Showing 621 - 630 of 674 Nonfiction annotations

A Very Easy Death

Beauvoir, Simone de

Last Updated: Dec-18-1997
Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

A retrospective and reflective review of the last weeks in the life of the author's aging mother. Threaded throughout the chronicle of the progressive downhill course of the patient dying of cancer are flashbacks to the earlier relationships among the author, her sister, and their mother. The course of the illness enables the reader to view many of the common problems that inform the doctor-patient, nurse-patient, and parent-child relationship. The narrator, who is an accomplished writer, creates vivid and timely images of the hospital as experienced by the lay person.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

In this memoir Sheed reflects on his experience of three major illnesses: polio; clinical depression, related to alcoholism and sleeping pill addiction; and cancer. He contrasts the incongruous and paradoxical "inner life" of illness, with the often oversimplified prototypical experience represented by AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] literature, various psychiatric orthodoxies, and popular media.

Issues that arise include the tension between medical authority and patient experience, caregivers' and clinicians' projections, friends' and family's misapprehensions, and the surprises, both welcome and horrifying, that occur in the course of treatment and recovery because no illness, mental or physical, follows a textbook format.

The narrative is a wry examination of games patients play as well as a confession, dry and witty but also extraordinarily perceptive, of the failed and false expectations, pretenses, fears, resistances, rage, and qualified pleasures that characterized his personal odysseys through illnesses that have often been simplified and obscured by popular mythmaking.

View full annotation

Last Things

Spark, Debra

Last Updated: Nov-23-1997
Annotated by:
Squier, Harriet

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

The author recounts the last months of her sister's life as she slowly died of breast cancer in her mid-20's. The narrator and her sister, Cyndy, renegotiate their relationship and family roles throughout the illness. The narrator addresses the issue of living despite the prospect of dying, and of trying not to die while in the midst of attempting to live one's life. The narrator also recognizes the centrality of desire (in its broadest sense) in our lives, and describes our guilt about satiating our desires, the sense of loss from not ever really satiating them, and the inability to satisfy the desires of another.

View full annotation

Stillborn

Fischer, Maribeth

Last Updated: Nov-23-1997
Annotated by:
Squier, Harriet

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

A grown daughter recounts how her mother suddenly left her family for another man and moved away. The author feels alternately puzzled and betrayed by her mother's leaving. With her mother's help, she explores the complex connections between her mother's action and her mother's experience of having a stillborn child many years before.

She describes how each family member reacted to the discovery that the child was stillborn, how the nurses took the baby away and wouldn't let her parents hold him, and how little they actually grieved over or talked about the baby afterward. In her role as protector of her family, shielding everyone else from the pain of the stillbirth, the author's mother lost something central of herself. She left her family in order to begin to find it.

View full annotation

On the Death of a Parent

McLoughlin, J., ed.

Last Updated: Nov-04-1997
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Memoirs)

Summary:

In this collection, sixteen writers (including the editor, in her introduction) recount the deaths of one or both of their parents. They explore a wide range of questions: about the relationship between parents and their children, about the inevitability of the loss of that relationship (if it is lost in death, for, as the editor asks, "is the death of a parent really the end of the relationship?" [p. 2]), and about the conflicts that arise between the necessary separation that comes with adulthood and the complex ongoing attachments which in these stories enrich, haunt, inform and in many ways determine the lives of the tellers.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

This history of western medicine focuses on British life in the eighteenth century. Williams begins his treatise by wondering if "we realize sufficiently what we have escaped by being alive in the twentieth, not the eighteenth, century." He then catalogues in the subsequent 12 chapters the agonies not only of illness but also of medical treatment in the 1700’s.

Topics are wide-ranging and include blood-letting, parturition, infant malnutrition, rampant infectious diseases, maltreatment of the insane, surgery prior to anesthesia, water therapy, and military medicine. Primary source quotations interspersed in the narrative add to the drama. For example, the deposition of a widower (his wife died while pregnant) is quoted: " . . . Being taken ill of a paine in her right side under her short ribb together with a great difficulty of breathing having but 14 weeks to go with Child Mr Hugh Chamberlen Senr was sent for to take care of her, who thereupon gave her in the space of nine days four vomitts, four purges, and caused her to be bled three times to the quantity of eight ounces each time: Then gave her something to raise a spitting after which swellings and Ulcers in her mouth followed . . . . " (p. 31)

A few medical advances at the close of the century are also described, notably the smallpox vaccine developed by Jenner and the administration of First Aid to wounded soldiers at the frontlines (developed by Larrey). The text is accompanied by black and white illustrations, such as an inside view of Bedlam (Bethlehem Hospital) by William Hogarth (A Rake’s Progress, plate VIII).

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

This thoroughly researched book helps us understand John Keats's life and work in terms of his medical training. Goellnicht argues that, contrary to some critics' view that Keats was "anti-scientific" or "anti-intellectual," Keats incorporated much of the knowledge gained from his six years of medical training into his poetry.

The book begins with a chapter of biographical information about Keats, emphasizing the nature of medical training in the early nineteenth century, but includes Keats's self-diagnosis of tuberculosis. The heart of the book consists of four chapters, organized by scientific topic, which relate the specifics of Keats' s medical training to his writing: Chemistry, Botany, Anatomy and Physiology, and Pathology and Medicine.

Excerpts of Keats' poetic and epistolary writing are examined in each of these chapters in light of Keats' scientific and medical knowledge. For instance, in the chapter on Botany, the uses of specific botanical species in his writing are examined in terms of what was known of materia medica (see annotation for Ode on Melancholy. Furthermore, the author explores Keats's interest in plants and trees as metaphors for life, such as his interest in "the flower as a vital, but passive, being that exists in a state akin to negative capability."

The author concludes the book with a summary statement about each of the chapters (e.g., " . . . from pathology he adopted the approach of viewing aspects of life, in particular love and poetic creativity, in terms of morbid and healthy states . . . ") and also the caveat that the book is not meant to in any way diminish other profound influences on Keats, such as his interactions with other Romantic poets. Goellnicht notes, however, that Keats himself united the worlds of medicine and poetry in his poem, "The Fall of Hyperion," in which he describes the poet as a physician.

View full annotation

A Plague of Tics

Sedaris, David

Last Updated: Sep-16-1997
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

This is the second of 13 short autobiographical pieces in the book, Naked. In it, Sedaris describes, in vivid and humorous detail, the obsessive compulsive behavior that plagued his life from grade school into college. From licking every light switch encountered, to counting each of "six hundred and thirty-seven steps" on the way home from school, "pausing every few feet to tongue a mailbox" and having to retrace his steps if he lost count, Sedaris was compelled to " . . . do these things because nothing was worse than the anguish of not doing them."

Each year, a teacher called on his mother to discuss the strange tics. His mother took his behavior and these visits in stride: "The kid's wound too tight, but he'll come out of it. So, what do you say, another scotch, Katherine?" "She suggested my teachers interpret my jerking head as a nod of agreement. 'That's what I do, and now I've got him washing the dishes for the next five years.'"

Life became more complicated when Sedaris entered college and had to contend with a roommate. There are amusing descriptions of the elaborate stratagems that he devised to conceal or explain the tics. Finally, "my nervous habits faded about the same time I took up with cigarettes . . . more socially acceptable than crying out in tiny voices."

View full annotation

Paula

Allende, Isabel

Last Updated: Sep-16-1997
Annotated by:
Poirier, Suzanne

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

Novelist Isabel Allende's daughter, Paula, died after entering into a coma following an acute attack of a porphyria disease. Allende was at her daughter's side in a hospital in Spain, where Paula was living with her husband, and later in Allende's home in California, where Paula spent the last months of her life.

When Paula first lost consciousness, Allende began writing for her an account of her illness, which soon grew into a memoir of Allende's own life: "Listen, Paula, I am going tell you a story, so that when you wake up you will not feel so lost" (p. 3), Allende begins. As Allende tells of her childhood, political and feminist awakenings, and her growth as a writer, she also watches Paula sink deeper and deeper into coma. She remains insistent, however, that Paula will recover, works in secret with a sympathetic physician to wean Paula from the respirator that breathes for her, then flies her back to California for rehabilitation.

In the end, though, she faces the reality that Paula will not recover, and, as she finishes telling Paula the story of her own life, she discovers that she has found the strength to let Paula go. Paula dies in a sunny room in Allende's house, surrounded by family and friends.

View full annotation

The Night-Side

Skloot, Floyd

Last Updated: Sep-16-1997
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Essays)

Summary:

This book is a series of essays about the illness experience. The author developed chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) after a viral illness in 1988. Suddenly, this 41-year-old public policy analyst, who was also a successful writer and a competitive runner, was thrust into the world of severe disability. He developed subtle but extensive neurological deficits that affected his concentration and memory. For months he could hardly get out of bed. He discovered that not only was the cause of CFS unknown, many physicians did not even believe it was a "real" illness.

"Double Blind" tells the story of Skloot's participation in an ill-fated clinical trial of Ampligen, an experimental treatment for CFS. Other essays describe the author's experience with alternative medicine, including an intensive course of Ayurvedic "detoxification" ("Healing Powers") and a visit to Germany to encounter Mother Meera, an avatar of the Divine Mother ("Honeymooning With the Feminine Divine").

"Home Remedies" presents his comic experience with helpful calls and letters telling him how to get rid of the illness. Other essays deal with Skloot's learning to cope with chronic disability. A final section includes poems about the illness experience of several composers and artists (e.g. Carl Maria von Weber, George Gershwin, and Vincent van Gogh).

View full annotation