Showing 461 - 470 of 606 annotations contributed by Coulehan, Jack

The Poetry of Healing

Campo, Rafael

Last Updated: Jul-03-1998
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Essays)

Summary:

In this remarkable book of essays, Rafael Campo explores his coming-of-age as a gay Cuban-American physician. He presents us with a series of stories illuminating his childhood and college experience, skillfully interweaving them with narratives from his life as a young physician, especially his interactions with patients dying of AIDS. We follow the author from Amherst College, through Harvard Medical School, to his medical residency in San Francisco. At each step Campo is a close observer of human character and motivation--his own and others. At each step he asks, "Who am I? Who am I becoming?"

He discovers his identity as a gay man, an Hispanic man, a poet, and, finally, as a healer--not four identities, but one. He discovers, too, the healing power of connecting with patients, the "poetry of healing," something far different from the orthodox image of the physician-as-detached-or-distanced from his patients. Though Campo rejects the concept that physicians are agents for social change ("naive," he calls it), he brings sensitivity and poetry to bear on his continued search for "some way to give."

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Unspeakable

McHugh, Heather

Last Updated: Jul-03-1998
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

When he was dying of / everything, the poet has a dream in which she, too, became diseased and "knew myself." As her friend "got cadaverous and sore," she became more devoted to him. After he dies she asks, "What's / dead? What's dead?" The second part of the poem shifts focus to a circus where a dressed-up elephant defecates as he is performing a trick. Oblivious to what is happening, the elephant continues his act while the audience snickers and laughs. [61 lines]

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Fortress of Chairs

Harvor, Elisabeth

Last Updated: Jul-03-1998
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

This first collection of poems includes a series of strong and well-crafted personal narratives. Several deal with the poet's experience in nurse's training. For example, in "Down There" she recalls childhood baths when she would squat and pour a jug of warm water between her legs ("down there") as she washes post-operative women and thinks of the intensely poetic hospital questions, "Can you make wind? / Can you make water?"

In "We Were Gulls" she visualizes the nursing students on Ward Nine and evokes their encounter with a repulsive old man who said, "there isn't a one of you / I wouldn't give a squeeze to / if I could hold you / in my arms / right here in this bed." In "In the Hospital Garden" she recalls the titillating episode of a doctor's wife who gave birth to a "radiation mutation."

But the poet's nursing is not confined to the professional sphere--in "Madame Abundance" she speaks of her son's "string of drool" against her own "milk-dampened blouse of the breast." Poems like "Night Terror," "The Street Where We Lived," and "At the Horse Pavilion" bring the reader into the love and pain of family life. "How long will it last?" the poet asks in one of her poems. In another she answers, "I live alone / I live alone / I live alone / I live alone."

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Invisible Target

Harvor, Elisabeth

Last Updated: Jul-03-1998
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Linda Bishop tells the story of her early years as a nursing student. She soon realizes that she doesn't actually want to be a nurse, but she continues in training, "waiting for some unspeakable horror that I could hold up to the light to prove to myself that the hospital was a truly monstrous place."

While Linda is quiet and sexually inexperienced, her first roommate, Holly Bostwick (Boss), is reputed to have a sensational sexual history and to be afflicted with syphilis. When Linda brings Holly home for Thanksgiving, Linda's mother is impressed with her daughter's new friend, a young woman much more confident and articulate than ambivalent Linda.

Somewhat later, after Boss becomes engaged to a gas station owner, Linda returns by train from visiting her parents. She is determined to make a final decision. She lists what she hates about the hospital and what she likes about it. Will she leave or will she stay?

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The Proving Grounds

Tregebov, Rhea

Last Updated: Jun-13-1998
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

Stonecrop: Poems January 1987 to May 1989, the first of two sections in Rhea Tregebov's collection, is a series of poems about loss and potential loss, especially concerning her son's life-threatening asthma. In "Vital Signs" she writes, "When we almost lost him, I almost lost myself."

Later, when her son's condition had stabilized, she writes in "Runt," "We can hope to break the cycle." More than two years later, the poet rejoices in her son's growth as he says "Bony" while "turning his head against the hard nest of my shoulders" ("Respite").

Other poems in this series are eloquent responses to other personal losses. As Rhea Tregebov writes in "Sleep," "it is the dust of stars I touch, the dust of cold brilliant stars / we somehow are." "Faith in the Weather," the book's second section, contains poems dealing with a variety of other topics. From a literature and medicine point of view, "How We Know the Animals" and "The Right Thing" are particularly noteworthy.

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Divine Honors

Raz, Hilda

Last Updated: Jun-03-1998
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

Breast cancer is a constant presence in this collection of poems by Hilda Raz. Part 1 begins with the poet's uncertainty and fear as she sits with her daughter in the oncologist's office. "I'm still me, same me no / matter what he says. Biopsy report shocks me," she writes in "Weathering/boundaries/what is good." After going under the knife, she further reports, "In the past year / I have given up four of the five organs / the body holds to call itself woman." ("For Barbara, Who Brings a Green Stone in the Shape of a Triangle").

Later, in "Breast/fever" she speaks of her new breast, "two months old, gel used in bicycle saddles . . .

/ stays cold under my skin / when the old breast is warm." Several of the poems evoke her daughter Sarah, both as a child and as a capable young woman who responds to her mother's cancer--"she knows whom to call, / where to go, or she'll find out, I'm not to worry . . . . " ("Sarah's Response")

The poet's illness is a route to self-discovery. Hilda Raz reconstitutes herself with insight, pragmatism, and humor. As she writes in "Nuts," "Nuts to beauty. / Bikini, music, then the childbed . . .

/ Nuts to the mirror." At the end of the book, "The fingers of rain are tapping again. / I send out my heart's drum." ("Recovery")

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Of My Death

Guillevic, Eugene

Last Updated: May-18-1998
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

This poem is a series of short meditations on death. The poet begins by surveying his surroundings, "Here / the air is sharp-edged / like the air will be / at the end of your days." But, no, the poem is not about the abstract subject of death--the poet encounters his own death. "At least I won't have to / know myself then, / won't have to see my own corpse."

Encountering death is itself a journey, "Each lap of the journey / dangerous, / the destination / kept secret." Yet he realizes that the meditation, the journey, has "nothing in common with / what the end of my days / will be." Death is irreducibly unimaginable and alien.

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Return to Ithaca

Newborn, Barbara

Last Updated: Apr-16-1998
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

At the age of 21, shortly after moving to Ithaca, New York, to begin a new life with her fiance, the author experienced a stroke that left her aphasic and partially paralyzed. She returned home to Altoona, Pennsylvania, where she underwent months of physical therapy and rehabilitation.

This memoir takes us through the process of self-discovery by which Barbara Newborn learned first to understand and cope with her disabilities and then to overcome them. It recounts her depression and determination, her disappointment and exhilaration. Return to Ithaca ends about nine months after the stroke when the author had indeed returned to Ithaca to begin (once again) a new life.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

In 1984 Handler was a moderately successful 23 year old New York City actor, when he developed acute myelogenous leukemia. Strongly supported by his girlfriend and family, Handler underwent induction and, later, consolidation chemotherapy at Sloan-Kettering Memorial Hospital, where he also began his long experience (the "comedy of terrors" or, perhaps more appropriately, the "tragedy of errors") of a harsh, hostile medical environment populated by arrogant physicians, condescending nurses, and a host of unhelpful minor characters.

Handler carries us briskly through his first remission, the impact of his illness on his family and personal relationships, his experience with nonconventional healing (Simonton Cancer Center), his return to work on Broadway, his relapse, and the agony of a second round of induction chemotherapy at Sloan-Kettering.

Subsequently, he goes to Johns Hopkins Hospital to undergo the rigors of an autologous bone marrow transplant. At Hopkins he discovers to his surprise a medical setting far different from Sloan-Kettering: communicative, compassionate physicians and a patient-centered healing environment. Even the two hospitals' sperm banks reflect this radical difference in approach.

After surviving his transplant and a subsequent round of serious infections, Handler resumes his life. He realizes that most of the time nowadays he is not in touch with the sense of joy and gratitude for each moment that the illness taught him. Yet, these feelings exist below his consciousness; sometimes he steps through "a little doorway near the floor of my consciousness" and experiences his life in a simpler, more profound way.

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The Elephant Man

Pomerance, Bernard

Last Updated: Mar-05-1998
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Play

Summary:

This play is based on the life of John Merrick, a horribly deformed man who lived in London in the late 19th century. After being abandoned by the traveling freak show in which he had been exhibited, he was admitted to Whitechapel Hospital under the care of Dr. Frederick Treves. Merrick is given a permanent home in the hospital.

Treves educates him and introduces him to London society, including the famous actress, Mrs. Kendal. Merrick becomes quite the favorite of the "in" group. However, as he learns more about society and human nature, he realizes that he will never be accepted simply as an ordinary person. Eventually, he dies in his sleep, presumably because he tries to sleep lying down (like ordinary people do) and the size and position of his enormous head compresses his windpipe and he suffocates.

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