Showing 41 - 50 of 606 annotations contributed by Coulehan, Jack

The Hospital Poems

Ferris, Jim

Last Updated: Oct-15-2008
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

The first poem begins: "Let me be a poet of cripples, / of hollow men and boys groping / to be whole, of girls limping toward / womanhood. . . " This Whitmanesque introduction bespeaks two sides of Jim Ferris’s poetry. First, this is poetry of celebration: "I sing for cripples, I sing for you." But at the same time, the poems look unflinchingly at the failures, phoniness, and self-righteousness of the "fix it" establishment. They also portray (and celebrate) the community of suffering among the inmates destined to be "fixed."

In "Meat" (5) Ferris lays it on the line," Between four and five they bring down the meat / from recovery--those poor dopes have been simmering / up there for hours, bubbling up to the surface. . . " But even the children who have become "meat" have feelings. For example, the narrator of "Mercy" (18) expresses horror when two healthy classmates from the 8th grade manipulate the hospital rules in order to bring him a Get Well greeting. "How did these aliens get in?" he asks. "Leave now, trespassers, you who seek to gaze / on my humiliation." Perhaps the merciful will obtain mercy from God, he comments, "but not from me." In "Miss Karen" (25) the narrator sustains himself with erotic fantasies about his nurse and discovers to his mortification that he babbled these thoughts to his mother during recovery from anesthesia.

The culture of medicine looks cruel--or at least uncaring--though this crippled narrator’s eyes. "The Coliseum" (42) gives a telling description of the patient’s appearance at Grand Rounds: "You are a specimen / for study, a toy, a puzzle--they speak to each other / as if you were unconscious. . . " "Standard Operating Procedure" (44) reads like an ironic crib-sheet for orthopedic surgery: "Bust a chuck / of bone the rest of the way out; chisel it if you have to. . . He won’t remember much; kids are like animals / that way."

View full annotation

A Step From Death

Woiwode, Larry

Last Updated: Apr-25-2008
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

In A Step from Death a profusion of memories radiate from a near-fatal accident on Larry Woiwoide's farm in western North Dakota. Woiwode, a novelist and poet of America's heartland, had just finished baling hay when his denim jacket got caught in the tractor's power take-off, "a geared stub at the rear of the tractor that spins at 500 rpm." (p. 9) Caught in the powerful machine with no one around to hear his cries for help, Woiwode could easily have died, but survived by using his pocket knife to free himself from the jacket.

In a sense A Step from Death takes up where the author's previous memoir, What I Think I Did, leaves off. The earlier book focuses on surviving North Dakota's outrageously bitter winter of 1996-97. The current memoir ranges far and wide over nearly 40 years of Woiwode's life as a writer who chooses a difficult but fulfilling life for himself and his family on the land. The memoir is addressed to Woiwode's only son Joseph (the second of four children), with whom he shares his fatherly failures, as well as the strengths of their relationship. The reader soon learns that accidents were no strangers to their life on the northern plains. Woiwode and his wife and older daughter had survived a serious car accident on an icy road in one of their early Dakota winters. Joseph, too, sustained severe injuries as a child when he fell off a horse and again later in a tractor accident. On another occasion, Joseph and his sisters are responsible for accidentally causing a fire that burned down the family barn.

Now, however, Joseph is a married man, a helicopter pilot, with two children of his own. The recollections and wisdom that his father shares with him (and us) flow freely, creating a free associational, rather than linear, narrative. Woiwode explores the deep network of connections that bind him to the land and his family, as well as to the community of creative writers and especially William Maxwell, his long-time editor at The New Yorker, mentor, and father figure. Woiwode explores as well the strong pull of loss in his life-his parents' deaths and eventually that of Maxwell-but A Step from Death is ultimately a celebration of survival.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poems (Sequence)

Summary:

This book consists of a series of "found poems" abstracted from transcripts of interviews that Loreen Herwaldt conducted with 24 writers who had previously published accounts of their illnesses. Dr. Herwaldt, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Iowa, began her investigation into the personal experience of illness after having read Mary Swander's Out of this World: A Journey of Healing and Reynolds Price's A Whole New Life, both of which revealed a negative dimension of medical care. These books initiated an "unexpected turn" (p. 1) in Dr. Herwaldt's life, culminating in a sabbatical year during which she interviewed a wide array of writers, intending to investigate the texture and dynamics of their experience of medical care by textual analysis of interview transcripts.

However, as a result of a further (and fortunate) insight, the author decided to abstract and arrange these texts into "found poems" that have "a concentrated emotional power that the unedited stories did not." (p. 5) Among the authors whose stories of illness appear in these poems are Arthur Frank (see The Wounded Storyteller ), Nancy Mairs (A Troubled Guest: Life and Death Stories), Richard Selzer (Raising the Dead), Oliver Sacks (A Leg to Stand On), Mary Swandler (The Desert Pilgrim: En Route to Mysticism and Miracles), and Christina Middlebrook (Seeing the Crab: A Memoir of Dying). In most cases Dr. Herwaldt has crafted two or more poems giving voice to different aspects of the subject's experience. For example, Richard McCann (pp. 82-90) speaks about loving his primary care physician, why patients can't talk to doctors, what he needs from a doctor, and being labeled as a patient with hepatitis C (cf. "The Resurrectionist").

The author includes a section on "How to Use This Book" (pp.9-20) that summarizes her experience utilizing these poems in medical education settings and provides helpful hints for teaching them.

View full annotation

Summary:

In his Introduction, editor Thom Schramm puts the themes of this anthology into perspective. He notes that the moods associated with bipolar disorder are familiar to everyone. Moreover, the notion that artistic creativity is associated with psychological instability is widespread; in fact, it is almost a stereotype, ranging in time from Plato's depiction of poets as suffering from "divine madness" to contemporary examples, like Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and Robert Lowell. However, it should be evident that, since we all experience periods of sadness and elation, it is no wonder that poets of all stripes, no matter how "stable" they might be, may evince these moods in their work.

Living in Storms presents an array of contemporary poems grouped to reflect mania and depression from different perspectives. The book has eight sections. In the first three, the poet himself or herself expresses what it is like to be susceptible to mania or depression ("How It Is"), the experience of being there ("In the Mood"), and the experience in retrospect ("Remembering the Episodes"). The next two sections contain poems that approach these moods from more of a distance, either looking at the sufferer from another's perspective, ("Characters") or at the influence of manic-depressive sufferers on those around them ("Family and Friends"). The following section is devoted to poems about artists who suffered from manic-depression ("Artists"). The last two sections contain poems that depict shifts from one mood to the other, either on a daily or general basis ("Daily Shifts") or seasonally ("With the Seasons").

View full annotation

A Kind of Alaska

Pinter, Harold

Last Updated: Mar-13-2008
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Play

Summary:

In this one act play, as a result of a new medication, a middle-aged woman named Deborah wakes up after spending nearly 30 years in a "coma." More precisely, she was in a dream-like state of unawareness or altered awareness that Hornby, her doctor, refers to as "a kind of Alaska."(p. 34) Deborah thinks that she has only been "asleep" for a short while, so she asks about her parents and sister, as if she were still the adolescent she remembers. Hornby assures her that her mind has been suspended all that time, although he has been at her side, fighting to keep her alive: "Some wanted to bury you. I forbade it." (p. 34)

 

Uncertain what to say, Pauline, Deborah's younger sister, now enters the hospital room. Hearing Pauline's news of the family, Deborah tries to comprehend what has happened, but it seems just too bizarre. Then Hornby reveals that Pauline has been his wife for more than 20 years. Deborah experiences the walls of her consciousness closing in, "Let me out. Stop it. Let me out. Stop it. Stop it." (p. 38) Suddenly, she returns to the conversation and summarizes everything she has heard. "I think I have the matter in proportion," she concludes.


View full annotation

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

This collection includes selected poems from each of Bruce Weigl's seven books, beginning with Executioner (1976) and continuing through Sweet Lorain (1996), as well as a group of new poems. In the early poem "Anna Grasa," the poet writes, "I came home from Vietnam. / My father had a sign / made at the foundry: / WELCOME HOME BRUCE." But Weigl had brought Vietnam home with him. The trauma and suffering of his war experience informs his sensibility and serves as subject matter for a large number of his poems.

In "Amnesia"(1985), he comments, "If there was a world more disturbing than this? / You don't remember it." And the rumination continues in "Meditation at Hue"(1996), "Some nights I still fear the dark among trees / through last few ambush hours before morning." And Weigl concludes "And we Came Home," one of the new poems in this volume, with, "No one / understands how we felt. / Kill it all. Kill it all."

Some of the other powerful war poems in Archeology of the Circle are "Dogs," "Girl at the Chu Lai Laundry," "Burning Shit at An Khe," "The Last Lie," "Song of Napalm," "Sitting with the Buddhist Monks, Hue, 1967," and "Three Meditations at Nguyen Du." Yet love and largeness of spirit also inform the world of Bruce Weigl, who tells us, "What I have to give you / I feel in my blood, / many small fires / burning into one."("Bear Meadow?)

View full annotation

Black Mesa Poems

Baca, Jimmy Santiago

Last Updated: Mar-05-2008
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

In the title poem, Jimmy Santiago Baca says: "To write the story of my soul / I trace the silence and stone / of Black Mesa." This collection of poems carries the reader into the mountains and valleys of northern New Mexico, and to the barrio where the poet and his family live. They are poems full of incident and experience, of the "twenty-eight shotgun pellets" that remain in "my thighs, belly, and groin" from an incident with Felipe in 1988 ("From Violence to Peace"), and the slaughter of a sheep to the tattoo of wild drums ("Matanza to Welcome Spring"), and the tragic story of "El Sapo," the Frog King.

Baca’s characters live close to the land, close to the mountains, and sometimes outside the law ("Tomas Lucero"). These poems witness to the violence and despair of barrio life, but also to its energy and joy. Baca’s hope continues "to evolve with the universe / side by side with its creative catastrophe."

View full annotation

Brute

Selzer, Richard

Last Updated: Aug-15-2007
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

In the Emergency Room at 2 AM, a doctor tries to suture a laceration on the forehead of "a huge black man," brought in by the police. The man groans and strains; he won't hold still. Finally, the doctor becomes so angry that he sutures the patient's earlobes to the mattress. Not only that, he leans over the man's face and grins: "It is the cruelest grin of my life." Then he sutures the man's wound.

View full annotation

How Doctors Think

Groopman, Jerome

Last Updated: Aug-06-2007
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

In How Doctors Think, Jerome Groopman explores clinical decision making with a particular emphasis on the poor communication skills and cognitive errors that often lead to misdiagnosis and inappropriate treatment. He uses a narrative approach, filling the book with compelling stories that illustrate the world of patient-physician interactions. Why did a second doctor quickly conclude that Blanche Begaye suffered from aspirin toxicity, while her first doctor mistakenly diagnosed viral pneumonia? Why did several physicians fail to diagnose Maxine Carlson's ectopic pregnancy until the day it ruptured? Groopman's storytelling skill permits him to convey complex concepts (e.g. availability bias, anchoring, and Ockham's razor) through conversation and narrative.

Three major themes run throughout the book, and each is presented with several variations. The first theme is that doctors who don't listen to their patients are likely to make serious mistakes in diagnosis and treatment. The second is that doctors frequently don't have the self-awareness to understand their own errors, especially those that involve dealing with ambiguity and understanding the importance of emotions. The final theme is that that patients ought to be active participants in their own care. This is not a new message, but Groopman frames it in a new way. Given the complexity of clinical decision making, and the many cognitive errors physicians may fall prey to, patients can improve their own care by helping their doctors minimize or avoid such errors. Among other things this means asking thought-provoking questions like "What else could it be?", "What is the worst thing it could be?," or "Is it possible I have more than one problem?"

View full annotation

The Bear

Chekhov, Anton

Last Updated: Jul-13-2007
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Play

Summary:

Popova is still in deep mourning seven months after her husband's death. She stays alone at her country house, refusing to go out or to see anybody. Suddenly, Smirnov arrives and rudely insists on seeing her. Popova's late husband owed him 1200 roubles and he demands the debt be paid at once because his creditors are after him.

Popova delays. Smirnov insists, makes light of Popova's mourning, and refuses to leave. They angrily vie with one another: "Men are rude and inconstant!" "Women are fickle and manipulative!" (It turns out that Popova's husband was actually a liar and cheat, but she remains true to his memory just to show him how faithful a woman can be.)

Smirnov challenges her to a duel for insulting him and Popova brings out her husband's pistols. At this point Smirnov realizes that he has fallen in love with this tough, spunky woman. Popova vacillates for a moment, but they end up in each other's arms. (All this in 12 pages.)

View full annotation