Showing 91 - 100 of 114 annotations contributed by Belling, Catherine
A two-year-old girl is brought to the Emergency Room. Her father believes there's nothing wrong with her, but the mother says that earlier the child had looked "blank," and is sure there's a problem. The physician tries to work out what might be wrong.
The child seems fine, but he automatically looks for signs of abuse, and the triage nurse suggests the parents, who are African-American and on Medicaid, are there because they want "something for free" (127). There are other patients waiting, the child's vital signs are fine, the father wants to leave.
As the doctor is leaving the examining room, he asks whether she might have taken someone's medication, and the mother mentions that the child's grandmother takes "sugar pills," hypoglycemics. They test the child's blood sugar and it is dangerously low. She is admitted to the hospital.
The physician tells the mother she has saved her child's life, and then considers how lucky they had all been--"I felt sick, cold, and damp, terrified by what I had almost missed" (131). He says that since then, he often thinks of the child, "alive in the world, going out into it, . . . decade after decade ahead."
Nick and Fran move into an old house with their family: Miranda, thirteen, Nick's daughter from a previous marriage (her mother has been hospitalized with depression); eleven-year-old Gareth, Fran's son (who was almost aborted); and a toddler, Jasper, the child of both. Fran is pregnant again. Nick tries to hold them together as a family, but must also take care of Geordie, his grandfather, who is dying of cancer at the age of 101.
Geordie believes that what's killing him is a bayonet wound he received in World War I. As his disease progresses, the old man relives the war, especially the battle in which his brother died, with increasing vividness. After Geordie's death, Nick learns that in the battle he had killed his wounded brother who may, he thinks, otherwise have survived.
Geordie tells the story in an interview with a historian working on memory and war, and confesses that he hated his brother. She gently tells him that "a child's hatred" is different, but he--like the novel itself--refuses to see this as mitigation. Geordie's tale resonates both with what Nick learns about the house he bought--in 1904 the older children of the family living there were believed to have murdered their two-year-old sibling--and with Gareth and Miranda's resentment of Jasper, which has near-fatal consequences.
The Hours begins with a reconstruction of Virginia Woolf's 1941 suicide by drowning. What follows is an exploration of despair and tenacity, of the reasons that some people choose not to continue living, and of the things that enable others to go on. Patterned as a kind of theme and variations on Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, this novel has three strands, each tracing a day in the life of a woman: Virginia Woolf herself, in 1925, as she begins to write Mrs. Dalloway; a middle-aged 1990s New Yorker named Clarissa Vaughan, but nicknamed "Mrs. Dalloway" by Richard, her ex-lover, an acclaimed writer who is dying of AIDS; and Laura Brown, a young mother in Los Angeles in 1949, pregnant, depressed, and reading Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway.
Laura's small son, Ritchie, we gradually realize, has grown up to become the Richard in Clarissa Vaughan's story and, as the hours pass in the day-long story of each woman, patterns intertwine. Clarissa (living as a lesbian, so following a path that Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway was offered but chose not to take) is planning a party for Richard. Laura is preparing a birthday dinner for her husband but after a visit from the woman next door, whom she kisses in a moment of profound but disruptive empathy, she checks into a hotel room to read, and to consider suicide. Woolf, recognizing the deep connection between her mental illness and her writing, tries to flee from the faintly suffocating safety of her home and husband.
Each woman survives, and all three days end with a sense of qualified and temporary happiness, drawn together, I think, by the fictional Virginia Woolf's decision about her novel: throughout the day she has thought about her main character, and has intended the book to end with her suicide. Late in the evening, having returned home, Woolf decides to let Mrs. Dalloway live: "sane Clarissa--exultant, ordinary Clarissa--will go on, . . . loving her life of ordinary pleasures, and someone else, a deranged poet, a visionary, will be the one to die."
Ingenious Pain tells the life story of James Dyer, a surgeon in eighteenth-century England who is gifted--and cursed--with the inability to feel physical or emotional pain. Beginning with his postmortem, the novel traces the thirty-three years of his life, from his illegitimate conception on a frozen river, through the rise of his career from itinerant quack's assistant to ship's surgeon, and then to the court of Empress Catherine of Russia where he meets Mary, a mysterious woman who performs magical surgery on him with her hands, enabling him for the first time to feel and, as a result, to love.
At first this new ability drives him mad, and he is submitted to the infamous torments of Bethlehem Hospital. He gradually recovers, but his new sensitivity has disrupted his identity as a surgeon. He performs one last operation, saving the life of a Negro wrestler by opening his chest and massaging his heart. His own death, not long after, seems to signify that he has at last become a normal man, and this is a form of redemption.
This is a long poem, subtitled "A Poem for Three Voices," and originally written for radio broadcast. It consists of three intertwining interior monologues, contextualized by a dramatic setting: "A Maternity Ward and round about." The three women of the title are patients, and each describes a different experience.
The First Voice is a (presumably) married woman who gives birth and takes her baby home during the course of the poem. The Second, a secretary, has a miscarriage, not her first, and the Third, a college student, gives birth after an unwanted pregnancy, and gives the baby up for adoption.
This poem is one in a series written by Ted Hughes, addressing his wife, the American poet Sylvia Plath, who committed suicide in 1963. Here, the speaker recalls a time when he and his wife were living in Spain, and she became ill: "You lay helpless and a little bit crazy / With the fever." For Plath, the illness seems intolerable. She whispers, "Help me" to her husband, "crie[s] out for America," and sobs "I am going to die." He takes care of her, feeling as if he is "a nursemaid" or "suddenly mother." He cooks soup and spoon feeds her.
What worries him, though, is her reaction to being ill. He wonders whether she's exaggerating, and fears that if she treats a fever as if it were "the most impossible / Of all horrible things," then how will she be "when things get really bad"? He feels himself withdraw his sympathy for her, but then he recognizes what he calls "the overload"--a bluntedness which he likens to "the callous / That eases overwhelmed doctors."
The end of the poem is ambiguous: both he and his wife are overloaded; where her response is (hyper?) sensitivity, his is anesthesia. He continues to feed her the soup. (67 lines)
This poem is one in a series written by Ted Hughes, addressing his wife, Sylvia Plath, who committed suicide in 1963. After her first suicide attempt, and before she met Hughes, Plath was given electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) for depression (see Plath's novel The Bell Jar for her own description of this). In this poem, Hughes contemplates the mechanics and symbolism of what seems so brutal and elemental a treatment.
He focuses on the fragility and beauty of her body--"Your temples, where the hair crowded in, / Were the tender place"--and then makes us imagine the effect of electrodes there, in ever more shocking images: "They crashed / The thunderbolt into your skull," "They dropped you / A rigid bit of bent wire / Across the Boston City grid." He then suggests that there is a link between this treatment and the kind of poet she became: her "voice" was scarred and "over-exposed / Like an x-ray," and when her words returned they were distorted and vulnerable, "Faces reversed from the light / Holding in their entrails." (38 lines)
In Gain, Richard Powers interweaves two narratives. One is the story of Laura Bodey, a forty-two-year-old divorced realtor with two adolescent children, who lives in the midwestern U.S. town of Lacewood. Sometime in the late 1990s, Laura is diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The account of her illness, treatment, and eventual death is set against the story of the Clare Soap and Chemical corporation, whose headquarters are in Lacewood, from its inception as a trading company at the beginning of the nineteenth century.
The Clare corporation is implicated in Laura's death: pollutants from its Lacewood plant have been associated, not quite unquestionably, with abnormally high cancer rates in the area. A class-action suit against the company succeeds, but Clare, globally powerful and massively differentiated, is ultimately immune: no matter how much we might sympathize with individual members of the Clare company (and Powers ensures that we do), the corporation has become a kind of monster beyond human control.
It is London, June 13th, 1923, and Clarissa Dalloway, in her late middle age and recovering from some kind of heart ailment, is about to hold a party. As she prepares for her party, Clarissa remembers--in flashbacks--the time when she chose to marry the wealthy politician Richard Dalloway over her more adventurous relationships with Peter Walsh and her possibly-lesbian friend Sally Seton.
Clarissa does not seem unhappy, just intensely aware that in choosing one kind of life for herself she has had to relinquish the chance of others. It seems that she has planned the party as a way to affirm the choice she did make, but it turns out to do more, to suggest that the other possibilities were not lost after all.
Another character's experience of June 13th, 1923 is also told: Septimus Smith, suffering from what we'd now call post-traumatic stress syndrome as a result of his experience in the trenches of World War I, is about to be hospitalized by his physician, Sir William Bradshaw, a specialist in "shellshock." To avoid this, he commits suicide by jumping from a window. The two plots come together when Sir William, a guest at Mrs. Dalloway's party, describes Septimus's death.
For Clarissa, his story disrupts the careful balance of her perfect evening. She goes up to her own window and for a moment, it seems, contemplates suicide too. But she returns downstairs to dance with her husband. Sally cuts in, leaving Clarissa free to talk, at last, with Peter. The unspoken threat of Clarissa's illness, as well as our knowledge of Virginia Woolf's own suicide, remind us of her fragility, yet the film leave us with the exhilarating sense of encountering a woman who is complete.
Sidney Winawer is a New York physician specializing in gastrointestinal cancers. When his wife, Andrea, is diagnosed with stomach cancer, he is made to see his own work from a new perspective, that of the patient and her family. The experience gives him new insights into aspects of health care he had not considered before, such as the alienating effects of some hospital routines on patient and family, the patient's need to find hope from any source, regardless of its intellectual provenance, and, encouragingly, the life-enhancing effects on his family as they join Andrea in her determined struggle to prolong and enrich whatever time remains for her.
For the first time, Winawer explores alternative and complementary approaches to cancer treatment, including meditation, antioxidant therapies, hyperthermia, and other attempts to stimulate the immune system. At first resistant, he comes to recognize the need for the terminally ill and their families to have access to as many resources as possible, and eventually it becomes his "mission" to emphasize the need for practitioners of conventional medicine to learn as much as possible about integrative medicine.
An interesting subplot is the story of Dr. Casper Schmidt, Andrea's psychiatrist, whose remarkable knowledge of new treatments for terminal illness is explained when he dies of AIDS. As another physician led by personal experience of disease to explore beyond the boundaries of conventional therapies, Schmidt forms an illuminating counterpoint to Winawer himself.