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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."
This book is the very personal story of one woman's struggle against a debilitating mental illness, which fortunately she was helped to overcome in time to allow her to complete her medical education and become a practicing physician. She says that the material was recalled partly from a diary kept during the time of original events, from memories of others, and from medical records.
The first chapter describes the author as a medical student assigned to a psychiatric service; subsequent chapters go back to the beginning of her personally perceived problems at age six, concluding with her amazing recovery after being treated with dialysis and her eventual acceptance to and success in completing medical school.
Dr. North's descriptions of her own perceptions of the sensations she experienced, the voices which talked to her and her remarkable persistence in school despite this are mesmerizing. Also, her description of treatment by physicians and care in mental institutions is very instructive. Her description of family relationships is intrinsic to the telling of her story. This book describes the anguish of mental illness from the inside.
When Ruth's unfaithful and unappreciative husband Bobbo calls her a she-devil, she decides to appropriate that identity with a vengeance and take a different spot in the power relations of the world. She wants revenge, power, money, and "to be loved and not love in return"(49). Specifically, Ruth wants to bring about the downfall of her husband's lover, Mary Fisher, a pretty, blonde romance novelist who lives in a tower by the sea and lacks for neither love nor money nor power.
Ruth commences her elaborate revenge by burning down her own home and dumping her surly children with Mary and Bobbo. She continues on a literally shape-shifting quest in which she changes identities; gains skill, power, and money; and explores and critiques key sites of power and powerlessness in contemporary society, including the church, the law, the geriatric institution, the family home, and (above all) the bedroom.
By the end of the novel, Ruth achieves all four of her goals in abundance. Her success, however, raises complex ethical questions, not only because she uses the same strategies of manipulation and cruelty of which she was a victim, but also because of the painful physical reconstruction of her body that is the tool of her victory.
Alois Burda loves money. He is a wealthy owner of a car dealership who has many acquaintances but no true friends. He has been married twice and has three children but is uninterested in his family. Prior to his sixtieth birthday, he experiences weight loss, abdominal pain, and night sweats. Burda is diagnosed with inoperable metastatic cancer of the pancreas.
He seems worried most about what to do with his property and money. Before entering the hospital, he hides his money in some old slippers until he can decide what to do with it. He is comforted by a young nurse, Vera, whose voice reminds him of his mother's. After he dies, Burda's wife discards her husband's belongings into a heap of rubbish, unaware of the fortune hidden in his slippers.
The spoiled Long Island heiress, Judith Traherne (Bette Davis) is suffering from severe headaches and visual disturbances, which she tries to ignore in pursuit of wild parties and frenetic horse-back riding. Her friend and secretary, Ann (Geraldine Fitzgerald), and the old family doctor bring her to Dr. Frederick Steele (George Brent). Steele has just sold his neurosurgical practice and is about to catch a train to Vermont where he will devote himself to fulltime research on malignant brain tumors. He delays his departure to operate successfully on Judith's glioma.
He and his patient fall in love. But Steele learns that her disease will recur in a predictable manner: blindness followed by painless death. He and Ann conspire to hide the prognosis from Judith. A wedding is planned and the move to Vermont. But Judith uncovers the secret and flies into a rage at the treachery, breaking off the engagement.
She tries to drown her sorrow of impending doom in drink, a frivolous dalliance with a drunken suitor (Ronald Reagan), and a more serious dalliance with her horse-trainer, Michael (Humphrey Bogart). On the verge of sin with Michael, she realizes that her only hope lies in life itself, marriage and the house in Vermont. Steele conducts his laboratory research in a back shed and the couple carry on as if her death sentence did not exist.
Living a lie provides their few months of happiness, their "Dark Victory," Judith says, over the cruel promise of her death. Just as Steele is invited to New York to present his research, her vision begins to cloud and fade. She tells Ann, but keeps the news from her husband. He leaves the now blind Judith and her friend in the garden planting bulbs that will bloom in spring. She sends Ann away too, and lies down to face her romantic (but painless) end alone.