Showing 341 - 350 of 495 annotations tagged with the keyword "History of Medicine"

Demon in the Freezer

Preston, Richard

Last Updated: May-10-2003
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Investigative Journalism

Summary:

This gripping narrative traces the history of the efforts to eradicate smallpox in the 1970s, the top-level decisions to keep a few vials of it for emergency purposes in American and Soviet freezers, and the reemergence of smallpox not only as a health threat, but as a potential bioweapon of unequaled destructive power. Preston details maverick natural cases that surfaced after worldwide eradication efforts, how it was discovered that undocumented reserves of smallpox were not only being kept, but researched and possibly "weaponized," and how hotly, in the US, teams of scientists and military intelligence personnel debated funding new smallpox research in the US with a view to developing a new vaccine as a defense.

The ethical issues in those debates are unprecedented in the scope of the possible public health threat and the variables that might make traditional vaccination ineffective against the weaponized virus. As in his previous books on biological threats, The Hot Zone and The Cobra Event (see annotation), Preston follows the work and lives of several key scientists and includes scenes from interviews with a variety of persons involved in confronting the political, ethical, and medical dilemmas posed by smallpox research and efforts to track and control it.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Essays)

Summary:

This masterful collection of essays was written by Gawande while he was a general surgery resident. The book consists of fourteen essays divided into three sections: Fallibility, Mystery, and Uncertainty. Although some of the essays fall clearly within the boundaries of the section title (such as "When Doctors Make Mistakes" and "When Good Doctors Go Bad" in the Fallibility section), others cross boundaries or don’t fall as squarely in these general themes ("Nine Thousand Surgeons," an anthropological essay on the cult and culture of a major surgical convention, is also located in the Fallibility section). Nevertheless, the many pleasures of the individual essays, the range of topics explored in depth, and the accuracy of the medicine portrayed are the true strengths of this work.

The book begins Dragnet-style with an Author’s Note: "The stories here are true." (p. 1) And it is this attention to fidelity that makes the essays so compelling. Because even when the truths are hard--the terrible acknowledgment by the medical neophyte about lack of skill and knowledge, the mistakes in judgment at all levels of doctoring, the nature of power relations and their effects on medical pedagogy and on the doctor-patient relationship, the gnawing uncertainties about so many medical decisions--the author confronts the issues head on with refreshing rigor, grace and honesty.

Many of the essays reference scientific and medical research (historical and current) as part of the exploration of the topic. This information is imbedded within the essay, hence avoiding a dry recitation of statistical evidence. Typically, the reader’s interest in an essay is immediately piqued by a story about a particular patient. For example, the story of an airway emergency in a trauma patient, her oxygen saturation decreasing by the second as Gawande and the emergency room attending struggle to secure an airway, surgical or otherwise, sets the scene for "When Doctors Make Mistakes."

This leads to a meditation on not only the culture of the Morbidity and Mortality Conference, with its strange mix of third-person case narrative and personal acceptance of responsibility by the attending physician (see Bosk, Charles, Forgive and Remember: Managing Medical Failure, U. Chicago Press, 1981 for an in depth analysis of this culture), but also a positive examination of the leadership role that anesthesiologists have played in improving patient safety via research, simulator training and systems improvement.

Gawande’s journalistic verve takes him beyond the confines of his own hospital and training to interview patients and physicians on topics as diverse as incapacitating blushing ("Crimson Tide"), chronic pain ("The Pain Perplex"), malpractice and incompetence ("When Good Doctors Go Bad") and herniorraphy ("The Computer and the Hernia Factory"). In addition, he visits his own post-operative patients at home ("The Man Who Couldn’t Stop Eating" and "The Case of the Red Leg") which gives a longer view of postoperative recovery and a broader exposure to patients’ perspectives.

Some of the most telling moments come with the introduction of his children’s medical problems into the text. These range from the relatively straightforward (a broken arm, but a chance to comment on detection of child abuse in the emergency room) to the downright parental nightmare scary (severe congenital cardiac defect in their oldest child and a life-threatening respiratory infection in their prematurely born youngest).

These last two experiences are introduced to provide an angle on issues of choice. Choice of a fully trained, attending physician rather than a fellow to provide follow-up cardiac care for their oldest, and the choice to opt out of the decision-making process for whether to intubate the trachea of the youngest and hence leave the medical decisions up to the care team.

View full annotation

Richard III

Shakespeare, William

Last Updated: Feb-22-2003
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Play

Summary:

This history play narrates the rise to power through treachery and murder of Richard Plantaganet, Duke of Gloucester and last king of the House of York. Set in England during the Wars of the Roses (1455-1485), the play opens after the Lancastrian King Henry VI and his son Edward have been killed and Richard’s brother has been crowned Edward IV.

In the course of the play, Richard woos and wins Prince Edward’s widow Anne Neville and engineers the murders of his other brother (George, Duke of Clarence), his nephews, his closest advisor, possibly his wife, and other members of the court. He is crowned king but later dies a violent death in the Battle of Bosworth, defeated by Henry Tudor, Duke of Richmond, who will become the first Tudor King Henry VII.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

Another Dimension is an occasional feature of the journal, Emerging Infectious Diseases, published by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These essays (and occasionally poems or stories) focus on human and philosophical issues related to medical practice, scientific research, and public health. The intention of this feature is to bring a new perspective to the journal’s coverage of medical science and public health. Some of the essays include a painting or other image that draws attention to the subject matter of the essay.

Managing editor, Polyxeni Potter, with the encouragement of Joseph E. McDade, founding editor of the journal, initiated and is guiding this feature (see also the annotation of Potter: Emerging Infectious Diseases cover art). Since this is a government site, its material is freely available on-line.

View full annotation

The Dead Alive and Busy

Shapiro, Alan

Last Updated: Jan-16-2003
Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

This collection of 36 poems, some of which have been published individually in various literary magazines, is primarily about dead--or nearly dead--family members: a brother and sister lost to cancer; the speaker's palsied, nearly blind father dying of Parkinson's disease; his mother's struggle with chronic arthritis and heart disease.

The collection is divided into three untitled sections. The first deals primarily with the aging and death of the speaker's parents; the second with a wider range of abandonment and death, lost loves, dreams, innocence; the third almost exclusively with his sister's six year struggle with breast cancer and dying.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

One 1970s summer, Madeleine L'Engle brings her mother to Crosswicks, the rambling country house where the extended family has spent extended vacations for many years. At ninety, the elder Madeleine is suffering from the ravages of the now vanished diagnosis, 'hardening of the arteries.' By times she is frightened, angry, or difficult; at night she cries out or tries to wander. Round-the-clock caregivers help with the strain, while the writer's own children and grandchildren figure in her journal with concern, affection, and wonder.

The presence of the dwindling old lady provokes detailed recollections--direct and indirect memories--of the lives of her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, all named Madeleine--bringing the span of this narrative to six generations. Despite the grandmother's slow mental decline, death comes suddenly, while L'Engle is away and her son is left to help.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Summary:

In this short volume, Janet Malcolm frames a series of reflections on Chekhov's life and work with her pilgrimage to Chekhov-related sites in Russia and the Ukraine. The book begins with Malcolm's visit to Oreanda, a village on the Crimean coast near Yalta, which is the site where the fictional lovers in Chekhov's story The Lady with the Dog (1899, see annotation) sit quietly and look out at the sea on the morning after their first sexual encounter. While these lovers are fictional, their creator actually spent the last several years of his life as a respiratory cripple living amid the seascapes around Yalta.

The visit to Oreanda occurred near the end of Janet Malcolm's literary journey, but it provides a fulcrum or center of gravity for the book. From there, she constructs a narrative with three interweaving plots. One consists of her reminiscences of the last 10 days or so in St. Petersburg and Moscow, and her visit to Chekhov's estate (now a state museum) in the village of Melikhovo, south of Moscow. A second presents biographical material about Chekhov. Malcolm triangulates and interweaves these two with critical observations about the writer's stories and plays.

View full annotation

The Paralytic

Greuze, Jean-Baptiste

Last Updated: Nov-11-2002
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Oil on canvas

Summary:

The setting is a room in a home. Stretched out--half lying, half sitting--an elderly man ("the paralytic") gazes passively at a plate of food that is being held out to him by a gentleman who stands, bending toward him. In contrast to the paralytic, who wears a brown house coat, the standing men is properly dressed, but has a cloth draped over his left arm and holds a utensil in his right hand. The paralytic's arms, slightly bent, extend limply over his body; one foot rests on a stool and his lower limbs are covered with a blanket.

Hovering around the invalid with all eyes turned in his direction are several women, children, and a dog. The only figure who is not looking at the patient is a boy who kneels at his side, with an arm placed gently on the man's leg. In his stretched out position, the paralyzed man occupies a large space at the center of the picture and dominates it. The viewer's attention is further drawn to this central figure by the lighting--the background is dark while the cushion against which the man rests is light and glistens, and the man's face is bathed in light. Hence the viewer participates with the family in focusing attention on the invalid.

View full annotation

Philoctetes

Sophocles

Last Updated: Nov-11-2002
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Play

Summary:

En route to the way to the Trojan War, warrior Philoctetes, wielder of the bow of Heracles, is bitten by a poisonous snake at the shrine of the goddess Chryse. The infected wound becomes so painful that Philoctetes’s screams of agony repel the Greek commanders, who order Odysseus to leave him on the island of Lemnos. Ten years later (the time of the play’s opening scene), Odysseus returns to Lemnos with Neoptolemus, son of the now-dead Achilles, to retrieve Philoctetes’s bow. It has been prophesied that only with this bow can Troy be conquered.

Promising him glory and honor, Odysseus convinces Neoptolemus to win Philoctetes’s trust and take the bow. Philoctetes, delighted to see any human and especially another Greek, shares his story with Neoptolemus, begs him to take him back to Greece, and entrusts him with the bow when he is overcome by a spasm of pain.

Deeply moved by witnessing Philoctetes’s misery firsthand, Neoptolemus confesses the truth to him, but tries to persuade Philoctetes to accompany him to Troy. When Odysseus appears, Neoptolemus returns the bow, declaring that only with Philoctetes himself wielding it will the prophesy be fulfilled. He asks forgiveness, and invites Philoctetes to come back with him to be healed and then on to Troy to contribute to the battle. The only thing that ends Philoctetes’s refusal is the sudden appearance of Heracles, who announces that Philoctetes and Neoptolemus must join together to take Troy.

View full annotation

The Anatomist

Andahazi, Federico

Last Updated: Oct-21-2002
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This historical novel is set in 16th century Venice, where the great anatomist and physician Mateo Colombo has just been charged with heresy and placed under house arrest. The book proceeds in a series of short frames or fragments, presenting Colombo’s story from a wide variety of perspectives, ranging from the perspective of Mona Sofia, the most prestigious whore in Venice, to that of Leonardino, the crow who waits each morning to scavenge an eyeball or piece of flesh from one of the anatomist’s cadavers.

What is Colombo’s heresy? True, he has consistently violated the Papal Bull of Pope Boniface VIII that forbid obtaining cadavers for dissection, but his scholarly eminence and friendship with Pope Paul III have protected him from recrimination. His heresy is far worse than simply ignoring a Papal Bull; in fact, Mateo Colombo has discovered a dangerous new anatomical structure, the clitoris!

Mateo was called to the bedside of an unconscious holy woman named Inés de Torremolinos. In the process of examining her, the physician was amazed to discover "between his patient’s legs a perfectly formed, erect and diminutive penis." (p. 105) He took hold of the strange organ and began massaging it. As he did so, there was an amazing response in his patient: "(Her) breathing became hoarser and then broke into a loud panting . . . Her lifeless features changed into a lascivious grimace . . . " (p. 107) Subsequent research undertaken with Mona Sofia, the resplendent whore, as well as with cadavers, confirmed the significance of Colombo’s discovery.

At his hearing before the High Tribunal, Colombo explains his findings, which are far too complex and subtle to summarize (pp. 138-165). The finding of greatest interest, however, is that "there is no reason to believe that there exists in women such a thing as a soul." (p. 151) In fact, Colombo contends he has proven that the "amor veneris" or clitoris performs in women "similar functions to those of the soul in men, " although its nature "is utterly different since it depends entirely on the body." (p. 153)

You’ll have to read the book to discover what the verdict of the High Tribunal of the Holy Office was and Mateo Colombo’s fate.

View full annotation