Showing 61 - 70 of 681 annotations tagged with the keyword "Illness and the Family"

Stitches

Small, David

Last Updated: Mar-03-2014
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Graphic Memoir

Summary:

While the author's surgery for throat cancer when he was 14 years old, and its aftermath are the central events in this graphic memoir, Stitches is more essentially the story of a dysfunctional family. The memoir begins when David Small is six, growing up in Detroit, drawing, and observing the body language of his often silent parents and brother. Tension fills the house. David's mother's face is in an almost permanent scowl and the "mere moving of her fork a half inch to the right spelled dread at the dinner table" (16).  She slams pots and kitchen cabinet doors while David's radiologist father lets loose on a punching bag in the basement and his brother beats drums. David is in a constant struggle to avoid his mother's fury, which author/artist David depicts as a tidal wave. His father is remote, puffing silently on his pipe.
 
When David is 11 a female friend of the family, the wife of a surgeon, draws attention to a growth on David's neck, which his parents have either failed to notice or knowingly ignored. In due time the neck is x-rayed. The surgeon-friend diagnoses a sebaceous cyst and recommends an operation. With the mother's frequent protests about lack of money--in spite of an extended shopping spree the parents undertake-- it is three and a half more years before the surgery takes place. David undergoes the procedure with relative equanimity, the hospital and medical staff being familiar -- people he "thought of as my extended family, my protectors" (160). When he wakes up from the surgery, his father assures him that nothing is wrong but that he will need a second operation by a specialist. Uncharacteristically, his mother asks if there is anything she can get for him.

Waking up from the second surgery, David has no voice -- one vocal cord and his thyroid gland have been removed. "The fact that you now have no voice will define you from here on in" (186). Later, when changing his bandage by himself, he discovers a long, ugly array of stitches on the side of his neck. He has nightmares, and on one sleepless night as he wanders the house, discovers a letter written by one of his parents to "mama" which says, "of course the boy does not know it was cancer" (204). The accumulated silences and parental betrayal trigger David's delinquent behavior and  time in a boarding school, from which he runs away three times; ultimately he is expelled with a recommendation to get psychiatric help. Reluctantly, his mother drives him to a psychoanalyst -- "it's like throwing money down a hole, if you ask me" (247) -- but this intervention turns David's life around. The analyst, depicted by the author as a tall, fully clothed white rabbit, explains to David, "your mother doesn't love you" (255).  "It was such a relief to hear" said Small in an interview. Another truth is eventually revealed by David's father, who takes David out to dinner to tell him, after a lengthy silence, that the numerous x-ray treatments for sinus infections he had given the young David must have caused the throat cancer: "two-to-four hundred rads. I GAVE YOU CANCER" (286-287).

 

View full annotation

Someone

McDermott, Alice

Last Updated: Feb-13-2014
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Marie Commeford, daughter of Irish Catholic immigrants who grows up in Brooklyn, narrates her life story in episodes rich with reflection on the losses, failed fantasies, illnesses, and disappointments of a life at the edge of poverty, which is also rich with love and poetry and humor and the stuff of which wisdom is made.  The story unfolds as memory unfolds, in flashbacks and reconstructions shaped by a present vantage point from which it all assumes a certain mantle of grace.   From the opening story in which a neighbor girl slips on the steps to a basement apartment and is killed, to repeated glimpses of a blind veteran who umpires the neighborhood boys' street games, to the bereaved families Marie meets when she works for the local undertaker, to her gradual discovery of her brother's closeted homosexuality, and to her aging mother's death, the story keeps reminding us of how much of life is coming to terms with the "ills that flesh is heir to," and also how resilience grows in the midst of loss.  Because much of the story represents the vantage point of a child only partially protected from hard things, it invites us to reflect on how children absorb large and hard truths and learn to cope with them. 

View full annotation

Immortal Bird: A Family Memoir

Weber, Doron

Last Updated: Feb-10-2014
Annotated by:
Schilling, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Damon Weber's proud father, Doron, has written a searing memoir that enfolds a story of parental love and loss into a medical exposé. By the time Damon turned four, he had two open-heart surgeries to correct a congenital malformation that affected circulation to his lungs. His parents were led to believe that after the surgeries, their effervescent, sociable, academically and artistically talented son was set for life. However, as Damon turned 12, they became concerned about what his father calls "his unsprung height," his shortness of breath, and a strange protrusion in his abdomen (40). Returning to his attending physician, they were surprised that she withheld information from them about a condition known as PLE (protein-losing entropy), which can manifest months or years after the kind of surgery (Fontan) their son underwent. PLE enlarges the liver and allows proteins to leak from the intestines. Without adequate protein, Damon's body could not grow. His father worried that they might have passed the established window of opportunity to treat the complication.

The memoir, which reads like an extended eulogy to a beloved son, fuses scenes of family life with difficult medical decisions aimed at reversing the effects of PLE. However, none of the interventions succeed, leaving a heart transplant as Damon's last hope. As Weber recounts each decision leading to the transplant, he exposes flaws in the way hospital systems operate, in the way families are treated, and in the care provided by the medical team that lobbied to perform the transplant. Damon died after his transplant physician made herself scarce after misdiagnosing a post-operative complication, and an inattentive hospital staff ignored his parents' justifiable alerts to ominous symptoms. Scenes of the hospital staff waiting impatiently at the door to Damon's room to remove the machines sustaining and monitoring him, as his distraught parents say good-bye, are disturbing. When the Webers initiate a lawsuit, the transplant physician cannot locate Damon's medical records. The narrative fully absorbs Weber's sorrow and anger.

View full annotation

The Last Eleven Days

Coe, Sue

Last Updated: Feb-03-2014
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Charcoal

Summary:

Artist Sue Coe's mother Ellen was 64 years old when she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The artist and her sister went to Liverpool to be with their mother at home, since Ellen did not wish to spend her last days in hospice. Sue Coe documented her mother's last days by drawing her, producing the series, "The Last 11 Days: July 20th to July 31, 1995." In the first drawing, dated July 20 (first drawing, right side), Ellen was still at the hospice. The drawing concentrates on face and hand, which are also the main features of other drawings in the series. The hand is large and bony as it is brought to Ellen's mouth, which is partially covered by the hand. Ellen's eyes are wide open and express anxiety and fear.

In a drawing dated July 31 (last drawing, left), the last day of Ellen's life, the artist's face and hands loom large in the right foreground while in the left rear the mother lies in bed, a small thin figure, barely awake, mouth open, her large skeletal hands resting on the blanket. The artist's face is thoughtful, sad, resigned--her thoughts seem to be drifting.

Another drawing, dated July 29 shows the artist's sister cradling Ellen in her arms, supporting her head. The mother's eyes are closed and she appears peaceful, comfortable. Of this scene, Coe writes that her sister was "reading a Stephen King novel behind the pillow. That's the only way she could survive, reading a Stephen King novel that just made her mind go blank." (National Museum for Women in the Arts Magazine, Holiday, 2005, p.20)

View full annotation

Open Heart

Yehoshua, A. B.

Last Updated: Nov-30-2013
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Benjamin Rubin is completing his surgical residency in a Tel Aviv hospital when the director of the hospital asks him to accompany him and his wife to India to rescue their daughter who is critically ill.  This invitation distresses him, as he recognizes in it a way of removing him from competition for a position in surgery at the hospital.  He makes the trip, however, and is entranced by Indian culture and mysticism, and, eventually, not by the daughter but by the mother he accompanied.  Back in Tel Aviv, he has a brief affair with the mother, moves into an apartment she owns, leaving his mother's home, and, to allay his obsession with an unavailable woman, marries an independent-minded woman who has also traveled in India and absorbed Buddhist spirituality and Eastern philosophy she discovered there.  Working as an anesthesiologist, Benjy continues in that setting, conflicted about both work and life, unable to connect deeply with any of those whose love he has received or sought.  Eventually his wife leaves with their baby daughter to return to India, where she has found a spiritual home, and Benjy remains in a divided state of mind in a divided country where his own spiritual heritage remains to be plumbed.

View full annotation

Epileptic

B., David

Last Updated: Nov-10-2013
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Graphic Memoir

Summary:

First published in France as a six-volume series from 1996-2003, this narrative is often referred to as an autobiographical graphic novel, but it is more accurately described as a graphic memoir. The author, born Pierre-François Beauchard, tells and draws the story of his family's life with the author's older brother, Jean-Christophe, whom we meet on the first page, in the year 1994: "It takes a moment for me to recognize the guy who just walked in. It's my brother . . . The back of his head is bald, from all the times he's fallen. He's enormously bloated from medication and lack of exercise." Flashback to 1964 when the author is five years old and his seven-year-old brother begins to have frequent grand mal epilepsy seizures. There follows the parents' mostly fruitless search for treatment to control the seizures, including: possible brain surgery which Jean-Christophe refuses in favor of an attempt at zen macrobiotics (this seems to work for six-months), consultation with a psychic, Swedenborgian spiritualism, magnetism, alchemy, exorcism by a priest, psychiatry (a different form of exorcism!).

Jean-Christophe's illness transforms family life as other children mock and fear the boy, the family moves to an isolated area, joins communes, and attempts to cope with Jean-Christophe's increasingly disturbed and disturbing behavior that alternates between passivity and physical aggression. The author has vivid visions and dreams and changes his name to David ("a symbolic act. I've won the war [against the threat of acquiring epilepsy" (164)]; his sister Florence suffers from constant anxiety; his mother grieves for many months after her father dies. As an adolescent and young man Jean-Christophe spends time in several institutions for handicapped individuals as well as at home, where he lives a desultory existence that is interspersed with violence toward the author and his father.

David escapes to Paris, living in a studio apartment paid for by his father, reading, writing stories, drawing, and attending classes at the Duperre School of Applied Arts. "I had to draw and write constantly. I had to fill my time in order to prevent my brother's disease from reaching me" (276). He is lonely but avoids people, feels guilty for neglecting his brother and ‘picking on' him yet is fearful that he too will be taken over by epilepsy, or death. Equally upsetting is when David discovers writings by Jean-Christophe: "He speaks of his despair and loneliness and the words might as well have come from my pen" (316). On and off, in moving displays of empathy, the author attempts to understand what happens to his brother during the seizures -- is he conscious, where does he go, does he die temporarily?

Within the narrative are intercalated multigenerational family histories that include two world wars, and European philosophical and cultural movements that influenced his parents and their search for treatments. The final section of Epileptic relates in words and images the author's adult life as he becomes a commercial artist; struggles through several relationships with women; his own infertility; his ever-present confusion, anger, and misery about his brother's illness; and his founding with five colleagues of the independent publishing house, L'Association: "It's the creation of L'Association that saves me" (327).

View full annotation

A Sunburned Prayer

Talbert, Marc

Last Updated: Oct-10-2013
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

Eloy’s grandmother—his abuela—is dying of cancer.  She has been his faithful companion, teacher and refuge in a home where his parents often fight and his older brother seems to have lost interest in him.  He believes the only thing that will save her now is for him to make the annual pilgrimage on foot to the chapel at Chimayo, 17 miles from their New Mexico home, but his parents, both of who work full time, can’t go with him and won’t hear of his going alone.  Desperate for a miracle, and believing she can be saved by the blessed soil distributed at the chapel where many seem to have experienced miracles of healing, he sets out in secret early in the morning.  On the way a friendly dog begins to follow him and, despite Eloy’s efforts to get rid of him, travels the entire 17 miles with him, sharing the water Eloy reluctantly offers him from the canteen that once belonged to his grandfather.  Much of the story follows Eloy’s thoughts as he travels, and the small difficulties and surprises along the way.  As he finally sees the chapel in the distance, he hears his brother driving by slowly in his low-rider with tinted windows.  Angry at the brother who has given him no support so far and seems to be mocking him, Eloy flips him the finger.  Later, as he stands in line for the sacred soil, his brother enters the chapel with their abuela on his arm.  She explains to Eloy that she is indeed going to die, and that God has other ways of answering prayers.  She sees that Eloy has been sent a companion, and encourages him to bring the dog, whom he has now named, home with him.  His parents, who have steadily refused to let him have a dog, accept him, and Eloy comes to new terms with his grandmother’s approaching death.

View full annotation

Counting the Days

Donoghue, Emma

Last Updated: Sep-30-2013
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

In 1849, Jane Johnson is on a ship headed for Quebec City with her two children. She has had a relatively uneventful crossing – only one old man died and a child was stillborn. She cannot wait to be reunited with her husband Henry. Having left a year earlier, he is waiting for her eagerly. They both now think that they should not have separated. They each clutch the handful of barely literate letters. She has sternly told him that he must be at the ship to greet them. Fully intending to be there, he suddenly falls ill with uncontrollable vomiting and diarrhea and is dragged to a hospital. It is cholera and he realizes that he will die without seeing his little family again. As the boat docks, she thinks she sees him in the crowd.

View full annotation

When She Hollers

Voight, Cynthia

Last Updated: Sep-21-2013
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

Tish brings a knife to the breakfast table and threatens to use it on her stepfather if he tries to come into her room again.  Her mother, working at the sink, does her best to ignore the conversation, in which the stepfather moves from mockery to threats.  Tish carries the knife in her boots to school.  When her gym teacher insists on her removing her boots she begins to scream uncontrollably, is sent to the principal, and, unable to tell her secret, runs away.  She finally makes her way to a friend's father, a lawyer, who listens to her story and assures her of legal protection, though as the story ends, Tish has a lot of decisions left to make, and a long way to go before she feels safe and healed.

View full annotation

Black Bag Moon

Butler, Susan

Last Updated: Apr-19-2013
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)

Summary:

Black Bag Moon is a collection (one is tempted to say a "mixed black bag") of short stories (but not clearly "short fictions" - clarified below) about medical patients. The reputed authors are identified as these patients' physicians, who recount these stories in first person. By my math, there are nine authors who narrate stories about 37 patients in 29 chapters. Most chapters have two patients in unrelated stories that sometimes share a theme. Several of the authors know each other as colleagues and two are a married medical couple. Most of the stories occur in Australia or New Zealand but some are in places are as far flung as England, Scotland and unidentified, possibly fictional, islands in the South Pacific. The practitioners are, for the most part, family physicians and care for people of all ages, providing care for everything from breast masses to congestive heart failure to trauma to occupational health to - almost overwhelmingly - mental illness threatening severe violence. The last - serious mental illness -  is, as are all the patients and their illnesses in this volume, almost exotically different from anything most readers of this database are likely to encounter as health care providers or readers. Think Crocodile Dundee or perhaps television's Dr. Quinn or ‘Doc' Adams of Gunsmoke. Or all the above but in the late 20th Century Outback.

Since most of the stories involve working men and women - mainly men - there is a decided flavor of  A. J. (Archibald Joseph) Cronin's The Citadel to the stories; but the peculiar aspect of Australia's frontier pervades each encounter with the patients in this book, whether they are being treated over the radio for breast lumps, being airlifted to the hospital for a badly broken elbow, or becoming demented from environmental toxins in a land and time wherein OSHA and DEP (and the principles underlying them) might as well be acronyms from Mars.

Curiously, for fiction, there are intermittent footnotes to literary (Honore de Balzac, Soubiran) sources, historical figures (Hippocrates) and relevant texts on subjects covered in the stories, e.g., petrol-sniffing, tropical diseases, and physical diagnosis. 

View full annotation