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Summary:Cortney Davis follows her 30 year career in nursing, from her experience as a student nurse washing a patient's feet, to dealing as a nurse practitioner with life and death issues in an inner city OB/GYN clinic. Her essays present epiphanies where she realizes what is important in a confusing and ambiguous situation, why she writes poetry even though she is exhausted from her daily work in the clinic, why she is a nurse when the job sometimes seems overpowering and depressing. The positive connections with patients--through kindness, caring, truth-telling, touch-outweigh the difficulties. Tedious routines are often transformed by spiritual insights and empathy. And sometimes what seems like a miracle inserts itself in a time of grief. Whether she is talking to a man in a coma or treating a sexually-abused teenager, her focus is on the care of the patient.
A teenager with a learner's permit drives his father to the emergency room. The father is hemorrhaging from the nose--the result of blood that is too thin and a punch thrown by his son. The father is abusive, especially when he drinks. Feeling endangered when his father shoves him, the boy retaliates by hitting the man in the face.
The father has valvular heart disease caused by a bout of rheumatic fever. He also has a cardiac arrhythmia requiring treatment with anticoagulation, but the dose of blood thinning medication must frequently be adjusted. After a frenetic ride, they arrive at the hospital and the father immediately enters the emergency room. The boy remains in the car listening to the radio and hoping the noise will somehow expunge the ugly words and perilous sentiment in his head. He discovers too late that a bloody nose can kill a man.
A college professor who suffers from Tourette's disorder deals with two challenging students in his English 101 class. Having spent years in therapy, Professor Jorge is now fairly content with his life in spite of the frequent vocal and motor tics that he labors to suppress. Allen Ramsey is the freshman prodigy who induces Jorge to reassess the implications of his existence. Anna is an undergraduate who is preoccupied with death. She has a crush on Jorge and leaves a suicide note in his office box.
One day Allen is late for class because he has a seizure. His seizures increase in frequency, but Allen doesn't mind them. He relishes them. Allen acknowledges that "It's as though I can smell my thoughts" during a seizure and "the world just changes" (170). Jorge finds Allen on the campus ground in a postictal state. He summons an ambulance, and Allen is admitted to the hospital.
When Allen returns to class weeks later, he is no longer the same person. With the use of medication and possibly surgery, doctors have abolished his seizures along with his former personality. Allen receives an "Incomplete" grade for the class. The semester's experience has Jorge lamenting Allen's shocking transformation, attempting to convince Anna of life's worth, and mulling the magnitude of his words.
When oral antibiotics are no longer effective, the narrator grudgingly consents to begin a six-week course of intravenous antibiotic therapy with Rocephin (a powerful, broad-spectrum antibiotic). She has an infection caused by spirochetes. The illness has been festering for as long as ten years but has only recently been diagnosed. It causes joint pain and stiffness. Her daughter has already been successfully treated for the same infection.
Every morning in her kitchen, the narrator performs the same ritual. She cautiously infuses the antibiotic and imagines that the golden fluid is extinguishing the corkscrew-shaped microbes. At first she experiences a drug reaction, but the event only convinces her that the treatment is actually working.
She senses that her husband and her friend are repulsed by the treatment (especially the syringes and IV apparatus). A visiting nurse, Ginger, comes to the house to perform minor maintenance on the intravenous line. She upsets the narrator with grim information about the infection and an account of a patient suffering from the same disease who is currently in awful condition. Dr. Kennicott, the narrator's physician, has not been so forthcoming about the course of the illness or pessimistic about the prognosis. The narrator chastises Ginger. Both women are now distressed. The narrator's immediate goal is to control her emotions and avoid crying.
Summary:Celia has her hands full. The maxillofacial prosthetist is overwhelmed by the demands of caring for her ill husband at home. Her job - crafting replacement parts for people whose faces are damaged - is truly art but involves interacting with distraught patients and angry families. Her mother constantly telephones to offer unsolicited advice. Celia's husband, Simon, has multiple sclerosis. He has been treated in the emergency department many times and recently has been on a ventilator. Celia realizes that she unintentionally hurts Simon just by caring for him. She has never developed the knack of painlessly administering his injections. When she attaches the feeding pump to his G-tube (a feeding tube permanently set in the stomach), she induces pain by yanking too hard. Her mother, Bess, and best friend, Leslie, try to convince Celia that Simon would be better off in a nursing home, and her life would be less stressful. Although she has a lover, Celia cannot face losing her husband.
Leprosy looms large in this story about transformation and loss set in post World War II Japan. A nineteen-year-old pearl diver notices a numb red spot on her forearm. Later on, another blemish appears on her lower back. These two lesions are manifestations of a mild case of leprosy. Her infection will be arrested by medication and never get any worse. The girl is forcibly transported to the Nagashima Leprosarium, an island where she will spend the rest of her life except for a few brief excursions and one extended "escape" at the age of sixty-four.
Despite the introduction of new and effective drugs--Promin (sulphone) and dapsone--authorities still fear allowing the leprous patients to return to society. Inhabitants of the sanatorium are admonished on arrival that their past is erased. Each individual must begin a new life and select a new name. The protagonist chooses the moniker Miss Fuji. She is a kind and sensitive young woman who eventually functions as a nurse and caregiver for the other patients incarcerated in the sanatorium. As a punishment, Miss Fuji is required to attend abortions and dispose of the dead fetuses.
As the decades pass, conditions on the island improve. The number of residents with leprosy still living there dwindles from about two thousand people to six hundred. Even a bridge connecting Nagashima to the mainland is constructed. It no longer matters. Emotional and psychological barriers remain. When Miss Fuji has an opportunity to create a new life for herself away from the sanatorium, she still returns to the place and the people that have been her home and family for so many years.
Before Jamie Weisman went to medical school and became a physician she wanted to be a writer. As she struggled to make a career out of writing, she was forced to acknowledge that the obscure, life-threatening condition that had plagued her since adolescence could not be factored out of her plans. Writers don't have easy access to affordable health insurance and her monthly intravenous infusions of antibodies and interferon were very expensive. Yet they were essential to fend off infection, for she had an immune system malfunction.
Of course, finances were not the only reason that Weisman decided to go into medicine. As is often the case, her own experience of illness was an important motivating factor, as was the fact that her father, of whom she is very fond, was a physician. This memoir describes significant stages of Weisman's illness, her interaction with the physicians she consulted, and the issues she grapples with as she pursues her life as a physician, wife, and mother (she graduated from Emory University's school of medicine in 1998 and practices dermatology).
A Doctor's Story of Friendship and Loss, this book is, in a sense, a sequel to Verghese's earlier memoir, My Own Country: A Doctor's Story of a Town and Its People in the Age of AIDS (see this database). The Tennis Partner tells the parallel stories of Verghese's disintegrating marriage as he establishes new roots in El Paso, Texas and of his new deep friendship with a (male) medical student who shares his passion for tennis. Both men are struggling to re-establish order in their personal lives: Verghese, in easing himself out of a dying marriage while trying to maintain a close relationship with his two sons; David (the tennis partner), in remaining drug-free and successfully completing medical training, which had been interrupted by his addiction.
Verghese, an experienced physician trained in infectious disease and an expert on AIDS treatment, relishes his role as David's mentor; David, a former tennis "pro," enjoys teaching Verghese how to play better. Playing tennis together for the sheer joy of it, each finds release. Tennis becomes the route through which each can unburden himself to the other, seeking solace in a difficult time. Through it "we found a third arena outside of the defined boundaries of hospital and tennis court . . . at a time in both our lives when friendship was an important way to reclaim that which had been lost." (339)
While the reader suspects that David must have a drug problem because the Prologue to the book, narrated in the third person, describes a "young doctor from El Paso" in drug treatment, Verghese the biographer has no inkling of the problem until one-third into his first person narrative. He is shocked, but in some ways the bonds of their friendship are strengthened. Each has only the other as a confidant.
David, however, has another addiction: women. The friendship becomes increasingly complicated as Verghese tries to remain both supportive and objective. Eventually David resumes "using" and Verghese must decide how to respond, both professionally and on a personal level. The turmoil in both lives ends tragically for David and causes profound grief in Verghese.
This beautiful poem appears in a section called "Sequence, Sometimes Metaphysical." It is a penetrating rendering, at one and the same time, of "pure despair" and of transcendence; of the curse and simultaneous exaltation of heightened awareness; of the personal experience of "madness," "my shadow pinned against a sweating wall," "the edge is what I have," and of a more profound soul-searching that contemplates union with nature and with God: "I climb out of my fear / The mind enters itself, and God the mind, / And one is One, free in the tearing wind."
This short poem appears chronologically just before another poem entitled "Lines Upon Leaving a Sanitarium." The narrator describes a treatment he is undergoing for suicidal depression--soaking in a warm bath for hours each day. Rhyming couplets chillingly (in contrast to the water temperature) relate how the treatment is supposed to work to "refit" him for life. But the narrator is numb: "I do not laugh; I do not cry; / I'm sweating out the will to die."
He notes in ending, the paradox of mental illness: that recovery requires disposing of the past. But how can one dispose of that which is a part of the self? What does it mean to "be myself again"? Is it possible to be yourself if you lose your past? In another poem, In a Dark Time, Roethke asks, "Which I is I?" (see this database).