Showing 61 - 70 of 937 annotations tagged with the keyword "Suffering"

Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

A bicycling, bee-keeping, British neurosurgeon approaching the end of his professional career recalls some distinctive patients, surgical triumphs as well as notable failures, difficult decisions, and mistakes. Nearly thirty years of a busy neurosurgical practice are distilled into a collection of linked stories throbbing with drama - both the flamboyant kind and the softly simmering type.

Most chapters are titled after a medical condition (exceptions are "Hubris" and "Melodrama"). Some of the headings are familiar - Trauma, Infarct, Aneurysm, Meningioma. Other chapter titles flaunt delicious medical terminology that mingles the mysterious and the poetic with nomenclature such as Angor animi, Neurotmesis, Photopsia, and Anaesthesia dolorosa.

Included are riveting accounts of both mundane and seemingly miraculous patient outcomes. One success story involves a pregnant woman losing her sight due to a brain tumor that compresses the optic nerves. Her vision is restored with an operation performed by the author. Her baby is born healthy too. But tales of failure and loss - malignant glioblastomas that are invulnerable to any treatment, operative calamities including bleeding of the brain, paralysis, and stroke - are tragically common. The author describes his humanitarian work in the Ukraine. He admits his aggravation with hospital bureaucracy and is frequently frustrated by England's National Health Service.

Sometimes the shoe falls on the other foot, and the doctor learns what it is to be a patient. He suffers a retinal detachment. He falls down some stairs and fractures his leg. His mother succumbs to metastatic breast cancer. His three month old son requires surgery for a benign brain tumor.

As his career winds down, the author grows increasingly philosophical. He acknowledges his diminishing professional detachment, his fading fear of failure, and his less-hardened self. He becomes a sort of vessel for patients to empty their misery into. He is cognizant of the painful privilege it is to be a doctor.

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Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal is both ambitious and synthetic, qualities that well suit his difficult subject, death.  In Western culture, there are taboos against death because it fits neither into post-Enlightenment notions of progress and perfection nor into medical notions of control, even domination of human biology. A surgeon and an investigator, Gawande draws on his patients, his family, and travels to various hospitals and other caregiving places in order to confront death and see how approaches such as hospice and palliative care can improve our understanding, acceptance, and preparation for death.

Gawande has harsh words for contemporary medicine, the supposed caregiver for the dying and their families.  Relying heavily on technique and industrial models, it ignores the deep needs of the dying and provides, instead, versions of “warehoused oblivion” (p. 188), for example long, futile stays in ICUs.

As opposed to traditional societies like India, Westerners prize the independence of individuals, a status that is, of course, never permanent. In the chapter “Things Fall Apart,” Gawande describes how longer lives are now the norm but they include chronic illnesses and inevitable decline in vitality.  Our deaths are now routinely in hospitals, not at home, and often extended—sometimes brutally—by technical support and unwillingness of doctors and families to stop aggressive treatment.       
       
Also, sadly, there are fewer and fewer geriatricians at a time when there are more and more elderly.  A good geriatrician takes a long time with each patient, is not well paid, nor does s/he do income-generating procedures. Worse yet, some training programs are being discontinued.  

Gawande illustrates his ideas with case studies of patients and describes, from time to time in the book, the elderly journeys of his grandmother-in-law and his own father.  These passages make vivid the abstract ideas of the book. But it’s not just elderly patients who face death: health calamities can come to anyone, for example, a 34-year-old pregnant woman found to have a serious cancer. Various treatments are tried without success, but family and doctors act out “a modern tragedy replayed millions of times over” (p. 183) of a medically protracted death. Finally her mother calls a halt to treatment.
               
Family members often bear a heavy load in caring for a sick elder, but many nursing homes are often worse, designed for control, not support of the patients. 

The chapter “A Better Life” describes the first in a series of places that offer much improved settings for the elderly, with birds, animals, gardens, and, in general, richer lives that have a sense of purpose.  Gawande describes hospice care, palliative care, and advanced directives (including Do Not Resuscitate orders) as improvements needed to break the norms of “treat at all costs.” The old roles of Dr. Knows-Best and Dr. Informative need to give way to physicians and others who talk with patients and families about their values, their wishes for the last days, and their preparations for death. In short, aggressive treatment should no longer be the “default setting” for hospital care.     
        
The book ends with a dozen moving pages about the death of Gawande’s father. The “hard conversations” have clarified his wishes, and hospice care has provided “good enough” days.  Pain control has done well. Then, finally, “No more breaths came.” The family travels to India to spread his ashes on the Ganges. 

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Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction — Secondary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Graphic Memoir

Summary:

A nurse-poet well-known for her empathic descriptions of patients, Cortney Davis suddenly found herself in the hospital bed with a life-threatening condition.  Although she is a masterful writer, she could not find words to capture what she experienced as a patient.  Instead, she started painting her emotions—fear, suffering, and loneliness expressed through color, line, and tone.  The first of 12 paintings in this pathography shows her lying naked on a white slab, not literally what happened but expressive of how vulnerable and helpless she felt.  Each of the 12 paintings carries an emotional and spiritual truth—often raw and miserable.  Davis accompanies each painting with a brief commentary about how and when the painting was done, explaining, for instance, why some of the figures have no facial features. But the vivid paintings speak for themselves, and they add a different way of knowing not available through words.

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Hurt Hawks

Jeffers, Robinson

Last Updated: Mar-22-2015
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry

Summary:

"Hurt Hawks" is a narrative poem about a wounded hawk in free verse of 27 lines divided by the poet into two parts. Part I, which is 17 lines long, describes the setting of the poem in third person. Part II is 10 lines long, written in first person, and comprises the resolution of the carefully constructed tension set up in Part I. Some critics feel that Part II is sufficiently different in style and focus that it was originally an altogether separate poem (see below). Succinct yet lyrical, elegaic yet harsh, Hurt Hawks is, like the hawk that is the center of the poem, fiercely and unrelentingly an advocate of the natural - as opposed to the civilized - world. Hawks held a special place in Jeffers' heart, whether it be this poem or the longer "Cawdor," "Give Your Heart to the Hawks" (the name of a 1933 collection of his poetry), or "Hawk Tower," the edifice that he built for his family in 1920 on Carmel Point in California.

Part I sets the stage for the action in Part II, an Ecce Homo stage where the Homo is an injured hawk living in and around the poet—who makes clear, however, that the hawk is not a prisoner, either in the poet's eyes or its own. The poem opens with:

The broken pillar of the wing jags from the clotted shoulder,
The wing trails like a banner in defeat,
No more to use the sky forever but live with famine
And pain a few days:

Midway through Part II, Jeffers notes that

We had fed him six weeks, I gave him freedom,
He wandered over the foreland hill and returned in the evening, asking for death,
Not like a beggar, still eyed with the old
Implacable arrogance.

This poem is arguably not only Jeffers' most famous poem but often the only one still taught, when Jeffers is taught at all, in undergraduate courses. One reason for the inclusion of this poem in the curriculum is the famous first line of Part II, "I'd sooner, except the penalties, kill a man than a hawk." Aside from its popularity and this rather striking sentiment, the poem has proved a fertile source of discussion amongst critics for other reasons. First is the striking shift in voice from Part I to Part II, leading some to state that this poem was welded together from two distinct poems. Secondly, the plural "Hawks" in the title is mysterious and unclear since there is only one hawk mentioned in the poem—or is there? One interpretation of the plural is that in fact Jeffers and his family harbored two hawks and only the second was killed. Tim Hunt feels the second injured hawk in the poem refers to the saddened, or emotionally hurt hawk, i.e., the poet of Part II.

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Sông I Sing

Phi, Bao

Last Updated: Mar-12-2015
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry

Summary:

Performance poet Bao Phi was born in Saigon; his parents emigrated to Minnesota, where he grew up and still lives. His poetry is rooted in Asian American immigrant experience, especially in Vietnamese American experiences, and speaks of racism, economic hardship, cultural difference, and the legacy of the Vietnam war. The collection is divided into four sections, each preceded by a quote from another (usually Asian American) writer. Four introductory poems set the tone for the poet's project of "refugeography" (from "You Bring Out the Vietnamese in Me", p. 9): recognition and celebration of the variety of Asian American lives, and anger at exploitation - both economic and cultural: "They box our geography / And sell it in bougie boutiques / Our culture quite profitable / But can somebody tell me / How our culture can be hip / And yet our people remain invisible?" ("For Us", p. 1)

In section 2 (The Nguyens) 14 poems highlight the lives of a variety of unrelated individuals and families across the US who have the same family name. "They are one story for every Viet body, one song for every voice that sings or otherwise" (p. 17). Many are angry and bitter. There is the Sacramento girl who grows up, makes good, and wants now to get even with the white boy who pushed her down and called her "gook" in ninth grade: "where is your wheat- haired crown now, / where is your Made- in- America tongue: / a slide of spit to take me back to where I came from / now that I am ready to show you / show you / where I come from" ("Vu Nguyen's Revenge", p. 20). There is the chef who had once worked in the kitchen of a restaurant where the waitstaff was white only: "let me tell you that the white people / can choke to death on their lychee martinis" ("Fusion", p. 24). Others are reflective - such as the soldier in Iraq who meditates, "let me not tear apart a people, a country, causing Iraqi food to / become the nouvelle cuisine in 25 years back home" ("Mercy", p. 29).

Some wrestle with generational misunderstanding: Dotty from Dallas whose mother "hid the food stamps by holding [her] hand out like a fan of shame at the checkout line" and later kicked her out of the family, accusing her of being a "Commie" (p. 45). There is tongue in cheek irony, such as in "The Nguyen Twins Find Adoration in the Poetry World" (p. 40), about two vastly different poets - Joan, who has an Anglo boyfriend, publishes in respected traditional literary journals, includes in her work Vietnamese sentences "she never fails to translate" and who won the "safe ethnic poet award"; and Jesus, whose poems are "system fascist overthrow racism working class" performed on Def Poetry Jam where he mispronounces all three of the only Vietnamese words he uses in his poetry.

Numerous poems in sections 3 and 4 address racism. "Reverse Racism" (p. 59) imagines the tables being turned on whites: schools that teach only Asian-American history and suspend any student who questions it; jobs that "stick white men in middle -management hell, then put them on a pedestal as an example of how whites can be successful", and "when white men form their own groups to protect themselves, I'll accuse them of being separatists and reverse racists". "Dear Senator McCain" (p. 65) begins with a quote from the year 2000 in which the senator (who had been imprisoned and tortured by the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam war) says, "I hate the gooks. I will hate them as long as I live." The poem issues a challenge: "I am that gook waiting in your nightmare jungle / that gook in front of you with 17 items in the 10 items or less lane at the supermarket / that gook born with a grenade in his head / that gook that got a better grade than you in shop class" and ends, "Senator / what's the difference / between an Asian /and a gook / to you".

Another poem ("8 [9]", p. 93) is based on the 2006 killing of a 19-year-old Hmong American by a white policeman in Minneapolis. There is despair ("For Colored Boys in Danger of Sudden Unexplained Nocturnal Death Syndrome and All the Rest for Whom Considering Suicide Is Not Enuf ", p. 82 ). There are also poems of self-awareness, for example, of the dichotomy of an earlier ghetto life and a later "fancy college" experience ("Called [An Open Letter to Myself]", p. 76); intra-ethnic suspicion and misunderstanding ("Everyday People", p. 99); energy and pride ("Yellowbrown Babies for the Revolution", p. 86).

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Painting

Summary:

Swiss artist Ferdinand Hodler painted his model and lover Valentine Godé-Darel in a series of drawings and paintings after she became ill and was dying of cancer (of the reproductive organs). For a painter of that time to focus his/her work on a dying individual over a period of many months (1914-1915) was highly unusual. In this painting, Valentine's head and face are seen in side view in the left of the picture. She is lying down with her head partly elevated and sunken into a pillow. Her features are bony with high cheekbones and a prominent nose. Her eyes are closed, her mouth open. Blue is a featured color, forming the background as well as tinting her face. Hodler also favored blue in many of his landscape paintings. The woman's head and face are carefully drawn but the pillow and bedclothes are sketchy, drawing the viewer's attention immediately to the dying woman and holding it there.

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Originally intended as a frontispiece, El sueño de la razon produce monstruos is number 43 in the series Los Caprichos (1799) by Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes. Also one of his roughly 40 self-portraits, this ambiguous picture shows a seated male figure with his ankles crossed leaning over to his right as he rests his elbows and head on a desk. The male figure wears an ankle-length coat, breeches, stockings, and shoes. His hair is long, his face invisible. On top of the desk, under his right elbow, we see a paintbrush or writing instrument. The side of the desk, in the lower left corner, bears the title of the work. On the floor to the man's right crouches a lynx. Owls with huge wings and expressive eyes surround him. The owl on his right holds out a paintbrush. A cat with watchful eyes perches behind his back. Above the human figure large bats are flying; the largest one at the top right has a goat-like head.

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Woman with Dead Child

Kollwitz, Käthe

Last Updated: Mar-12-2015
Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Etching/engraving

Summary:

A seated, cross-legged, naked woman envelops the body of a child. The limp child, head tipped far back, is clutched to the figure we assume is the mother. Her features are mostly hidden by the child's body--except we see one closed eye and her nose nestled into his skin. Also visible are her expressive eyebrows, which silently communicate her explosive feelings. With her strong arms--especially a strong, thick hand--she draws the child toward her even more tightly.Her embrace is all-consuming. The mother's muscular leg forms the base of the monolithic shape that confronts the viewer. Most of the lines the artist uses to shape and shade the forms are aggressive, taut, and meaningful, contributing energy to the surface. As a bit of relief from the overall grief, Kollwitz drew the lines of the woman's hair tenderly, and delicately rendered the boy's features.Beate Bonus-Jeep, Kollwitz's close friend, described this etching memorably: "A mother, animal-like, naked, the light-colored corpse of her dead child between her thigh bones and arms, seeks with her eyes, with her lips, with her breath, to swallow back into herself the disappearing life that once belonged to her womb." (Prelinger, p. 42)

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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. 

The postings in the second anthology originally appeared from April 2009 through December of 2010. Because the 87 pieces appear in the order they were published, they don’t have linear coherence. Therefore the editors of have thoughtfully provided four indices in the back of the book: by author, by title with summaries, by healthcare role, and by subject/theme.

Prose pieces vary widely in style and technique. The poems are almost all free verse, although some poets have used regular stanzas. “Depression Session,” (p. 157) is an 18-line poem by a physician about a difficult mental patient. Many of the pieces explore the intensity of medical subjects with impacts on doctor, patient, and/or family. Some of them show limits of medicine. “Pearls before swine” (p. 191) relates the experience of a third-year medical student in a rotation at the office of a racist and sexist physician. “Babel: the Voice of Medical Trauma” (p. 158) dramatically tells the story of a poorly handled birth at a hospital.  

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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).

By compiling this useful selection of well known and less familiar stories and poems, Levine increases the visibility of the experience of familial caregiving among works of literature about medicine. While illness literature is typically classified by disease or disability, Levine focuses instead on the relationships between caregivers and those being cared for. Her collection organizes the literature into five parts: Children of Aging Parents; Husbands and Wives; Parents and Sick Children; Relatives, Lovers, and Friends; and Paid Caregivers who assist families. The literature in each section tends nonetheless to represent particular conditions: dementias, including Alzheimer's disease, cancer, and frailty in the first two sections; childhood cancer, hyperactivity, and mental illness in the third; AIDS in the fourth. 

Probably the most familiar and powerful works include Rick Moody's "Whosoever: The Language of Mothers and Sons," Ethan Canin's "We Are Nighttime Travelers," Alice Munro's "The Bear Came over the Mountain" (the source for the film "Away from Her"), Lorrie Moore's "People Like That Are the Only People Here," and several poems: Mark Doty's "Atlantis" and selections by Donald Hall, Jane Kenyon, James Dickey, and Raymond Carver.

These and the less familiar works offer disparate responses from both caregivers and those they care for. The narrator of Tereze Gluck's "Oceanic Hotel, Nice" thinks "what a bad person I was to not even want to touch his feet. . . it made me shudder" (220). The wife in Ann Harleman's "Thoreau's Laundry" cannot place her husband with Multiple Sclerosis in a nursing home because "his presence, however diminished, was as necessary to her as breathing" (116). The caregiver in "Starter" by Amy Hanridge "didn't want to be the person people feel bad about" (180).  Several stories explore the limits of obligation. As is often the case, the son in Eugenia Collier's "The Caregiver" is sick himself, failing to schedule his own doctor's appointments and dying before his mother. Marjorie Kemper's witty, exuberant "God's Goodness" plays out an unexpected relationship between a dying teenage boy and his Chinese immigrant aide, while his parents remain in the background.

Carol Levine's brief introduction to the collection explains that she excluded excerpts from memoirs and selected only very recent literature, almost all from the past three decades. A Resources section at the end includes some introductory medical humanities resources and practical resources for caregivers.

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