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Elizabeth Carpenter is preparing for her fiftieth wedding anniversary and hoping that her children will come home for the event. She nurses her irritable, invalid husband, a retired teacher, who has been a rigid father and is now bedridden with a chronic illness. He is too proud to ask for the things he needs or wants, and spends his vacant hours comparing what he perceives as the dull, dutiful Elizabeth to the "other woman" he loved long ago.
Their oldest child, Victoria, once a fragile beauty full of promise, is institutionalized for a chronic mental illness characterized by irrational fears and self-doubt. The middle child, Jason, is a psychiatrist who has been unable to establish trusting relationships and seeks affirmation through multiple sexual adventures. The youngest child is Emily, a concert violinist whose way of achieving peace is to live abroad, avoiding commitments and her family from whom she is hiding the fact of her own son, Adam. But the reunion leads them to revisit relationships and events in the past and results in some surprises for their present and future.
Fran, a fourteen-year-old from New York, is finally allowed to spend a month of her summer vacation with her aunt of Cape Cod. As yet she is unaware that her parents have put off such a visit because her aunt, a lively, empathetic teacher, has a long-term lesbian partner. Among Fran’s new acquaintances is a girl her age, Wilma, who is confined to a wheelchair and, apparently because of the way her disability sets her apart, as well as her famous father’s divorce and remarriage, is extremely demanding and difficult.
Wilma’s stepmother hires Fran to be Wilma’s "companion" a few hours a day while she rests, being in the final stages of her first pregnancy. With the help of some pivotal conversations with her aunt and a new friend, Jack, Fran finds her way through her own anger and bewilderment at Wilma’s behavior to the beginning of an authentic friendship with her, as well as an understanding of the imagination caregiving demands. Along the way she becomes aware of her aunt’s lesbianism and finds that her other experience has helped open her to acceptance of this difference as well.
A maiden aunt never marries because a river prawn bites her calf and, due to minimal treatment by her physician, nestles there to grow. She devotes her life to her nieces, making for them life-sized dolls on their birthdays and wedding days. When only the youngest niece is left at home, the doctor comes to see his patient and brings his son, also a physician. When the son realizes the father could have cured the leg, the doctor says, "I wanted you to see the prawn that has paid for your education these twenty years."
The young doctor becomes the aunt's physician and marries the youngest niece, taking her and her wedding doll to live in a house like a cement block, requiring his wife to sit on the porch so passersby can see he has married into society. The doctor sells the doll's diamond-eardrop eyes, and when he wants to sell its porcelain, his wife tells him the ants ate the doll because it had been filled with honey.
The doctor grows older, but his wife keeps the firm, porcelained skin she's always had. One night he watches her sleep and notices her chest isn't moving. Placing his stethoscope over her heart, he hears a distant swish of water. "Then the doll lifted up her eyelids, and out of the empty sockets of her eyes came the frenzied antennae of all those prawns."
Narrated in the style of an "advice" manual, this is the chronicle of a woman who undergoes a hysterectomy and removal of her ovaries. The tone is sardonic. The story begins with the office visit in which the doctor delivers the news and reassures her that she is too "intelligent and sophisticated" to associate her womanhood with her reproductive organs. The physician attempts to persuade the narrator to have her ovaries removed--preventive medicine against the possibility of ovarian cancer--and she finally agrees while groggy from pre-operative anaesthesia. Nothing has prepared her for the emotional and physical lability she experiences after surgery. Even her sexual relationship with her husband is changed.
As she returns for post-operative check-ups, she becomes increasingly conscious of the indignities of the office visit and physical examination: "it strikes [her] that this maximum-efficiency set-up [three cubicles with naked, waiting women] might serve equally well for a brothel and perhaps already does." She feels that she has made a terrible mistake in allowing the doctor to have talked her into anything and that as a male, "there is nothing he can tell you about how you feel, for the simple reason that he does not know."
Osler’s famous essay was first delivered as a valedictory address at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in 1889. Osler urges the graduates to develop two qualities or virtues. First is the "bodily" virtue of imperturbability or "a judicious measure of obtuseness." This means the outward expression of calmness and coolness, even under difficult circumstances. This virtue suggests that physicians should be relatively "insensible" to the slings-and-arrows of patient care, always maintaining a degree of detachment from their patients.
The complementary "mental" virtue is aequanimitas, which is the personal quality of calmly accepting whatever comes in life. These virtues, however, should not lead to "hardness" in dealing with patients. Osler also urges his students and colleagues to develop the other gentlemanly virtues of courage, patience, and honor.
Scarlett writes about the tradition of medicine in a recognizably British (Canadian) voice. He presents a definition of a profession that features social responsibility and duty to serve others, and notes that "an organized profession does not seek to advance the money-making feature of professional activity." Scarlett identifies seven "pillars" (principal qualities) of the physician, or any other professional: technical skill, social responsibility, knowledge of history, knowledge of literature and the arts, personal integrity, faith that there is some meaning and value in life, and "the grace of humility."
Scarlett critiques the medical profession in two ways. First, physicians are not skeptical enough and willing enough to correct their errors. Secondly, professional qualities have declined "at the hands of the scarcely literate pushing public . . . . " As a result of this, some physicians now believe that "all this rhetoric about the essential nobility of the medical profession is a load of old rubbish" (p. 129).
Summary:This story illustrates how terrifying and painful adolescence can be when lived according to the relentless standards of physical attractiveness, especially thinness. Janine, the teenage narrator, is overweight and unattractive; Dawn is her self-absorbed best friend. Janine is bulimic, a ritual she engages in when not going to the mall looking for boys, that is, looking for someone who will love her. The story illuminates the allure of thinness to an overweight adolescent who believes, because everyone tells her so, that with thinness comes acceptance, popularity, and love.
The setting is Germany in the late 1920s. Rosalie, the central character, is a "sociable," cheerful 50 year old widow who lives with her adult unmarried daughter and her adolescent son. Her manner is youthful but "her health had been affected by certain critical organic phenomena of her time of life." Rosalie is keenly aware of all that menopause implies: the loss of sexual allure and of a (biologic) purpose in life. She feels "superannuated."
Along comes a young man, well-built, who is the American-born tutor for her son. She is overwhelmed by physical attraction for him, becoming infatuated, much to the disapproval of her repressed, cerebral daughter. She feels young and attractive once more, believing that her heightened state of sensuality has resulted in the resumption of what appears to be menstrual bleeding.
Planning to declare her love to the tutor, Rosalie arranges a family excursion to the Rhine castle where the black swans swim. In the decaying alcoves of the castle, she does so; the pair will rendezvous that night. The rendezvous never takes place; Rosalie has hemorrhaged. She is found to have a large, metastatic uterine tumor.
Dr. Papper, a revered figure in the field of anesthesiology, questioned why it took so long for anesthesia to be "discovered": after all, pain and suffering existed long before the mid-nineteenth century. This book is a result of Papper’s graduate studies in literature and history and explains his thesis that "societal concern with pain and suffering, and the subsequent development of surgical anesthesia in the Romantic era . . . are outgrowths of Romantic subjectivity."
The book provides biographies of scientists, physicians and poets, such as Humphry Davy, Thomas Beddoes, Sr., Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Percy Bysshe Shelley, along with analyses of Romantic poetry as related to pain and suffering. Papper theorizes that the exchange of ideas amongst these intellectuals and the political upheavals of the time paved the way for society to recognize that the pursuit of happiness could include the relief of pain.
Slater subtitles her book, A Therapist's Memoir of Madness. Embedded in this definition are two elements: a psychotherapist's composite experiences with a small cadre of patients and the therapist's personal experience with a mental disorder. The author draws the reader into a fascinating series of anecdotes based on therapeutic encounters.
These stories are as much, if not more, about the therapist's deepest responses to her patients than about the patient him or herself. This particular approach adds an element of confession to the work that one does not often find in clinical studies. And, finally, Slater takes the reader backward in time to her own past as a woman with profound emotional pain.