Showing 51 - 60 of 667 Nonfiction annotations

Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

The author, an experienced surgeon, believes that we will be less frightened by the prospect of death if we understand it as a normal biologic process. He points out that 80 percent of deaths in this country now occur in hospitals and are therefore "sanitized," hidden from view, and from public comprehension. He describes the death process for six major killers: heart disease, stroke, AIDS, cancer, accidents/suicide, and Alzheimer's disease.But the power of the book is in its intensely personal depiction of these events and in the lessons which Nuland draws from his experiences. The message is twofold: very few will "die with dignity" so that (1) it behooves us to lead a productive LIFE of dignity, (2) physicians, patients, and families should behave appropriately to allow nature to take its course instead of treating death as the enemy to be staved off at any cost. Only then will it be possible for us to die in the "best" possible way--in relative comfort, in the company of those we love/who love us.

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An Unquiet Mind

Jamison, Kay Redfield

Last Updated: Oct-06-2015
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

The author, Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, is an authority on manic depressive illness. With this powerful, well-written memoir she "came out of the closet," publicly declaring that she herself had suffered from manic depressive illness for years. Jamison describes the manifestations of her illness, her initial denial and resistance to treatment with medication, attempted suicide, and her struggle to maintain an active professional and satisfying personal life.The author was "intensely emotional as a child," (p.4) and in high school first experienced "a light lovely tincture of true mania" (p.37) during which she felt marvelous, but following which she was unable to concentrate or comprehend, felt exhausted, preoccupied with death, and frightened. (pp. 36-40) Interested in medicine as an adolescent, she pursued her goal in spite of mood swings and periods of mental paralysis. Jamison completed graduate work in clinical psychology; shortly after obtaining a faculty appointment "I was manic beyond recognition and just beginning a long, costly personal war against a medication that I would, in a few year’s time, be strongly encouraging others to take [lithium]." (p. 4)Jamison eventually, through strong support from friends and colleagues, excellent psychiatric care, and her own acceptance of illness, has been able to reach a state of relative equilibrium--tolerable levels of medication (fewer side effects) and dampened mood swings. But she makes clear that she must stay on lithium and remain vigilant.

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Welcome to Cancerland

Ehrenreich, Barbara

Last Updated: Sep-28-2015
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

A “drive-by mammogram” leads the writer, Barbara, to a biopsy of a suspicious breast lump. She awakes from the fog of anesthesia to hear the surgeon’s bland remark: “Unfortunately, there is a cancer.” Welcome to Cancerland, a place where her identity is displaced by the vast implications of the diagnosis, another operation, and arduous months of chemotherapy. What works for her own peace of mind has little to do with the trappings of pink-ribbon sentimentalism in the survivors groups.

Barbara resorts to her knowledge of cell biology, asks to see her own tumor under the microscope, and contemplates the meaning of visualizing the malignant cells even if she does not believe the exercise can help her. She dissects the rank commercialism and denial in the survivor movement: let me die of “anything but the sticky sentimentalism in that Teddy Bear.” She decries the claims that cancer therapy makes better skin, better hair, and better people, with better bodies, especially when an implant on one side subtends a cosmetic procedure on the other.

Posting these thoughts on a chat line, she discovers that most women berate her attitude and suggest she needs a psychiatrist. But one dying woman agrees with her distress, and writes of having cancer, “IT IS NOT OK.” Admitting feminists can be found in the “survivor” community, Barbara faults its underlying tone for being coercively optimistic, infantilizing, and insulting to the dying and the dead. She is angry. Very angry, and her “purifying rage” spares no one: doctors, support groups, feminists, drug companies, and the Cancer Society. Nevertheless--and in keeping with her earlier work--she credits the women’s movement with helping to rid the world of three medical evils: the radical Halsted mastectomy, the practice of proceeding to mastectomy from biopsy without waking up the patient, and high dose chemotherapy.

Two disturbing ironies bring the essay to a close. The first, is the possibility that mammograms may not be saving or even prolonging lives, even as they detect cancers; they make women dwell in Cancerland for longer and cause too many “unnecessary” biopsies. The mammogram is a ritual, she says. The second irony lies in the role of the pharmaceutical industry which fosters the pink power movement –the ribbons, the teddy bears, the marathons-- while manufacturing the expensive poisons that seem to have anticancer side effects. These same companies, she argues, have also manufactured carcinogenic pesticides that pollute the environment. Having profitably poisoned women into having breast cancers, they continue to profit from poisons of chemotherapy.
She faults both the “cult” of the survivors movement and the American Cancer Society for their “unquestioning faith” in these imperfect instruments of action.

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Medicine: My Story

Berris, Barnet

Last Updated: Aug-25-2015
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

Born in 1921 to Jewish immigrant parents, “Barney” Barnett describes his life in medicine and education, from his earliest love of science and learning through his medical and residency education in general internal medicine, his success as an academic physician, and finally his judicious decision to retire.

An important leitmotiv is the antisemitism of the University of Toronto that kept him from a residency position (he went to Minneapolis) and a staff position (he was offered a one-year fellowship on a low salary in 1951).  Even after he was accepted as a staff member at the Toronto General Hospital (TGH), he was not promoted. Although he referred many patients to his TGH colleagues, only six ever returned the favor in the thirteen years he was there. Ironically, his Jewish background plucked him from this pedestrian position directly to the seat of Physician in Chief of Toronto’s Mount Sinai hospital (founded 1922) when finally it became a teaching hospital in 1964. 

While maintaining a practice in internal medicine, Berris became a liver specialist and researcher who introduced liver biopsy to Toronto. Known as a consummate diagnostician, he endeavored to enhance the research profile of his institution, integrating it with bedside instruction. He served on examining committees for the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, candidly describing the subjectivity of the process. He also served on many committees of the College of Physicians of Ontario, including discipline
, and describes the process used to investigate complaints with case examples.

His story includes vivid descriptions of some of the most famous figures in Canadian medical history, his teachers and colleagues – J.B. Grant, Arthur W. Ham, William Boyd, Ray Farquharson, K.J.R.Wightman, Arthur Squires, and Arnold Aberman. He was once involved with the care of the wife of David Ben-Gurion and Queen Elizabeth II.

Little is told of his personal life, although he admits that he often neglected his family for the press of work. His first wife, Marie, was a social worker; they had three children, one now a physician. She died of ovarian cancer; to care for her, he stepped down as chief in 1977.  In 1984, he married Thelma Rosen, an expert in education and widow of a pediatrician colleague. Together they went on a year’s sabbatical that allowed him to work in Singapore, Stanford University, and Sheila Sherlock’s lab at the Royal Free Hospital in London.

Some of the most engaging chapters contain clinical vignettes: stories about patients, the diagnostic workup, and their outcomes.  Like Richard Goldbloom (A Lucky Life
) and without diminishing his native abilities (which must have been considerable), he modestly attributes most of his success to luck.  

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Matthew McCarthy begins his memoir of medicine internship year at Columbia University with a glimpse into his first rotation, surgery, as a Harvard medical student. He had exhibited a talent for surgery and liked it – an affinity compatible with his dexterity as a minor league baseball player and sense of team spirit. The reader meets some of McCarthy’s memorable mentors, and, although he opts to not pursue surgery as a career, McCarthy’s eye for seeking productive apprenticeships with talented housestaff and faculty allow him to guide the reader through a year of drinking from the firehose, also known as internship. Medical training is full of liminal experiences, and internship is one the most powerful and transformative.  

McCarthy’s eagerness to do well, both by his patients and by his medical colleagues and team, and his candor with revealing his mental and bodily responses to the stress and strain of the responsibilities of internship, make him an adept guide. For example, he has gulped an iced coffee and is churning at the bit to take care of a new admission on his first day of call in the cardiac care unit (CCU). His resident, called Baio in the book, tries to tell McCarthy to take it easy. But McCarthy notes, “Our orientation leaders, a peppy group of second- and third year residents, had instructed us to exude a demented degree of enthusiasm at all times, which wasn’t difficult now that my blood was more caffeine than hemoglobin.” (p 15) The previous chapter had ended with a cliffhanger – a patient life would be placed in danger because neophyte McCarthy misses the importance of a key clinical finding – what and how that plays out will wait until McCarthy guides us through the terror and exhilaration he feels as he begins his CCU rotation.  

McCarthy has a good sense of the ironic: the huge banner advertising the hospital reads “Amazing Things are Happening Here!” Indeed, not only for patients and families, but also for the many trainees and workers. We watch McCarthy successfully perform his first needle decompression of a pneumothorax; he is allowed to attempt it as he notes that he watched the video of the procedure. But unlike the video, he needs to readjust the needle several times and add on some additional tubing and water trap, which makes the scenario more true-to-life than a fictionalized ‘save.’ The author ends the chapter with congratulations from resident Baio: “Well done… Amazing things are indeed happening here.” (p 244) As McCarthy’s year continues, many things do happen, including an infected needle stick, telling bad news to a new widow, and developing a friendship with a longterm hospital patient waiting for a heart transplant.

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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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