Showing 631 - 640 of 722 Nonfiction annotations

Raising Lazarus

Pensack, Robert

Last Updated: Jan-13-1999
Annotated by:
Martinez, Richard

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Dr. Pensack writes in the first chapter of his memoir: "Through a lifetime I have been in the process of dying, consistently surprised when reminded that life is appallingly brief, and briefer still for me. The prospect of an early death has amounted to little more than embarrassment and loneliness, even though the routine of living can be, and usually is, just one goddamn thing after another. A new heart was somehow supposed to be my bloody-red carpet of victory." (p. 7)

At age 4, Pensack's mother died of IHSS, Idiopathic Hypertrophic Subaortic Stenosis--now known as HCM, Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, a genetically inherited, progressive disease of heart muscle that results in early death. At age 15, Pensack receives the terrible news of his own fate--the disease afflicts both Pensack and his older brother--and thus launches a life of near death experiences, numerous hospitalizations, early experiences at the National Institutes of Health with early investigators of the disease, pursuit of his own medical training and eventual specialty training in psychiatry, marriage and children, and ultimately, the waiting and eventual transplantation of a younger man's heart into his chest at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center when Pensack was 43.

Raising Lazarus tells of Pensack's journey through much of this, including his descent into madness, his fury and anger with medical colleagues, his poignant relationship with the heart surgeon who eventually performs the transplant, and the importance of his family in his refusal to die. While much of the book tells of the events leading to the transplant and post-operative period of Pensack's life, the reader learns of Pensack's early losses, including the death of his mother, and how these experiences shape the values of a gutsy and determined survivor, a man who continually returns to the struggle.

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Mirrorings

Grealy, Lucy

Last Updated: Jan-11-1999
Annotated by:
Squier, Harriet

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

This award-winning essay is the germ for Grealy's later book, Autobiography of a Face (see this database). In this piece, Grealy describes the influence of her experiences of cancer, its treatments, and the resulting deformity of her face on her development as a person.

She explores how physical appearance influences one's sexual identity and over all self worth. She also explores how one's own interpretation of one's appearance can be self fulfilling. Only after a year of not looking at herself in the mirror, ironically at a time when she appears more "normal" than ever before, does Grealy learn to embrace her inner self and to see herself as more than ugly.

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Annotated by:
Squier, Harriet

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

This essay is told from the perspective of an ophthalmologist who was consulted about a patient who had blurry vision. She is told by his internist that he has cancer but the family does not want him to know it. She plays along with the deception and does not inform the patient that his vision problems are from brain metastases. By serendipity she later learns that the patient knows his diagnosis but is playing along with the deception so as not to hurt his family. She is relieved to finally talk with him openly about his disease and his prognosis.

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The Hypnotist

Schneider-Braus, Kathleen

Last Updated: Nov-24-1998
Annotated by:
Squier, Harriet

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

A psychiatrist who is skilled at hypnotism is asked by an oncologist to hypnotize a difficult patient prior to a bone marrow biopsy. The psychiatrist is able to achieve excellent pain relief through hypnotism, much to her own surprise. She is exhausted by the mental energy she has expended in this experience, and is discredited by the oncologist, who doesn't really believe that hypnotism is anything special.

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Sudden Intimacies

Radetsky, Michael

Last Updated: Nov-24-1998
Annotated by:
Squier, Harriet

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

A physician recounts the experience of caring for a small child with an incurable disease. The father brings in a bright stuffed dinosaur for the child and despite all expectations, the child opens one eye and reaches for the toy, then lapses back into a coma. The family and physicians cry together. A week later the child dies. The narrator uses this example to argue that it is the intensity of a physician's experiences and the privilege of being a part of them, rather than whether or not the experience is happy, that gives medicine its meaning and satisfaction.

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Tears

Krauser, Paula

Last Updated: Nov-24-1998
Annotated by:
Squier, Harriet

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

A pediatric intern encounters her first dying child. Her initial response is to care for the child, hold him, and try to comfort him. She is told by her attending physician that this behavior is unprofessional. When she cries in response to her stress and grief, she is told she will never be an effective physician. The narrator then describes how she ultimately came to terms with her impulse to cry at stressful times, and how she interacts with patients in her current practice.

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Annotated by:
Squier, Harriet

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

The author describes her experience of growing up with hearing loss. In this excerpt, she describes herself as a six year old orphan who is being raised by two aunts. Young Frances tries to hide her hearing loss from her aunts because she is afraid they will recognize that she is inferior or useless and get rid of her. She invents an invisible friend who chooses to hear what he wants to and who doesn't feel ashamed of this disability.

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My World Now

Seaver, Anne Mae Halgram

Last Updated: Oct-30-1998
Annotated by:
Squier, Harriet

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

Mrs. Seaver writes about what it is like living in a nursing home. She writes cogently about the attitudes and behavior of staff, loneliness, lack of privacy, and her day to day experiences as a disabled 84 year old nursing home resident. The contrast between her former life and still-evident wit and intellect, and the way she is treated and diminished in her current environment is profound.

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Summary:

The thirty-four autobiographical essays were written while Klass was a medical student in the Harvard class of 1986. Many of her short chapters were previously published as columns in magazines, journals and newspapers. The insightful but often funny stories cover a variety of scientific and clinical subjects, lifestyle, eating habits, and relationships with other professionals, including nurses.

Pregnancy and the birth of her son half-way though training makes her experience somewhat unusual. In several other essays, including "Macho" and "Learning the Language," Klass reveals her particular sensitivity to language and the advantages and disadvantages of professional discourse.

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Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Summary:

For Booth all encounters between a storyteller (author) and listener (reader) are ethical in that they bring together the character (ethos) of each. These good and bad qualities of character describe both the author and the reader who "keeps company" with the author. Narratives, in addition to whatever aesthetic pleasure they may give us, always interpret life; they tell us about our lives and other possible lives. We are changed by our reading; the quality of life in the moment of our listening is not what it would be if we had not listened.

While we may disagree about what is great literature within and between cultures, Booth asks if we can hope to find a criticism that will respect variety and yet offer knowledge about why some fictions are worth more than others. His answer is "yes," and he devotes several hundred pages of careful argument and plentiful examples to support his claim.

Fictions are the most powerful of all the architects of our souls and societies. The ethics of criticism is a universal concern; no one can escape the effect of stories because everyone tells them and listens to them; therefore everyone consciously or not asks and answers these questions: Should I believe this narrator and thus join him? Am I willing to be the kind of person this story-teller is asking me to be? What kind of company am I keeping?

Ethics of narrative is a reflexive study, because it starts with one of its conclusions: that some experiences with narrative are beneficial and some are harmful. The minds we use in judging stories have been in part constituted by the stories we judge; there is no control group of untouched souls who have lived without narrative. We absorb the values of what we read; we have been that kind of person for at least as long as we remain in the presence of the work. The ethics of narrative is reciprocal; it affects teller as well as listener. Ethical debate about narrative values can lead to ultimate questions about the quality of life as it is lived.

Booth says every use of language carries freight of cultural values and norms. Ethical criticism cannot divorce itself from social and political contexts. Therefore, he says we come to our sense of value in narratives by experiencing them in context of others that are like and unlike them. We rely on past experiences to make judgments; validity is checked and corrected in conversation (a process he calls coduction). Coduction incorporates what we have experienced of other poems and poets; it judges by comparison and conversation (like a case-based approach). Whenever a narrative really works for us, we are sure to feel that the author's choices and ours are alike in kind, that he or she is our kind of person, practicing skills, virtues, moral powers that we admire.

In reader-response theory, regardless of what the author has tried to give, we can judge only what we manage to take. The reader-response denial that literary works have any intrinsic power or value comes in 2 forms: (1) all aesthetic values are subjective, belonging to each individual; (2) evaluations are corrected and improved in a given community; the community confers value. (Stanley Fish, Is There a Text in This Class? Harvard Univ. Press, 1980) Booth says that the question of whether the value is in the poem or in the reader is radically ambiguous. On the one hand, value is not there actually until it is actualized by the reader; on the other hand, it could not be actualized if it were not there in potential in the poem.

When we read a story we find ourselves in a world different from our own; we are exposed to the "Other" and to other value systems, which we "try on" and evaluate in comparison to the ones we know. We can surrender uncritically to whatever appeals to us, or we can stay aloof so we don't have to really examine these other values, or we can correct and refine our own experience once we have really understood the other value system (coduction).

According to Booth, serious ethical disasters produced by narratives can occur when people sink themselves into an "unrelieved hot bath" of one kind of narrative, such as one of racial superiority. He also notes that writers who come from ideological positions, such as Walker Percy and Flannery O'Connor, often hold those positions against the mistaken views held by their characters, so if the reader cannot distinguish the author's position from his characters' the reader is likely to misinterpret the message. He comments on that problem in Twain's Huck Finn, Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice. He refers to Chekhov's story, Home (annotated in this database), and many of Dostoevsky's works.

Booth says that we conduct our lives with and in metaphor, and he warns us not to think we have a literal picture when we're really dealing with metaphor. Some think ordinary language is unfigured and refers literally to a real world behind their language. They don't recognize their own metaphoric world. (See also Metaphors We Live By, by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, annotated in this database.)

In a discussion pertinent to medicine as a "battle against disease," Booth points out that the war metaphor implies a world where winning or losing is primary. While that cultural value may dominate western culture, it does not accurately describe the value systems of many people. Even the simplest narratives imply whole worlds according to which the narrative makes sense; all narrative is metaphoric.

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