Loreen Herwaldt

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poems (Sequence)


This book consists of a series of "found poems" abstracted from transcripts of interviews that Loreen Herwaldt conducted with 24 writers who had previously published accounts of their illnesses. Dr. Herwaldt, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Iowa, began her investigation into the personal experience of illness after having read Mary Swander's Out of this World: A Journey of Healing and Reynolds Price's A Whole New Life, both of which revealed a negative dimension of medical care. These books initiated an "unexpected turn" (p. 1) in Dr. Herwaldt's life, culminating in a sabbatical year during which she interviewed a wide array of writers, intending to investigate the texture and dynamics of their experience of medical care by textual analysis of interview transcripts.

However, as a result of a further (and fortunate) insight, the author decided to abstract and arrange these texts into "found poems" that have "a concentrated emotional power that the unedited stories did not." (p. 5) Among the authors whose stories of illness appear in these poems are Arthur Frank (see The Wounded Storyteller ), Nancy Mairs (A Troubled Guest: Life and Death Stories), Richard Selzer (Raising the Dead), Oliver Sacks (A Leg to Stand On), Mary Swandler (The Desert Pilgrim: En Route to Mysticism and Miracles), and Christina Middlebrook (Seeing the Crab: A Memoir of Dying). In most cases Dr. Herwaldt has crafted two or more poems giving voice to different aspects of the subject's experience. For example, Richard McCann (pp. 82-90) speaks about loving his primary care physician, why patients can't talk to doctors, what he needs from a doctor, and being labeled as a patient with hepatitis C (cf. "The Resurrectionist").

The author includes a section on "How to Use This Book" (pp.9-20) that summarizes her experience utilizing these poems in medical education settings and provides helpful hints for teaching them.

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