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Author Horace Davenport is a retired professor of physiology who had a distinguished career in medical science. This book reflects his more recent interest in the history of medicine and physiology in the 19th and 20th centuries. The best summary of this transcription with commentary resides in the author's own introductory paragraph, paraphrased here: From 1899 to 1900 fourth year medical students at the University of Michigan doing their medicine and surgery rotations attended a diagnostic clinic twice a week with George Dock, A.M., M.D., professor of theory and practice of clinical medicine. Dr. Dock had a secretary make a shorthand record of everything that was said at these clinics by Dock himself, the patients, and the students.
The clinics and recording of the interactions continued until the summer of 1908 when Dr. Dock left Michigan for a position at Tulane. The typed transcripts of these sessions fill 6,800 pages. This book is Davenport's distillation and, on occasion, clarification of these documents. In these transcriptions resides not only a view of the practice of academic medicine at the turn of the 20th century, but also a glimpse at one clinician's interpretation of clinical material in his own time.
The narrator is still grieving over the recent death of her father, D.M. He suffered from emphysema and died from a sarcoma of the intestine that metastasized to other organs. While visiting Sweden, the narrator explores the Royal Library. There she discovers the celebrated Encyclopedia of the Dead--a massive collection of thousands of volumes chronicling in detail the lives of ordinary people who have died.
She finds the biography of her father and takes notes while reading it throughout the night. Fifty years of his life in Belgrade are summarized in only 5 or 6 pages yet amazingly nothing seems to be left out. No detail is too small--the first day he ever smoked a cigarette, an episode of food poisoning, a love letter.
The text is illustrated with a picture of her father and an odd flower. Late in life, he began painting floral patterns like the one depicted in the book. According to the Encyclopedia, his interest in painting paralleled the onset and progression of his cancer. In fact, the narrator learns that the flower in the book closely resembles the appearance of the sarcoma that claimed his life.
The practice of medicine in equatorial Africa is both a challenge and an escape for Dr. Koestler. The physician from New Zealand works at a Global Aid mission in Zaire. He has toiled there a long time but is still a loner. His best friend appears to be a pet baboon named George Babbitt. The monkey drinks whiskey and smokes cigarettes. It is a clever creature with a mean streak and is generally despised by everyone except Koestler.
Two young American doctors arrive at the mission to assist Koestler. While the three physicians and the bush pilot drink whiskey and smoke marijuana, Koestler instructs the new doctors on some of the laws of jungle medicine: Use only disposable needles and then destroy them. Never transfuse a patient unless they require at least 3 units of blood (since all blood will likely be contaminated by Hepatitis B or HIV). Safe sex means no sex. Speed matters. Avoid getting involved because feelings will inevitably obstruct your work.
Although a leopard is roaming outside the confines of the mission, Koestler ventures into the darkness of the jungle to search for George Babbitt who has run off with a bottle of whiskey. In a locale teeming with life, the physician remains essentially alone--by choice.
For those who have enjoyed his previous collections, this edition of new and collected poems (22 new, the rest culled from collections published from 1972-1998) will be a welcome and rich sampling of Stone's work, wide-ranging in style and subject. The three sections of new poems include a series about incidents in Serenity Gardens, his mother's nursing home; a series of "Reflections from the Middle East" that chronicle moments evocative of classical and biblical story and ethos as well as touching, comic incidents in the life of a 60-something tourist; and a short series of poems based on memories from childhood and young adulthood.
The poems tend toward narrative; many are little stories complete with plot in one to two pages of short lines; Stone's gifts for both chronicle and condensation give many of the poems a lively tension: what is told suggests how much isn't.
As a collection it is possible here to trace the stylistic development from the early poems in The Smell of Matches with their strong autobiographical focus and sense of intimate scene and situation to the recent ones, still strongly personal, but reflective, sometimes ironic, with lines that render the self-awareness of the older poet in sometimes comic flashes.
Steven is a gifted junior high school drummer with an imagination that takes him some distance from his writing assignments into musing on his own life. The book chronicles his experience of the year his five-year-old brother, Jeffrey, was diagnosed with leukemia. The shift from consuming preoccupation with preparation for a drumming contest and competition for a particular girl's attention to radical concern about a brother he has primarily regarded as a pest takes him through ruminations both profound and hilarious.
Jeffrey's illness oddly makes Steven an object of his friends' admiration and pity, neither of which he thinks he wants or deserves. His priorities and plans begin to take a back seat to working with his parents to get Jeffrey through treatments, in the course of which he meets a girl at the hospital who teaches him a new level of friendship before her own disease gets the better of her and she dies. The story ends with Jeffrey's return home, an uncertain future, and an altered perspective on life for Steven who finds himself able to love in ways he hadn't imagined.
Just as the new plague that will eventually become known as AIDS begins to exact its toll on the gay community, William and Terry slide somewhat unintentionally into a committed relationship, complete with a dog. Terry has issues with the modest size of his penis; being "married" absolves him from performance anxiety.
Almost equally furtive, William has inherited polycystic kidney disease from his mother and is on dialysis, with the severe dietary restrictions and merciless thirst that it entails. William professes to Terry that size doesn't matter, but he indulges in elaborate fantasies about Peter Hunter, a well-endowed star of porn magazines; he becomes an obsessive collector of Hunter's work.
Terry and William are insulated by their singular bond from the havoc of AIDS, but William finds himself compelled to hunt the stigmata of that disease in photos of the exposed and hidden portions of Hunter's anatomy. When he realizes that motorbike riders are prone to becoming organ donors, he cultivates a fascination with their behavior and their machines, following them in his car and tracking statistics. Finally, a matched biker kidney is found for William, but the immunosuppressive drugs, which are given to help him tolerate the transplant, make him very ill. He is admitted with opportunistic pneumonia, ironically, to an AIDS ward.
More than once William says, "I went to sleep next to someone I knew and I woke side by side with a stranger," The book closes with a surreal dream-like sequence, as William takes leave of his lover. It could be continued life, readjusted by this brush with mortality toward a bold new freedom. On the other hand, it could be death itself, and the story suddenly becomes the memoir of a ghost.
The summer before her senior year of high school Julie Weiczynkowski qualifies for the Olympic developmental program's regional soccer team. She has every reason to believe she will be recruited by coaches from the best college teams in the country. But her elation is short-lived; the very day she returns home from soccer camp, she learns that her father has untreatable pancreatic cancer.
The story of that summer, told in Julie's journal entries, gives us a close-up look at her own stages of accommodation, and at the skills and strategies she develops to cope with her own grief, to support her mother, and to help care for her father. Each person in the family--mother, grandmother, siblings, and uncles--has a different perspective on and reaction to the crisis. Julie finds herself looking at the rest of her life as if through the wrong end of a telescope, and finds herself alienated from the boy who has been her best friend and support in high school.
The hospice workers who come to help her parents, though she finds their presence invasive, teach her a good deal about what dying looks like and how to bear with the one who is suffering. She travels a painful learning curve to arrive at a place of acceptance, claiming her life after her father's death, and reclaiming a friendship that matters to her on new terms.
Martin Nanther is a member of the British House of Lords, having inherited his title from his great-grandfather, Henry. Physician to Queen Victoria, Henry specialized in hemophilia, the disease that Her Majesty was known to have passed to her son, Leopold, and other descendants. While the House of Lords considers a Bill to abolish hereditary peerage and Martin's much younger, second wife is obsessed with becoming pregnant, he escapes into his slow research for a biography of Henry
His patient genealogical investigations uncover deaths in infancy of several young boys in his own family, and Martin soon realizes that hemophilia (rather than the family's legendary tuberculosis) is the cause. Was that irony merely a coincidence? Or was hemophilia in his own lineage the impetus for his grandfather's research and position in life? And why was the disease hushed? Was it possible that his grandfather deliberately sought a bride with the trait in order to investigate it in his own progeny?
Martin soon finds himself wondering if this well-respected, medical man actually committed murder, or was he merely waylaid by unexpected love? Without giving too much away, suffice it to say that the answers prove so surprising and so disturbing, that Martin decides to abandon the biography of his ancestor, even as he learns that his inherited peerage has been revoked and that his next child will soon be born.
One of Everything is vol. 54 of the Cleveland Poets Series, and author Fisher's voice and subject matter are, for the most part, rich with the language and imagery of blue-collar, mid-Western, and Southern life experiences. A strong introductory poem, "The Way Home to West Virginia," introduces some of the collection's themes: how the truth of a family--abuse, rape, hard work--might be hidden behind a veneer of gentility and religion; how poems, with their sometimes harsh messages might also be made to appear orderly; and how, for this poet, the "way home" includes looking squarely at "History, signs, salvation: things that hurt."
The poems in each of the book's three sections are excellent, made unique by the writer's intimate and colloquial voice. But, for me, the most amazing poems are the last eleven in the book, as if the poet couldn't bring herself to speak of her daughter Sarah's cystic fibrosis. This illness becomes chief among those "things that hurt" and redefine a family.
The first of these poems is "Story Problem," which introduces the daughter who, at twelve, is already doing the math, figuring out that "going by what / she's been through" she should be at least fourteen. In "Overnight," the poet-narrator cleans up after her daughter and an overnight friend who've been cooking and made a floury mess. Anger and silence reign, and the white flour in the daughter's hair becomes a portent of age, illness, disappearance.
"In Her Hospital Room" is the first to name the illness discovered when Sarah was seven months old. This poem recalls the new diagnosis, the new grief, "how unformed it was," implying that, in poetry, the author might attempt a way to pin down and examine her child's disease.
The illness becomes, in some ways, a sacred connection between mother and daughter. In "Permanent at Ruth Ann's," the beauty operator says to another customer that Sarah "don't want to be coming here. . . for the next forty years." The mother notices the shine in Sarah's eyes--tears or humor?--when she replies "Oh, yes I do." Both daughter and mother know that forty years, for Sarah, might be a miracle.
In "The Sweat Chloride Test Is One Hundred Percent Accurate and Cystic Fibrosis Is One Hundred Percent Fatal," the poet recalls the stunning confirmation of the diagnosis, how it came from a doctor chosen because she was a mother, because "she was from Texas / so her voice sounded a little like home," recalling the poet's family home, one that also hid abuse and threat behind a country accent. A lovely short poem, "Sixty-Five Roses," is a play off the "misnaming, the alias" of cystic fibrosis.
"How I Decided Not to Write a Sestina About Cystic Fibrosis" is a masterful look at how words define and confine us, how something like the story of a daughter's illness might be too big for any received form to contain but must be, like a poem, allowed to unfold organically. The poem looks at misunderstood words, important words, and the significance of last words, which in this poem is "cry." "CF Clinic, Children's Hospital," is a luminous poem that captures both the beauty and horror of suffering in memorable images and language. "Unknown Caller" is a found poem, copied from the automated appointment reminder that appeared on the author's answering machine, ending "To make a change, please press 2."
The two last poems in the collection don't attempt to make a change but to accept and mourn what is. "Crescendo, Decrescendo" compares coughing fits, the "quivering breath" of Sarah's violin playing, and the mother's cry, like Sarah's newborn cry when "they went ahead and cut the cord." The final poem, "How It Is," focuses on the reality of the daughter's body and her prognosis, how the mother longs to rock the now-grown woman as she did the baby, a rocking "not so different from the keening of grief."
Summary:This story of one exceptionally accomplished family's discovery of their past and future relationships with Huntington's Disease (HD) is also the story of how the Wexler family changed the cultural narrative of HD for other families at risk for this genetically-transmitted and currently incurable disease. The HD diagnosis of Leonore Wexler (the author's mother) inspires Milton Wexler, a psychologist, to create a major foundation for HD research, which develops critical mass and influence as Leonore Wexler's condition deteriorates, and after her death. The book interweaves the story of the Wexlers' emotional and other negotiations with HD and the story of their efforts to create an HD community comprised of those with active symptoms of HD, family members, advocates, and researchers.