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Summary:“Few hospitals are more deeply embedded in our popular culture” than Bellevue, David Oshinsky writes in the introduction to his new book Bellevue: Three Centuries of Medicine and Mayhem at America's Most Storied Hospital. What follows, however, is not just an account of the (in)famous hospital, but a history of New York City, of disease and medicine and of America itself. Thus, the pages of Bellevue take us from Revolutionary War to Civil War, from Miasma Theory to Germ Theory, from the Spanish flu epidemic to the AIDS epidemic and from the disaster of 9/11 to the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. Along the way, the reader is introduced to giants of the medical and political world, many of whom were connected intimately to the hospital. In Oshinsky’s telling, Bellevue is a hospital of firsts. The hospital with the first ambulance corps, first in-hospital medical school, first pathology lab. It is—at the same time—a hospital rooted in tradition. It is startling in reading Bellevue, for example, to realize that halfway through the book, the doctors who are being celebrated as central to the hospital’s longevity still subscribed to Miasma theory and could do little more for their patients than bleed them and give them alcohol. Bellevue is also—and in Oshinsky’s eyes this seems most important—a hospital of immigrants. It was and is, a hospital where those for whom no one else would care could come, where no one would be turned away. Over the years, this has meant that Bellevue has opened its doors to Irish immigrants who were thought to be causing the Typhus epidemic, to Jews who were thought to be causing tuberculosis outbreaks and to homosexuals who were thought to be causing the AIDS epidemic. The demographic of patients who come to Bellevue has changed drastically throughout its history, but the underlying ethos of the hospital has been unwavering.
“In Khardji, the village where I [Nujood] was born, women are not taught how to make choices. When she was about sixteen, Shoya, my mother, married my father, Ali Mohammad al-Ahdel, without a word of protest. And when he decided four years later to enlarge his family by choosing a second wife, my mother obediently accepted his decision. It was with that same resignation that I at first agreed to my marriage, without realizing what was at stake. At my age, you don’t ask yourself many questions.”
Summary:This film focuses on the interaction between 5-year-old Alexandria and Roy, a Hollywood stuntman in the early days of film. The two are residents of a rehabilitation hospital, and both are recovering from falls they’ve taken: he’s paralyzed from the waist down as a result of a failed stunt; she’s broken her humerus as the result of a fall she’s taken in an orange orchard. (A child in a migrant family, she’s been tasked, at 5 years of age—presumably out of economic necessity—with climbing ladders to pick oranges.) Having accidentally intercepted an affectionate note—Alexandria’s child-missive—meant for the kindly but preoccupied nurse Evelyn, paralyzed Roy befriends the girl and quickly wins her over by telling her the wondrous tale of a masked bandit and his companions, all of whom have been betrayed by the evil emperor Odious, and all of whom are united in their quest for vengeance against the ruler. While Roy narrates the story, we see it take place through Alexandria’s eyes, and the characters she envisions are drawn from people in her life. The role of the heroic masked bandit she assigns to Roy himself, blended to a poignant degree with her deceased father. Alexandria sometimes interrupts and asks questions about or challenges the story’s development, whereupon Roy makes adjustments: it’s clear that the story is a co-constructed project. Roy has, however, become increasingly despondent over his paralyzed condition and over the fact that his fiancée has broken off the engagement as a result of Roy’s condition. As time goes on, Roy uses his unfolding story as a means of manipulating Alexandria to retrieve morphine from the hospital dispensary. He tries and fails to commit suicide with the pills that Alexandria supplies. In the process, he winds up bringing about a severe injury to the child. Filled with remorse and guilt, Roy alters his story such that it can be a source of separation between him and the girl: it becomes cruel and violent, and suggests that the hero is a weak, inglorious imposter who deserves to die. The anguished Alexandria protests, demanding that Roy change the story. Roy refuses, insisting that “It’s my story.” But Alexandria retorts, “It’s mine, too.” And Roy relents. The masked bandit of the story is redeemed, and Roy himself is as well. The film closes first with Roy, Alexandria, the hospital patients and staff watching the film in which Roy’s acting had led to his accident. As the scene approaches the point where the accident had occurred, Roy feels understandable anxiety; but the film has of course been edited. Roy is relieved, but turns to Alexandria, in the hopes that she is not terrified. He finds her beaming. Then the film we are watching, The Fall, shifts to a rapid series of black-and-white footage of stunts—the effect is reminiscent of the love scenes gathered at the end of Cinema Paradiso—narrated by the marveling Alexandria. Each clip features a person in imminent, catastrophic danger—who is then impossibly rescued at the last second by fortunate chance. As Alexandria blows us kisses through a character who is falling backward, we are left in a state of bewildered gratitude over this strange gift of stories we human beings offer each other—stories that assure us over and over again how, confronted with the calamities we see no way of escaping, we are nonetheless saved.
Summary:A rare patient narrative from 1812 describes a mastectomy performed before the introduction of anesthesia. This letter from Frances d'Arblay (1752-1840) (née Frances [Fanny] Burney), addressed to her older sister, Esther, details her operation in Paris by one of Napoleon's surgeons.In her childhood and youth, Fanny Burney moved in the best London society; she was a friend of Dr. Johnson who admired her. She served five years at the court of George III and Queen Charlotte as Second Keeper of the Royal Robes (1786-1791). Fanny Burney married Adjutant-General in the army of Louis XVI Alexandre-Jean-Baptiste Piochard d'Arblay in 1793. He had fled to England after the Revolution. They lived in England and spent ten years in France (1802-1812).Burney's mastectomy took place 30 September 1811. The patient wrote about her experience nine months later. She chronicles the origin of her tumor and her pain. She is constantly watched by "The most sympathising of Partners" (128), her husband, who arranges for her to see a doctor. She warns her sister and nieces not to wait as long as she did. At first resisting out of fear, the patient agrees to see Baron Dominique-Jean Larrey (1766-1842), First Surgeon to the Imperial Guard.He asks for her written consent to guide her treatment; her four doctors request her formal consent to the operation, and she makes arrangements to keep her son, Alex, and her husband, M. d'Arblay, away. Her husband arranges for linen and bandages, she makes her will, and writes farewell letters to her son and spouse. A doctor gives her a wine cordial, the only anesthetic she receives. Waiting for all the doctors to arrive causes her agony, but at three o'clock, "my room, without previous message, was entered by 7 Men in black" (136).She sees "the glitter of polished Steel" (138). The extreme pain of the surgery makes her scream; she feels the knife scraping her breastbone. The doctors lift her up to put her to bed "& I then saw my good Dr. Larry, pale nearly as myself, his face streaked with blood, & its expression depicting grief, apprehension, & almost horrour" (140).Her husband adds a few lines. These are followed by a medical report in French by Baron Larrey's 'Chief Pupil'. He states that the operation to remove the right breast at 3:45pm and that the patient showed "un Grand courage" (141). She lives another twenty-nine years. It is impossible to determine whether her tumor was malignant.
Summary:Evan Hansen, an awkward, lonely high school senior, struggles with Social Anxiety Disorder. On the advice of his therapist, he pens supportive letters to himself: “Dear Evan Hansen, Today is going to be an amazing day, and here’s why. Because today all you have to do is be yourself. But also confident.”
Summary:The speaker of this poem is a nurse who is recalling and attempting to come to terms with a disturbing clinical encounter she’d had the week before. (I should note at the outset that there’s no indication in the poem as to whether the nurse is male or female. I choose to think of her as female). What had happened is that a mother had brought her five-year-old son in for treatment, and the nurse’s exam revealed that the child had second- and third-degree burns on his torso—in the shape of a cross. The mother, weeping, confessed that her boyfriend had, as a punishment, applied a cigarette to the child’s body—while the mother had held her son. Seeing the mother’s tears, the nurse considered offering the woman some Kleenex, but could not bring herself to do so. The child retrieved the box of Kleenex, then clung to his mother’s skirt, and glowered at the nurse. Then the nurse had participated with three others in prying the boy away from his mother. In the present of the poem, a week after the encounter, the nurse attempts to deal with the guilt and shame she feels in her failure of professional decorum and compassion—at having failed to rise above her moral judgment against the mother and offer the woman basic human kindness and respect. In confronting the chaos of her emotions, the nurse turns to a story she’d learned in high school: the story of St. Lawrence. The significance of her attempt to think with this story can be overshadowed, for readers, by the intensity of the clinical encounter she recalls; but her endeavor is of at least equal significance as the encounter.
Summary:The Renewal of Generosity: Illness, Medicine, and How to Live contemplates the phenomenon of generosity as it is realized in the stories of physicians and patients. For Arthur Frank, generosity is grounded in the willingness of people to give themselves over to dialogical processes of communication wherein participants best realize themselves through relational engagement: generous, dialogical communication leads to a renewal and realization of human being. Health care systems today tend to impede communicative generosity, however, and the result is a de-humanization and de-moralization of both physicians and patients. As a remedy, Frank proposes, first, that we re-figure our conceptualization of the physician-patient relationship—from the economic or business metaphor of “provider” and “client,” we should turn to the metaphorical conceptualization of “host” and “guest,” which clearly has implications for manner of treatment and communication that occurs in the relationship. In addition, Frank turns to and thinks with stories of physicians and stories of the ill to reflect on the ways that generosity is realized. Drawing on the wisdom of the striking philosophical triumvirate of Marcus Aurelius (Stoicism), Mikhail Bakhtin (Dialogism), and Emmanuel Levinas to amplify the reflections emerging from the physician and patient stories, Frank ultimately proposes “exercises” for training to generate a vivifying generosity within the medical profession, which can in turn lead to a re-humanization and re-moralization for physicians, improved care for patients, and enhanced flourishing for all.