Showing 51 - 60 of 2701 Literature annotations

The Death of Cancer

DeVita, Vincent

Last Updated: Feb-04-2016
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

The book offers a detailed account by one of the nation’s leading cancer researchers of developments in chemotherapy over the past several decades, as well as the recent history of surgical and radiation treatments in the “war on cancer”—a term he resisted at first but finally embraced with full understanding of its implications.  The narrative touches on many of the writer’s own struggles over economic, political, and moral implications of what a NYT reviewer described as a “take-no-prisoners” approach to cure.  He also includes stories about disagreements with other researchers that give some insight into the acrimony that is part of high-stakes science.  At the NIH and later as head of the National Cancer Institute, DeVita faced many decisions about distribution of resources, how much to put patients at risk, and whom to include in clinical trials.  He provides his own point of view on those controversies frankly.  Not much mention is made of the causes of cancer, of nutritional or other complementary approaches, or the environmental factors in the spread of cancer. The strong focus on the book is on the development of chemotherapeutic treatments that have succeeded in raising survival rates, though few current statistics are cited.

View full annotation

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Kozol tells a multilayered story about himself and his father, a distinguished physician who becomes increasingly demented by Alzheimer’s disease, starting at age 88. A neurologist, Dr. Harry Kozol is able to diagnose with great specificity his own disease.     
          
Son Kozol describes his father’s initial symptoms and the slow decline, a direction that is sadly and fatefully, clear. The son goes on walks with him, describes their conversations, arranges for paid companions, and puzzles about what must be “a life beneath the life” of his progressively inarticulate father.
           

Over the 14 years of this illness, there are some medical mishaps—including problems in continuity of care—depletion of the family’s money, and Jonathan’s hesitation to use a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order for his father or for his aging mother. He writes of his doubts, uncertainties, and mixed emotions. When his father is actively dying, Kozol dawdles elsewhere with lists and papers “obsessively.” He understands this, in retrospect, as denial. Nevertheless he arrives at the hospital and places his ear on his father’s chest, hearing breaths come slower and slower until death. Dr. Kozol dies in 2008 at the age of 102.
           

Alternating with this story are long passages about Dr. Kozol’s professional life, including his work with Eugene O’Neill and family, also Patty Hearst and Albert DeSalvo (“The Boston Strangler”). For the latter two, he is an expert witness in court cases. These passages illustrate his many skills, tenacity, and ideals.

A 25-page Epilogue written a half a dozen years later casts a different light on the father-son relationship. While the bulk of the book shows a loving, respectful relationship, the Epilogue describes tensions and disagreements between the two from Jonathan’s childhood to later years. The father criticizes what he perceives as failures, lack of ambition, poor choices, and the like. Kozol describes his own illustrious career, often in directions his father disapproves. In later years, however, Kozol accepts some of his father’s advice and understands their status more as equals. In another seven years, however, Dr. Kozol’s mind starts its difficult path, and the son becomes the caregiver to the father.  

View full annotation

the lost baby poem

Clifton, Lucille

Last Updated: Feb-01-2016
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice
Chen, Irene

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry

Summary:

A woman reminisces about and with a child she chose not to have. It would have been born in winter, in a time of financial hardship, perhaps to have been given up for adoption. Sorrow for the child that never was causes the woman to swear devotion to her living children, yet she does not seem to regret her decision.

View full annotation

Dr. Mütter's Marvels

O'Keefe, Cristin

Last Updated: Jan-25-2016
Annotated by:
Glass, Guy

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

Genre: Biography

Summary:

Those who are familiar with the Mütter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, best known for its anatomical oddities, may have wondered about the institution’s namesake.  The author of this book, a poet and native of Philadelphia, endeavors to place Thomas Dent Mütter within the context of 19th-century American medicine.  

We learn here that notwithstanding being “medicated” with wine, surgical patients emitted such agonized screams that observers were known to vomit and pass out in their seats. We learn that Philadelphia was a cesspool of infectious disease for which there was no effective treatment.  We learn too of the rivalry (including behavior that would be considered unprofessional today) between the well-established school of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (Mütter’s alma mater) and upstart Jefferson (whose faculty Mütter would join).  

In an era before the germ theory of disease became widely accepted, there was of course no concept of sterile technique.  To suggest that a surgeon should wash his hands was to imply he was not a gentleman because “all gentlemen were clean” (page 104).  Resistance to anesthesia was based not so much on concerns about potential danger but on the notion, when it came to obstetrics, that pain was a punishment for the sins of Eve.  Doctors could be downright sadistic to their patients, to the point of beating them like livestock.  That there was no concept of surgical aftercare meant that patients would be sent home immediately following an amputation. Victims of grotesque tumors and disfiguring accidents were considered “monsters” who lived lives of unimaginable misery.  

Enter Mütter, whose importation of plastic surgery from Paris to America brought hope to thousands of incurables.  He had an intuitive sense of the role of cleanliness in reducing morbidity and mortality.  He was a passionate advocate for anesthesia when it was seen as little more than a fad.  He abandoned traditional teaching methods that held a professor should be distant and unapproachable, and became beloved by generations of Jefferson students.  
 

In short, Mütter emerges as not just a likeable guy, but the forerunner of a whole new concept of what a good doctor should be, a sort of cross between P.T. Barnum and Mother Teresa.    

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Kohn, Martin

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

Brian Dolan has done a great service for the field of medical humanities through his efforts in putting together this volume. Its 19 reprinted articles cover the spectrum of disciplines/fields/methodologies that anchor our work:  history, literature, film, theater, arts, narrative, storytelling, critical (disability) studies, human values, and professionalism. His opening essay, “One Hundred Years of Medical Humanities: A Thematic Overview” very pertinently and extremely ably sets the stage for the remainder of the book. Quite helpfully, authors of “recently published articles,” in this instance from 1987 on, were asked “to reflect on their piece and add introductory comments that would help frame it, or enable them to address issues raised since its original publication” (p.167).  To the reader’s benefit, almost all of those contemporary authors did so.  As cited on the book’s  back cover, the work of some of our field’s most important educators are in this volume, including contributions from Erwin Ackernecht, Gretchen Case, Rita Charon, Jack Coulehan, Thomas Couser, Lester Friedman, Kathryn Montgomery Hunter, Paul Ulhaus Macneill, Guy Micco, Martha Montello, Edmund Pellegrino, Suzanne Poirier, Johanna Shapiro, Abraham Verghese, and Delese Wear. 

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Kohn, Martin

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry

Summary:

Chaplain-poet Nancy Adams-Cogan's 3rd chapbook of poems complements her earlier work as "a receiver of stories" (p.1). The theme for this collection of 39 poems is dementia and the poems are smartly accompanied by a number of photos by Rod Stampe.  What comes through in these poems is the deep humanity of those who struggle with memory loss—both the individual experiencing it directly and the family members or caregivers accompanying them on their journey. Adams-Cogan captures well the "many faces" of dementia and how those faces "may vary day-by-day-by-day" (p.84). The poet also takes a close look at her aged and aging selves in the poems "Myself in Decline" and "Entanglements."

View full annotation

Side Effects May Vary

Murphy, Julie

Last Updated: Jan-07-2016
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

At 16, Alice is diagnosed with leukemia, and is given a dire prognosis.  Assuming she has months to live, she undergoes chemotherapy with the support of her lifelong friend, Harvey, whose frank and deepening love she is uncertain about returning.  On days when she has enough energy and the nausea abates, she works on a "bucket list" with Harvey's sometimes reluctant help, since the list includes revenge on two classmates who have hurt and humiliated her.  When, months into treatment, she goes into unexpected full remission, Alice has to come to terms with the consequences of some of her revenge strategies and reassess the depth of a relationship with Harvey that may last far longer than she thought she had.  Given an opportunity to choose life on new terms, she considers those new terms in a more adult way, chastened, focused, and grateful for a chance to make new choices.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry

Summary:

“Old Man Playing with Children” is a 20-line poem (5 quatrains with an ABBA rhyme scheme) describing an elderly man playing outside with his grandsons. The poem opens with the observation of a “discreet householder” that this “grandsire”—whom he sees dancing around a “backyard fire of boxes” in “warpaint and feathers”—will “set the house on fire.” The second quatrain introduces the point of view of a different spectator (perhaps the poet, but this remains unclear), who proceeds, in first person, to “unriddle” for the reader the thoughts of the old man, since the latter’s is a mind one “cannot open with conversation.” 

The remainder of the poem is in quotations, reflecting the soliloquy of the old man - as related to us by this secondary spectator - explicating his reasons for playing so exuberantly with his grandchildren, reasons which are, remarkably, quite straightforward and logical, yet couched in mordant commentary. The first of the three stanzas explaining his behavior and views is justly famous: 

"Grandson, grandsire. We are equally boy and boy.
Do not offer your reclining-chair and slippers
With tedious old women talking in wrappers.
This life is not good but in danger and in joy." 

The playful old man goes on to reject the values of “you/the elder to these and younger to me/who are penned as slaves by properties and causes.” Rather, the old man affirms his decision not to repeat the “ignominies unreckoned” of his own sedate adulthood. Instead, he “will be more honorable in these days.”, i.e., playing with children.

View full annotation

4:48 Psychosis

Kane, Sarah

Last Updated: Dec-15-2015
Annotated by:
Glass, Guy

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Play

Summary:

4:48 Psychosis was the last work of controversial British playwright Sarah Kane.  In 1999, soon after her twenty-eighth birthday, having completed the play, she took her own life.  

Naturally, these tragic circumstances can never be far from the reader’s mind. But to dismiss 4:48 Psychosis as a suicide note is to negate Kane’s achievement.  The play was, in fact, meticulously researched and carefully written. Kane’s first play, Blasted, had considerable shock value, and throughout her short career she pushed the boundaries of what might be considered stageworthy. 4:48 Psychosis is both the final product of a life marked by recurrent episodes of depression (the play gets its name from the time she found herself waking up every day during the last episode) and the final chapter in her writing’s progression towards disintegration. It represents her deteriorating mental state, but is also a conscious stylistic decision. 
 

The text of 4:48 Psychosis is unrecognizable as a conventional play.  The author has left neither stage directions nor an indication of the number or gender of performers. Words and numbers appear to be arranged ornamentally on the page. However, meaning that is not apparent emerges from the chaos, as in the way that sense may be made from a psychotic mind.  The numbers are not random, but “serial 7’s” from the mental status exam.  Quotations from the Book of Revelations appear side by side with excerpts from a medical chart, and extracts from self-help books are interspersed with dialogue between a patient and her psychiatrist.  The latter provides an illustration of the patient’s attempt to reconcile her anger with her neediness: “I cannot believe that I can feel this for you and you feel nothing” (p. 214). We learn too of her struggle with self-mutilation and her suicidal impulses, and follow her moods from dark humor to despair to hopefulness.  Indeed, the last line of the play, “Please open the curtains” (p. 245) appears to leave open the possibility that she will pull through.  That option was unfortunately not the one the author chose for herself. 

View full annotation

Call the Midwife

Worth, Jennifer

Last Updated: Dec-15-2015
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Many are familiar with these stories from the author's practice as a midwife among the urban poor in London's East End in the 1950s.  Each piece stands alone as a story about a particular case. Many of them are rich with the drama of emergency interventions, birth in complicated families (most of them poor), home births in squalid conditions, and the efforts of midwives to improve public health services, sanitation, and pre- and post-natal care with limited resources in a city decimated by wartime bombings.  As a gallery of the different types of women in the Anglican religious order that housed the midwives and administered their services, and the different types of women who lived, survived, and even thrived in the most depressing part of London, the book provides a fascinating angle on social and medical history and women's studies.

View full annotation