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Summary:This anthology is a sequel to Pulse: The First Year (2010). Both anthologies are comprised of postings to the website “Pulse: voices from the heart of medicine,” an online publication that sends out short poems and prose pieces every Friday. As the website subtitle suggests, the topics are from the medical world, the writing is personal (not scientific), and the writers give voice to feelings and perceptions from their direct experience as care-givers, patients, or family members of patients. All the pieces are short (typically one to five pages), usually with a tight subject focus. For example, in "Touched," Karen Myers reports how massage has helped her muscular dystrophy.
Summary:Carol Levine's anthology of stories and poems about the intimate caregiving that takes place within families and among friends and lovers reminds us that the experience of illness reaches beyond clinicians and patients. It can also touch, enrich, and exasperate the lives of those who travel with patients into what Levine calls the land of limbo. This land oddly resembles the place where some Christian theologians believe lost souls wander indefinitely between heaven and hell. For Levine the limbo of familial caregiving is an unmapped territory. In it caregivers perform seemingly endless medical, social, and psychological labors without professional training and with feelings of isolation and uncertainty. Caregiving in this modern limbo, created by contemporary medicine's capacity to extend the lives of those with chronic conditions and terminal illnesses, has become, according to Levine, "a normative experience" (1).
This story centers on Lena, an immigrant teen from Ukraine, whose entire family has been traumatized and uprooted by family deaths during a violent pogrom. Relocated to Chicago, in a tiny apartment on Bittersweet Place, the family struggles to survive in the years prior to World War I. Wineberg’s tale of disrupted life and resettlement is weighted by formidable issues that stretch beyond the ordinary range of family experiences.
Lena, the intelligent, highly observant and resilient adolescent, narrates an unvarnished tale of survival for the extended family clustered together in this strange new world, but especially for herself. While the family’s economic and financial circumstances are difficult, her own life is made worse by an unkind teacher, mean-spirited classmates, and hormonal impulses. Her uncle touches her inappropriately, a favorite uncle goes mad, a cousin dies, and her mother, who is unfamiliar with the new world setting and mores, drives her crazy.
Nevertheless, Lena is a clear-eyed survivor exhibiting a surprising toughness of character and determination. For example, her introduction to sex is far more direct than might occur with most girls of that time. In addition, when her teacher fails cruelly to support her artistic talents, she shows amazing defiance. When she discovers that her father has a beautiful female friend, undoubtedly a lover, her consideration of this circumstance does not render the crushing blow that might be expected. In retrospect she is more adult, more mature than most young women might be in each of these situations. She is a remarkable young woman with a spirited edge.
Summary:Soldier Girls is an exhaustively researched, intimate report by a journalist of the lives and deployments of three women in the Indiana National Guard, who, through serving together in Afghanistan, become friends. Each of the women joined the Guard prior to 9/11/2001, mostly for economic reasons. Thorpe selected women who were vastly different in age and background. Debbie Helton becomes a grandmother during deployment and has served in the guard for decades - she is eager to be deployed. Michelle Fischer (a pseudonym) is newly out of high school, has liberal political views and sees the Guard as a way to pay college tuition. Desma Brooks is a single mother of three with a fractured and unreliable support system. All three have alcohol and or drug dependency issues. Brooks and Helton are deployed a second time - to Iraq.
Summary:In the course of sharing her own experience of breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, the writer offers personal reflections on coping with each of a number of specific challenges most American women with breast cancer face: desperation, fear, sadness, anger, guilt, overwhelming choices about treatment, side-effects of treatment, grief, adjusting to a new "normal," shifts in relationship, and rethinking spirituality. She raises hard questions in a compassionate way, encouraging readers to use the experience of illness as an occasion for examining and growing into a new phase of psycho-spiritual maturity.
In the photograph, the camera frames the window of a rundown motel room on a snowy evening. Inside, a young mother in a pale green nightgown sits on the side of a bed gazing sadly at her sleeping baby curled up on the far side of the mattress. This is one of the hauntingly beautiful images in “Brief Encounters,” a documentary about the photographer Gregory Crewdson and his project “Beneath the Roses.“
The son of a Brooklyn psychoanalyst, Crewdson and his family spent summers at a lakeside cottage near Pittsfield in western Massachusetts. It is to this area, with its abandoned shops and dilapidated buildings, that Crewdson returns over and over again to search for settings for his intricately composed photographs. These towns, he says in the film’s narration, “were really backdrops for a more submerged psychological drama,” one that blurs the line between reality and fiction. Crewdson approaches his photographs as if making a film, with a crew of as many as 60 people and a cast composed of the townspeople he encounters in his travels. But unlike a film, the photographs capture a single moment in time. For Crewdson, what happens before and after is of no interest to him. Rather, he is concerned with just that one frame, “a perfect moment.”
Crewdson creates his worlds as a way to explore his own anxieties, fears and desires. The images he constructs are exquisitely detailed and psychologically complex, inviting multiple interpretations by viewers. An engaging narrator, he directly addresses his own fear of failure, how he struggles to overcome it and to continue working despite periods of self-doubt.
Summary:In this collection of essays on writers' end-of-life memoirs Berman combines a fine-tuned appreciation of literary strategies with reflections on how writers, who have defined themselves, their philosophies, their voices, and their values publicly, bring their life work to characteristic and fitting conclusions in writing about their own dying. The writers he considers cover a broad spectrum that ranges from Roland Barthes and Edward Said to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and Tony Judt to Art Buchwald and Randy Pausch. Each essay offers insights into the writer's approaches to death and dying against the background of his or her earlier work.
Annie Howard is beginning high school in Tacoma, Washington in 1950, four years after her father returned from World War II, having been blinded in combat. Her mother has opened her own beauty salon as a way of coping with her husband’s disability and the loss of earning power it has meant. Annie loves her father, and maintains a close relationship with him, but is dismayed by his recurrent depressions and his steady refusal to get a guide dog, go out into the world, and respond to invitations to volunteer with an organization that helps other veterans similarly afflicted. As the school year begins she meets two new friends, a Dutch brother and sister—refugees whose parents were killed in the war and who now live with an aunt and uncle. Through them, and ultimately through her father, Annie learns some hard truths about the lasting effects of trauma, about the role of acceptance in healing, and about how a more grown-up love involves willingness to accompany others through some of the darker dimensions of suffering.
A Little Something is a story of a medical catastrophe for a family: at a baseball game, 10-year-old Justin is struck in the face by a foul ball. He seems OK initially, but he has a loose tooth. His father takes him to a dentist, where, left unattended, he has a drug reaction and loses consciousness. Paramedics take him to a hospital, but he does not wake up. He becomes the still center of the book; three circles form around him. The closest circle includes the attending neurologist Dr. Goldstein and, of course, his parents. His mother Kath is a pediatric physician; she follows closely the medicine involved and knows well the hospital where Justin is being treated. His father Sam is an introverted financial man; he measures everything in numbers. Their marriage is stressed even before the accident. Kath’s nurse at her clinic, Jonesie, is a steady support. Granny, a Licensed Vocational Nurse, comes to watch over Justin. In a moving scene, she bathes the unconscious boy.
A second circle includes other family and friends, the clientele of Kath’s pediatric clinic, the children, and their parents. These are largely Latino, underserved in Fort Worth, Texas, of 2001. (Kath has chosen a medical specialty that earns less money than other fields—in contrast to her money-grubbing mother, who is satirically portrayed.) Next door to the clinic is a firehouse, where Justin has visited and made friends. The blue-collar firemen are public servants who help make a community work.
A third circle is less defined but contextual for the novel: country folks, like Granny, who are not intellectual but practical. They believe in keeping going no matter what, a folk wisdom of realistic, durable hope.
For three-quarters of the novel there’s suspense about Justin’s recovery. At one brief moment, Sam is sure of a turnaround when he sees (or thinks he sees) a smile on Justin’s face. For nine days Sam and Kath experience hope, anger, exhaustion, expressed rage, confusion, and continuous uncertainty.
Finally there is “the meeting,” a gathering of the doctor, the family, Kath’s faithful clinic nurse Jonesie, and Father Red, a Catholic priest from Justin’s school. Dr. Goldstein says there is no hope for recovery and gives the medical details of Justin’s brain death, which has both anatomical and legal certainty.
Kath and Sam decide to disconnect Justin from life support and allow organ donation. When Justin must be transferred from the children’s hospital to the neighboring one, Sam carries him in his arms. A surprise ritual is an honor guard of firemen who line the path of the procession.
We read the specifics of disconnecting the vent tube, watching the heart race on the monitor, then the flat line of the still heart. Father Red reads from the Book of Common Prayer. An hour later, a helicopter takes off from the hospital with Justin’s donated heart.
An Epilogue six months later describes a Thanksgiving dinner at the firehouse. Sam and Kath are closer now, and he plans for them a trip to Hawaii. There’s has been, however, no easy “closure,” and the couple combines memories with mourning.
In a dramatic monologue, Joanne traces the devastation of a familial proclivity to breast cancer through four generations of women: her grandmother Sarah; her mother; Joanne herself and her two daughters, one of whom is also Sarah.
Joanne’s mother and grandmother both died very young of breast cancer; however, many other family members vanished in the Holocaust and the number of familial cancer deaths is insufficient for her to qualify for genetic testing. Her friend Linda, also a mother of two daughters, learns too late that she carries the BRCA gene; she urges Joanne to be tested.
Tormented by not knowing and equally tormented by what should be done if the test is positive—both for herself and her daughters, she convinces a doctor to lie so that the test can be performed. It is positive; Joanne opts for bilateral preventative mastectomies. During a visit to the gravesite of her mother and grandmother, she begins to explain the genetic risk to her daughters.