Showing 521 - 530 of 670 Nonfiction annotations

Summary:

This memoir begins in Africa, where Dr. Grim is with Médecins sans Frontières managing a meningitis outbreak in Nigeria. Conditions are appalling, but she has come here because of burnout: "so I won't be back home and in the ER" (11). Later in the book, she describes her other "escapes" from the Emergency Room, caring for war refugees in the Balkans.

The book centers, however, on life in an American emergency department, as Grim remembers it from the vantage point of Africa (where she does eventually become nostalgic for well-stocked supply cupboards and a more comprehensible chaos). She organizes her stories into a series of "Lessons in Emergency Medicine," in which she addresses the reader directly. After going through a step-by-step account of death in the ER, illustrated with several moving and alarming cases, she concludes: "Congratulations: you have successfully declared someone dead. Now, as an encore . . . you'll get to do it all over again" (28).

The ironic, even bitter, tone warns us of the difficulty of working in such perpetually crisis-ridden circumstances, but it does not conceal a vulnerability that seems necessary to doing the job well, such as when Grim has to tell a family that the father has died of the heart attack he had at his daughter's wedding: "you just stood there," she says, "looking at the corsage, the tuxedo and the pearls . . . You had no idea what to say and you don't really remember what you finally came out with" (26).

The stories are organized around several lessons: "How to deliver a baby," "How to crack a chest," "How to write a prescription" (which includes a discussion of addiction to prescription medication and a withering account of the doctor who overprescribes), and, as if it's as inevitable as the rest, "How to burn out."

By the book's final chapter, emergency medicine has merged, along with the vaccination of refugee children and the impossibility of treating tetanus in Nigeria, into the story of almost unreasonable determination in the face of endless frustration--but this, Grim shows in her final chapter, "Why I do what I do," is the point. Against this backdrop her final story, about the rescue of a child, makes its point: the feeling of saving a life explains all the rest.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

Narrative competence is important for effective health care practice. By "narrative competence" I mean mastering a wide array of narrative skills, ranging from active listening and empathic responding in the client-practitioner interaction to reflective writing about one's professional experience. In the author's first book (The Therapeutic Potential of Creative Writing: Writing Myself, see this database), she explores the potential of creative writing as an aspect of therapy, and also presents some introductory writing skills. This book overlaps somewhat in covering the background for reflective practice, but focuses in considerably more detail on skill building.

Near the beginning of the book, Bolton presents a clear summary of "The Principles of Reflective Practice" (chapter 2). Recognizing that therapeutic writing is often accomplished in a group setting, the material on "Group Processes and Facilitation" (chapter 4), "The Creation of a Team" (chapter 5), and "Assessment, Evaluation, Mentoring and Values" (chapter 6) serves to introduce the last 100 pages of the book, which address specific writing skills, beginning with "How to Begin Writing" (chapter 8).

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Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This work describes a young girl, Barbara, growing up in a poor rural Alabama family with a charismatic but abusive father and a nurturing mother unable to leave him, even for the sake of the children. Barbara suffers facial malformation, partly because of malnutrition and no access to dental or medical care.

Her gums cannot close over her buck teeth, her skull is longer and narrower than it should be, her bite does not close properly, and she has several black moles on her face. When she finally has major facial surgery, she is in her late twenties with a six year old son. He does not recognize the pretty women who comes home from the hospital.

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Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir

Slater, Lauren

Last Updated: Apr-13-2001
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

The first chapter of this memoir consists of two words: "I exaggerate." The narrator then tells us the story of her childhood and early adult experiences as an epileptic. After having her first seizure, at the age of ten, she spends a month at a special Catholic school in Topeka, Kansas, where the nuns teach epileptic children to fall without hurting themselves. This falling may or may not be literal; it is certainly symbolically apt.

During adolescence, Lauren begins lying, stealing, and faking seizures to get attention. She reveals that she has developed Munchausen's Syndrome, whose sufferers are "makers of myths that are still somehow true, the illness a conduit to convey real pain" (88). A neurologist, Dr. Neu, performs surgery severing Lauren's corpus callosum, effectively dividing her brain in half and markedly alleviating the seizure disorder.

Later she attends a writer's workshop where she begins an affair with a married man, a writer much older than she. After it ends badly, she starts going to Alcoholics Anonymous (although she does not drink) and tells her story with such authenticity that when she later confesses that she is NOT an alcoholic, no-one believes her, dismissing her true story as denial. The memoir ends both with her recognition of the value of narrating and with a silent fall to the snowy ground, as the nuns taught her to do, in the knowledge that the sense of falling (rather than the material certainty of landing) is all that is finally, reliably, real.

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Annotated by:
Kohn, Martin

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Essays)

Summary:

Leap into the world imagined by Kurt Vonnegut, WNYC's reporter on the afterlife, and land with him at the Pearly Gates, or more precisely, "the hundred yards or so of vacant lot between the far end of the blue tunnel and the Pearly Gates" (8). There, Vonnegut, forever the humanist, has his interviewees talk about that which is of ultimate importance--how they lived (or should have lived) their lives.

Vonnegut begins his journeys from the state-of-the-art lethal injection facility in Huntsville, Texas, and reaches his destination though the able assistance of Jack Kevorkian. Who does he meet at the mid-point of his round trip journeys? Dead folks--many famous ones, some not so famous--21 in all (including his fictional creation, Kilgore Trout). Also on the list of interviewees are John Brown, Clarence Darrow, William Shakespeare, Mary Wallstonecraft Shelley, Karla Faye Tucker (actually put to death in the Huntsville facility), and Isaac Asimov.

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Lives of Moral Leadership

Coles, Robert

Last Updated: Mar-20-2001
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

In this book Robert Coles elucidates the nature of moral leadership by presenting a series of narratives about moral leaders. These are individuals who have made significant contributions to the author's moral development, mostly through personal interaction, but in some cases through their writings or their influence on other people.

The subjects include public personages like Robert Kennedy, Dorothy Day (of the Catholic Worker), Danilo Dolci (a Sicilian community organizer), Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Erik Erikson; writers who have influenced Coles, such as Joseph Conrad and Ralph Waldo Emerson; and "ordinary" persons whom he encountered over the years in his studies of the moral lives of children.

The "ordinary" person category is most extraordinary. Coles draws heavily on personal interviews that reconstruct the courageous narratives of people like Andrew Thomas, a young Mississippian who worked on the voter registration project during the summer of 1964; Donita Gaines, one of the first black teenagers to "integrate" an all-white high school in Atlanta in 1961; and Albert Jones, a parent who volunteered to drive the school bus that carried black children in 1967 from Roxbury to a previously all-white school in South Boston.

However, the clearest and most powerful narrative that emerges from this book is that of the author himself, as he develops from young, socially conscious child psychiatrist to a middle-aged man seeking to understand what it means to be a moral leader in today's world.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

The author first presents an introduction and rationale for the concept of using creative writing as therapy, either self-prescribed or as part of professional treatment. She then provides practical guidelines for starting a journal (Chapter 3), and for beginning to write poetry, fiction, and autobiography (Chapter 7).

The text includes an accessible introduction to images and metaphors--aspects of the craft--as well as to methods of capturing dream material (Chapter 6) for use in one's creative writing. The later chapters present therapeutic writing in various contexts--as group work (Chapter 9), or in various institutional settings (hospital, nursing home, hospice, and prison). There are examples of therapeutic writing, especially poetry, throughout the book.

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Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Journal

Summary:

Anna, the "I" of this journal, suffered the pain of emotional abuse in her childhood. As an adult, she works in a hospice and cares for patients consumed by physical pain. She begins to "hunger for storylessness," wishing to find a way to separate pain from the experience of pain; yet without a narrative frame she cannot recognize pain in its original and pure state--the pain that occurs before language or thought. And so she enters into a meditation practice in order to see pain "uncompounded."

The book is divided into three sections, each reflecting a part of Anna's meditation practice and each containing sections of dreams, meditation notes, and musings on three friends who have died. As her meditations deepen, Anna begins to see pain in more detail, and in so doing begins to understand the difference between pain and suffering. Pain, she concludes, is inevitable. But suffering can be dismantled, carefully, like a house might be. The goal is to keep the house "whole enough" so it doesn't collapse and crush the individual living within.

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Summary:

This is a brilliant reconstruction of a most improbable event: the major contributions made to the great Oxford English Dictionary by a deeply delusional, incarcerated 'madman,' and the development of a true friendship between him and the editor of the dictionary. One sees here the redemptive potential of work and love in even the most deeply psychotic patient.

Incongruously the patient is an American physician who was discharged because of service-related mental instability from the U.S. Army after the Civil War and received a pension for life. He went to Europe to seek relief of his delusional symptoms and ended up killing a man. Judged to be criminally insane, he was institutionalized at the newly built showpiece of the British penal system, the Asylum for the Criminally Insane, Broadmoor. While there he read an advertisement requesting volunteer help in reading specific books and making word lists and describing how the words were used in the books for the preparation of the new Oxford English Dictionary.

Over the next twenty years Dr. Minor, who was a voracious reader and had accumulated a large library, became the greatest contributor and maintained a lively correspondence with the famous editor, Dr. James Murray. For these many years they never met and Dr. Murray did not suspect that Dr. Minor was insane and institutionalized. After their meeting they became friends. The institutional care appeared to be very humane and Dr. Minor was a special patient in many ways, yet never regained his normal demeanor.

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The Forbidden Zone

Borden, Mary

Last Updated: Dec-20-2000
Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

By the author's own admission, this memoir is a collection of fragments taken from her memory of bits and pieces of her four year experience as a nurse in an evacuation hospital unit following the front lines up and down the European theatre during World War I. The work is fragmented because this experience was fragmented.

The first few chapters are dream-like descriptions of the men marching into battle and crawling back, or being carried back. The second collection of short vignettes dips--just a wee bit--into some of the individual soldiers' immediate stories. The latter segment of the book deals in more detail with the operations of the field hospital, some of its personnel, and some of the patients. Finally, the author treats the reader to a handful of poems, perhaps unnecessary, since the entire memoir is like one giant poem.

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