Showing 91 - 100 of 667 Nonfiction annotations

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

F. González-Crussi, professor emeritus of Pathology at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, has written several books on medicine and the human body. Carrying the Heart deals with five basic organ systems; he styles them as Digestive, Scatology, Respiratory, Reproductive, and Cardiovascular.

In his Foreword, he rejects a mechanical view of the body and medicine that treats patients as passive protoplasm. He seeks to engage the imagination of his readers so that they can become active participants in health care.

For each system, González-Crussi assembles an eclectic wealth of materials: views of authors from classical times onwards, scientists who changed perceptions of the body, his own hands-on view as a pathologist, parallel organs in other mammals, and, usually, an extended narrative of a person with an unusual anatomical history. These are highly personal essays, “rhapsodies,” we might say, which stitch together unusual and interesting facts, observations, and interpretations. It’s impossible to guess what will be on the next page, and the discoveries are many. A gifted stylist, González-Crussi writes with both erudition and wit. 

For “Digestive,” he cites Livy, Paracelsus, Joan Baptista van Helmont, and others before turning to Thomas Bartholin, who questioned the notion that the stomach was somehow the “king” of the body and the seat of the soul. González-Crussi writes, “the gastric cardia admits and stores impure food, without this having any discernible effect on the soul. Nor is the soul damaged by performers at circuses and country fairs who lower swords and knives into the stomach” (p.7). The text marches on through Réamur, Spallanzani and others, before turning to the well-known story of Dr. William Beaumont and his patient Alexis St. Martin, who had a hole in his side (from a gunshot). Beaumont experimented with materials placed directly into the stomach.

Next in the digestive process are the bowels, discussed on “Scatology,” literally the study of scat or excrement. González-Crussi is fascinated by cultural values of “death, putrescence, and dissolution” that attach to our scat. He draws on Rabelais, Luther, the Gnostics, Chuang-tzu, and the Aztecs for the views on the contents and process of the bowels—more than the nature of the actual bowels themselves. The next 30 pages deal with enemas, including the modern (and discredited) notion of “auto-intoxication” a justification bruited about even today for colonics.

Oddly enough, the enema theme continues in the “Respiratory” essay, because there were “smoke enemas” for some 200 years. Page 104 shows a French illustration of interlocked tubes for this purpose; indeed the same illustration graces the slipcover for the book. González-Crussi draws on Anaximenes, Pirandello, Plutarch, Hawthorne, and others. Some 15 pages describe a famous tuberculosis patient, Frederic Chopin, although perhaps he was actually a cardiac patient.

Part I of “Reproductive” is “Female.” We quickly learn that “The uterus is placed between the bladder and the rectum. As a piece of real estate, the uterus would be much devalued by the condition of the neighborhood” (p. 152). Nonetheless, the uterus is “immunologically privileged,” fending off germs that might infect a fetus (which in itself is “half foreign” because of the father’s genes). Drawing on many commentators, González-Crussi discusses menstruation, and pregnancy, although not genital pleasure or orgasm. Some insightful pages explore the normal death of cells within our body.

Part II, “Male” discusses erections, side-curving penises, and the famous penises of Napoleon, Rasputin, and Jesus.

The last essay, “Cardiology” briefly explores two types of knowing (from the heart, from the brain) before a lengthy retelling of the Lay of Ignauer; this strange story ends with women whom he has seduced eating his cooked heart. The last section discusses Harvey’s discovery of the heart as a pump. The final two pages see a new consideration of the heart as a second brain.

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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.

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Summary:

This book describes San Francisco’s Laguna Honda Hospital, where Victoria Sweet worked as a doctor for 20 years. In the tradition of the Hôtel-Dieu in Paris (literally “God’s Hotel”), Laguna Honda cares for the sickest and poorest patients, many staying there indefinitely because there is no alternative for them. Sweet learns from her long experience at Laguna Honda that “Slow Medicine” has benefits, that a holistic or unified view of patients works best, and that the reductionism and specialization of modern medicine has limitations and costs. During these years Sweet becomes fascinated by the medieval abbess Hildegard of Bingen and earns a Ph.D. focusing on medieval medicine. At the same time (and increasingly) various forces—economic, legal, political, bureaucratic—cause many changes at Laguna Honda, mostly contrary to Sweet’s vision of medicine.

            Part history, part memoir, part social criticism, the book is informative, entertaining, and important for its discussion of the care of our least-well-off citizens and for its perspectives on modern, Western medicine.         

            There are three intertwining strands to this engaging book: Sweet’s medical evolution as a physician, the changes in Laguna Honda, and her investigations of Hildegard of Bingen and other spiritual matters.

            Sweet joins up with Laguna Honda initially for only two months, but she finds the hospital and her work there so fascinating that she stays for 20 years. As an almshouse, Laguna Honda takes care of indigent patients, most with complicated medical conditions, including mental illness and dependencies on alcohol and/or drugs. Many of these cases come from the County Hospital with continuing (but not carefully reviewed) drug treatments. Every 15 or 20 pages, Sweet describes the dilemmas of a particular patient, and her medical (and personal) attention to that patient. The cases are vivid and instructive.

   Clearly Laguna Honda is a major figure on the book; we can even consider it (or “her”) a beloved character and a teacher to the young Dr. Sweet, who learns three principles from her work there: hospitality, community, and charity. 

Because Laguna Honda is old-fashioned in many ways, Sweet reads her own X-rays, goes the to lab to see results, and spends large amounts of time with each patient. Laguna Honda has an aviary, a farm with barnyard, and a solarium; such features help to heal the whole person. While respectful of modern medicine, Sweet slowly learns that a careful review of a patient through Slow Medicine is more accurate and more cost-efficient than standard, reductionist, high-tech medicine. She comes to respect approaches from “premodern” medicine, including that of Hippocrates and Hildegard.

  The second strand is the evolution of Laguna Honda itself. Sweet describes a variety of pressures: the recommendations of consulting firms, rulings from the Department of Justice, a lawsuit, financial difficulties (including fiscal mismanagement), administrators focused on a narrow concept of efficiency, a utilization review board, forms and more forms, and a pervasive sense that modern (including Evidence Based Medicine) is always good. All these and more create a “relentless pressure squeezing the hospital’s Old Medicine into the New Health Care” (p. 322). Sweet demonstrates that her Slow Medicine can actually save money in the long run. Confident that her way is better, she proposes an “ecomedicine unit” that she would match against the modern, “efficient” units in a two-year experiment. (For more information on her concept of ecomedicine proposal, see http://www.victoriasweet.com/.)

            As the hospital is “modernized,” many important features of the old place are gone and many “new and improved” aspects don’t work. Somehow there are no rooms for physicians in the new building while there is plenty of space for administrators and managers. A sophisticated computer system doesn’t work. Sweet doesn’t say “I told you so” directly, but we get the picture.

            The third strand is Sweet’s investigations of spirituality and pilgrimage. She is fascinated by Hildegard’s notions of the healing power of nature, the ability of the body to heal itself, and wholeness as an aim for a person and for a community. Sweet attends a Swiss conference on Hildegard. She hikes the pilgrimage route from France to Santiago de Compostela in four installments and considers notions of pilgrimage. She feels called to pursue her ecomedicine project and to write this book.           

            By the end of the book, both Sweet and Laguna Honda have changed and are now headed in different directions. 

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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.

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Summary:

            Hillel D. Braude, a physician and a philosopher, has written an important, albeit dense and narrowly circumscribed, study. While “Intuition in Medicine” is the main title, the subtitle, “A Philosophical Defense of Clinical Reasoning” is a more accurate description of the book, which originated as a doctoral dissertation.  While some of the prose will appeal only to specialists, there are important and thoughtful analyses of such topics as Evidence-Based Medicine, modern dehumanized medicine, the relation of beneficence and automony, and principalist ethics in general. 

            Throughout, intuition is narrowly conceived and in the service of clinical reasoning, as it applies to standard, Western physicians and not to other healers (or nurses), and the emphasis is on interventive medicine to cure illness and relieve suffering more than on health promotion. 

            Braude writes in the introduction that intuition has long been understood to be “a direct perception of things,” but he resists a more precise definition: “Rather than defining and using a single concept of intuition—philosophical, practical, or neuroscientific—this study examines intuition as it occurs at different levels and in different contexts of clinical reasoning” (xviii).

            Eight chapters explore these different levels in such topics as moral intuitionism, Aristotle’s phronesis (or practical reason), the rise of statistics (a basis for Evidence-Based Medicine), and C. S. Peirce’s notion of abduction. Braude’s careful analysis traces historical and theoretical developments in analytic philosophy and how these may be applied to clinical reasoning.  He uses an impressive range of thinkers: Achenwall, Albert, Allan, Andre, Ashcroft, Aristotle, Bacon, Barrow, Barton, Beauchamp, Bergson, Bernard, Bichat, Black, Bottero, Bourdieu, Brody, Browne—just to take names headed by A or B.  

            Throughout, Braude puts in dialectic two poles on a spectrum arguing that they both have contributions to make. He believes that between them is an “ethical space,” where discoveries and applications can be made, but he clearly favors all the concepts from the lefthand list for medicine. In tabular form, we can list aspects of the two poles:

 

            Medicine                                               Philosophy

Aristotelian practical reasoning                        Kantian abstraction

Naturalist approaches                                    Nonnaturalist approaches

Primacy of beneficence                                  Primacy of autonomy

Fact and value joined                                    Fact and value separated

Case-based                                                 Evidence-Based Medecine

Individual patients                                        Large groups of patients

Narrative experience                                     Statistical correlations

Anthropocentric focus                                    Mechanist, positivist foci

Tacit, organic knowledge (Polanyi)                   Dualism (Descartes)

 

            Braude believes intuition is a cognitive process but has other dimension, the corporeal and the social. While these provide a grounding, intuition for him is generally rational. He also argues for medical care at the personal, face-to-face level, not through applications of algorithms. 

            A brief conclusion, “Medical Ethics beyond Ontology” clarifies some of the arguments and sketches some valuable notions from Husserl and Levinas. He writes “intuition . . . does appear to be fundamental for human judgment” because “an intuition faculty” can “extract universals from the particular” (p. 170).  Drawing on Husserl, he defines phenomenological intuition as “the primary means through which objects are presented to consciousness.” This affirmation includes the basic human, which is also the focus for medicine. For Levinas (and my summary is much too brief), “interhuman solidarity” is a source for medical care, a form of responsibility that is different from Foucaultian power relationships, ethical rules and priniciples, or “an uncritical acceptance of medical authority” (p. 177). 

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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).

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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.

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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.  

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Summary:

Jerome Lowenstein is a nephrologist, author, and founder of the Bellevue Literary Press and the Humanistic Aspects of Medicine Education seminar program at the NYU School of Medicine.  In this thoughtful and illuminating book of essays he explores the patient/physician relationship in a world where medicine has embraced technology and scientific advances in the laboratory at the risk of neglecting the humanistic underpinnings of the field.

Dr. Lowenstein graduated from medical school at NYU in the late 1950s and spent nearly his entire professional career at NYU Medical Center and Bellevue Hospital. When he was a resident, long before work hour limits were instituted, the house staff gathered in the cafeteria at midnight to dine on the days’ leftovers.  This communal meal “provided a fine opportunity to communicate with colleagues directly, rather than by beeper and phone, about many of the days ‘medical leftovers,’ ” (1) sharing information as well as the frustrations and rewards of caring for patients.  “The Midnight Meal” poses the challenge of retaining the core of relationships, both between patient and physician and among colleagues in the rapidly changing world of medicine today.

In the essay, “Can You Teach Compassion,” Dr. Lowenstein tells his readers about the student who responded to the question with “I don’t know if you can teach compassion, but you surely can teach the opposite.” (13) The student was referring to how students become “desensitized” during their clinical years to the suffering of their patients, sometimes to the point of using derogatory terms to describe them. Dr. Lowenstein argues that teaching attendings can and should encourage students to learn about their patients. He writes how he once interrupted an intern who began to present a case by stating: “This is the first hospital admission of this thirty-five year old IVDA.”  Dr. Lowenstein asks: “Would our thinking or care be different if you began your history by telling us that this is a thirty-five-year-old Marine veteran who has been addicted to drugs since he served with valor, in Vietnam?” (17) Learning about the lives of their patients, Lowenstein emphasizes, does not detract from the clinical picture, but rather enhances it.  

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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. 

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