals as the venue of postgraduate medical education, and not the medical school or university, is an interesting story and one which Ludmerer tells in great detail over a number of chapters. It is one replete with predictable turf wars, professional turmoil and politics, and societal change in all aspects of the 20th century. This last phenomenon receives its due attention in every chapter but is dissected in meticulous detail in the final chapters dealing with the Libby Zion case, duty hours and the increasing role of the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) in postgraduate medical education.

Beginning in the 1930’s, American medicine grew increasingly specialized and, in the ensuing decades, subspecialized, much to the consternation of pre-WW II general practitioners who, suddenly and for the first time, found themselves in the minority, in numbers and in influence, of their own profession. Concomitant with the phenomenon of specialization was the imprimatur by academic medicine of the structured, sanctioned residency as the sole route to specialty practice with, of course, the birth of associated accrediting agencies. Along with the move, physically, academically and politically, of postgraduate medical education to acute care teaching hospitals, the control of this education moved from medical schools to the profession at large.

Ludmerer deftly describes the “era of abundance”, the salad days of postgraduate medical education in the 1950’s and 1960’s when giants still made rounds on the floors of postgraduate medical venues; funds were plentiful; outside criticism was an as yet unborn bête noir; and social, economic and governmental curbs were only a tiny distant cloud in an otherwise blue sky. Ludmerer is correct in attributing much of medicine’s professional and social hegemony as well as its transient immunity to criticism in this era to the following evident successes of medicine: antibiotics; initial inroads into antineoplastic therapies; startling technological innovations in imaging; a burgeoning spate of life-saving vaccines; and spectacular advances in surgery, especially pediatric, cardiothoracic and transplant. Fatal diseases of the 1930’s and 1940’s were now often cured in days and of historical interest only.

Like all salad days, those of medicine eventually succumbed to new historical forces: foreign medical graduates in the workplace; the ever-growing financial burden of the residency; and economic pressures like Medicare and its associated regulation. There were other factors, too: professional and societal expectations of standardization and quality care; the explosion in subspecialties; the horrid wastefulness of unnecessary diagnostic tests and therapies borne of an earlier undisciplined abundance; the supercession of the intimate primary physician-patient relationship by the fragmented care of specialists and the rising supremacy of technology over personalized histories and careful physical examinations (why percuss the abdomen when you can get a CAT scan?). Dissatisfaction amongst residents is a dominant theme Ludmerer rightly raises early and often: the conflict and tension between education and service, between reasonable work and “scut”, between being a student and a worker (at times, quite a lowly one).

”High throughput” - the much more rapid turnaround time between admission to an hospital and discharge - has radically changed forever the entire nature of postgraduate medical education, and not for the better in the eyes of the author and of this reviewer, who were fellow residents a lifetime ago at Washington University in St. Louis. This decreased length of stay, a result of the remarkable improvements in diagnosis and therapy mentioned above, meant that the working life of providers (attending physicians, residents, physician assistants and nurses) was in high gear from admission to discharge, thereby increasing tension, likelihood for error and, exponentially, the workload for the resident while simultaneously and irrevocably damaging the possibility of a meaningful, careful provider-patient relationship (like a friendship, of which it is a subspecies, such relationships can not be rushed) and decreasing opportunities for learning. Medicare; changing patient populations; societal and professional disgruntlement; the Libby Zion mess and the ensuing cascade of regulations from all sides, but most especially the ACGME - all receive careful and systematic treatment in the final chapters of this monograph.

Ludmerer ends with a chapter listing what he sees as opportunities for achieving (or re-achieving) excellence. Indeed, he has made it the book’s subtitle. They are the following: a plea for the ACGME to revise its 2011 duty-hour regulations; an equally earnest hope that interns and residents will soon realize a more manageable patient load; a related wish for academic medicine to decrease the unfortunate occurrence of economic exploitation of house officers; a suggestion that this annotator shares, i.e., that the process of supervision, improved (but inadequately) with recent ACGME requirements, be further strengthened; and a hope that medical schools will restore teaching to the central place in the institutional value system it used to enjoy. Ludmerer issues a call for the more vigorous promotion of “an agenda of safety and quality in patient care” (page 312) and suggests that the education of residents be expanded to include venues outside in-patient sites. Elsewhere in the book, he also expresses the expectation that the inclusion into clinical teaching of private patients alongside “ward” patients, more feasible with recent improvements in the re-imbursement of medical care, be routine and maximized to the enjoyment and benefit of all concerned.

View full annotation

Summary:

Samuel Shem's (Stephen Bergman) The House of God, first published in 1978, has sold over two million copies in over 50 countries (see annotation).  Its 30th anniversary was marked by publication of Return to The House of God: Medical Resident Education 1978-2008, a collection of essays offering historical perspectives of residency education, philosophical perspectives, literary criticism, and women's perspectives, among others. Contributors include such well-known scholars as Kenneth Ludmerer, Howard Brody, and Anne Hudson Jones, as well as physician-writers Perri Klass, Abigal Zuger, Susan Onthank Mates, and Jack Coulehan.  The closing section, "Comments from the House of Shem," includes an essay by psychologist and scholar Janet Surrey (Bergman's wife) and one by "both" Samuel Shem and Stephen Bergman. 

View full annotation

My Father's Brain

Franzen, Jonathan

Last Updated: Apr-12-2016
Annotated by:
Teagarden, J. Russell

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

Jonathan Franzen tells the story of his father’s slow and inexorable decline from Alzheimer’s disease. His story is a familiar one, and one that millions of people can now tell: at first the initial odd behaviors and memory failures attributed to various causes other than dementia, then the diagnosis and medical interventions to stem the inevitable, and finally the inevitable. While Franzen also describes the toll his father’s dementia exacts on the immediate family—as well as some truths it uncovers about his parents’ marriage—he does not put a significant emphasis on family effects.  

Interwoven in Franzen’s recounting of his father’s plight are a few digressions on Alzheimer’s disease. In one he wonders, as many others have, about whether Alzheimer’s disease is more a medicalization of certain behaviors than the result of brain pathology, or otherwise just “ordinary mental illness being trendily misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s.” (p. 19) In others, he briefly summarizes the well-known theory involving plaques and neurofibril tangles as a cause of Alzheimer’s, and thoughts on how memories form and work in the brain. In yet one other digression, Franzen reminds us that Alzheimer’s disease as originally described in 1906 was a rare type of dementia characterized by early onset in middle age and rapid progression. He further notes that it was not until the latter part of the 20th century when Alzheimer’s disease was tagged as the fifth leading cause of death and the disease of the century, and only through the efforts of a coalition comprising clinical scientists, politicians, and patient advocates. 

View full annotation

Attending Others

Volck, Brian

Last Updated: Apr-11-2016
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This memoir of a life in medicine takes the writer from St. Louis to a Navajo reservation to Central America to the east coast and from urban hospitals to ill-equipped rural clinics. It offers a wide range of reflections on encounters with patients that widen and deepen his sense of calling and  understanding of what it means to do healing work.  He learns to listen to tribal elders, to what children communicate without words, to worried parents, and to his own intuition while calling on all the skills he acquired in a rigorous medical education.  Always drawn to writing, Volck takes his writing work (and play) as seriously as his medical practice, and muses on the role of writing in the medical life as he goes along.

View full annotation

When Breath Becomes Air

Kalanithi, Paul

Last Updated: Feb-18-2016
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Paul Kalanithi, diagnosed with stage IV metastatic lung cancer when he was a neurosurgery resident at Stanford University, was faced with a decision. Should he truncate his career in neurosurgery in order to become a writer - a career he had always envisioned for himself after completing a couple of decades of neurosurgery practice? Married to Lucy Kalanithi, an internist he had met in medical school, Paul’s career and future had looked bright and promising. But as he entered his final year of a seven-year residency, symptoms of excruciating back pain and significant weight loss began. Garbed in a hospital gown, he examines his own CT scan – this is how we meet Paul at the beginning of the Prologue. He then writes of the relatively brief period of misdiagnosis prior to the CT scan. With the initial negative plain x-rays, he is started on nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. But breakthrough pain and continued weight loss leads to the CT. Paul the physician understands the death sentence the images portend; Paul the patient is just beginning his journey. The diagnosis and treatment cause him to reassess his decisions about his life, to decide to father a child even though he knows he will never see the child grow up, and ultimately to write a memoir, essentially for his daughter.

Paul had graduated from Stanford with undergraduate and master’s degrees which reflected his dual love of literature and science. He combined these in a second master’s degree from Cambridge University in the history and philosophy of science and medicine before attending Yale for his medical degree. He and his wife return to California for residencies. The book is largely a blend of his dual interests: a deep and abiding love and faith in literature and how words can reveal truths, and a passion for the practice and science of neurosurgery. The rupture of fatal illness into his life interrupts his dogged trajectory towards an academic medical career, and, like all ruptures, confounds expectations and reorients priorities.

The book has five parts: a foreword by physician-writer Abraham Verghese, who notes the stunning prose Paul produced for an initial article in The New York Times and exhorts the reader to “Listen to Paul” (page xix); a brief prologue; two parts by Paul Kalanithi (Part I: In Perfect Health I Begin, and Part II: Cease Not till Death); and a stunning, heart-breaking epilogue by Lucy Kalanithi. In the epilogue, written with as many literary references and allusions as her husband’s writing includes, Lucy provides the reader with a gentle and loving portrait of her husband in his final days, reaffirms his joy in their daughter Cady, and chronicles how she kept her promise to her dying husband to shepherd his manuscript into print.

The bulk of the book is memoir – a childhood in Arizona and an aversion to pursuing a life in medicine due to his hard-working cardiologist-father, experiences at Stanford which eventually led him to reverse his decision to avoid a medical career, the stages of his medical career and caring for patients, and his devastating cancer. Though initially responsive to treatment—and indeed, the treatment enables him to complete his residency and decide to father a child with Lucy—the cancer is, as prognosticated from the diagnosis, fatal.

What makes this memoir so much more than an exercise in memory and a tribute to the herculean effort to write while sapped by cancer and its treatment, are the philosophical turns, the clear love of words and literature, and the poignancy of the writing. He begins reading fiction and nonfiction again: “I was searching for a vocabulary with which to make sense of death, to find a way to begin defining myself and inching forward again. The privilege of direct experience had led me away from literary and academic work, yet now I felt that to understand my own direct experiences, I would have to translate them back into language…I needed words to go forward.” (pp 148-9) Paul’s writing ends with what is arguably some of the most poetic prose ever written. He concludes by speaking directly to his infant daughter: “When you come to one of the many moments in life where you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.” (p. 199)

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Lerner, Barron

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Summary:

Perhaps no topic in the history of medicine has been explored as much as the lobotomy.  Psychiatrists, historians and journalists have weighed in on this controversial topic, and the procedure has been featured in a number of Hollywood films.

Yet there is nothing like a narrative of a specific lobotomy patient to draw us into the subject anew.  And that is why Kate Clifford Larson’s new book, Rosemary: The Forgotten Kennedy Daughter, is so compelling—even if we already know the sad outcome of Rosemary Kennedy’s life.

Originally devised in 1935 by the Portuguese neurologist Egas Moniz, the lobotomy involved drilling holes in the skull and using a blade to sever nerve fibers running from the frontal lobes to the rest of the brain.  Moniz believed that psychiatric symptoms were caused by longstanding faulty nerve connections.  Severing them, and allowing new connections to form, he postulated, would help treat patients with intractable mental illness, such as schizophrenia and its paranoid delusions.

America’s chief proponent of lobotomy was Washington, D.C. neurologist Walter J. Freeman who, working with neurosurgeon James W. Watts, reported in 1937 that 13 of 20 patients undergoing the operation had improved.  Freeman would later devise his own procedure, the transorbital lobotomy, in which he actually used a mallet to pound an ice pick through the patient’s eye socket into the brain, then moved the pick around blindly to cut the nerve fibers.

Among the first histories of lobotomy was psychologist Elliot S. Valenstein’s  Great and Desperate Cures (1986), which strongly criticized Freeman and his contemporaries as overzealous physicians who did far more harm than good, creating docile and apathetic individuals no longer capable of caring for themselves.  Physician-historian Joel Braslow’s Mental Ills and Bodily Cures (1997) argued convincingly that a main motivation for the popularity of lobotomies—roughly 40,000 would be performed in the United States by the 1960s—was to enable staff members to maintain order in crowded, understaffed institutions.   In Last Resort (1998), historian Jack D. Pressman made the provocative claim that lobotomy represented the best science of the day and that, at least in some cases, it allowed patients to return home with fewer psychiatric symptoms.

Rosemary Kennedy was born in 1918, the third of what would eventually be nine children of Joseph and Rose Kennedy.  Joe was a successful businessman and investor who later entered politics, first as chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission from 1932 to 1935 and then as U.S. Ambassador to Britain from 1938 to 1940.  At an early age, it was clear that Rosemary was not as mentally sharp as her two older brothers, Joe Jr. and John.  Larson hypothesizes that Rosemary’s “intellectual disability” occurred at birth, when a nurse forcibly kept her in her mother’s womb—perhaps without adequate oxygenation—while waiting for the doctor to arrive.

It was Rosemary’s blessing and curse to be born into the high-powered and prominent Kennedy family.  Her parents left no stone unturned in trying to help their daughter, sending her to special schools and programs around the world.  But they simply could not tolerate her lack of improvement.  Rosemary was a terrible speller and writer, socially awkward and at times unruly.  Joe Sr., in particular, worried about the negative ramifications to his sons’ possible political careers if word got out about their “retarded” sister.

Reading about Rosemary’s first two decades, and knowing that her lobotomy is approaching, is truly heartbreaking.  Writing letters home from her various placements, she was so eager to please.  “I would do anything to make you happy,” she told her father in 1934 at the age of 16.  “I hate to Disppoint [sic] you in anyway.”

When the Kennedys first arrived in England in 1938, Rosemary, her mother Rose and her younger sister Kathleen were presented to the king and queen.  For once, the circumstances tilted in Rosemary’s favor.  The event was smashing.  Photographs show Rosemary, who had become a very attractive young woman, resplendent in a “picture dress of white tulle.”  She felt, she said, like Cinderella.

But when the family returned to the United States in 1940, with war approaching in Europe, the situation was no different than it had always been.  Plus, now in her early twenties, Rosemary’s moodiness and emotional outbursts were becoming more frequent.

Lobotomy had gotten a lot of press in 1941, particularly in a May article in the Saturday Evening Post that highlighted the work of Freeman and Watts.  And while this piece warned about the dangers of the procedure, it mostly praised its ability to make people with mental illness into “useful members of society.”  At some point, Joe Kennedy met with Freeman and decided that Rosemary should undergo the operation.  Larson does not unearth exactly how the decision was reached—or what Rosemary was told.  But it seems to mostly have been Joe’s doing.

The problem, of course, was that lobotomy was not meant for what Rosemary had—essentially a low IQ.  But Joseph Kennedy, in conjunction with her doctors, had convinced himself she had an “agitated depression,” and thus was a candidate.  That Freeman was a zealot for the operation, as is well documented in journalist Jack El-Hai’s The Lobotomist (2005), did not help.  Most tragically, when Rosemary underwent her lobotomy some time in November 1941, something went “horribly awry.”  Patients were kept awake during the procedure and asked to talk or sing to help guide the surgeon’s scalpel.  But in Rosemary’s case, when Watts made his final cut of brain tissue, she became incoherent.  “The operation,” Larson writes, “destroyed a crucial part of Rosemary’s brain and erased years of emotional, physical and intellectual development, leaving her completely incapable of taking care of herself.”

The rest of Rosemary discusses her life after the lobotomy until her death in 2005.  She spent most of these years at a Catholic residential institution in Wisconsin.  Most cruelly, family members rarely visited, trying to render invisible what had happened.  To the Kennedys’ credit, in later years they corrected this error and brought Rosemary for visits to Hyannis Post and other family outposts.  There are only a few photographs in the book from this later era, but they help to humanize the woman who suffered for so long.

View full annotation

The Death of Cancer

DeVita, Vincent

Last Updated: Feb-04-2016
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

The book offers a detailed account by one of the nation’s leading cancer researchers of developments in chemotherapy over the past several decades, as well as the recent history of surgical and radiation treatments in the “war on cancer”—a term he resisted at first but finally embraced with full understanding of its implications.  The narrative touches on many of the writer’s own struggles over economic, political, and moral implications of what a NYT reviewer described as a “take-no-prisoners” approach to cure.  He also includes stories about disagreements with other researchers that give some insight into the acrimony that is part of high-stakes science.  At the NIH and later as head of the National Cancer Institute, DeVita faced many decisions about distribution of resources, how much to put patients at risk, and whom to include in clinical trials.  He provides his own point of view on those controversies frankly.  Not much mention is made of the causes of cancer, of nutritional or other complementary approaches, or the environmental factors in the spread of cancer. The strong focus on the book is on the development of chemotherapeutic treatments that have succeeded in raising survival rates, though few current statistics are cited.

View full annotation