Showing 91 - 100 of 186 annotations tagged with the keyword "Dementia"

Doctor Faustus

Mann, Thomas

Last Updated: Aug-17-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The full title of this novel is "Doctor Faustus: The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkühn as Told by a Friend." Mann wrote it during the latter part of World War II when he was living in exile in the United States. The Faust character in this story is a German composer named Adrian Leverkühn (1885-1940), whose biography is recounted by his childhood friend, a schoolmaster named Serenus Zeitblom. Zeitblom presents the tale in his own voice--in essence, the novel is an extended reflection on the composer’s life (the past) set into the context of the deteriorating military situation in Germany (the present) as he is writing; i.e. the same period that Mann is actually writing the novel.

Adrian Leverkühn starts out as a student of theology, but succumbs to his passion for musical composition. His early pieces, though technically skillful, lack energy and imagination. However, all this changes when the young man experiences himself as having made a pact with the devil. In a confession written years later, Adrian recounts that he "voluntarily" contracted syphilis in an encounter with a prostitute, an episode that he believed was emblematic of this Faustian bargain.

In the confession he recreates his dialog with Satan, who promises the composer an artistic breakthrough, if he agrees to forego human love. As a result of the pact, Leverkühn sets off on a brilliant 24-year career, becoming the greatest German composer of his time. Throughout the novel Serenus intersperses technical details of Leverkühn’s many compositions, culminating with his masterwork, an oratorio called "The Lamentation of Doctor Faustus."

Adrian Leverkühn had been a self-centered youth who failed to reciprocate the friendship and devotion that others, especially Serenus, had lavished upon him. As an adult he leads an austere, solitary, monk-like life. Yet, while he lives only for his music, he also yearns for love. His personal life consists of a series of aborted relationships. Leverkühn becomes attracted to a female acquaintance and asks a friend to court her for him, only to learn that she has fallen in love with the friend.

Toward the end of his career, Adrian’s 5-year-old nephew comes to live with him in the country. The nephew ignites in him another spark of love, only to be snuffed out when the boy suddenly dies of meningitis. Finally, just as he is in the process of "unveiling" his great composition to a select group of friends, Leverkühn experiences a "stroke" and lapses into a coma from which he recovers physically, but not mentally. He survives for another decade in a demented, childlike state, and cared for by his mother.

The larger theme of this somber work relates to the decline of German culture during the decades before the onset of the Nazi era. Mann explores the collapse of traditional humanism and its replacement by a mixture of sophisticated nihilism and barbaric primitivism. In "The Story of a Novel" (1949),

Mann wrote that "Dr. Faustus" was about "the flight from the difficulties of a cultural crisis into the pact with the devil; the craving of a proud mind, threatened by sterility, for an unblocking of inhibitions at any cost; and the parallel between pernicious euphoria ending in collapse with the nationalistic frenzy of Fascism." In Zeitblum’s narrative comments, Mann subtly relates the composer’s personal tragedy to Germany’s destruction in the war. Mann also claimed a "secret identity" between himself, Leverkühn, and Zeitblom.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This remarkable book takes the reader into a Dutch nursing home where many of the 300 patients are terminally ill. The main protagonist is Anton, a competent, tough, and compassionate physician who tries to discover some meaning in the suffering of his patients, while at the same time disavowing any such meaning. Anton’s colleagues include Jaarsma, a somewhat detached and bureaucratic older physician, and Van Gooyer, a young physician who still believes that science has all the answers.

The first-person narrative consists of short, punchy segments (almost like an endless series of discrete physician-patient interactions) detailing the stories of Anton’s patients and his reactions to them. Many of these persons request assisted suicide or euthanasia. Anton reveals what he feels about these requests, how he goes about judging their validity, and the manner in which he actually carries out assisted deaths. A strong spiritual theme permeates the book; while Anton denies the relevance of God and religion, he seems constantly to be searching for a spirituality that "makes sense" of contemporary life.

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Wishbone Dance

Downie, Glen

Last Updated: Apr-24-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

Subtitled "New and Selected Medical Poems," this volume includes poems on illness and healing from Downie's three previous collections, along with several new poems. A longer piece called "Learning Curve Journal" serves as a framework for the book.

Beginning with the desperate voice he hears on his first night as a "suicide line" volunteer, the poet reveals the shape of his own medical learning curve, moving poem by poem from "Orientation" through the realm of "Patient Teaching" and "Teaching Rounds" to "Pronouncing Death." Among the many strong poems in this collection are "Diagnosis: Heart Failure," "Louise," "Sudden Infant Death," "Wishbone," "Living with Cancer," and "Ron and Don."

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Hero

Carson, Anne

Last Updated: Apr-24-2006
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

A woman begins the morning by assessing her mother's mood through her reaction to breakfast toast. They are off to visit her father who has dementia and no memory of his past as a war hero, or of his present as husband and parent. Yet a fleeting smile suggests that, on some level, unbeknownst to him and inaccessible to them, remain shreds of the same person.

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Ma, a Memoir

Freed, Lynn

Last Updated: Oct-04-2005
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The middle-aged narrator is caught in the maelstrom of tending to her father, who is dying of cancer; coping with her demented mother; mediating between her parents, for whom "[S]ixty years of marriage had only heated the furious war between them"; and dealing with her own grief. This glimpse of an increasingly common family dilemma is superbly rendered.

Although it is narrated in the first-person, the narrator is never intrusive as she allows the situation to unfold through dialog and unadorned description. The mother's dementia lends the story its bizarrely humorous moments, as well as its poignancy. This little "memoir" of a complex family dynamic is written with skill, insight, and a light touch.

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Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The Civil War antique, 104 year old "General" Sash, is the central figure. For him, "living has got to be such a habit . . . that he couldn't conceive of any other condition." This tale opens with a carefully crafted description of the absolute mutual inability of the principles--Sash and his 62 year old granddaughter, Sally Poker--to operate on the same wave length. Sally dotes on the fabricated fame of her ancient grandfather, and Sash, whose memory is essentially gone except for his recall of "beautiful guls" and his love of being on stage, lives for the moment while scarcely grasping it.

The story evolves around the later-in-life acquisition of a BS degree by Sally, and her need to have her "famous" grandfather behind her at the ceremony in his full Hollywood military attire. The anticipated day, a hot, muggy day in the south, arrives. The principles, with the addition of a 10 year old relative as wheelchair jockey, take their places for the ceremony. The final pages of the story enter--literally and figurative--into the head of the "General" as he perceives his personal "black procession."

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Elegy for Iris

Bayley, John Oliver

Last Updated: Aug-26-2005
Annotated by:
Taylor, Nancy

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This memoir of Bayley's life with novelist Iris Murdoch who, in 1994, began exhibiting signs of Alzheimer's disease, is divided into "Then" and "Now," with emphasis on the "Then." Bayley admits that their independent lifestyles, which had both bound them and allowed them freedom, kept him from knowing the "real" Murdoch; sadly, the novelist is almost as much an unknown to him as to us. He speaks of Murdoch's lack of any sense of superiority and her disinterest in social or artistic success; she simply did her work.

In the brief section titled "Now," Bayley presents seven episodes of their life together between January and December 1997. These pictures of Murdoch lost and at sea, following him around, uttering "mouse cries," collecting pebbles, moss, sticks, dead worms, and asking over and over "When are we going?"--these will be familiar to Alzheimer's families, as will his sometimes rage and his constant sense of frustration and loss.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Anthology (Poems)

Summary:

This anthology of "healing poems" is designed, according to the editors, "to find readers who might not usually read poetry." They say it should also be read "by those sitting in waiting rooms in surgeries and outpatients' clinics." These are definitely large tasks to expect this small collection of poems to accomplish, but in a different world (for example, a world in which people believed in the power of poetry to heal), this particular anthology would have a good shot at becoming a standard waiting room fixture.

The therapeutic intervention is well thought out. The editors have arranged the book into eight sections, each containing poems that exemplify a different theme, or situation, or style of treatment. The sections include: Admissions, Poems to Make You Feel Better, What It Feels Like, For Those We Love, The Language of Pain, Healing Rhythms, Body Parts, and Talking to the Dead. There is considerable overlap among these categories, because good poems speak several languages and can't be pinned down to a single feature. However, the classification does serve a heuristic purpose. It is another way to hook the reader, by choosing a topic he or she likes; once inside the covers, the reader may explore at will without regard to categories.

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The Mental Status Exam

Campo, Rafael

Last Updated: Aug-15-2005
Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Sonnet

Summary:

One of Campo's projects has been to interrogate the methods used by physicians to understand patients. These methods can be expertly employed to hone in on certain diseases and pathologies, but can also come with a price, most notably a blindness to that patient's experience and personhood. Campo's message might be, It's hard to see the big picture through a microscope.

In this sonnet, he turns to the mental status exam. The inadequacy of a dualist perspective of mind and brain and the reductionism of simple interpretations are the starting point. Campo then turns to several questions from the Feinstein mental status exam (remembering three objects, interpreting a phrase, etc.). Ever attuned to the life of being a physician, Campo has captured the embarrassed way in which many of the (very simple) questions are asked ("Just two more silly questions").

He does grant the divergence of mental experience, with the reminder that the mind is "timeless, dizzy, unscrupulous" as well as "sometimes only dimly lit," and acknowledges the limits of the mental status exam, one in which a certain type of memory is tested (three objects) but not another (that the patient might sing).

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Light from an Eclipse

Lagomarsino, Nancy

Last Updated: Aug-15-2005
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

In poetry and prose the writer chronicles her father's final months as Alzheimer's disease progressively seals him into a world where those who love him can't follow. Each short segment details a moment on the writer's journey as witness to his losses: moments of confusion--his and her own, uncertainty about appropriate diplomacy, invention of new activities and rituals to keep him linked to love and alive.

With sure, spare language, she sketches in her own memories, bits of family stories, irrational feelings, the different way she comes to look at home, at family relationships, even at familiar objects. More a song than a story, the collection of vignettes offers both comfort and realism to those on similar journeys of slow loss.

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