Showing 61 - 70 of 204 annotations in the genre "Memoir"

In the Land of Pain

Daudet, Alphonse

Last Updated: Dec-29-2009
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

The French writer Alphonse Daudet (1840-1897) developed the form of tertiary syphilis called tabes dorsalis in the early 1880’s. Tabes progressively destroys the structures of the dorsal column of the spinal cord, leading at first to lower extremity ataxia and neuropathic pain, and eventually to paralysis of the legs associated with intractable pain. Daudet sought treatment from the leading neurologists of his time, including J. M. Charcot and C. E. Brown-Séquard, but the disease progressed relentlessly.

At some point Daudet began making notes for a book about his illness. He spoke to several of his contemporaries about this project, but the book never became more than a collection of brief notes, which were collected and published posthumously as "La Doulou" (Provencal for "pain"). This short book, translated here by Julian Barnes, consists of "fifty or so pages of notes on his symptoms and sufferings, his fears and reflections, and on the strange social life of patients at shower-bath and spa." (p. xiii)

The notes are generally in chronological order, beginning with short comments like "Torture walking back from the baths via the Champs-Elysées" (p. 4) and "Also from that time onwards pins and needles in the feet, burning feelings, hypersensitivity." (p. 6) In a long section toward the end Daudet comments on his experience at Lamalou, a thermal spa that he visited annually from 1885 to 1893. "I’ve passed the stage where illness brings any advantage or helps you understand things; also the stage where it sours your life, puts a harshness in your voice, makes every cogwheel shriek." (p. 65)

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Summary:

Dr. Thomas Graboys is an eminent Boston cardiologist who developed Parkinson's disease in his late 50s. Shortly after his wife died in 1998, Graboys noticed unusual fatigue and mental sluggishness. He attributed these symptoms to grief, but they continued and he later experienced episodes of stumbling, falling, and syncope. During 2003 Graboys confided to his diary that it was "increasingly difficult to express concepts." ( p. 30) He also noticed tremor, problems with dictation, and frequent loss of his train of thought, symptoms "typical of Parkinson's." (p. 24)

While Graboys recorded these concerns in his diary, outwardly he denied that anything was wrong, even to family and close friends.  In fact, his denial continued until the day in 2003 when a neurologist friend accosted him in the parking lot and pointedly asked, "Tom, who is taking care of your Parkinson's?" (p. 27) Dr. Graboys faced an even more difficult challenge in 2004 when he developed the vivid, violent dreams and memory lapses that led to a diagnosis of Lewy body dementia, a form of progressive dementia sometimes associated with Parkinson's disease. With the cat out of the bag at last, the author finally began to confront the issue of professional impairment. In mid-2005 Graboys's colleagues seized the initiative and told him that "it was the unanimous opinion of my colleagues that I was no longer fit to practice medicine." (p. 36)

Writing now with the assistance of journalist Peter Zheutlin, Graboys reviews these events with unblinking honesty. He confronts his anger and denial, but also reveals the thoughtful, generous and passionate side of his character. "What will become of me?' This is the question that now lies at the center of Dr. Graboys' personal world. He knows that his loss of mental and physical control will worsen. With almost superhuman effort and his family's strong support, the author has been able to adapt to his limitations and maintain a sense of meaning in his life. Will that continue? In a chapter entitled "End Game," he addresses the question of suicide. Reflecting on his condition, especially the dementia, Graboys asks, "Will I lose myself, my very essence, to this disease?" (p. 161)

In the last chapter, Graboys acknowledges that he has no "simple prescription that will help you or someone you love live a life beyond illness, or tell you how to tap the hope that lives within." (p. 181)  However, he then goes on to make several suggestions of the advice-manual variety: "Use your family and friends as motivation to live life with as much grace as you can muster." "Find a safe place... to unburden yourself of anger." "Acceptance is key to defusing anger, stress, and self-pity."  "Use your faith in God, if you believe in God."  (pp. 181-182)

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HA! A Self Murder Mystery

Sheppard, Gordon

Last Updated: Dec-10-2009
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

On 15 March 1977, the acclaimed Quebec writer, Hubert Aquin (HA) born 1929, blew out his brains on the grounds of Montreal's Villa Maria, a convent girls' school, where his first wife had been educated and only steps from the Westmount home that he shared with his psychiatrist partner, Andrée Yanacopoulu (herself now a writer of medical history) and their nine-year old son, Emmanuel. Yanacopoulo had known of the suicide plan well in advance and, as part of a pact, had agreed not to stop it.

Through a series of interviews with family, ex-family, friends, lovers, colleagues, secretaries, students, and cleaning ladies, mostly between 1977 and 1983, Sheppard conducts an "investigation" to determine why Aquin ended his life at that time and in that way; and why his partner allowed it. Only a single interview seems to have been conducted after 1985. Each chapter is preceded by an extensive citation from one of Aquin's four novels, followed by stage direction notes for music, sound effects, and mood, and comprised of situated testimony written as dialogue for a film script.

Just as many explanations for Aquin's suicide emerge from this inquiry as there are witnesses. The causes range from the political, through the physical, psychological, social, symbolic, and emotional, to the spiritual. For each witness, they are the truth. They include 1. the failure of the recently elected separatist government to declare Quebec to be a sovereign nation; 2. Aquin's much publicized dismissal from a newspaper job, which he had counted on for a prominent editorial opportunity; 3. the failure of one (or several) love affair(s); 4. the collapse of two marriages; 5. estrangement from the two sons of his first marriage; 6. chronic ill health due to alcoholic epilepsy; 7. unresolved conflicts with his parents; 8. the result of his own writing which displayed a longstanding fascination with sex, death, violence, and suicide; 9. the result of writer's block; 10. a "classic" capitulation of a "québécois" male to the tyranny of women, either a "québécoise" mother or--(take your choice)-- a non-québécoise lover; 11. a covenant with 9 year-old boys crossing several generations; 12. the destiny of a man with a death wish, a chronic predisposition to self killing, who, according to one engaging friend (Jacques Languirand), had probably already committed suicide in a previous life as a late Antique Roman, and would likely do again--perhaps already has.

Sheppard dedicates his book to more than one hundred suicides from Sappho to Kurt Cobain. He shapes the responses of his subjects by his pointed questions and the juxtaposition of their answers to advance his overriding theory that Aquin's suicide was his finest work of art. All the varying explanations co-exist peacefully within Aquin's immortality, which resides in the minds of those who remember and grieve for him. No single interpretation is more plausible than another. Sheppard explicitly links these multiple "truths" to the early film work of Kurosawa; we are also reminded of Iain Pears's An Instance of the Fingerpost and The Dream of Scipio (see this database).

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Where is the Mango Princess?

Crimmins, Cathy

Last Updated: Nov-30-2009
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

The lives of writer Cathy Crimmins, her lawyer husband Alan Forman, and their seven-year-old daughter were changed forever on July 1, 1996, at a lake near Kingston, Ontario. "Alan’s brain got run over by a speedboat. That last sentence reads like a bad country-western song lyric, but it’s true. It was a silly, horrible, stupid accident." (p. 5). While Alan steered a small boat back to dock at the end of their vacation, a teenager drove a speedboat literally over him, causing major traumatic brain injury (TBI) including seizures, coma, hemorrhage and paralysis.

Crimmins chronicles her husband’s remarkable recovery with a mix of humor, medical information, anger at HMO denial of benefits, and gratitude for the care of physicians, nurses, therapists, EMT, friends and family during this grueling, and in many ways, never-ending ordeal. Although Alan survived -- and is now capable of walking, speaking, reading, loving, working and driving -- he is a different person. The injury to his frontal lobes causes him to be disinhibited, erratic, angry, irrational, petulant, obsessive, devoted yet cruel to his daughter, and prone to severe "cognitive fatigue."

TBI is a bizarre, unpredictable illness. Crimmins notes that the degree of Alan’s recovery is atypical for the force of his trauma. In addition, TBI survivors say and do wacky things: "Where is the mango princess?" was one of Alan’s first utterances after emerging from his coma. Alan’s pre-accident sharp-edged humor was replaced by bland affability and a disturbingly vacant gaze. Yet some of what he says and does is heart wrenching and poignant.

The book clearly documents that the trauma is not limited to the patient. As Crimmins so eloquently and honestly recounts, she, her daughter, and all who knew Alan were traumatized by the accident and its aftermath.

Crimmins is an aggressive caregiver, thrust kicking and fighting into the caregiver role. Her advocacy for her husband, including research into the best rehabilitation facility, day hospital, vocational rehabilitation program, doctors, therapists, etc., was unwavering and crucial to his optimal care and outcome.

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Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

It was during a trip to Paris in 1985 to accept a prestigious writing award that William Styron first realized that the melancholy which had been descending upon him for months was part of the onset of a crippling depression. In this brief book, Styron describes his own experience and eventual recovery, and touches upon the history and clinical aspects of depression as he talks about the many writers who have also been afflicted with this disease.

Styron gives both a retrospective account of the beginnings of his illness, and details his own theories (his abrupt intolerance for alcohol, a possible family history, characters in his early writings in whom he described symptoms strikingly similar to those he would develop himself years later) about the origins of his depression.

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Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Written by a Jungian psychoanalyst about her own experience with metastatic breast cancer, this memoir is a two year chronicle extending from the day of diagnosis through sequential remissions and relapse, to the remission following stem cell transplant. In the course of this voyage, the author deals with her own fear and anger, the range of responses elicited from family and friends, and her anxiety about the technology and impersonality of the health care system.

The book ends, but Middlebrook's story does not. She is feeling well as she recovers from her transplant. She knows she still has a lethal tumor. The only thing she doesn't know is when it will claim her life.

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Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

The story opens two years into the writer's undiagnosed hematological disorder, focusing the narrative on the two most significant issues in this young woman's life--her first experience with a love relationship that is to result in a long-term commitment, and the disease that for years is to affect the way she lives her day-to-day life. Breslin describes in considerable detail her encounters with hospitals and health care professionals, none of whom are able to diagnosis nor prognosticate but continue to treat each new symptom as it arises.

In the midst of this uncertainty which pervades the memoir, are the subtexts of the love between the author and her husband and the relationship she maintains with her father. The reader, presumably like the author herself, never learns the name of the mysterious illness that informs the tale.

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Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This is the story of a child/young adult who had the misfortune of multiple health problems from the age of three until his death at 19. But even more than Jesse's story, this is the narrative of and by Jesse's father as he recalls the emotional rollercoaster accompanying the abbreviated span of his oldest son's life. The author kept detailed journals of his and his son's experiences with the health care professions, while also collecting the boy's artwork which appears to be Jesse's personal record of his own internal struggle.

Although not chronologically linear, the narrative allows the reader into the soul of the parents' agony, from the time of Jesse's initial diagnosis of hydrocephalus, through management of inflammatory bowel disease, and into the final chronicle of unsuccessful liver transplantations.

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Life with Sam

Hutner, Elizabeth Hall

Last Updated: Nov-22-2009
Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This little volume of poetry and photos is a narrative of the life and death of a small boy with leukemia and the connection this creates with his mother, his father, and his stepfather. The poems are created by the child’s mother (the author) during the illness and after the death of her son in his early childhood; photos are done by the author’s brother. The author creates the scenario in her brief introduction to the collection of poems and photos.

In a stuttering fashion, the reader is guided through mother’s grief as she holds her son through multiple chemotherapy sessions, reevaluations, disappointments, and finally, the terminal events. The entire poetic experience is calmly reflective, but the deep grief of mother bubbles to the surface--in a controlled manner that makes the reader feel her pain, and also accept her acceptance.

The poems themselves are compelling in their simplicity: after Sam dies, the author writes, of a note of condolence received by a friend, "Now that I have a child of my own, / a friend writes, "I understand your loss." / "No," I think, "now you understand / what I had."

The author, as she adapts to the absence of her firstborn, has a second son. She reflects on the joy that she feels, but the impossibility of replacing a first love. The event of Sam’s death is so ethereal that it cannot be dated. It is a universal experience for those left behind. And Hutner leaves the reader with this sense of timelessness with her poetry, and with her own death from breast cancer in 2002.

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Limbo: A Memoir

Ansay, A.

Last Updated: Nov-21-2009
Annotated by:
Schilling, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Novelist A. Manette Ansay's beautifully crafted, emotionally complex memoir describes living with a chronic painful, debilitating condition that began mysteriously and has continued to elude both diagnosis and remedy. Without a clear inciting event or a healing resolution to frame her narrative, Ansay structures her memoir as a series of agile reflections in which scenes from the past and present dissolve into one another, mimicking the distortions of time that chronic illness issues. "Time doesn't pass," she writes. "It bleeds, blurs, washes me along" (27).

Ansay's narrative opens when, at age 36, she has returned to visit the somber rural Wisconsin town of her childhood in a body that has lost its "unselfconscious sense of movement" (10). She recounts how she insisted on beginning piano lessons when she was 7, persevering through years of pain and increasing fatigue that ultimately caused her to withdraw from the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore. The withdrawal ended her dedicated labor to become a performer. Instead, Ansay navigated medical systems in an urgent, but elusive search for a diagnosis.

Multiple Sclerosis, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Lupus could not be verified. Neither could the possibility that playing the piano with nearly manic vigor (in her teachers' view) damaged her body. Ansay's matter-of-fact description of playing Hurricane with her friends in her grandparents' apple orchard-trucks full of pesticides doused the children as they hid in the branches-suggests another still unproven etiology.

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