Showing 61 - 70 of 228 annotations tagged with the keyword "Humor and Illness/Disability"

Annotated by:
Schilling, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

On February 16, 2003, readers of The New York Times Magazine came upon Harriet McBryde Johnson's cover story, "Unspeakable Conversations," and a remarkable image of her gazing directly at those readers from her power wheelchair.  Her story memorably recounts her uncompromising, yet civil disagreements with Utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer about nothing less than the value of her life.  That narrative essay is one of eleven stories published in Too Late to Die Young.

They make the case that philosophers and others have incorrectly imagined Johnson's life, and the lives of others with chronic and disabling conditions, as burdensome and not worth living.  Born with a degenerative neuromuscular disease, Johnson grew up in a family that appreciated her; she practiced law in her native Charleston, South Carolina, and became nationally known for her disability activism.  Still, she encountered a world filled with people who feared her condition.  Fear, she found, led them to assume that disability inevitably brings suffering and to use that assumption to justify acts that would prevent her birth.

Her stories, conversationally and often humorously, ask readers to question why they burden some people with calls to justify their lives or to assure the world that they experience pleasure.  Each story recounts an episode that reveals the pleasures Johnson experienced as an active agent in the world.  She ran for a county office, represented her state at a Democratic National Convention, stood her ground for free speech and against Secret Service tactics when President Reagan spoke at her law school, protested Labor Day Week-end telethons, traveled to Cuba to cover a disability conference for a magazine, advocated for clients in employment discrimination cases, and made many, many friends.

Feeling exhilarated rather than confined by her wheelchair, she bears witness, perhaps unexpectedly, to another pleasure:  "the simple delight of movement."  She writes of maneuvering around Charleston, "I zoom through chaotic swarms of tourists, zip around the raggedy sidewalks . . . loop around every inconveniently placed garbage can, with maximum speed and also with style and grace" (252).  But her stories also describe her wheelchair stumbling over incompatible surfaces, one of which sends her to an emergency room far from home.  This episode also brings moments of grace, this time with the ER staff.  After learning who she is, they Google her on-line profiles and writings.  Delighting in their patient with unpredictable needs, they place print-outs of her electronic portfolio in her chart.

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The Hospital for Bad Poets

Hallman, J. C.

Last Updated: Jul-09-2009
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Two months after he starts writing poetry, the narrator collapses. The maid finds him on the floor. An ambulance arrives at the scene. Two EMT's - Mike and Bob - check the condition of the novice poet. Their assessment includes the patient's orientation, his chief complaint, his favorite form of poem (the sonnet), and the last time he used iambic pentameter. Mike reads the poet's unfinished villanelle that remains stuck in a Smith Corona typewriter. The EMT deems it awful. The ambulance crew generates a list of possible diagnoses that includes an aneurysm in the language center of the brain and (more plausibly) writer's block. The duo decide that the narrator requires evaluation in the hospital for bad poets. All of their ambulance patients receive supplemental oxygen during transport. Every poet additionally gets a copy of verse by Rainer Maria Rilke to read during the trip.

The hospital for bad poets is a teaching hospital. A swarm of medical students participate in the evaluation of the narrator. His working diagnosis is "chronic acuteness." A young physician, Dr. Krupp, takes charge of the case. He also reads the narrator's incomplete poem and agrees with the opinion of Mike the EMT. The poem stinks. Dr. Krupp listens to the narrator's breath sounds and commands him to recite poetry during the examination. The physician announces, "Poetry is the equivalent of ventilation. Poets breathe for one another, they breathe for all of us" [p 147]. Dr. Krupp decides that the narrator's problem is serious enough to warrant hospital admission for one week's worth of observation. The doctor then scurries off to treat another poet whose situation is much more serious than the narrator's.

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Summary:

This collection of stories offers a sidelong view of medicine from the perspective of a thoughtful, experienced doctor of internal medicine at a teaching institution (UCSF) in an urban setting that brings a wide variety of types of patients to his door.  In a context of evident respect and admiration for even the quirkiest of them, Watts admits to the kinds of personal responses most have been trained to hide-laughter, anger, bewilderment, frustration, empathetic sorrow.  The cases he recounts include several whose inexplicabilities ultimately require action based as much on intuition as on science.  He includes several stories of illness among his own family and friends, and makes it clear in others how his professional decisions affect his home life and his own state of mind.  

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Deaf Sentence

Lodge, David

Last Updated: Jun-08-2009
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Desmond Bates is a retired professor of linguistics who lives with his second wife, "Fred," in a "northern" British town. He is becoming increasingly deaf, and, although he wears hearing aids (except when he doesn't), his social interactions--even those with Fred--are fraught with difficulty and occasional hilarious misunderstandings. His deafness is at the center of the novel, providing the title of this work of fiction, but also serving as an extended, often funny, but ultimately serious impetus to riff on aging, disability, and mortality. "Deafness is a kind of pre-death, a drawn-out introduction to the long silence into which we will all eventually lapse" (19).

Bates is at loose ends. His wife is busy with her successful interior decorating business, his adult children live elsewhere. He considers himself a "house husband" and does not really enjoy it. His aged, widowed father insists on living alone in London although he cannot be trusted to take care of himself without endangering his life (such as starting a fire in the kitchen during meal preparation). Bates visits him dutifully once a month with a mixture of dread, obligation, and guilty relief when it is over.

Desmond's hearing difficulty and boredom set him up for an encounter with a female graduate student and its unexpected complications. She is working on a thesis about suicide. Their interaction is threaded throughout the book and drives the "plot," but the details of life with hearing impairment, loss of professional involvement and purpose, and coping with an old, stubborn parent who is slipping into dementia are the main events of this clever, well-written, entertaining novel. And along the way are witty commentaries on contemporary life. The link between the narrator's profession of linguistics and his difficulty hearing the spoken word are also significant.

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Summary:

In the Introduction the editors describe the "day of reckoning" they each experienced at one point--the sudden realization that they were "fat." Prior to this insight, they had identified fatness with negative characteristics, like being funny or undesirable; the breakthrough came when they were able to experience fatness as simply factual and not value-laden. This freed them to enjoy their lives without looking over their shoulders, so to speak, to see how other people reacted to them. Their liberating insight led to this anthology, which consists of "works of notable literary merit...that illustrate the range of ’fat’ experience." (p. xiii)

A number of the stories and poems in Who Are You Looking At? have individual entries elsewhere in this database. These include: Andre Dubus, The Fat Girl; Stephen Dunn, Power; Jack Coulehan, The Six Hundred Pound Man; J. L. Haddaway, When Fat Girls Dream; Patricia Goedicke, Weight Bearing; Rawdon Toimlinson, Fat People at the Amusement Park; Monica Wood, Disappearing; and Raymond Carver, Fat (annotated by Carol Donley and also by Felice Aull and Irene Chen).

One of the outstanding pieces in the anthology is a long story by Junot Diaz entitled "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" (42 pages). Oscar is a Dominican boy who is both fat and a nerd. He is obsessed with girls, but none will have anything to do with him, until he meets Ana who becomes his (platonic) "best friend" until her boyfriend Manny returns from the Army.

As narrated by Oscar’s sister’s boyfriend, things go from bad to worse until Oscar spends a summer in Santo Domingo and meets Yvon, an older woman whose former boyfriend, the Captain, is a cop. When Oscar pursues Yvon, he first gets beat up and later the Captain kills him, but before the end he actually makes love to Yvon. In his last letter to his sister, Oscar writes, "So this is what everybody’s always talking about! Diablo! If only I’d known. The beauty! The beauty!"

Editor's note (4/14/09): The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao was published as a full-length book in 2007 and won the Pulitzer Prize.

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Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Video

Summary:

Filmed at Shands (teaching) Hospital in Florida, this documentary validates the importance of the arts and expressive therapies in all aspects of health care, including medical education. Pediatric oncologist John Graham-Pole and poetry therapist John Fox -often as a team- work with patients of all ages in groups and at the bedside.   Other physicians including a neuroscientist provide rational explanations of the release of endorphins and brain changes resulting from creative activities.  Though the healing process initiated by the reflective act of writing poetry is ostensibly the focus of the film, the documentary is permeated with the transforming effects of dance and art therapies in their ability to lessen physical and emotional pain; the importance of healing environments, not just paintings in lobbies, but in patient created ceiling tiles and wall installations; and especially the warmth, intimacy and humanity generated by exemplary physician communication skills.

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Indestructible

Byer, Ben

Last Updated: Feb-14-2009
Annotated by:
Schilling, Carol

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Video

Summary:

When diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) at age 36, filmmaker Ben Byer began recording a video diary.  Episodes from his diary create the engaging, coherent narrative of "Indestructible," a documentary that intimately, but unsentimentally invites viewers to witness Byer's and his family's responses to his diagnosis.  Their first impulse is to search for a cure for this degenerative disease, "the grim reaper of neurological diseases," a physician tells him.  They also find themselves seeking ways to understand living with loss, most centrally losing the illusion of control over their lives. 

Over the course of three years Byer and family travel to six countries, including Greece, China, Tibet, and Israel.  During his journey, Byer, an irrepressible extrovert, also seeks the companionship and insights of other ALS patients and families, wishing to create a world-wide bond among people who struggle daily.   A montage of clips from family videos prefaces the film, revealing Byer in the decades before his diagnosis.  The images show a luminous child, who grows into a playful, photogenically handsome teen ager and young man, husband, father, son, and brother.  His exceptional force of personality, incandescent smile, and spontaneous sense of humor fill the screen.  These robust images contrast touchingly with the thinner, clumsier Byer who later struggles to remove a t-shirt.  But they also reveal continuities between Byer's capacity to enjoy his life during seemingly carefree days and his strength of spirit as he becomes increasingly more disabled, disappointed, and introspective.  Although even such strength can't alter his condition, it nonetheless sees him through to the next day and fresh adventure.

The family in the montage and the film emerge as Byer's source of support as well as conflict.  One of the most devastating conflicts arises from his father Steve's restless determination to find treatments to reverse or retard ALS.  After searching the Internet for remedies, Steve turns his garage into an ad hoc distribution center for an herbal concoction he encourages his son to drink.  To advance his son's place on the waiting list of a Chinese neurosurgeon who performs olfactory cell transplantation, he recruits other ALS patients for the procedure.  The results are dubious, in some cases perhaps fatal.  After these strategies fail to reverse Byer's physical decline, and place others at risk, the camera rolls during a family showdown that exposes their fears and desperation as it acknowledges their love.  This memorable scene does so in a way that's consistent with the rest of the film: by letting the camera show, not tell. 

Even the many moments when Byer's family help him with daily activities and his most reflective moments at the end of his film resist sentimentality and easy didacticism.  Byer's equally irrepressible young son John raises a fork wound thick with pasta to his father's mouth and loops his belt through his pants, setting off giggles all around.  The ordinariness and extraordinariness of these acts, the learning of selflessness, the uneasy acceptance of dependency, the inevitability of loss are told through such images or captured in fragments lifted from daily conversations.  Bathing Byer, his brother Josh matter-of-factly says, "You don't have all the time in the world":  a searing acknowledgment of Byer's decline that reminds us of all human fragility.  The closing scenes of the film unobtrusively place Byer's solitary experience in the long history of the search for meaning in human struggle.  They record his wobbly, yet victorious ascent of Masada, supported by Josh, right after we hear a rabbi recount Camus's version of the myth of Sisyphus. 

 

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Summary:

The film opens with the discovery of Dr. Victor Frankenstein's will in his Transylvanian village. A skeleton, presumably Dr. Frankenstein's, and a man wrestle for the box holding the will. The man wins, takes it to a town meeting where the will is read and calls for the transfer of the property to the dead scientist's grandson, Frederick. Following this scene we meet the grandson, Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder), a surgeon who is busy instructing medical students in clinical neuroanatomy (comparing the brain to a cauliflower). When asked about his grandfather by a medical student, Freddy, who pronounces the family name "Fron kon steen", declares that Victor was "a cuckoo". The student is relentless in pursuing the family ties, exasperating Freddy, who finally plunges a scalpel into his thigh, a sight gag paying homage to Peter Sellers' stabbing himself with a letter opener in A Shot in the Dark (1964). When the courier from Transylvania arrives, he persuades Freddy to return to his ancestral castle for the execution of the will. A hilarious railroad platform scene in which Freddy bids goodbye to his "beautiful, flat-chested" (as described in the online original etext of the script by Gene Wilder) fiancée, Elizabeth (Madeline Kahn), only highlights the incredibly neurotic natures of the two lovers -- Wilder as a possessed but wacky scientist and Kahn as a narcissistic and apparently remote and shallow woman.

In Transylvania, Freddy and the viewers meet the remainder of the major characters. Inga (Teri Garr), a bosomy and mindless but beautiful and dedicated blonde, escorts him to the castle, where he meets the hunchback Igor, played by the incomparable Marty Feldman, who instructs Freddy, with one of the lines all Young Frankenstein addicts love to quote, to "walk this way", by which he means with a limp and a cane, not directions to anywhere at all. After remarking that the huge castle doors have huge knockers (which they do) -- which Teri Garr winsomely mistakes for a compliment on her equally huge knockers -- Freddy and his entourage enter the castle and meet Frau Blücher (played magnificently by Cloris Leachman), the spinster who keeps the castle, nourishing an undying flame for Freddy's dead grandfather. Soon Freddy and Inga discover, by means of a secret passageway behind a  -- surprise! surprise! -- revolving bookcase wall in Freddy's room, his grandfather's hidden subterranean laboratory (Brooks used the same electrical apparatus as the 1931 Frankenstein film) and scientific journals. With the materials and methods now at hand, Freddy undergoes a spiritual transformation, embracing his forebear's obsession with creating life from dead bodies, rejecting his earlier rejection of Victor's work as "Doo-Doo!".

At this juncture we move into the scientific creation mode and of course meet the Monster, exuberantly portrayed by the talented Peter Boyle. When Igor tries to steal a brain from a neighboring morgue there occurs the infamous mix-up of an "Abnormal" brain (labelled "DO NOT USE THIS BRAIN!") for the intended brain of H. Delbrück ("the finest natural philosopher, internal medicine diagnostician and chemical therapist of this century" and also the author of 17 cookbooks) making at least this viewer wonder if Mel Brooks had in mind a real scientific genius, Max Delbrück, who had received, only 5 years before, a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1969 for his work on bacteriophages.

The predicted spoofs ensue: the actual process of transforming the very large corpse of Peter Boyle into the very large body of the living Monster (with Inga remarking, after Freddy states that for the experiment to be a success, the monster must have enlarged body parts, that he "vould have an enormous schwanzstucker" -- a pseudo-German/Yiddish word that everyone in the audience immediately comprehends); the inclusion of Gene Wilder's rendition of the legendary exclamation, "It's alive!" by Colin Clive in the 1931 Frankenstein; the monster's mercurial disposition; the wildly comic scene with the Monster meeting the Blind Man (Gene Hackman); the Monster's fascination with music and antipathy to fire -- they all give rise to set pieces of Brooks's unique mix of lowbrow comedy with intellectual puns, Yiddish asides and the ubiquitous combination of visual and physical jokes.

After Elizabeth unexpectedly arrives in Transylvania we witness an apparently unlikely, and therefore uproariously believable, liaison with the Monster outside the castle, with Madeline Kahn eventually taking on the classic Marge Simpson type hairdo of Elsa Lanchester in the 1935 Bride of Frankenstein. The last important scene before the ending involves Freddy nostalgically summoning the Monster back to his natal castle for a transference of Freddy's calm brain to the Monster's. The ending, with the Monster a fully acculturated and now sophisticated man about town, and with Freddy and Inga still in love in Transylvania, is a brilliant win-win result for Freddy, Inga, Elizabeth and the Monster, although hardly predictable. Without giving away too much of the denouement, suffice it to say that the movie ends on a high note transforming, as it were, a linguistic pun into a musical one.

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Summary:

A Place Called Canterbury by social historian Dudley Clendinen, former New York Times national correspondent and editorial writer, provides readers with an intimate and revealing account of aging in a particular place at a particular time--Canterbury Tower in Tampa, Florida. The story about the author's mother, Bobbie--and so many others--begins in 1994, a few years after the death of James Clendinen, Bobbie's husband of 48 years, and known to the community as the progressive editor of the Tampa Tribune. Although she had been "falling apart, a piece here, a piece there...collapsing vertebrae...bent, frail, and crooked...subject to spells and little strokes...." (p. xii),

Bobbie Clendinen was in reasonably good health. Nevertheless, her grown son and daughter did what most children their age do--they worried. When she finally agreed to move from the home where she had lived for twenty-nine years to Canterbury Towers, room 502, two bedrooms, two baths ($88,000 in cash, $1505 each month), Clendinen and his sister were relieved. She would be cared for and safe in "the small, cream colored, obsessively well-run geriatric apartment tower and nursing wing...across a broad boulevard from an arm of Tampa Bay" (see book cover).  And, so many of her old friends were already established residents!

Clendinen was fascinated by his mother's new circumstance and by what he came to regard as the new old age. As a writer, he could not resist the opportunity before him. Although he lived in Baltimore, he could come and go, but over the twelve-year period of his mother's residence--three in the Towers and nine years in the hospital wing--he spent more than 400 days as a live-in visitor, observer, listener, interpreter. This unusual arrangement provided Clendinen with a close-up view of a 21st Century phenomenon, the comings and goings of aging people in the final setting of their lives.

Canterbury is a well-run camp and life there is a soap opera. Between his exchanges with the witty rabbi and the former jitterbug champs, the enthusiasm generated by a nudity calendar proposal (declined) and the geriatric bib enterprise (thriving), the inhabitants provided Clendinen with an abundance of riches. Whether at lunch in the dining room overlooking the Bay, over daily drinks at 5pm, or in bed in the health center, everyone of this Greatest Generation had a story to tell. This ethnographic page-turner, with its cohort of named characters--the Southern Belle, the Rabbi who escaped the Holocaust, Emyfish, the ageless New Yorker, Lucile, the warm-hearted Fundamentalist, the raunchy Atheist, the crusty Yankee, the horny widower, and the maddeningly muddled Wilber--reads like fiction. Whether rich or poor, married or widowed, Clendinen listened as they spoke and in doing so became a trusted friend and chronicler of small and great events in their collective lives: childhood, Depression, World War II, medical advancements, healthcare costs, 9/11. Because Bobbie Clendinen spent so many years in the hospital wing, much of the story describes the kind of care and staff standards that we would hope for all--including ourselves. Mrs. Clendinen died at age 91.

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Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

James Coburn turns in a startling comic performance as a psychiatrist with a Cheshire Cat grin, called upon to provide a listening ear to the President. Somewhat flattered to get the job, he accepts, and soon becomes caught up in intrigues as all the other major players in the Cold War want to capture the man who knows the President's secrets.

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