Showing 41 - 50 of 654 Nonfiction annotations

Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Since Joy Davidman is known to most readers as the woman C.S. Lewis married late in life and lost to cancer four years after that marriage, it is likely that many readers will pick up Joy Davidman’s letters out of fondness for her husband’s Narnia stories or popular theology.  They will quickly find that the letters chronicle a life of considerable interest in itself.  Davidman was an award-winning writer herself, a secular Jew and atheist who turned hopefully to communism and then wholeheartedly to Christianity in her later years, though remaining skeptical—and acerbic—about church people.  The fact that she remained friends with her first husband after their difficult marriage broke up resulted in many of the letters in the collection, which include material Lewis fans will be glad to see, though it offers little intimate information about their lives except that they were devoted to one another through her painful final years with breast cancer.  Her account of that last illness is often matter-of-fact; she writes as though it is one of the less interesting parts of her life, which was full of intellectual pursuits, including editing some of Lewis’s later works, and of practical concerns that included caring for her two boys with whom she emigrated to England from New York.  

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Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

A bicycling, bee-keeping, British neurosurgeon approaching the end of his professional career recalls some distinctive patients, surgical triumphs as well as notable failures, difficult decisions, and mistakes. Nearly thirty years of a busy neurosurgical practice are distilled into a collection of linked stories throbbing with drama - both the flamboyant kind and the softly simmering type.

Most chapters are titled after a medical condition (exceptions are "Hubris" and "Melodrama"). Some of the headings are familiar - Trauma, Infarct, Aneurysm, Meningioma. Other chapter titles flaunt delicious medical terminology that mingles the mysterious and the poetic with nomenclature such as Angor animi, Neurotmesis, Photopsia, and Anaesthesia dolorosa.

Included are riveting accounts of both mundane and seemingly miraculous patient outcomes. One success story involves a pregnant woman losing her sight due to a brain tumor that compresses the optic nerves. Her vision is restored with an operation performed by the author. Her baby is born healthy too. But tales of failure and loss - malignant glioblastomas that are invulnerable to any treatment, operative calamities including bleeding of the brain, paralysis, and stroke - are tragically common. The author describes his humanitarian work in the Ukraine. He admits his aggravation with hospital bureaucracy and is frequently frustrated by England's National Health Service.

Sometimes the shoe falls on the other foot, and the doctor learns what it is to be a patient. He suffers a retinal detachment. He falls down some stairs and fractures his leg. His mother succumbs to metastatic breast cancer. His three month old son requires surgery for a benign brain tumor.

As his career winds down, the author grows increasingly philosophical. He acknowledges his diminishing professional detachment, his fading fear of failure, and his less-hardened self. He becomes a sort of vessel for patients to empty their misery into. He is cognizant of the painful privilege it is to be a doctor.

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On the Move: A Life

Sacks, Oliver

Last Updated: Jun-22-2015

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

On the Move:  A Life describes the extraordinary life of Oliver Sacks from his childhood during World War II to shortly before its 2015 publication.  Using his journals (“nearly a thousand,” he writes), correspondence, and memories—as well as his 14 or so books—Sacks has given himself free rein to describe and analyze his long, productive, and unusual life.

A dozen chapter headings nominally corral his wide variety of interests, adventures, and travels, including his medical career, his homosexuality, and diverse writing projects.

Sacks came from an English medical family, including some observant Jews, but not him. As a youth he loved (prophetically) writing and chemistry. He rode motorcycles then and for many years to come. He did poorly on his Oxford practical anatomy exam but immediately (and drunk on hard cider) sat for a competitive essay on anatomy and won a large prize.  Later, he was warned away from bench science and focused successfully on patient care, patient narratives, and personal essays of many sorts, including A Leg To Stand On, the account of his injured leg and recovery.

Sacks left England for Canada, then the US.  He quotes from some of the journals about his travels. In LA, he worked out at Muscle Beach (setting a California squat record) and did drugs, including amphetamines. A shy man, he thought of himself as Doppelganger: Dr. Sacks by day, a black-garbed biker by night. 

Fascinated by vision and photography, Sacks includes 58 photos from the ’50s to 2006; some black and white, some in color.  These are printed together on slick paper and well illustrate his text.   

Neurology training concluded, Sacks served various institutions in New York but read widely, ever eager to find theories of brain chemistry, anatomy, perception, behavior, and more. As readers of his books know, he enjoyed using his own interests in drugs, music, and travel, as well as personal medical experiences such as his injured leg and his lack of facial recognition. He describes his meetings with patients with unusual dilemmas: the postencephalics of Awakenings, as well as people with Tourette’s syndrome, deafness, colorblindness, autism, or migraines. He became fascinated—obsessed, one might say—with these and wrote so voluminously that cuts had to be made from his huge manuscripts to yield books.

Sacks describes interaction with editors, film crews, playwrights and others wishing to collaborate. His audiences grew as he became an intermediary to the non-medical public. We read about Peter Brook, W. H. Auden, Jonathan Miller, Bob Silvers (New York Review of Books), the cartoonist Al Capp (a cousin), Abba Eban (another cousin), Stephen Jay Gould, Temple Grandin, Francis Crick, and others. One striking passage describes taking Robert DeNiro and Robin Williams to see locked-in patients in preparation for the film version of Awakenings.

In his 70s, his robust health faded. He had a melanoma in his right eye, with more than three years of treatment before it became blind. Being Sacks, he observed interesting phenomena as his vision changed, “a fertile ground of enquiry” (p. 376). His left knee was replaced. He had sciatica.   

He fell in love again after 35 years of celibacy; he dedicates his book to his partner Billy Hayes.

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Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal is both ambitious and synthetic, qualities that well suit his difficult subject, death.  In Western culture, there are taboos against death because it fits neither into post-Enlightenment notions of progress and perfection nor into medical notions of control, even domination of human biology. A surgeon and an investigator, Gawande draws on his patients, his family, and travels to various hospitals and other caregiving places in order to confront death and see how approaches such as hospice and palliative care can improve our understanding, acceptance, and preparation for death.

Gawande has harsh words for contemporary medicine, the supposed caregiver for the dying and their families.  Relying heavily on technique and industrial models, it ignores the deep needs of the dying and provides, instead, versions of “warehoused oblivion” (p. 188), for example long, futile stays in ICUs.

As opposed to traditional societies like India, Westerners prize the independence of individuals, a status that is, of course, never permanent. In the chapter “Things Fall Apart,” Gawande describes how longer lives are now the norm but they include chronic illnesses and inevitable decline in vitality.  Our deaths are now routinely in hospitals, not at home, and often extended—sometimes brutally—by technical support and unwillingness of doctors and families to stop aggressive treatment.       
       
Also, sadly, there are fewer and fewer geriatricians at a time when there are more and more elderly.  A good geriatrician takes a long time with each patient, is not well paid, nor does s/he do income-generating procedures. Worse yet, some training programs are being discontinued.  

Gawande illustrates his ideas with case studies of patients and describes, from time to time in the book, the elderly journeys of his grandmother-in-law and his own father.  These passages make vivid the abstract ideas of the book. But it’s not just elderly patients who face death: health calamities can come to anyone, for example, a 34-year-old pregnant woman found to have a serious cancer. Various treatments are tried without success, but family and doctors act out “a modern tragedy replayed millions of times over” (p. 183) of a medically protracted death. Finally her mother calls a halt to treatment.
               
Family members often bear a heavy load in caring for a sick elder, but many nursing homes are often worse, designed for control, not support of the patients. 

The chapter “A Better Life” describes the first in a series of places that offer much improved settings for the elderly, with birds, animals, gardens, and, in general, richer lives that have a sense of purpose.  Gawande describes hospice care, palliative care, and advanced directives (including Do Not Resuscitate orders) as improvements needed to break the norms of “treat at all costs.” The old roles of Dr. Knows-Best and Dr. Informative need to give way to physicians and others who talk with patients and families about their values, their wishes for the last days, and their preparations for death. In short, aggressive treatment should no longer be the “default setting” for hospital care.     
        
The book ends with a dozen moving pages about the death of Gawande’s father. The “hard conversations” have clarified his wishes, and hospice care has provided “good enough” days.  Pain control has done well. Then, finally, “No more breaths came.” The family travels to India to spread his ashes on the Ganges. 

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Annotated by:
Schilling, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

Carol Levine began a roiling odyssey as a caregiver when a car accident left her husband paralyzed and in need of 24-hour care. She regards her husband’s survival as “a testament to one of American medicine's major successes — saving the lives of trauma patients.” But once he returned to their home, Levine encountered a healthcare system that was fragmented, chaotic, and inequitable. Unprepared to address chronic care, it remained oblivious to her needs as her husband’s primary medical “provider,” as they would say. Written nine years after the accident and eight years into her care giving, Levine’s essay recounts the stress and isolation she experienced attempting to navigate that system, to perform unrelenting chores, and to sustain her employment. Her job was, after all, the source of her husband’s managed care insurance, which regularly managed to leave Levine with unpaid bills. Even her work in medical ethics and healthcare policy could not help her locate the assistance she needed to assure the well being of her husband or herself.  Or of other care-giving families.

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Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Summary:

This Side of Doctoring is an anthology published in 2002 about the experiences of women in medicine. While the essays span multiple centuries, most are from the past 50 years. They reflect on a multitude of stages in the authors’ personal and professional lives. In 344 pages divided into twelve sections, including "Early Pioneers," "Life in the Trenches," and "Mothering and Doctoring," the 146 authors recount - in excerpts from published memoirs, previously published and unpublished essays, poems and other writings, many of them composed solely for this collection - what it was then and what it was in 2002 to be a woman becoming a doctor in the U.S.. All but a handful of the authors are physicians or surgeons. There is a heavy representation from institutions on both coasts, especially the Northeast. Four men were invited to reflect on being married to physician wives. There is one anonymous essay concerning sexual harassment and a final essay from a mother and daughter, both physicians.   Beginning with the first American female physicians in the mid-19th century, like historic ground-breakers Elizabeth Blackwell and Mary Putnam Jacobi, the anthology proceeds through the phases of medical school, residency, early and mid-careers, up to reflections from older physicians on a life spent in medicine. Many of the authors have names well known in the medical humanities, including Marcia Angell, Leon Eisenberg, Perri Klass, Danielle Ofri, Audrey Shafer, and Marjorie Spurrier Sirridge, to mention a few. 

The essays and poems and letters have, as a partial listing, the following subjects: family influences in becoming a physician; professional friendships; marriage; children and their impact on a woman’s career in medicine; the decision not to have children; ill family members; illness as a physician; establishing one's sexuality as a physician; struggles with male physicians and their egos; mentors, both female and male; memorable patients (often terminal or dying); the life of a wife-physician, or mother-physician; the guilt and sacrifice that accompany such a dual life; the importance - and easy loss - of personal time or what internist Catherine Chang calls “self-care” (page 334).
  The anthology also touches on how women have changed the practice of medicine in various ways, prompted by the growing realization, as family practice physician Alison Moll puts it, "that I didn't have to practice in the traditional way" (page 185)  The authors write about the wisdom of setting limits; training or working part-time or sharing a position with another woman; and the constant face-off with decisions, especially those not normally confronting an American man becoming a doctor. 
One conclusion is evident before the reader is halfway through the book: there are many approaches to becoming a fulfilled female physician including finding one’s identity in the field.  Implicit in most of the essays and writings is the lament from obstetrician-gynecologist Gayle Shore Mayer: "Where is the self ? There are pieces of me everywhere", (page 275) recalling a similar cry from Virginia Woolf's Orlando, another essentially female soul trying to find what Richard Selzer has called "The Exact Location of the Soul".
 Several authors discover that female physicians have unique gifts to offer their patients. As internist Rebekah Wang-Cheng writes, “I am a better physician because I am a mother, and I know because of my experiences as a physician that I am a better mother.” (page 151) 

There are sections at the end devoted to a glossary for the lay reader, resources for women (as of 2002), and generous notes about the contributors (which section also serves as a useful index of each's contributions).

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Annotated by:
Lam, Gretl

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction — Secondary Category: Visual Arts / Visual Arts

Genre: History

Summary:

This book examines the rise of the obesity epidemic through the perspectives of art, literature, and medicine, particularly in Britain, with brief mention of continental Europe and North America. In the first chapter, the authors set the scene by explaining the medical significance of obesity: namely, how and why obesity leads to illness. The remainder of the book is devoted to discussing historical perceptions of obesity, the history of eating, the history of exercise, and the history of weight loss remedies. Historical perceptions of obesity are addressed from several angles, including the business of “fat folk” circus freaks; the portrayal of obese figures in art, from Paleolithic stone sculpture to seaside post cards to modern film; and the depiction of obese figures in writing, from Chaucer to J. K. Rowling. Throughout the book, the authors are careful to emphasize that obesity is not simply a self-inflicted product of gluttony and sloth, but a condition brought about by many factors, including genetics and social influences. They conclude the book by urging society to take a more aggressive stance against obesity by reminding readers that obesity kills.

David Haslam is a general practitioner in the United Kingdom, He is also Clinical Director of Britain’s National Obesity Forum, a charity formed in 2000 to increase awareness of obesity as a medical condition. Fiona Haslam is a historian of medicine and art, with a doctorate from the University of St. Andrews. She is also the author of From Hogarth to Rowlandson: Medicine in Art in Eighteenth Century Britain (Liverpool University Press, 1996). 

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Medicine and Art

Emery, Marcia; Emery, Alan

Last Updated: Mar-18-2015
Annotated by:
Lam, Gretl

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction — Secondary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: History

Summary:

Medicine and Art discusses the evolution of medicine and the changing role of the physician in society as depicted through art. The book is organized in rough chronological order, beginning with a copper statue of Imhotep of Egypt and a vessel featuring Hippocrates of Greece. Artworks depicting Ayurvedic, Tibetan, Persian, Chinese, North American Indian, and African medicine are also included, but the main focus of this book is Western medicine as portrayed in European and American paintings. These paintings take the reader through history, from nuns caring for the sick in the 1300s to quacks attracting gullible customers in the 1600s to the use of the stethoscope and the start of vaccination. The final artwork is a 2001 embroidery piece by Louise Riley depicting the link between patient and medical researcher.

The book features 53 images that are organized into 53 bi-fold layouts, with a written description and discussion of the artwork on the left hand page and an image of the artwork on the right hand page. These images are generously sized, taking up much of the page, and the vast majority are in color. Concise paragraphs explain the image by providing both medical and art historical context. 

Alan E.H. Emery and Marcia L.H. Emery are the husband and wife team who compiled this book. Alan E.H. Emery is a distinguished British neurologist, medical genetics researcher, and amateur oil painter. Marcia L.H. Emery
is a librarian and a psychologist.

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Summary:

In 1847, one of every six women whose babies were delivered by the medical students and supervising doctors at Allgemeine Krankenhaus (General Hospital) in Vienna died of puerperal fever (also known as childbed fever). In contrast, the incidence of this disease in women delivered by hospital midwives was dramatically lower and puerperal fever was quite rare when mothers had their babies born at home.While a few physicians (most notably Alexander Gordon and Oliver Wendell Holmes) realized that childbed fever was a contagious process, it was Semmelweis who identified the nature of the problem as stemming from the failure of obstetricians and medical students to wash their hands and change their clothing, especially after performing autopsies or doing surgery. He mandated that doctors and students wash with a disinfectant (chloride of lime) before examining any woman in labor.Despite the dramatic reduction of maternal mortality on his obstetrical unit, his ideas and methods were not well received. Semmelweis was reluctant to conduct experiments on animals to prove his theory and resisted publishing his findings in any medical journal. When he finally did write a book, The Etiology, the Concept, and the Prophylaxis of Childbed Fever, it was difficult to read and failed to impress many obstetrical experts.With his health failing and his behavior increasingly erratic and inappropriate, Semmelweis was committed to a state-run mental hospital. He died two weeks later. The official cause of death was sepsis secondary to an infection of his finger. The author is convinced, however, based on the autopsy report and findings upon exhumation of the body in 1963, that Semmelweis was beaten to death by the staff at the asylum. He may well have been suffering from Alzheimer's presenile dementia at the time.

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Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

Linden, a professor of neuroscience, has written a book for a general audience on the subject of touch. A synthetic thinker, he combines insights from science, anatomy, neurophysiology, psychology, and social behavior. He argues that touch pervades much of human experience: “From consumer choice to sexual intercourse, from tool use to chronic pain to the process of healing, the genes, cells, and neural circuits involved in the sense of touch have been crucial to creating our unique human experience” (p. 5). Case studies of medical oddities enliven his account.

Chapter One, “The Skin is a Social Organ,” draws on a wide range of examples, from NBA players to vampire bats. Touch is especially important to the development of human newborns. Lab experiments have shown that the attitude of the toucher can influence the experience of the touched. English and American cultures are touch aversive.

Chapter Two discusses the neurophysiology of touch, the sensory nerves and the neurons that link to the spinal cord or to the brain. Lively examples include string players, 1900-era women with “underwear-shaped numbness,” and the Braille writing system for the blind. 

In Chapter Three, “The Anatomy of a Caress,” Linden explores further the tactile fibers that relay touch. “A caress communicates that you are safe,” he writes, and the C-tactile system is the main route from skin to the brain.

Chapter Four, “Sexual Touch,” moves beyond caress all the way to orgasm, detailing the roles of touch receptors and brain activity as well as the wide variety of personal and social contexts.

Chapter Five looks at nerve endings of human skin that detect chili peppers as hot and mint as cool. Vampire bats have another version that detect heat, useful for locating blood vessels on “donors.”

Chapter Six, “Pain and Emotion,” opens with Pakistani children who do not feel pain; they have a genetic mutation that influences a sodium channel in neurons. Pain itself varies with people’s emotions, experience, and expectations. Some mindfulness practices (yoga, Tai Chi, meditation) can lessen chronic pain.

Chapter Seven, “The Itchy and Scratchy Show,” discusses river blindness and shingles, among other topics.

Chapter Eight, “Illusion and Transcendence,” provides a helpful overview of sensory nerves and their connection to various parts of the brain. Some stimuli activate the “emotional-affective-cognitive portions,” while others activate “sensory-discriminative centers.” Touch, in general, often has strong social meanings but does not, for Linden, imply any supernatural dimensions.  

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