Showing 71 - 80 of 228 annotations tagged with the keyword "Humor and Illness/Disability"

A Spot of Bother

Haddon, Mark

Last Updated: Jun-12-2008
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

George Hall has recently retired when he discovers a lesion on his hip which he takes to be skin cancer. Even though his doctor tells him that it is simply eczema, George is not reassured for long. His worry gradually becomes panic. He learns that his wife, Jean, is having an affair with an old friend of his, that his daughter, divorced single mother Katie, is going to marry a man he disapproves of, and that his son, Jamie, intends to bring his gay lover to the wedding. At this point his hypochondria becomes distinctly pathological. He attempts to excise the lesion himself with kitchen scissors and ends up in hospital.

With the help of antidepressants and psychotherapy, he begins to recover, and then, finding other marks on his skin, relapses. Things come to a climax at Katie's chaotic and (for the reader) very funny wedding, where George, on a risky mixture of valium and alcohol, makes an overly confessional speech and then physically attacks his wife's lover. Order is restored with the help of Jamie and Ray, the groom, who turns out to be heroically kind and efficient (and whose working-class status is then forgiven by George and Jean), and the novel ends with happy reconcilations. George's health anxiety has not, though, entirely disappeared and the novel ends with a clear sense of the mental effort required, especially as we age, not to give in to our fears of disease and death.

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Cancer Vixen

Marchetto, Marisa

Last Updated: Apr-03-2008
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Graphic Memoir

Summary:

Cancer Vixen is the graphic narrative of Marisa Acocella Marchetto’s eleven-month cancer experience in 2004. Marchetto, a successful forty-something cartoonist for Glamour magazine and the New Yorker, serialized Cancer Vixen in Glamour while undergoing treatment. As well as the narrative of Marchetto’s diagnosis, treatment, and remission, Cancer Vixen recounts the story of Marchetto’s romance and engagement to restaurateur Silvano Marchetto, a narrative embedded in the graphic novel despite preceding it in actual chronology. The narrative explores fears about the cancer's effect on the relationship and about the loss of the chance to be a biological mother, as well as developing the relationship between the engaged couple and between Marisa and her mother (or "(s)mother," as she calls her).

The culture of cancer is another focus, including the social dynamics of having hair during cancer treatment and thus leaving oneself open to critique for not undertaking a strong enough chemotherapy. While this New York story, full of cuisine, couture (including images of the specific shoes Marchetto wore to each chemo), and cappuccino may recall the episodes of the television show Sex in the City featuring cancer, the brightly colored frames of this “Cancer in the City” tale also engage political issues like environmental causes of cancer and the reduced survival rates of women with cancer and no insurance.

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Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Summary:

The book is split into three parts, the Analytic Part, the Synthetic Part and the Theoretical Part. The Analytic Part begins with an excellent synopsis of earlier theories of comedy, joking and wit, followed by a meticulous psychological taxonomy of jokes based on such features as wordplay, brevity, and double meanings, richly illustrated with examples. This section ends with Freud's famous distinction about the "tendencies" of a joke, in which he attempts to separate those jokes that have tendencies towards hidden meanings or with a specific hidden or partly hidden purpose, from the "abstract" or "non-tendentious" jokes, which are completely innocuous. He struggles to provide any examples of the latter. In the midst of his first example, he suddenly admits that he begins "to doubt whether I am right in claiming that this is an un-tendentious joke"(89) and his next example is a joke that he claims is non-tendentious, but which he elsewhere studies quite intensely for its tendencies. Freud uses this to springboard into an exploration of how a joke involves an arrangement of people - a joketeller, an audience/listener, and a butt, often involving two (the jokester and the listener) against one, who is often a scapegoat. He describes how jokes may be sexual, "stripping" that person, and then turns towards how jokes package hostility or cynicism.

The synthetic part is an attempt to bring together the structure of the joke and the pleasurable tendencies of the joke. Why is it that jokes are pleasurable? Freud's answer is that there is a pleasure to be obtained from the saving of psychic energy: dangerous feelings of hostility, aggression, cynicism or sexuality are expressed, bypassing the internal and external censors, and thus enjoyed. He considers other possible sources of pleasure, including recognition, remembering, appreciating topicality, relief from tension, and the pleasures of nonsense and of play. Then, in a move that would either baffle his critics or is ignored by them, Freud turns to jokes as a "social process", recognizing that jokes may say more about social life at a particular time than about particular people; he turns this into an investigation of why people joke together, expanding on his economical psychic perspectives with discussions of social cohesion and social aggression.

In the third part, Freud connects his theories of joking with his dream theories in order to explain some of the more baffling aspects of joking (including how jokes seem to come from nowhere; how we usually get the joke so very quickly, even when it expresses very complicated social phenomena; and why we get a particular type of pleasure from an act of communication). He ends with an examination of some of these themes in other varieties of the comic, such as physical comedy and caricature.

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Sicko

Moore, Michael

Last Updated: Jan-08-2008
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

The movie opens with a shot of a young man stitching up a laceration in his own knee. Another describes how he had to select which of two severed fingers would be re-attached because he could not afford both operations. They are among the millions of Americans without health insurance. But, the narrator says, the movie is not for them; rather it is for the majority of U.S. citizens who do have medical insurance and believe themselves protected.

Through a series of riveting vignettes, for-profit health care is shown to tyrannize the well, ruin the ill, and destroy families. It also erodes the psychological and moral fiber of the people working in the industry. Excursions to England, Canada, France and Cuba are presented in a series of encounters with physicians and patients, none of whom believe that they would be better off in the United States. A French doctor opines that he earns an adequate salary for a good quality of life. Even those seated in a Canadian waiting room profess satisfaction with the care given and understanding about delays. When asked why anyone would accept to pay the expenses of others, an elderly golfer explains patiently that it is what we do for each other in a caring society. Ex-pat Americans gather at a bar to describe their positive experiences with foreign health and maternity care.

Interviews with emotionally distraught people who have worked in the insurance industry reveal the relentless pressure to deny coverage and its reward system that favors those who generate the biggest savings. Special attention is given to Dr. Linda Peeno who testified before Congress in 1996, confessing that she had harmed people for the economic benefit of the insurance industry.

Moore gathers up a group of people whose sorry dilemmas within the U.S. system have left them with serious health problems. He escorts them to Cuba where physicians and nurses are only too pleased to diagnose and treat their illnesses– for free. The movie ends with an exposé of the superior health care given prisoners at Guantanamo and Moore’s stunt at trying to bring the unhappy Americans there for treatment.

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Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Chris Eigemann plays Jake Singer, a well-liked middle-aged English professor to a group of privileged students at a posh high school for precocious young white men with floppy hair styles and ironic disdain, located somewhere in New York City. Having just discovered that his ex-girlfriend is engaged, Singer begins a psychoanalytic treatment with an Argentinian analyst, played with relatively understated gusto by Ian Holm. Singer meets Allegra Marshall (Famke Janssen), a woman whose deceased husband was a benefactor of the school; she is now the single (and rich) mother of two adopted children.

They fall in love, complicated slightly by Singer's father, a curmudgeonly heart surgeon, and a rather strange plot contrivance involving Marshall's failure to tell the adoption agency that her husband had died even though the biological mother had insisted that the child go to a family with a mother and a father. In one other plotline, left satisfyingly unresolved, Singer has clearly been the mentor to a young African American student, who self-sabotages at this otherwise all-white, all-privileged academy.

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Annotated by:
Woodcock, John

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Fifty-something Canadian professor of history and lifelong womanizer Rémy (Rémy Girard) lies in an overcrowded hospital with a fatal illness. Family and friends gather, including Rémy’s estranged son Sébastian (a wealthy financier played by Stéphane Rousseau) from overseas, and Rémy’s ex-wife (Dorothée Berryman) and several previous romantic partners. Rémy and Sébastian fight painfully about Rémy’s philandering, but after a plea from his mother Sébastian decides to make things better for his father, even if they have not been reconciled.

This he does in many ways, most of which involve spending lots of money and many of which are highly irregular or illegal. For example, he arranges to have his father taken into the U.S. for an expensive PET scan that would have required six months’ wait to have free in Canada. And he arranges through Nathalie (Marie-Josée Croze), a childhood friend who is now a heroin addict, to provide a regular supply of heroin to control his father’s pain, which the hospital apparently is not able to do with morphine.

These and other extraordinary measures work for Rémy, and the process of caregiving brings Sébastian and his father closer. (Rémy’s only problem seems to be the feeling that his life has been wasted because he has not left his mark--and he gets help with that, paradoxically, through several conversations with Nathalie.) For his last few days, Rémy and ensemble move to a friend’s lakeside cabin, where the conversation is witty, intellectual, and sexually frank, and the mood upbeat and conciliatory.

In the face of Rémy’s imminent demise, all is forgiven, and others seem to gain insight about their lives. Rémy’s last act is peacefully nodding to a sorrowful Nathalie to begin the series of heroin injections that will end his life. In a final dig at the establishment, the heroin is administered through an IV provided on the sly by a hospital nurse.

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Clinician's Guide to the Soul

Masson, Veneta

Last Updated: Nov-06-2007
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry and Art

Summary:

Veneta Masson's latest poetry collection is a clinician's guide not to illness and disease but to the souls touched by illness, both the patient's and the caregiver's. In 45 poems, she reviews her life in caregiving, from her early days in nursing to her work as a nurse practitioner in a community clinic and finally to her decision to use her hands "to write and to bless" (p. 93). Her poems are enhanced by the artwork of Rachel Dickerson, whose woodcuts and etchings are paired with poems to provide another voice, another way of looking into the soul of caregiving. For an example of this wonderful pairing, see the print that accompanies "The Screamer in Room 4" (p. 24). The print allows us to see the frustration of the screaming child, the child's mother, and the caregiver.

As always, Masson's poems center on the patient-caregiver experience; in this volume, as we follow her through her various adventures in nursing we also travel with her through the changes she has witnessed in healthcare and the politics that continue to affect its delivery. "Rx" (p. 22) examines Medicare and Medicaid and the political decisions that often deny medications to the elderly who need them most. "Gold Standard" (p.34) looks again at medicine and money, juxtaposing the medical pill against the placebo of the caring healer. One of my favorite poems, "The Doctor's Laptop" (p. 40) laments how technology might deprive patients of the doctor's time, attention and touch.

Other themes that are central to this collection are the unexpected presence of humor in caregiving (see "Conga! at the Rio," page 50), of spirituality (see especially "Rescue," page 36, "Refuge," page 45, and "Prevention," page 82), and of the personal. In several moving poems Masson looks at her own sister's death and her reaction to it, writing about her conflicting roles as sister and nurse (see, among others, "Matinee," "Hilda and Snow White," and "The Nurse's Job," pages 70, 72 and 74). In an excellent final poem, "Winter Count," Masson takes us through her own nursing history, a chronicle of work, joy, disappointment and survival that any caregiver will recognize.

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Running with Scissors

Burroughs, Augusten

Last Updated: Sep-03-2007
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This memoir chronicles the pre-adolescent and adolescent years of the author, the son of an alcoholic, abusive mathematics professor father and a psychotic Anne Sexton-wannabe confessional poet mother. The only family member who does not abuse the boy in any way is estranged--an older brother with Asperger’s syndrome. Meanwhile, the amount of trauma to which young Burroughs is subjected boggles the mind. Just when one thinks it couldn’t get any worse, it does.

Burroughs, who loves bright, shiny, orderly things, also likes doctors--paragons of cleanliness, virtue and wealth. Unfortunately, his mother’s psychiatrist, Dr. Finch, described as a charismatic Santa Claus-look-alike, is unethical, bizarre and squalid. As Mrs. Burroughs becomes more and more dependent on Finch, she allows her son to be adopted into the crazy Finch household.

This family includes wife Agnes, who copes with her husband’s infidelity by sweeping madly; son Jeff, daughters Kate, Anne, Vickie, Hope and Natalie; grandson Poo; and adopted son, Neil Bookman, who is twenty years older than Burroughs and homosexual. When Burroughs is thirteen, and has told Bookman that he, too, is gay, Bookman forces the boy to have oral sex. They become lovers.

The Finches, meanwhile, exhibit their quirks and weird tendencies in multiple ways. "Bible-dipping" is popular to read the future, as is prophesying by examining Dr. Finch’s turds. A patient with agoraphobia, Joranne, lives in one of the rooms--in fact, she has not left the room in two years. Young Burroughs is allowed to smoke and drink. When Burroughs says he doesn’t want to return to school, Dr. Finch facilitates this desire by giving Burroughs alcohol and pills to fake a suicide gesture, then hospitalizes the boy.

Yet Burroughs manages to befriend a couple of the Finch daughters, and to survive his childhood. The book closes with his departure for New York City and with an epilogue outlining various people’s outcomes. Finch lost his license due to insurance fraud.

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Summary:

This is a gripping and poignant account of newsman Bob Woodruff’s brain injury and recovery. He was injured in Iraq by a roadside bomb on January 29, 2006, shortly after being named co-anchor for ABC’s World News Tonight. A public figure—even a celebrity—his injury and recovery were well publicized, bringing to light the injuries of many kinds suffered by soldiers (not to mention civilians) in war-torn Iraq. Woodruff received every benefit American military medicine could offer and had impressive support of ABC and various luminaries. He made a spectacular recovery against all odds.

The book is mostly told by Lee Woodruff, Bob’s wife, who flew to Germany on a moment’s notice to see him at the Landstuhl Military Hospital, who waited 36 days for him to wake up, who saw the CT scan with rocks embedded in his head, who managed their four children and household during the long recovery time, and who writes vividly and personably. There are also flashbacks about the lives of Lee and Bob, truly a remarkable couple: their courtship, their time in China and London, their decision to use a surrogate mother to have their second two children.

Bob himself contributes pages, before and long after the accident. Thirty-one photos, both black and white and in color, enliven the text. One photo shows the interior of a critical Care Air Transport Team, a C-17 cargo plane outfitted like an ICU to transport wounded soldiers.  Throughout, the costs of warfare on people, society, materials, and land (not to mention dollars) is dramatically evident.

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A Good Death

Courtemanche, Gil

Last Updated: Aug-02-2007
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

A French Canadian family gathers for Christmas around the ailing patriarch and his quiet wife. But it is dominated by anxiety over the father’s rigid Parkinson’s disease and a recent stroke that have robbed him of clear speech and movement.

Through the eyes of the son who is nearing sixty, the holiday is a painful obligation that must be endured; the toxic atmosphere contains an undeclared emergency. The son admits that he has never loved his father whom he compares to Stalin for his iron-fisted and undemonstrative ways. One of the dad’s greatest sins was stealing credit for the catch of a giant fish that had actually been landed by the son long ago.

Nor does the narrator like his siblings to whom he refers in epithets that convey his disparagement of their proclivities: the Banker, the Vegetarian, the Homeopath, the Medicals, the Buddhists. His young nephew – who has two names—William / Sam—genuinely cares for the feelings and well-being of others, especially the grandparents. The only other person who is granted these qualities is Isabelle, the much younger fiancée of the narrator, in whom he takes possessive pride, as if she exemplifies his own wisdom, taste, and youth.

Suddenly the narrator and William both realize that the patriarch ought to die and that they should help. To the horror of the siblings and with the blessing of his mother they embark on a plan to feed him everything he likes but should not have—and lots of it. Perversely the man improves. The story culminates in a fishing trip where the original sin was committed.

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