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Under the aegis of the Association of American Medical Colleges and its journal, Academic Medicine, the editor of the Medicine and the Arts column has collected 100 selections for publication in this volume. Each selection is made up of a piece of literature or art relevant to the medical humanities, followed by a commentary that elucidates or elaborates upon the contribution of the primary piece to the practice of medicine.
Given the wide-ranging nature of the art and literature in this collection, essentially every keyword listed in this database could come into play; those denoted above identify broad categories under which fall the works discussed. The artists represented vary from poets of the classical period, to ancient and modern painters, to writers who study the human condition in their fiction or essays. The scope is enormous; the adventure daunting.
The poem begins, "I'm mighty glad to see you, Mrs. Curtis." The speaker is a woman who is dying of leukemia and Mrs. Curtis is the lady who comes around periodically with the book-cart, offering patients something to read. While the other patients are celebrating the holiday with family or friends, the speaker, who has no visitors, feels conspicuous and lonely. Thus, she is grateful for Mrs. Curtis' regular visit, especially since the book-cart lady appears willing to sit down and listen.
The patient's father is afraid to visit, since he knows "that I will predecease him / which is hard enough." Chemotherapy hasn't helped. The leukemia makes her so fatigued that she doesn't even feel like reading. So instead, she sits by the window and looks at the trees. Since the leaves have fallen, the trees look like "magnificent enlargements / Of the vascular system of the human brain."
The patient has given names to these "discarnate minds." For example, "there, near the path, / Is the great brain of Beethoven, and Kepler / Haunts the wide spaces of that mountain ash." These trees remind her of "The Transparent Man," a toy one of her friends had when they were girls. "It was made of plastic, with different colored organs, / And the circulatory system all mapped out / In rivers of red and blue." At the time she and her friend giggled, but now she remembers the intricacy with amazement, and stares at the riddle of the trees.
The dying patient decides not to take one of the books, but thanks Mrs. Curtis again for coming. [120 lines]
This poem consists of six "letters" in verse from an aged, chronically ill father to his daughter. In the first he presents in excruciating detail the sorry state of his body, and also Mother, "who falls and forgets her salve / and her tranquilizers, her ankles swell so and her bowels / are so bad . . . " Things are so bad that he has "made my peace because am just plain done for . . . " At the end he mentions the fact that, though the daughter enjoys her bird feeder, he doesn't see the point; "I'd buy / poison and get rid of their diseases and turds."
In the second letter, written after the daughter visited and gave them a bird feeder, he says that Mother likes to sit and watch the birds. In the next one, he talks about how much the birds eat and fight. As the letters progress, they include less and less about the parents' pain and disability, and more and more convey curiosity and, eventually, enthusiasm for bird watching.
By letter #5 the father ticks off the names of numerous species he has observed, and at the end casually mentions, "I pulled my own tooth, it didn't bleed at all." Finally, "It's sure a surprise how well mother is doing, / she forgets her laxative but bowels move fine." He ends by describing his plans for buying birdseed for the next winter. [112 lines]
This poem employs language in ways that are characteristic of the involuntary outbursts seen in patients with Gilles de la Tourette's syndrome. The devices include frequent obscenities, word repetition, and a jerky, spasmodic forward motion. The male Tourette patient is thwacking "the roof of the car, knuckles / calloused and winking . . . " He is driving with his wife beside him, patting her thigh, "her thighs are warm as kettles, your palms moist / as hiss . . . " Whatever it is that happens in the last stanza, he becomes excited, "god damn, god fucking / damn, and god bless." [30 lines]
Dr. Constance Petersen (Ingrid Bergman) is a beautiful, unattached psychiatrist whose business-like facade fails to conceal a natural empathy that draws men. For her, however, love is a mere epi-phenomenon, easy to explain and resist, until she meets Dr. Edwardes (Gregory Peck). The famous expert on the guilt complex has arrived to replace the retiring chief (Leo Carroll). Constance is smitten, and so, it seems, is he.
But soon, she realizes that Edwardes is "not well," that he is terrified of dark lines on white: fork marks on a tablecloth; threads in her robe. Worse, she discovers that Edwardes is not, in fact, Edwardes, but an amnesic physician of initials "J. B." who is convinced that he has murdered his analyst. Constance does the right thing by having him removed from work, but she refuses to believe he is a murderer. Wanting to protect her, he leaves. But she, intent on curing her lover, follows him on a journey to retrace his last movements. The task is to recover both a memory and a missing person.
They go skiing (dark lines on white) at a resort where the real Dr. Edwardes had sojourned with his patient-colleague. On a dangerous slope, J. B. suddenly remembers that Edwardes went over the cliff. The body is found, but it has a bullet in the back.
Now hiding from the police, the couple pose as newlyweds and flee to her old mentor in Rochester. Complete with accent and beard, Dr. Brulov (Michael Chekhov) is a delightful double of the recently deceased Sigmund Freud (1858-1939). It emerges that John Ballantine (Peck) never lost his childhood feelings of guilt over the accidental death of his little brother.
In a gruesome ten-second flashback, the tyke is abruptly impaled on a iron-spike fence. This ancient guilt was reactivated by his doctor’s demise and it was sublimated by the defense mechanism of an assumed identity to keep the dead man alive. An idle slip of the tongue reveals the murderer to be the jealous retiree. The killer threatens Constance and then makes a quick end by dispatching himself instead.
In this collection of 11 short stories, pediatrician-author Perri Klass primarily explores the world of women and their multiple and complex roles as mother, mother-to-be, friend, spouse, lover and professional. Parenthood--its glories, heartaches, tensions and mysteries--plays a prominent role in many of the stories. There is also a close look at woman-woman friendship--at what women say to their best friends and the nuances of the emotional responses to what is said or left unsaid.
Several stories feature single mothers: "For Women Everywhere" (a woman is helped through labor by her best friend), "Rainbow Mama" (a woman cares for her son during his diagnosis and initial treatment of leukemia), and "City Sidewalks" (a woman finds a baby on the sidewalk on Christmas Eve as she rushes to pick up her child from day care).
"In Necessary Risks," an anesthesiologist deals with work and her high energy preschool daughter while husband and easy-to-raise son head out to a dude ranch. In "The Trouble with Sophie," another high energy, dominant daughter wreaks havoc in kindergarten as well as with her concerned parents. In addition to the anesthesiologist, two other physician-mothers are featured in "Freedom Fighter" and "Love and Modern Medicine."
Parenting a newborn whilst handling other tasks is a theme featured in "Intimacy" (a high school biology teacher celebrates her first night of uninterrupted sleep as she both enjoys and envies her single friend's sex life) and in "Dedication" (a writer takes his stepson to a chess tournament while his biologist wife and newborn enjoy breastfeeding at home). Woman friendships are prominent in "For Women Everywhere," "Freedom Fighter," and "The Province of the Bearded Fathers." Grief and sudden infant death syndrome are themes of "Love and Modern Medicine."
The narrator, Latimer, begins the story with a vision of his death, which he attributes to a heart attack. He explains that, always sensitive after a childhood eye affliction and his mother's death, the further shock of a "severe illness" while at school in Geneva enabled him to see the future, and to hear others' thoughts--an experience which he describes as oppressive. He is fascinated by his brother's fiancée, Bertha, the only human whose thoughts are hidden from him, and whom he marries after his brother dies in a fall.
The marriage falters after Latimer eventually discerns Bertha's cold and manipulative nature through a temporary increase in his telepathy. When Latimer's childhood friend, the scientist Charles Meunier, performs an experimental transfusion between himself and Bertha's just-dead maid, the maid briefly revives and accuses Bertha of plotting to poison Latimer. Bertha moves out, and Latimer dies as foretold.
In the "free love" context of the nineteen-sixties, Harriet and David Lovatt are throwbacks to a more conservative, traditional, and family-oriented decade. Their life dream is to have a big house in the country filled with children, and it seems that they will succeed. After bearing four young children, however, Harriet is feeling the strain of years of childbearing, sleeplessness, money trouble, and her parents' and in-laws' disapproval of her fecundity.
Her fifth pregnancy is not only unplanned, but also unusually painful and disruptive. Harriet's doctor prescribes sedatives but finds nothing abnormal in her situation. When Ben is born, Harriet jokes that he is like "a troll or a goblin," but no one responds well to this unusually hairy and physically vigorous baby, who in turn does not respond to anything but his own desires and fears.
As he grows older, family pets and other children seem to be in physical danger. Health care professionals do not confirm the couple's conviction that Ben is not normal, but neither do they obstruct the decision to send Ben to a private institution, a removal that leaves the family temporarily happy until Harriet visits Ben and recognizes the institution for what it is, a place where all manner of "different" children are sent to live heavily medicated, physically restrained, and foreshortened lives away from families who do not want them.
Harriet brings Ben home, where he grows up amid what remains of the Lovatts' domestic fantasy, and finds community in a gang of thuggish older boys whom Harriet suspects are involved in various criminal acts. As the story closes, Ben has left home and Harriet imagines him in another country, "searching the faces in the crowd for another of his own kind" (133).
Summary:Words rushing forth in a punctuationless stream, a patient describes how his doctor gives him the bad news of advanced lung cancer, and his reaction to it. There is an almost comical aspect as the doctor struggles to be both factual and sympathetic, and the patient struggles to absorb what he is being told. The doctor asks if the patient is able to find comfort and "understanding" from religion (since, apparently, he is unable to provide them). This triggers a brief poetic flight of fancy in the patient, but then he departs in a state of dazed politeness.
Summary:This short story begins with a summary of the tale of Guillermo Blake, who believed that "the five senses obstruct or deform the apprehension of reality." The narrator then relates the tale to his own experience: upon visiting his gerontologist for a check-up, he is informed of a procedure that confers immortality. The "immortals" are reduced to living brains within wooden cubes, their bodies having been replaced by "formica, steel, plastics." The narrator tries not to show his horror, but moves immediately to a different part of the country under an alias.