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Second Opinions, Jerome Groopman's second collection of clinical stories, illuminates the mysteries, fears, and uncertainties that serious illness evokes in both patients and doctors. The book is divided into 8 chapters, each a clinical story involving a patient with a life-threatening illness, plus a prologue and epilogue written by Groopman. The stories focus on people who face myelofibrosis, acute leukemia, hairy cell leukemia, breast cancer, and marrow failure of unknown cause. Two chapters are Groopman's personal accounts of his firstborn son's near fatal misdiagnosis, and of his grandfather's Alzheimer's dementia.
Sister John of the Cross is a Carmelite nun who has lived in a California monastery for 28 years. She writes poetry and essays. In some ways, writing is nearly equivalent to prayer for her. Sister John is revered for her spirituality and visions. What she has long assumed to be special blessings from God turn out to be manifestations of temporal lobe epilepsy due to a small meningioma.
The nun is forced to confront the scientific explanation that her headaches, altered perception, and hypergraphia are secondary to a seizure disorder and not a gift of divine favor and spiritual ecstasy. Sister John agrees to undergo surgery to remove the tumor aware of the likelihood that a surgical cure will also eliminate her unique visions and insight. Postoperatively, she admits that life without epilepsy seems dull but realizes that "only in complete darkness do we learn that faith gives off light." [p. 178]
By most accounts Dr. Sam Abelman is a failure in life, an irascible old general practitioner who lives in the same grimy Brooklyn neighborhood he has always lived in. He is truculent and tactless, an easy mark for the young specialists who steal his patients. One night a bunch of hoodlums drop a battered young woman on his doorstep. Abelman's nephew, a reporter, publishes a news item about the incident, "Doctor Saves Raped Girl."
Meanwhile, Woody Thrasher, vice president of an advertising agency, is looking for a new type of television show to sell to one of his clients. He comes up with Americans USA, a candid look at "ordinary" Americans who are just doing their jobs, but in an extraordinary way. He decides that Sam Abelman would be the ideal first subject.
Thrasher, a young, high-powered executive, meets Abelman, the last angry man, who summarizes his view on life by saying, "The bastards just won't let you live." The doctor's practice is declining, he can't afford to retire or move away, and the local people certainly don't seem to love him. They don't show gratitude for his services. They don't pay their bills. Many of them consider him a racist, and incompetent to boot. Abelman is clearly not a good candidate for "doctor of the year."
Yet, Thrasher soon finds himself intrigued. Abelman spends hours working in his miniature vegetable garden and reading Henry David Thoreau. He is a brilliant diagnostician, a devoted husband, and an endless campaigner against the "galoots" who think the world owes them a living. Abelman takes aim at "galoots" wherever he finds them, and he finds them everywhere.
The novel interweaves these two men's developing relationship, as Abelman agrees to do the show and Thrasher works to sell it to his bosses, with incidents from Abelman's earlier life. When it turns out that Americans USA will award its subjects their "heart's desire" (in Sam Abelman's case a new house), the doctor declines to go on, refusing to accept "charity" and claiming that Thrasher "tried to crap me up." In the end he agrees to do the show, but suffers a massive heart attack and dies.
After a stressful trip to cold-war Russia in 1964, Saturday Review editor Norman Cousins tells how he developed a debilitating illness which confines him to bed. He is admitted to hospital for tests and treatments, and is diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, but his condition deteriorates and he is given a gloomy prognosis. He notices that the depressing routine of hospital life tends to produce side effects that aggravate his condition.
With the blessing of one of his doctors, he checks out of hospital and into a comfortable (yet less expensive) hotel where the food is better and he can watch funny movies while he medicates himself with high doses of Vitamin C. He is convinced that the slow improvement in his condition is owing to his individualized methods of therapy and his having taken charge of his own situation.
This interesting and meaningful book of poems is difficult to describe and to classify. The author has had three kidney transplants and so is knowledgeable about chronic illness and its impact. Though he does write about dialysis and transplantation, he also writes about many other kinds of illness, including the chronic fatigue syndrome, dementia, autism, cancer, and mental illness.
"Three Doctors" describes the gathering of physicians each morning to check on their narrator/patient, regardless of who overhears their conversation. The "Non-verbal Autistic Man" traces the daily, lockstep gait of a human being who speaks only one phrase and who walks the same path over and over. Not all of the poems concern the failure of the body. There are also descriptive poems about the Midwest and about various well known personages. The constant reinvention of the individual, even in the face of difficulty and death, is a common theme of this collection.
One morning, while pondering the stress of his latest assignment at his uninspiring job, the narrator of Kangaroo Notebook feels an itching on his leg that seems to indicate an unusual hair loss. The next morning he wakes to discover that he is sprouting small radishes on his shins. After battling to be seen in his local medical clinic, he enters a hospital, where a physician prescribes hot-spring therapy in Hell Valley.
Hooked to a penile catheter and an IV bottle, the narrator begins a harrowing journey on his hospital bed through the underworld that seems to lie beneath the city streets. Here, he seeks health not so much as he seeks simple explanations for what is happening to him and the strange people he meets: abusive ferreymen, waiflike child demons, vampire nurses, a chiropractor who runs a karate school and works a sideline as a euthanist.
In this complex poetry collection (divided into three sections, "Body," "Home," and "World"), the author moves from the specifics of the individual diseased or dying body to the more universal realm of suffering and politics. Not so much a poet of narratives as a conjurer of images, Levin writes from changing points of view: first as a man, then as a woman; as a surgeon, then a patient.
Poet Louise Glück's introduction states that the book's power "derives from ambiguity: the raised scalpel-healing that looks like assault," and Levin's raw imagery is indeed both challenging and celebratory. In the opening poem, "Lenin's Bath," we watch with Dr. Sergei Debov as Lenin's corpse is tenderly submerged in a vat of embalming fluid. Debov imagines the germs that crawl along the cadaver "seeking a way in."
In the next poem, "Eyeless Baby," the reader becomes a caregiver searching a deformed infant's face that is nothing but a single nostril and a cleft palate. In "Bathhouse, 1980," we see (as the blind baby cannot) through a young homosexual man's eyes both the human longing for passion and the viral "scourge" that, again, seeks entrance. The angels that gather in the bathhouse's corner become nurses ("The Nurse") who swarm like moths over a hospitalized patient's body.
This interweaving of place and point of view continues throughout, creating a magical, disturbing world in which a reader can be both body ("The Baby on the Table") and healer ("In the Surgical Theatre"). Other powerful poems include "Personal History," "The Beautiful Names" (in which a young boy learns to name the sexual organs and so discovers their beauty), and "Witness."
Summary:In the title story of this collection, "Survival Rates," a husband's thyroid cancer appears to be a greater threat to his marriage than it does to his health. The young girl who survives an accident in "Jumping" ends up a casualty anyway. In "Howard Johnson's House," a plastic surgeon repairs a nine year old girl's nose after it is severely damaged by a dog bite. Even before the injury, however, the child's nose was hideous. When the surgeon gives her a cosmetically perfect nose, the girl's mother is not merely disappointed but outraged. Two girls must adapt to life after colon surgery in "Krista Had a Treble Clef Rose."
Written by surgeon and renowned author Sherwin B. Nuland, this book offers both a detailed look into the workings of the human body and a glimpse into the heart and work of the author. Furthermore, it is also a philosophical treatise on the wonder of human life and the beauty of "animal economy." As a human biology text for the layman, the book explicates the major organ systems of the human body, such as the nervous system (including the sympathetic nervous system), the cardiovascular system, the gastrointestinal tract, the immunologic and hematologic systems (including coagulation, cell lines, lymphatics), and the urogenital system (including reproduction and childbirth).
Nuland intertwines dramatic stories of his surgical patients with the systems review. For instance, the book begins with the near death of a woman by hemorrhage from a ruptured splenic artery aneurysm. Another dramatic story involves the near death of a young diabetic woman from bacterial overgrowth in the gut. The reader also hears the patients' versions of their illness experiences--Nuland gives direct quotes from what they have said or written about their experiences. Through it all, Nuland expresses his awe and wonder at the workings and capabilities of the human body.
In the first poem, Starting the I.V. (see this database) the poet tells us that he will approach the secrets of the body without flinching, "I have learned not to hesitate here, / not to let fears of my own" get in the way. The instrument he uses is the poem. Through these poems he reveals some of the hidden truth of the healing relationship. "A transformation," he calls it, "as if through this intimacy / we have become part / of each other." ("Physical Exam")
Watts captures the pain and horror of illness in striking images. For example, the numbness felt by a person suffering from multiple sclerosis "felt like oatmeal / drying on the skin" and the disease itself was "this moth of his nightmare / . . . eating at the wool / of his nerve endings." ("ms") In another poem ("restrictive") a patient's tortured breath "creaks like a tight box / a ship in a storm." Among the most remarkable of these 35 poems are "The Body of My Brother," "July 16th," "Chronic Pain Syndrome," and the exquisite prose-poem, "The Girl in the Painting by Vermeer."