Showing 71 - 80 of 145 annotations contributed by Miksanek, Tony
Gerald Wilcox is an otolaryngologist who lives with his wife and daughter in a small town in Montana in 1959. Dr. Wilcox has a weakness for women, alcohol, and, lately, morphine (with which he injects himself about once every six weeks). He enjoys writing in his journal almost every evening yet rarely reviews what he has previously written.
Although high on morphine, Dr. Wilcox repays a debt by making a house call late one night to treat a young boy with mastoiditis. On returning home, the doctor decides to bake a coffee cake for his wife at 5 o'clock in the morning while musing on what will happen to his journals after he dies.
A neurosurgeon looks forward to having a day off from work, but a promising Saturday brings only trouble. Henry Perowne is 48 years old and practices in London. Lately, he's concerned about the impending invasion of Iraq. Perowne's views on the situation have changed considerably after conversations with a patient who was tortured and imprisoned in Iraq for no apparent reason. A protest march against the looming war is held on Saturday.
On his way to play a game of squash that morning, Perowne is involved in a car accident on an otherwise deserted street. No one is injured and the two vehicles sustain only minor damage. The owner of the other car is a man in his twenties named Baxter. He is accompanied by two buddies. Perowne refuses Baxter's demand for cash to repair the car so Baxter punches the doctor. Perowne is moments away from a pummeling.
He notices that Baxter has a tremor and an inability to perform saccades. Perowne deduces that Baxter has Huntington's disease. The doctor capitalizes on the fortuitous diagnosis. He speculates that Baxter has kept the neurodegenerative disorder a secret from his sidekicks. When Perowne initiates a discussion about the illness, Baxter orders the cronies away so that he can speak privately to the doctor. The two men desert Baxter, and Perowne escapes in his car, hopeful he can still make the squash game.
The narrator suffers from depression and a pain in the right side beneath his ribs. Surgery will be performed at his home by Dr. Haddon and Dr. Mowbray, but the narrator worries that he might die during the operation. During an afternoon nap on the day before surgery, he dreams of death and resurrection. Chloroform is administered prior to the operation, but the narrator continues to be aware of everything taking place.
He can see into the minds of the surgeons and learns that Dr. Haddon is afraid of inadvertently cutting a vein. Almost on cue, the vein is slashed and hemorrhaging occurs. The narrator has a near-death experience associated with an extraordinary clarity of perception. He senses movement upward - beyond his body, beyond the town, and beyond the world. He believes his soul is streaming through space past the solar system and nearby constellations.
His impression of absolute serenity is eventually replaced by a sensation of loneliness. All matter becomes condensed into a single point of light, then a fuzzy glow, and finally the image of a colossal hand clenching a rod. A faint sound punctures the silence followed by a voice proclaiming, "There will be no more pain" (63). He awakens and sees the surgeon standing next to the rail of the bed. The narrator has not only survived the operation, but his pain and melancholy are vanquished.
Doctors Everett and Mimi Menlo are psychiatrists living in Toronto. The married couple sleeps in separate beds. They vow never to work as a team or in the same medical facility. Each doctor is deeply troubled by a patient who refuses to communicate. For Mimi, it is Brian Bassett, an eight-year-old boy with autism who eventually dies under her care. For Everett, it is Kenneth Albright, a hospitalized patient with severe paranoid schizophrenia who has attempted suicide four times.
Kenneth's dreams were once complex and intriguing but lately they lack detail and variety. One morning, he is found covered with blood but has no signs of injury. Despite a thorough investigation, it remains a mystery as to whose blood it really is. Following that strange occurrence, Everett experiences insomnia, but he is reluctant to admit the cause to Mimi. She worries that he might be having a nervous breakdown.
In truth, he fears dreaming. He has recurrent nightmares of a bloody Kenneth kneeling next to the bodies of strangers. Everett suspects that Kenneth has placed these corpses in his dreams. Everett finally tells Mimi about his nightmares. He shocks her with the revelation that Kenneth Albright has genuine bloodstains on his clothing and hands every day even though he is still confined to the psychiatric ward. There is only one spot Kenneth can escape to--dreams. After their conversation, Mimi falls asleep and dreams of Brian Bassett. She wakes up and finds Everett in the bathtub. His pajamas are saturated with blood. Mimi promises Everett, "I'm waiting here . . . until we both wake up" (596).
The physician-narrator recounts two unsettling house calls made three decades earlier when he began his medical practice in a remote part of Virginia. The doctor is asked to see Alan Jordan at the request of his wife, Judith. They live with their son and three elderly female relatives in a deteriorating house on a secluded estate known as Jordan's End. The Jordan clan is notorious for marrying their own relatives, but Alan wedded someone outside the family.
Judith is beautiful, and in the doctor's eyes, ethereal. Alan's infirmity began 3 years ago with brooding and melancholy but has now progressed to episodes of withdrawal alternating with agitation. A renowned psychiatrist from Baltimore evaluates Alan, deems his condition incurable, and recommends institutionalization.
Mental illness and insanity--the result of heredity and inbreeding--seem to affect all the Jordan men. Alan's grandfather and two uncles are in an asylum. His father died in one. After the narrator examines Alan, he gives Judith a bottle of opiate medication to help ease her husband's restlessness.
The doctor is soon called back to Jordan's End. He finds Alan's dead body in bed covered by a linen sheet and notices that the full bottle of medicine he left only two nights previously is now empty. The doctor cannot decide whether or not Judith has killed her husband nor does he really want to know.
Joseph takes a lengthy journey on a strange train to visit his father who resides in the Sanatorium. On the way, he meets a fellow with a swollen face who wears a tattered railwayman's uniform. That man eventually vanishes from the train. When Joseph arrives at his destination, he is informed, "Here everybody is asleep all the time" (115). The Sanatorium's physician, Dr. Gotard, provides a confusing explanation about the condition of Joseph's father. From the perspective of the natural world, Joseph's father is already dead. As a patient in the Sanatorium, however, time is manipulated for him. The past is reactivated allowing for the remote chance of recovery (or at least existence in a type of limbo).
During his stay, Joseph sleeps with his father since no other bed is available at the Sanatorium even though he suspects they may be the only two guests there. He discovers that his father--pale, emaciated, and nicely dressed in a black suit--has two different lives. In the Sanatorium, the man is moribund. Outside the facility, he is vibrant and runs a small cloth shop in a peculiar nearby town. Joseph finds himself "mortally tired" [p 125] and often overpowered by sleep.
A ferocious watchdog guards the Sanatorium, but up close Joseph notices that it is not a canine but rather a man (or perhaps a dog in human guise) so he unchains the creature. Feeling an urgent need to escape his situation, Joseph races to the railroad station where he boards a departing train. He is convinced he will never see the place again. Joseph makes the train his home. Nonstop travel becomes his future. Joseph now has a swollen cheek that is bandaged. He is attired in a worn out railwayman's outfit. When he is not wandering on the train or dozing, Joseph sings and people lob money into his hat.
An overthrown Latin American ruler, Mr. President, is exiled to Martinique. The 73-year-old man develops a peculiar pain in his ribs, lower abdomen, and groin. He travels to Geneva, Switzerland in search of a diagnosis. After extensive medical testing, he is informed that the problem resides in his spine. A risky operation is recommended to relieve the pain.
The President meets a fellow countryman, Homero Rey, who works as an ambulance driver at the hospital. Homero schemes to sell an insurance plan and funeral package to the sick man, but the President is no longer wealthy and lives frugally. He is reduced to selling his dead wife's jewelry and other trinkets to pay the cost of his medical expenses and operation.
Homero and his wife, Lázara, grow fond of Mr. President. They provide financial assistance and care for him after he is discharged from the hospital. The President returns to Martinique. His pain is unimproved but no worse either. He resumes many of his bad habits and considers going back to the country he once ruled, only this time as the head of a reform group.
Things could hardly get much worse for Joseph. The family business is being liquidated. The former servant girl is rumored to be dead after the boat carrying her to America sinks. Depressed Uncle Charles suddenly decides to move in and then refuses to ever leave the apartment. Worst of all, Father is dead. Joseph's dad had been "dividing his death into installments" (174) so it is not exactly a shock when Joseph's mother finds her dead husband jumping on the stairs one day. Father has been reincarnated as a crustacean!
Despite his metamorphosis into a crab, Father's resemblance to his former self is remarkable. He spends most of his time scurrying all over the apartment but never misses joining the family at mealtime even though he does not eat along with them. On numerous occasions, Uncle Charles attempts to squash Father, but in the end it is Mother who decides to do in the crustacean--death by boiling. After weeks of occupying a plate in the sitting room, Father somehow resurrects himself. All that remains on the dish where his swollen body once lay is a single shredded leg buried in hardened tomato sauce.
Vitamin sales are so low that Patti is presently her own best customer. She peddles multivitamins door-to-door along with co-workers Sheila and Donna. All three women are despondent. The man who lives with Patti is the narrator of the story. He has a menial job at the hospital. Patti accuses him of not caring about anything. The narrator frequents the Off-Broadway, a club where he can drink and listen to music. He is physically attracted to Donna and takes her there on a date.
Two drunken men, Benny and Nelson, invite themselves to join the couple in their booth at the club. Nelson is an intimidating figure who has just returned from Vietnam. He is vulgar and propositions Donna. Nelson carries a "keepsake"--a human ear attached to a keychain. He removed the ear from a Vietnamese man.
After leaving the club, Donna admits she could've used the few hundred dollars that Nelson offered her in return for sexual favors. She plans on quitting her job and moving. When the narrator returns home, Patti is having a nightmare. While he searches for some aspirin, objects keep falling out of the medicine cabinet but the narrator realizes that he doesn't really care.
Two couples drink gin and discuss the meaning of love. Mel McGinnis, a 45-year-old cardiac surgeon, does most of the talking. As an example of bona fide love, Mel describes an elderly couple he treated in the hospital. They were severely injured in a motor vehicle accident and, despite great odds, managed to survive. What bothered the old man the most during his lengthy recovery was his inability to simply look at his spouse.
Mel’s wife, Terri, provides her own case of real love. She previously lived with a man named Ed who professed his affection for Terri the entire time he was beating her. After she left him for Mel, Ed attempted suicide--first by ingesting rat poison and later by shooting himself in the mouth. Terri insisted on being in the room when Ed died.
The other couple at the table, Nick (the narrator) and his wife, Laura, also think they know what true love is, but they have difficulty articulating its essence. After the gin has finally run out and the room gets dark, Nick is acutely aware of the sound of his heart and everyone else’s too.