Showing 81 - 90 of 691 annotations tagged with the keyword "Illness and the Family"

Handle With Care

Picoult, Jodi

Last Updated: Mar-16-2013
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

At five years old, Willow O’Keefe has lived a life rich in love and exceptional learning; she reads beyond her years and has memorized a startling compendium of unusual facts.  She has also sustained over 50 broken bones, two of them in utero.  She has osteogenesis imperfecta, a congenital defect in the body’s production of type 1 collagen that leaves bones very brittle.  People with the disease generally suffer many fractures and often other conditions—exceptionally small stature, hearing loss, and bowed limbs.  Willow’s parents and older sister have organized their lives for five years around protecting her from damage and helping her heal from her many broken bones.  Though Amelia, her older sister, loves Willow, her parents’, Charlotte and Sean’s, intense focus on Willow’s condition often leaves her jealous and disgruntled.  Things go from bad to worse when their mother learns that a lawsuit for “wrongful birth” is legal in New Hampshire, and could bring them the money they need to cover Willow’s many medical expenses.  Such a step, however, means losing a best friend, since the obstetrician who oversaw Charlotte’s pregnancy and Willow’s birth, and who ostensibly overlooked signs of the disease and failed to warn the parents, has been Charlotte’s best friend for years.  A “wrongful birth” suit is based on the claim that medical information about a congenital defect was withheld that might have been grounds for a decision to abort the pregnancy.  Though Charlotte insists this drastic step is the best thing they can do to insure a secure future for Willow, Sean finds it repugnant enough finally to leave home.  It is clear that even a win will be a pyrrhic victory, and indeed, the outcome is ambiguous, costly, and life-changing for everyone concerned.

View full annotation

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)

Summary:

This collection of 16 short stories focuses on doctors and patients in San Francisco, where a wide variety of wealth and culture impact the delivery of medical care.  Further, there are many restrictions—financial, bureaucratic, ethical, and legal —that limit what doctors can do, especially in cases of patients near death.

The author, Louise Aronson, is a geriatrician who knows this terrain very well, having trained in San Francisco and worked as a physician there. A skilled writer and close observer, she has created dramatic and often funny stories that reveal social and bioethical complexity. About half the stories describe end-of-life issues for the aged and the dilemmas for their physicians and families.

In ‘The Promise,” Dr. Westphall orders comfort care only for an elderly patient who has suffered a massive stroke, but a hospital gives full treatment because there was no advance directive and the daughter told the attending to do “what he thought best.”

When Dr. Westphall sees this barely functioning patient in a skilled nursing facility seven months later, he tenderly washes her face and hair—although the text teases us that he might have been prepared to kill her.

In “Giving Good Death,” a doctor is in jail charged with murder; he has fulfilled the request of Consuela, a Parkinson’s patient, to help her die. When it appears that she may have died for other reasons, he is released, his life “ruined.” He leaves San Francisco, and, we surmise, medicine. In three other stories, doctors also leave the profession: the cumulative stresses of work and family and/or a sense that it’s not the right path bring them to that choice.

On the other hand, one of the longer pieces “Becoming a Doctor” celebrates the profession, despite all the rigors of training including sexism against women. 

The stories bring multicultural insights; we read of people from China, Cambodia, Latin America, India, Russia, and the Philippines. Some are African-American; some Jewish, some gay. These different backgrounds color notions of health, death, and medical care. There are also pervasive issues of poverty and, at another extreme, professionalism that is hyper-rational and heartless.

Indeed, a recurring theme is care and love for people, no matter their background or current health status. A surgeon realizes (regrettably too late) that the secret of medical care is “caring for the patient—for anyone—just a little. Enough, but not too much” (p. 135). 

View full annotation

Night Duty

Breznik, Melitta

Last Updated: Feb-27-2013
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The first person narrator of this debut novel is a young pathologist, a woman who relates the story of her family over the course of the book. The story is bleak: a young German woman marries an Austrian soldier in WWII, moves to Austria with him and has three children - two sons (one of whom dies as a youth following abdominal surgery) and the narrator-daughter. In a running commentary, almost hallucinatory at times,  the narrator offers brief descriptions of  a traditional preliminary internship year during which she acts as a pathologist, cares for in-patients, and even makes a futile ambulance call to a fatally injured man in a freight yard.  Yet, virtually the entire novel revolves around her family:her father (whose tuberculosis is briefly described),  a factory worker with dreams of  inventing an electronic security relay (never realized); intermittent holidays of evanescent family happiness; and a long threnody about her father's eventual death at the end of the book from a hopeless and domestically abusive alcoholism. Her detailed description of his death traumatizes everyone around her and leads to a rupture in the family.

View full annotation

Open Heart

Wiesel, Elie

Last Updated: Feb-01-2013

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Elie Wiesel, 82-years-old, has pain that he thinks is in his stomach or esophagus, perhaps caused by his chronic acid reflux.  After tests, however, doctors diagnose cardiac illness and insist on immediate surgery. Reluctant to go to the hospital, Wiesel dawdles in his office. When he does go, doctors believe a stent will do the job. Instead, the intervention becomes a quintuple bypass.

This brief memoir—a scant 8,000 words—presents the “open heart” of a gifted writer as he contemplates his open-heart surgery, his past life, and the future. He asks himself basic, even primal questions about life, death, and the nature of God.            

Although a man with an extraordinary career—prizes, fame, honorary doctorates, friends in high places, professorships—Wiesel experiences and describes ordinary feelings of anxiety, pain, and doubts about his cardiac emergency and possible death. His stylistic gifts describe frankly and vividly a patient’s fears. As many have observed, patients with a serious disease have two difficulties, the disease itself and their emotional responses to that disease.  As Wiesel is wheeled into the OR, he looks back on his wife and son; he wonders whether he will ever see them again.            

He writes that his “thoughts jump wildly; I am disoriented.” He recalls a friend undergoing similar surgery; she died on the table. He says he can’t follow the jargon of physicians. The texture of the prose is rhapsodic, jumping from the present to memories, many of them about war, his past surgeries, or important family events. This short book has 26 “chapters,” some just half a page; they are like journal entries.

As he slowly recovers, he feels pain and has visions of hell, including the concept of ultimate judgment. “Evidently, I have prayed poorly…; otherwise why would the Lord, by definition just and merciful, punish me in this way?” (p. 38).  Because he has a “condemned body,” he feels he must search his soul. In the longest chapter of the book, he reviews several of his writings.

Wiesel asks some of the questions from his famous novel Night (La nuit, 1958).  If there is a God, why is there evil? Auschwitz, he says, is both a human tragedy and “a theological scandal” (p. 67). Nonetheless, he affirms, “Since God is, He is to be found in the questions as well as in the answers” (p. 69).

At the end, he still has some pain but feels much gratitude for his continuing active life and for his grandchildren.

View full annotation

Our Cancer Year

Pekar, Harvey; Brabner, Joyce

Last Updated: Oct-17-2012
Annotated by:
Kohn, Martin

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Graphic Memoir

Summary:

The year is 1990; a lump in the groin which Harvey had ignored has enlarged and his wife convinces him to have it checked out. It turns out to be a lymphoma and thus begins the yearlong chronicle. Intertwined with the couple's struggle with diagnosis and treatment is their decision to buy a home, and Joyce's work with an international group of teenagers who have survived war. However, the bulk of this unconventional work depicts in a stark and straightforward way the energy necessary to survive not just cancer, but cancer treatment.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Poirier, Suzanne

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Investigative Journalism

Summary:

When Lia Lee's sister slammed the front door to their Merced, California, apartment, Lia experienced her first in several years of increasingly severe seizures. The Lee family knew that the noise had awakened a dab, an evil spirit who stole Lia's soul. They also knew, in the midst of their grief for their infant daughter, that people suffering from "the spirit catches you and you fall down" often grew up to be healers in their Hmong culture.

Not surprisingly, the physicians and other health professionals who worked with Lia and her parents over the next seven-plus years did not share this diagnosis--most of them did not even know about it. Fadiman melds her story of Lia, the Lees, the family's physicians and social workers, and countless other people who enter the Lees' life (usually uninvited and unwelcome) with the long history of the Hmong people, their religion and culture, and their more recent lives as refugees from war in Laos and Cambodia (and the troubled history of their relationship to the U.S. military system).

View full annotation

Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

Entering a school as the first student with a serious disability (cerebral palsy) after starting his education in a "special" school, Christopher Nolan had to develop careful and clever strategies for developing friendships, allowing others their curiosity, and finding ways to use his considerable gifts against the odds of both the disease and the prejudice it bred.  One of his strategies is the inventive, cryptic, poetic, Joycean idiom in which he writes his story.  He did, in fact, succeed in a school where he was accepted as a kind of experiment, in an area of Ireland not known for its progressive attitudes.  In this narrative he moves back and forth between inner life, family life, and life at school, allowing readers to get to know him as a deeply reflective, adventurously social, and courageous human being, living with his debilitating condition with a degree of consciousness that took full account of the losses as well as finding avenues of expression that allowed him, intellectually, at least, full range of motion.  The narrative takes us through his school years where he distinguished himself as a poet and also as a human being for whom life with a disability shaped an extraordinary dexterity with language.

View full annotation

This Far and No More

Malcolm, Andrew

Last Updated: Sep-12-2012
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Summary:

Emily Bauer, mother of two small children, psychotherapist and teacher, social, smart, athletic, and strong-willed, finds, after a curious series of falls and other accidents, that she has ALS, "Lou Gehrig's Disease," a disease that involves slow atrophy of all muscular control, leading to complete paralysis and then death.  The disease is relentless, and treatments palliative at best. 

First in handwriting and later by means of a tape on which she can type, letter by letter, by moving her head to press a button as a cursor cruises through the alphabet, she keeps a diary up until just days before her death.  The diary, a remarkable record of her physical and emotional fluctuations, includes stories she laboriously writes for her daughters that gently mirror the confusions they encounter coming to see a profoundly disabled mother who can no longer hold them or speak to them.  The story culminates in Emily's plea for someone to turn off the ventilator that is keeping her alive, and the efforts her husband makes with the help of a meticulous and sympathetic lawyer and a courageous doctor to arrange for a voluntary death.  

View full annotation

The Dark Light

Newth, Mette

Last Updated: Aug-30-2012
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

Tora lived happily on a mountain farm in Norway until her beloved mother's death  and her own subsequent diagnosis with leprosy, an illness common in early 19th-century Norway and one that drove her mother to suicide.  Upon diagnosis (at the age of 13) she is taken to the leprosarium in Bergen, from which very few emerge.  Most are left there by families whose fear of the disease leads them to abandon even much-loved children, parents, and spouses.  There, despite the misery of living among many who consider themselves the living dead, she finds a friend in Marthe, the chief cook and general caregiver, a woman of almost boundless kindness; and the "Benefactor," a pastor who is remarkably unafraid of the disease from which most flee, and who befriends Tora as she grows into an unpromising early adulthood.  Another unlikely friend is a noblewoman who has languished, embittered, behind a closed door with a trunk full of her old gowns and several cherished books, including the Bible, The Divine ComedyGulliver's Travels, and a popular Norwegian epic about the adventures of Niels Klim at the center of the earth.  She gradually softens toward Tora, who cares for her tenderly as the older woman teaches her to read.  Reading becomes not only Tora's consolation, but that of many of her fellow inmates.  Near the end of her own short, but surprisingly rich life, Tora's father shows up after years of neglect.  Forgiving him, almost against her will, she reaches a new level of acceptance of her own mysterious fate.  The book includes a short afterword about the actual leprosarium in which the story is situated and about Gerhard Armauer Hansen who in 1873 discovered the bacillus responsible for leprosy, the first bacterium proved to be the cause of a chronic human disease.

View full annotation

For the Love of Babies

Last Updated: Aug-30-2012
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Case Studies)

Summary:

In this collection of "clinical tales," to use Oliver Sacks' term, Sue Hall, an experienced neonatologist who spent some years as a social worker before medical school, tells a remarkable range of stories about newborns in the NICU and their parents.  As memoir, the stories record moments in a life full of other people's traumas, disappointments, anxieties, and hard-won triumphs where her job has been to hold steady, find a balance point between professionalism and empathy as young parents go through one of the hardest kinds of loss.  Each story is told with clarity and grace, sketching the characters deftly and offering useful medical information along the way on the assumption that many who read the book will do so because they are facing similar challenges and decisions.  Each story is followed by a two- to three-page "Note" giving more precise medical background and offering further resources for those who have particular interest in the kind of case it was. 

View full annotation