Showing 61 - 70 of 388 annotations tagged with the keyword "Narrative as Method"

War Dances

Alexie, Sherman

Last Updated: Mar-23-2010
Annotated by:
Kohn, Martin

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

I believe the best way to describe this partly autobiographical story is as an illness travelogue. Alexie prepares his reader for a strange journey by making the first stop his discovery of a dead cockroach in his suitcase. This allusion to The Metamorphosis works wonderfully well for the Kafkaesque remainder of the journey.  His bodily journey moves from loss of hearing to possible meningioma to his doctor's proclamation that his "brain is beautiful." His existential/psychological/cultural journey, triggered by his bodily suffering, moves in multiple directions: to time spent with his dying father, his own experience with hydrocephalus, his grandfather's death in WWII, and his loving relationships with his children, wife and brother-in-law.

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The Sweet Hereafter

Banks, Russell

Last Updated: Mar-22-2010
Annotated by:
Wear, Delese

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This is a novel that begins with a fatal school bus accident in Sam Dent, a small town in upstate New York. The circumstances leading up to the accident appear in the first chapter, whose narrator is the bus driver Dolores Driscoll. The remaining chapters have three different narrators: Billy Ansel, who lost a son and daughter and now drinks himself into a less painful state; Mitchell Stephens, a lawyer from New York City who appears days after the accident, fueled by his belief that there is no such thing as an accident, himself the grieving father of a drug-addicted daughter; Nichole Burnell, a teenage survivor of the crash, now a parapalegic. Each presents a different view because of the unique history each brought to the tragedy.

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Annotated by:
Wear, Delese

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Prozac Nation is Wurtzel's memoir of her depression, which she traces from the age of 11 to her senior year in college in chapters marking different phases or manifestations of her illness. The book situates her illness squarely within her family dynamics where she found herself the "battlefield on which [her] parents' differences were fought," and describes in excruciating detail her inner life that at any given time was marked with a "free-flowing messy id" to nihilism, numbness, rage, and fear, ultimately leading to a suicide attempt. The last few chapters chronicle her slow "recovery," due to her conflicted relationship with psychopharmacology and an extraordinary psychiatrist.

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Suburban Shaman

Helman, Cecil

Last Updated: Feb-22-2010
Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Because this lucid, rich, and incisive book has not, as yet, been published in the United States, it has not acquired the readership it deserves. For those teaching Medical Humanities or those interested in broader or more global stories and perspectives about physician training, practice, and experiences, Helman’s most recent publication should be considered.

Part One (“Setting Out”) begins in South Africa where Helman’s family, comprised of a dozen doctors, has lived for generations and where his own medical studies occurred. As a child, he accompanied his father on rounds while other children spent holidays at the beach. Before long he discovered how hospitals, during the madness of Apartheid, were to “some extent a distorted mirror-image of the world outside” (3). Appalled by the differences in care and treatment, the keenly aware young man kept notes. His vivid observations of the harsh context of social injustices provide an unequivocal, eloquent, and disturbing critique of medicine then and there. His acute observations of physician behaviors and indigent populations in the city and in the bush contribute, as readers discover in later chapters, to the author’s expanded and compelling interests in cultural anthropology.

Part Two (“The Family Doctor”) leads to London. “After all the heat and light and space of Africa, London—with its low leaden sky and constant drizzle—was like living inside a Tupperware box, one stored deep inside a refrigerator” (47). In the 60s Helman’s migration required an adjustment to a world of technology and order, where as a family practitioner, he had become, in fact, a suburban shaman. In any society, patients wanted “relief from discomfort, relief from anxiety, a relationship of compassion and care, some explanation of what has gone wrong, and why, and a sense of order or meaning imposed on the apparent chaos of their personal suffering to help them make sense of it and to cope with it” (xvi).

Gradually Helman saw connections between the role of family physician and traditional healer: both involved an understanding of “not only a body’s internal equilibrium but also the equilibrium of the patient’s relationships with the world he or she lives in and how treatment should aim not only to treat the diseased organ but also to restore the patient’s life that equilibrium of relationships” (xvii). His encounters with patients and the stories they reveal suggest how important these often overlooked connections are and why they ought to be included in medical training and practice.

By the time readers reach Part Three ("States of the Art”), the author has moved into broader realms of thinking, in which medicine and illnesses are examined anthropologically. After 27 years of clinical practice Helman’s white coat and stethoscope are placed on a hook. Now, as a credentialed anthropologist at University College London, his larger lens allows for sustained scrutiny of the complexities, ambiguities, and nuances in such chapters as “Grand Rounds,” “Hospitals,” “Placebos,” “Third Worlds.” Helman’s range of experiences, multi-disciplinary training, intellectual conclusions, and abundant common sense argues for techno-doctors to learn from holistic practitioners. Whether devastating or humorous, the critiques reflect not just care provision but shared human capacities: the insights are thoughtful and fresh and very worthwhile.

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The Resurrectionist

McCann, Richard

Last Updated: Feb-12-2010
Annotated by:
Garden, Rebecca

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

McCann’s essay is an account of his experience of liver transplantation. It describes his physical and psychic experience of liver failure while waiting on the list for an available organ, his experience in the hospital when the procedure was done, and the aftermath, in which he makes conceptual and emotional adjustments.

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Somatic Fictions

Vrettos, Athena

Last Updated: Feb-11-2010
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

This scholarly study examines "what it meant to ’talk of diseases’ in the second half of the nineteenth century" (2) and how discourses of health and illness were a vehicle for exploring individual and social identities, including gendered, racialized, and national identities. Narratives of physical illness are not simply artifacts of Victorian medical culture, Vrettos argues, but offer examples of the pervasive "master narratives" that shaped Victorian middle-class culture.

Individual chapters focus on the ill female body as an expressive text with variable legibility (and on nurses as privileged readers of ill bodies); "nervous illness" and the role of narrative in reconstructing the self; "neuromimesis" or neurotic imitation of disease; and the "politics of fitness and its relation to imperialist ideology." Vrettos discusses fictional works by Louisa May Alcott, (Hospital Sketches; see this database) Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot (Middlemarch; see this database), H. Rider Haggard, Henry James, Bram Stoker, and Harriet Beecher Stowe.

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Summary:

This DVD, a documentary of a medical student retreat to a museum, illustrates an approach to cultivating empathic understanding in medical students and residents by using the visual arts.  Florence Gelo, D.Min, created the arts program and the video. She is Behavioral Science Coordinator, Family Medicine Residency, Drexyl University College of Medicine. Students observe closely four paintings and are encouraged to experience their feelings about what they are seeing, and to express those feelings. The paintings are Prometheus Bound (Peter Paul Rubens 1618), Massacre of the Innocents (Pacecco de Rosa 1640), Rachel Weeping (Charles Wilson Peale 1618), and The Agnew Clinic (Thomas Eakins 1889; see annotation in this database).

Prometheus Bound is a disturbing scene of an eagle ripping the liver out of Prometheus. Students comment on the nakedness. the vulnerable position and the helpless expression on the face of this strong man, and on the eye contact between the eagle and Prometheus. In Massacre of the Innocents Dr. Gelo calls our attention to the faces of the mothers, helpless to save their children from the swords. In Rachel Weeping Gelo asks the students if they noticed the vials of medicine before the days of allopathic medicine.  Did they notice the one tear dropping from Rachel's face? (Peale added the medicine vials and his wife weeping to the original portrait of his infant daughter Margaret who died of smallpox.)

Two physician speakers, Horace DeLisser, and Rhonda Soricelli provide additional commentary about how engagement with a painting is similar to engaging with a patient, and how learning technology-focusing on the scientific and the medical- detracts students from learning to look at the big picture and the humanistic side of medicine.  Traditional medical education does not teach doctors to be present to patients, to sit by their sides, to listen and invite dialogue of suffering and to not deny those aspects of what it means to be ill.  Dr. DeLisser further acknowledged his personal struggles with feelings of frustration, anger and grief when patients died in the ICU.  The importance of talking about the vulnerability of physicians, the concerns about what else they might have done, propelled him to develop Grieving Rounds.

A cancer survivor contrasts a "callous" physician's response to her care with  another physician who exemplified someone who has the expertise not only around the disease, but  has the ability to acknowledge the whole person and offer his companionship to be there to the very end: "...what we're going to do is....We'll take this step by step."


 

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Charming Billy

McDermott, Alice

Last Updated: Jan-20-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The charming alcoholic, Billy, has been found unconscious, on a street in his home neighborhood of Queens, New York City. His cousin and lifelong friend, Dennis, must identify his body after he dies, and help his widow Maeve through the funeral and its aftermath--just as he has often helped Maeve to carry the stuporous Billy to bed. Billy's funeral is the occasion for the reminiscences about him by his friends and family that forms this novel's story. These reminiscences reveal the web of community and generational continuity that is at the narrative's core.

A central tragedy in Billy's life has often been invoked by his friends to account for his alcoholism. Recently back from the second World War, Billy had met the Irish girl, Eva, and fallen in love with her. When she returned to Ireland he was determined to bring her back, along with her family, so that they could be married. But, as the story goes, Eva died and Billy, heartbroken, never really recovered. We learn early on, however, that Eva's death was fabricated by Dennis, who could not bear to reveal to Billy and to the rest of the family that Eva had married an Irish beau and used the money that Billy had been sending her to set her new husband up in business.

Even though Billy eventually learns that Dennis has lied to him, their friendship is undiminished. Neither Billy nor Dennis enlighten anyone else with the truth, until Dennis tells his daughter, following Billy's funeral. It is as if the truth would force Dennis to confront the inexplicable--that a man so loved by all destroyed himself for no apparent reason, was unable to accept all efforts to help him, unable to help himself, and, in effect, abandoned and rejected those who cared for him. But the novel concludes with an affirmation of trust, faith (religious and secular), friendship, and family ties and with an acknowledgment that the stories we tell and believe may be more important than what actually happens to us.

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To Suffer a Sea Change

Phelan, Peggy

Last Updated: Jan-20-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

Professor of performance studies at New York University, Peggy Phelan narrates the story of a vision disorder that began when she was 23 years old, caused by "open-angle glaucoma," a difficult-to-treat condition in which the vessels draining ocular fluid periodically constrict. The episodes are excruciatingly painful and disorienting: "I feel a staggering push behind my right eye. The right upper half of my face is on fire: I am certain that my eye has fallen out of its socket . . . " (508).

Phelan resists patienthood, beginning with her first visit to the doctor, in which she underplays what has happened to her. Rejecting surgery, coping with side effects of the drugs she must take, and concerned about her ability to continue as a visual arts scholar, she muddles through for several years. Then she experiences a frightening, vividly described episode of temporary blindness, which is followed by a migraine headache. Six months later she agrees to have surgery.

During the surgery, under local anesthesia, "my eye, which is frozen, can still see things as they pass over it . . . colors I have never seen before . . . I am seeing the roof of my own eye from the interior side. It is utterly breath stopping. I cannot speak" (521-522). Enabled to see her eye from a perspective that was not available to the physician, and grateful for this "visionary experience," Phelan finally accepts her situation. She is not cured, although her condition improves. "My story is finally the same as those of all the other patients . . . The only difference between me and them comes from the words I’ve suffered to find and the words I’ve suffered to flee" (525).

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A Book of Reasons

Vernon, John

Last Updated: Jan-20-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

In his dedication to the book, the author addresses his sons: "The secret to life? Clean your room." The meaning of this becomes clear as Vernon traces the story of his brother, Paul, with whose death the book begins. Paul was 15 years older than the author and had been only a shadowy presence in his life. When Paul died, John Vernon had to exercise his duties as executor of Paul's "estate," an estate that turned out to be a festering, stinking nightmare of a house.

The house was filled with 20 years worth of trash that represented 20 years of Paul's life as a recluse. This memoir is an attempt to imagine Paul's life and to understand the reasons for the course it took. It is also an attempt to "bear painful news" and to reflect on his own reactions to what he discovers and to Paul's death.

In order to do this, Vernon calls on history, interweaving his memories and what was revealed of Paul's life after his death with discussions of the beliefs and discoveries of past eras. Finding himself nailing a thermometer to the outside of Paul's house, the author describes the development of thermometers, and the nature of heat ("Heat"). What, he asks, is meant by "normal" atmospheric pressure? How abnormal was his brother? After all, he bought nursing-home insurance a year before he died. And how normal is he, John Vernon, affixing a thermometer to this wreckage?

As he builds a primitive set of steps to the house, the author explores the history of tool making and speculates about what distinguishes humans from animals; did Cain murder Abel with a hammer, and is he, John Vernon, his brother's keeper? ("Tools") Similar expositions and speculations interdigitate in subsequent sections entitled "Body," "Corpse," "House," "Origins." [At the end of the book, there is a bibliography of references for each section.]

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