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The Youngest Doll

Ferre, Rosario

Last Updated: Feb-04-1997
Annotated by:
Taylor, Nancy

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

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."

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

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."

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Aequanimitas

Osler, William

Last Updated: Feb-03-1997
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

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.

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What Is a Profession?

Scarlett, Earle

Last Updated: Feb-03-1997
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

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).

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Skanks

Sparks, Rennie

Last Updated: Feb-03-1997
Annotated by:
Wear, Delese

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

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.

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The Black Swan

Mann, Thomas

Last Updated: Feb-03-1997
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novella

Summary:

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.

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

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.

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Welcome to My Country

Slater, Lauren

Last Updated: Feb-03-1997
Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

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.

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Little Things

Carver, Raymond

Last Updated: Jan-31-1997
Annotated by:
Chen, Irene
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The story opens with an angry quarrel as a man prepares to walk out on his woman. Their hatred for each other manifests itself as a physical struggle over their baby, with each parent pulling on an arm until the baby is apparently severely injured/dead.

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All We Need of Hell

Lesser, Rika

Last Updated: Jan-31-1997
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

In this collection of poems, the author details her descent into the hell of bipolar disorder and the re-integration of her life, thanks to lithium therapy. In "Other Lives" she describes herself as "mother of none, good friend to all, / who for no apparent reason, / tries to kill herself, twice." She writes angrily to the psychiatrist who misdiagnosed her and prescribed the wrong medication: "Your first mistake was to see me at all. / Your second, prescribing the Elavil." (in "Shocking Treatment") While she misses the productivity and "rush" of her hypomanic episodes, she realizes this is the price she has to pay to avoid another "two years of pain or nothing, numbness."

As the author's health improves, she cares for friends who are dying of AIDS and for the dying father of a friend: "I'm learning, as I nurse / my father that the worst / would be protection from / death's reality." (in "For Jean") The collection is interlaced with a series of poems called "Black Stones" in which the author encounters very directly the reality of death. In the last of these, she cries out the words of her friend Matthew who has just died: "Rika, dear friend, live and live and live!"

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