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The speaker in this short poem is a physician whose father's "castrated body" is "crooked in prostatic pain." From the family home in Tennessee, the dying man's wife provides daily phone reports to the son about her husband's deteriorating condition. The speaker's mind swirls with conflicting feelings: he thinks about "Dr. Death," whose efforts he has just come to understand; he thinks about the suffering experienced by his father and his mother's "terminal voice"; and he considers "how many of those little pain killers it might take."
Similarly, recollection of the Hippocratic vows intrudes to counsel against the kind of assistance his filial nature wants to provide. The internal debate about choices directs readers back to the title's imperative, "let's talk about it," suggesting, I believe, the need for social and professional discourse about quality of life, futility, and physician-assisted-suicide.
Oscar, the narrator of this fresh fictional gem, is ten years old. Because his form of leukemia has not responded to treatment, he has been living in a French hospital for a very long time. His parents, who bring him gifts and surely love him, are uncomfortable during their infrequent visits. Dr. Dusseldorf and the nurses are kind, but indirect and distant in their communications with him. Because no one talks to him about his illness or what is likely to happen, he feels isolated, alone, and miserable.
When Mamie-Rose, a very elderly hospital "pink lady" (hospital volunteer) with an exotic past, enters Oscar's life, she brings honesty, warmth, and comfort to the lost child known as Bald Egg. Guided by this incredible person--a blunt-spoken, irreverent woman who touches him, kisses him, and tells him wondrous stories of her wrestling feats--the boy grows stronger. Who wouldn't under the influence of the Strangler of Languedoc?
Of course Oscar is going to die. In addition to her generous companionship and her introductions of him to other children in the hospital, Mamie-Rose suggests letters to God as a way of feeling less lonely. "So God, on the occasion of this first letter I've shown you a little of what my life in the hospital is like here, where they now see me as an obstacle to medicine, and I'd like to ask you for clarification on one point: Am I going to get better? Just answer yes or no. It's not very complicated. Yes or no. All you have to do is cross out the wrong answer. More tomorrow, kisses. P.S. I don't have your address: what do I do" (65).
With Mamie-Rose treating him like a real kid, "move your but . . . we're not ambling along like snails" and Oscar scripting very candid letters to God, the first-person story about loneliness, love, and compassion is presented with spirited imagination. Oscar's story is quite extraordinary--and unforgettable.
The title refers to a Veteran’s Administration hospital regulation concerning the withholding of full medical benefits if an ailment is not specifically related to military service. In an oftentimes comic battle between the forces of good--physicians and vulnerable patients--and those of evil--the administrators and their minions--the story has currency and direct appeal to viewers.
The Darth-Vader-like administrators are self-serving, inhumane bureaucrats with emotions that run the gamut "from A to B" (Dorothy Parker). Physicians, especially the character played by Ray Liotta, but also his dedicated colleagues, are imaginative and non-rule abiding in their central concerns: the patients. They listen to stories and sympathize; in addition, they turf, lie, steal, and do whatever is necessary to protect, serve, and treat their patients. When the government denies a heart bypass, for example, the docs schedule prostate surgery for the official record and do, instead, the needed heart surgery.
At times, it’s as if the Marx Brothers or the Keystone Cops have donned white coats to sneak around the hospital with patient-centered antics. In the absurd bureaucracy, viewers, perforce, must cheer enthusiastically for the merry band of renegade docs.
The title recalls Clotho, the Fate charged with spinning the thread of life which would someday be clipped by her sister, Atropos. The two-stanza poem describes the circumstances of illness within a hospital setting. In stanza one, with a patient unable to urinate on his own, the poet employs desert images to suggest the dryness felt by the incapacitated sufferer ("throat-filling Gobi," "dry as Arabia," sunburnt cage of bone," "shekel," "rugs," "camel," etc.).
Stanza two begins with the riddle of the sphinx, another reiteration of desert imagery, but moves quickly to modern medical intervention by substituting the cane, the third leg of the elderly, with an IV pole for liquid sustenance and the "snake-handlers fist of catheters," ridding the body of its wastes. Clotho's role has been usurped by technology's miracles, and an appeal is made for the "kind, withdrawn face trained in the arts of love."
Sissman, whose chronic illness inspired him to incorporate illness experiences into his writings, muses about where he is likely to die. Like an archaeologist he begins with a vivid description of factors and events contributing to various wings and pavilions. He knows this hospital well: its external facades with "Aeolian embrasures" and "marble piping" associated with certain patrons or patronesses such as "the Maud Wiggin Building . . . commemorat[ing] a dog-jawed Boston bitch".
Slowly the narrator moves from the hospital's exterior layerings to imagine himself, a patient on a gurney, wearing the "skimpy chiton" while being subjected to syringes, "buttered catheter[s]," and IV "lisps and drips." Just before death his blood will "go thin, go white" and finally, there will be a journey through the hallways to the morgue and then to the undertaker. "That's all." The account is prosaic, an inventory or catalogue of steps familiar to anyone who has worked in a hospital setting. As a poet, however, Sissman transforms the ordinary into vividly fresh portrayals.
Summary:The seven sections of this long poem (128 lines) take the author from admission through a bone-marrow procedure (in front of student nurses), surgical prep, post-op recovery, urinary catheterization, and finally, a melancholic post-discharge confrontation with the decay and death of the natural world in late autumn. Sissman directs a sometimes withering sarcasm against both himself and his caregivers, nevertheless controlling a temptation to overdramatize his suffering or attack the hospital environment too harshly. Keen observation and carefully clever metaphors make poetry his best defense against his own impending death from Hodgkin’s disease.
Four doomed characters illustrate the downward course of drug initiation and addiction. Aronofsky's innovative portrayal is arrestingly brutal and compelling; many viewers will be disturbed by penetrating and darkly lucid visual effects guiding the descending spiral--from spring to winter, from life and hope to destruction and death.
One character, Sara Goldfarb, played courageously and brilliantly by Ellen Burstyn, becomes addicted to diet pills prescribed by a despicably careless physician. The other characters--her son, Harry (Jared Leto) and his two friends (played by Marlon Wayon and Jennifer Connelly)--are heroin addicts and dealers. In separate ways all move toward the same abyss.
Although graphic and, at times, extremely difficult to watch, the frightening nightmare of addiction should be required viewing for those who might yet succumb and those who think that just saying "no" works. The grisly and unbearably sad storyline and its explicit horror recalls the 1989 film and novel on which it was based, Last Exit to Brooklyn, also written by Hubert Selby, Jr.
Summary:In "A Deathplace" the speaker recounts, with seeming nonchalance, the predictable sequence of his own death. He describes the hospital he knows so well, the details of surgery (down to "the buttered catheter goes in"), the "malignant plum," and finally "the hour / when the authorities shut off the power . . ." Sissman uses the power shut-off to signify his own death, but soon the lights go up and throughout the hospital the "business of life" resumes. Part of that business is to move his body to the morgue, then to the undertaker, then "That's all."
Because this lucid, rich, and incisive book has not, as yet, been published in the United States, it has not acquired the readership it deserves. For those teaching Medical Humanities or those interested in broader or more global stories and perspectives about physician training, practice, and experiences, Helman’s most recent publication should be considered.
Part One (“Setting Out”) begins in South Africa where Helman’s family, comprised of a dozen doctors, has lived for generations and where his own medical studies occurred. As a child, he accompanied his father on rounds while other children spent holidays at the beach. Before long he discovered how hospitals, during the madness of Apartheid, were to “some extent a distorted mirror-image of the world outside” (3). Appalled by the differences in care and treatment, the keenly aware young man kept notes. His vivid observations of the harsh context of social injustices provide an unequivocal, eloquent, and disturbing critique of medicine then and there. His acute observations of physician behaviors and indigent populations in the city and in the bush contribute, as readers discover in later chapters, to the author’s expanded and compelling interests in cultural anthropology.
Part Two (“The Family Doctor”) leads to London. “After all the heat and light and space of Africa, London—with its low leaden sky and constant drizzle—was like living inside a Tupperware box, one stored deep inside a refrigerator” (47). In the 60s Helman’s migration required an adjustment to a world of technology and order, where as a family practitioner, he had become, in fact, a suburban shaman. In any society, patients wanted “relief from discomfort, relief from anxiety, a relationship of compassion and care, some explanation of what has gone wrong, and why, and a sense of order or meaning imposed on the apparent chaos of their personal suffering to help them make sense of it and to cope with it” (xvi).
Gradually Helman saw connections between the role of family physician and traditional healer: both involved an understanding of “not only a body’s internal equilibrium but also the equilibrium of the patient’s relationships with the world he or she lives in and how treatment should aim not only to treat the diseased organ but also to restore the patient’s life that equilibrium of relationships” (xvii). His encounters with patients and the stories they reveal suggest how important these often overlooked connections are and why they ought to be included in medical training and practice.
By the time readers reach Part Three ("States of the Art”), the author has moved into broader realms of thinking, in which medicine and illnesses are examined anthropologically. After 27 years of clinical practice Helman’s white coat and stethoscope are placed on a hook. Now, as a credentialed anthropologist at University College London, his larger lens allows for sustained scrutiny of the complexities, ambiguities, and nuances in such chapters as “Grand Rounds,” “Hospitals,” “Placebos,” “Third Worlds.” Helman’s range of experiences, multi-disciplinary training, intellectual conclusions, and abundant common sense argues for techno-doctors to learn from holistic practitioners. Whether devastating or humorous, the critiques reflect not just care provision but shared human capacities: the insights are thoughtful and fresh and very worthwhile.
Rob Morrow of "Northern Exposure" fame portrays Lyle Maze, a very sweet artist/sculptor with Tourette's syndrome. Even though early scenes demonstrate the challenges presented by involuntary shoulder shrugs, arm twitches, popping sounds, and vocalizations associated with Tourette's, the story quickly evolves into a fairly predictable tale of love. Mike (Craig Sheffer) is engaged to Callie (Laura Linney), but spends months of time incommunicado--practicing medicine in Burundi and other remote locations.
For different reasons, both Lyle and Callie are cast into lives defined by isolation and loneliness. Shortly after Mike has left for his most recent assignment, Callie learns that she is pregnant. Alone and confused by Mike's long absences, she turns increasingly to Lyle for friendship and support. Not surprisingly, they fall in love.