Showing 81 - 90 of 262 annotations tagged with the keyword "Illness Narrative/Pathography"

A World of Light

Skloot, Floyd

Last Updated: Jan-20-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Poet and essayist Floyd Skloot gives us his third memoir; each of the three concerns a somewhat different facet of his attempt to recover from and live with mental and physical damage resulting from a viral illness that struck him in 1988. This book, written approximately 15 years after the initial insult, "is a memoir of the reassembled life" (ix). Life for Skloot is different than before, but a kind of order--Skloot calls it "harmony"--has been constructed out of memory loss, mental disorder and incoherence: "I have learned to savor the fragments themselves, and to live in the moment" (xi). A World of Light is perhaps more a collection of essays than a memoir.

Most of part one and some sections of parts two (Ch. 5, "1957") and three (Ch. 15, "Taking Stock") concern Skloot's interaction with his aged mother as she slides further and further into dementia. Anyone who wants an idea of what it is like to interact with a person who has Alzheimer's disease should read these sections. Skloot masterfully reproduces the often bizarre conversations that occur--the sometimes maddening repetition of comments during attempts at conversation.

Skloot's mother admires his wife, Beverly, and repeatedly instructs them to marry each other, no matter how often they assure her they are already married. She forgets their previous visits to her in the nursing home, although they visit regularly, and becomes anxious when they leave, even though she isn't certain who they are. Skloot writes about how receptive his mother is to music, which delights her, and how she sings snatches of old songs triggered by the words of any offhand comment--phenomena that have been noted in some other descriptions of Alzheimer's patients.

The essays in part two look back on Skloot's childhood, his family's background, and on his development as a writer. Part three centers on his current life with his wife, Beverly, whose home in rural Oregon provides a refuge for them both (although they are now in the market for different surroundings).

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Literature

Genre: Anthology (Mixed Genres)

Summary:

Editor Helman is a physician and anthropologist as well as a published author of short stories, essays, and a medical anthropology textbook. For this anthology he has selected short stories, case studies, memoir and novel excerpts whose purpose is "to illustrate different aspects of [the] singular but universal relationship" between doctors and patients (1). In the introduction he discusses how these selections illustrate storytelling in medicine; the unique experience of individual illness; differences between fast-paced contemporary technological specialized medicine, and an older more leisurely medicine where the physician employed all his/her senses to diagnose illness, doctors made house calls, and patients recovered over time, or died.

The anthology is subdivided into three parts: "Doctors," represented by the work of Mikhail Bulgakov, Franz Kafka, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Rachel Naomi Remen; "Patients," represented by authors Renate Rubenstein, Ruth Picardie, Rachel Clark, Clive Sinclair, W. (William) Somerset Maugham, and O. Henry; and "Clinical Encounters," with work by Oliver Sacks, Cecil Helman, William Carlos Williams, A. J. (Archibald Joseph) Cronin, Anton P.Chekhov, and Moacyr Scliar. (In total there are 16 selections.) Each piece is preceded by a paragraph of biographical information about its author and an introduction to the text.

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On Being a Cripple

Mairs, Nancy

Last Updated: Jan-14-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

In this superbly written essay, Nancy Mairs, a feminist writer who has multiple sclerosis, defines the terms in which she will interact with the world. She will name herself--a cripple--and not be named by others. She will choose a word that represents her reality, and if it makes people "wince," "[p]erhaps I want them to wince. I want them to see me as a tough customer, one to whom the fates/gods/viruses have not been kind, but who can face the brutal truth of her existence squarely. As a cripple, I swagger" (9). She muses on the euphemisms that are used by others, concluding that they describe no one because "[s]ociety is no readier to accept crippledness than to accept death, war, sex, sweat, or wrinkles."

Mairs describes the uncertainty of a (correct) diagnosis early on, the kind of person she was before, and how that has changed and not changed since her illness. She discusses her need for assistance, but balances that by saying that there are many people around her willing to help; she describes her dependence on her family and how lucky she was to have a husband and children before she was taken ill. Nevertheless, there "always is the terror that people are kind to me only because I'm a cripple" (15).

Mairs has many astute comments to make about how disability does not fit well in our youth-oriented, physical-fitness-obsessed culture, and on how social expectations influence whether she adapts or fails to adapt. She also understands what is at stake for the medical professionals who care for her: "I may be frustrated, maddened, depressed by the incurability of my disease, but I am not diminished by it, and they are" (20).

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Drinking: A Love Story

Knapp, Caroline

Last Updated: Jan-12-2010
Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Knapp describes how she gradually became an alcoholic, drinking more and more, until she couldn't live without alcohol. She found drinking to be the most important relationship in her life; she loved how it made her feel, how it coped with her fears and worries. When family and friends spoke to her about her drinking, she made promises to them she couldn't keep. Finally one time while drunk she was carrying two children accross the street when she fell. She could have killed them. Three months later she checked into rehab and gave up drinking. She used the support of Alcoholics Anonymous to help her stay sober and to gradually learn how to love people, instead of alcohol. Her need for protection and for escape, which alcohol gave her, had to be replaced with an honest facing of problems and with social skills. This memoir also describes her struggling with anorexia.

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Autobiography of a Face

Grealy, Lucy

Last Updated: Jan-09-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

Lucy Grealy, poet, tells the story of her childhood and young adulthood, a twenty year period of overwhelming physical and mental suffering. Yet the author is so resilient, so intelligent, so insightful, and such a good writer that her story transcends mere illness narrative. At age nine, first misdiagnosed and finally identified as having facial bone cancer (Ewing’s sarcoma), Lucy underwent several surgeries and more than two years of intensive chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Pain and nausea, anxiety and fear of more pain and nausea were only part of the ordeal.

The young Lucy became aware of what it is to be severely, chronically ill. Her sisters behaved differently toward her: they were polite. "Suddenly I understood the term visiting. I was in one place, they were in another, and they were only pausing." Even her father felt uncomfortable at her hospital bedside, and Lucy was relieved that he came infrequently.

But being at home was worse: in the hospital the other patients and the staff expected little from her and she felt no guilt or shame; amidst her family, she blamed herself for the tension, arguments over money, and her mother’s depression, even though these elements had existed prior to her illness. Her hair fell out and she became dimly aware that people were staring at her face. Nevertheless, "I . . . was naturally adept at protecting myself from the hurt of their insults and felt a vague superiority . . . . "

Well enough to return to school, Lucy’s disfigured face drew taunts from classmates; she understood finally that she was perceived as ugly and that she would not be loved. Only on Halloween, when she could mask her face, did she feel free and joyful, unconcerned about her appearance, "normal." Her moods now alternated between despair, determination, and escapism. She became convinced that only facial reconstruction and a restored appearance would make life bearable.

During years of reconstructive surgery Lucy evolved complex rationalizations to give meaning to her suffering. Two anchors had stabilized her existence throughout the misery: a passionate adolescent love of horses, and an adult love of poetry. Eventually outward appearance and inner life became harmonious. "The journey back to my face was a long one."

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Summary:

The author, a scholar of autobiography and other forms of life writing, has expanded his scholarship to include what he calls "autopathography"--autobiographical narratives of illness and disability. This book is the result of an extensive study of such narratives. The works discussed are full-length and recently published--most were published in the 1980s and 1990s. Couser is particularly interested in issues of narrative authority, in how autopathography can be counterdiscursive to the prevailing biomedical narrative, and, especially, in how autopathography is counterdiscursive to the cultural stigmatization and marginalization that often accompany illness or disability ["insofar as autobiography is the literary expression of the self-determined life" (182)].

Since social/cultural counterdiscourse is of particular importance to Couser, he has focused on four specific illnesses/disabilities that have been associated with stigma: breast cancer, AIDS, paralysis, and deafness (182). His analysis of each condition is diachronic because he is searching for "the enrichment of the genre by successive writers who defy, complicate, or refine its conventions" (44). In addition, Couser asks, to what extent do authors "integrate illness narrative into a larger life narrative?" (14). He considers who narrates illness stories (biographer or autobiographer), how the stories are constructed, whether and how they achieve a "comic plot" and narrative closure.

The book's introduction (chapter 1, "Human Conditions--Illness, Disability, and Life Writing") provides a framework, relating what will follow to current issues in life writing, "identity politics," the culture of medicine, and illness experience, as well as to other work on illness narratives such as Anne Hunsaker Hawkins's Reconstructing Illness: Studies in Pathography and Arthur Frank's The Wounded Storyteller (annotated in this database).

Chapter 2, "Medical Discourse and Subjectivity," develops further the questions of narrative authority, representation, and resistance to a dominant medical or cultural narrative. Each subsequent section--breast cancer, AIDS, paralysis, deafness--is prefaced by an informative discussion of the cultural and narrative issues that are relevant to the particular condition; the subsequent analyses of individual texts further elaborate these themes.

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Codeine Diary: A Memoir

Andrews, Tom

Last Updated: Jan-09-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Contrary to what the title might suggest, this is not a memoir of drug addiction. Writer and poet Tom Andrews has hemophilia, and codeine is the analgesic he requires during excruciatingly painful internal bleeding episodes. In this diary, begun while recovering from a leg injury, Andrews reflects on his particular experience of life and hemophilia. He makes clear that " . . . hemophilia is only one of the stories my life tells me . . . " (p. 29)

The memoir interweaves the author's physical, emotional, and existential journey through the convalescent period with flashbacks of childhood and his relationship with his ailing brother, now dead, to whose memory the book is dedicated. Brother John's fatal illness with kidney disease shaped--and continues to shape--Tom's life as much as did the hemophilia.

On the one hand their parents' concern for John took Tom out of the spotlight and allowed him to pursue his own interests. These extended to motorcycle racing, playing in a punk band, and setting a record for continuous hand clapping--at age 11--that was recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records. On the other hand, Tom's guilt over surviving John's early death may account for an almost reckless disregard of his own precarious physical condition. A constant subtext is the deep grief and abiding love of the living brother for the dead one.

But this is not a mournful book. It is an engaging memoir that provides unusual access and insight into the world of hemophilia, especially with regard to the painful "bleeds." It is the sense of exile and separation from others that is most disturbing for Andrews when in the throes of unrelieved pain. He takes us through the mental concentration required to endure this pain and the liberating relief to mind and spirit provided by codeine. Memory, perception, and writing provide the additional resources he needs to re-connect with the world.

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Endpoint and Other Poems

Updike, John

Last Updated: Jan-09-2010
Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

Endpoint is an extraordinary sequence of seventeen poems John Updike wrote near the end of his life.  Beginning on his birthday in March,  2002, he wrote a poem every birthday for the next 6 years.  Then after his 2008 birthday he wrote several more poems, mostly focusing on his dying from lung cancer.  The last poem, "Fine Point," was dated 12/22/08.  He died in January, 2009.  The poems also include memories of his mother writing and cranking out manuscripts, but never getting published; of childhood friends who became models for characters in his novels; of getting lost in a department store as a three-year-old; of Jack Benny and FDR, Mickey Mouse and Barney Google, as well as five wars. The memories are both personal and international in scope.  His attitude toward them varies from distress to appreciation and gratitude.

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The Wounded Storyteller

Frank, Arthur

Last Updated: Dec-29-2009
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

Frank argues that the modernist conception of illness is a form of "colonization" in that the ill person hands over his or her body (and life narrative) to biomedical expertise. In a post-modern conception, however, the ill person reclaims the authority and ability to tell his or her own story, and to construct a new life narrative from the "narrative wreckage" of serious illness or injury.

Frank identifies four dimensions by which one's relationship to the body may be understood: control versus contingency, self-versus other-relatedness, dissociation versus association with the body, and desire versus lack of desire. Frank presents a diagram (p. 30) in which he sketches four "ideal typical bodies" that arise from various combinations of control-contingency, etc. These include (a) the disciplined body, (b) the mirroring body, (c) the dominating body, and (d) the communicative body. While the first three lead to problems in constructing a satisfactory illness narrative, the last is an "idealized type" in that it is not only descriptive, but also "provides an ethical ideal for bodies." (p.48)

Frank then categorizes patients' illness narratives into three main themes: (a) restitution narratives, in which the plot involves returning to one's previous state of health; (b) chaos narratives, in which all life events are contingent and no one is in control; and (c) quest narratives, in which illness is seen as a spiritual journey. This understanding serves as a starting point for a narrative ethic of illness.

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In the Land of Pain

Daudet, Alphonse

Last Updated: Dec-29-2009
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

The French writer Alphonse Daudet (1840-1897) developed the form of tertiary syphilis called tabes dorsalis in the early 1880’s. Tabes progressively destroys the structures of the dorsal column of the spinal cord, leading at first to lower extremity ataxia and neuropathic pain, and eventually to paralysis of the legs associated with intractable pain. Daudet sought treatment from the leading neurologists of his time, including J. M. Charcot and C. E. Brown-Séquard, but the disease progressed relentlessly.

At some point Daudet began making notes for a book about his illness. He spoke to several of his contemporaries about this project, but the book never became more than a collection of brief notes, which were collected and published posthumously as "La Doulou" (Provencal for "pain"). This short book, translated here by Julian Barnes, consists of "fifty or so pages of notes on his symptoms and sufferings, his fears and reflections, and on the strange social life of patients at shower-bath and spa." (p. xiii)

The notes are generally in chronological order, beginning with short comments like "Torture walking back from the baths via the Champs-Elysées" (p. 4) and "Also from that time onwards pins and needles in the feet, burning feelings, hypersensitivity." (p. 6) In a long section toward the end Daudet comments on his experience at Lamalou, a thermal spa that he visited annually from 1885 to 1893. "I’ve passed the stage where illness brings any advantage or helps you understand things; also the stage where it sours your life, puts a harshness in your voice, makes every cogwheel shriek." (p. 65)

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