Showing 21 - 30 of 85 annotations in the genre "Essay"
Professor of performance studies at New York University, Peggy Phelan narrates the story of a vision disorder that began when she was 23 years old, caused by "open-angle glaucoma," a difficult-to-treat condition in which the vessels draining ocular fluid periodically constrict. The episodes are excruciatingly painful and disorienting: "I feel a staggering push behind my right eye. The right upper half of my face is on fire: I am certain that my eye has fallen out of its socket . . . " (508).
Phelan resists patienthood, beginning with her first visit to the doctor, in which she underplays what has happened to her. Rejecting surgery, coping with side effects of the drugs she must take, and concerned about her ability to continue as a visual arts scholar, she muddles through for several years. Then she experiences a frightening, vividly described episode of temporary blindness, which is followed by a migraine headache. Six months later she agrees to have surgery.
During the surgery, under local anesthesia, "my eye, which is frozen, can still see things as they pass over it . . . colors I have never seen before . . . I am seeing the roof of my own eye from the interior side. It is utterly breath stopping. I cannot speak" (521-522). Enabled to see her eye from a perspective that was not available to the physician, and grateful for this "visionary experience," Phelan finally accepts her situation. She is not cured, although her condition improves. "My story is finally the same as those of all the other patients . . . The only difference between me and them comes from the words I’ve suffered to find and the words I’ve suffered to flee" (525).
In this superbly written essay, Nancy Mairs, a feminist writer who has multiple sclerosis, defines the terms in which she will interact with the world. She will name herself--a cripple--and not be named by others. She will choose a word that represents her reality, and if it makes people "wince," "[p]erhaps I want them to wince. I want them to see me as a tough customer, one to whom the fates/gods/viruses have not been kind, but who can face the brutal truth of her existence squarely. As a cripple, I swagger" (9). She muses on the euphemisms that are used by others, concluding that they describe no one because "[s]ociety is no readier to accept crippledness than to accept death, war, sex, sweat, or wrinkles."
Mairs describes the uncertainty of a (correct) diagnosis early on, the kind of person she was before, and how that has changed and not changed since her illness. She discusses her need for assistance, but balances that by saying that there are many people around her willing to help; she describes her dependence on her family and how lucky she was to have a husband and children before she was taken ill. Nevertheless, there "always is the terror that people are kind to me only because I'm a cripple" (15).
Mairs has many astute comments to make about how disability does not fit well in our youth-oriented, physical-fitness-obsessed culture, and on how social expectations influence whether she adapts or fails to adapt. She also understands what is at stake for the medical professionals who care for her: "I may be frustrated, maddened, depressed by the incurability of my disease, but I am not diminished by it, and they are" (20).
The narrator is a woman who lives alone in a rural area of Puget Sound. She is a writer, an observer, a spiritual thinker. "Each day is a god, each day is a god, and holiness holds forth in time" begins her musings about the first of three days. But on day two, a catastrophe occurs: a small plane crashes and a seven-year-old girl’s face is "burned off" as she is carried away from the explosion in her father’s arms.
The narrator had met the girl once before, at a neighbor’s farm, and had formed a connection--they looked alike and the girl playfully tormented the narrator’s cat with a dress-up game. The narrator imagines the girl in the hospital, imagines her future life as a nun with no face, and ultimately imagines a gentler future in which the girl’s face is restored, she is married and the narrator has assumed the function of the nun for her.
Throughout, the narrator wrestles with the hard questions of life: why are we here; why do horrible things happen; what is the relationship of God and the world; where is God and what is he doing? She is angry: "Do we need blind men stumbling about, and little flamefaced children, to remind us what God can--and will--do?"
A Christian, she seeks answers in her wide-ranging theology, and seems to find an inroad in the idea of "Holy the Firm"--a substance lower than salts and minerals, below the earth’s crust, in touch with "the Absolute." The narrator hence posits that "Holy the Firm" allows for an unbroken circle between God, Christ, and the created world.
This is an essay from Patricia Foster's collection, Minding the Body: Women Writers on Body and Soul. The narrator describes her startling reversal to shame over her thin body as she sits in a women's bath house in Morocco with her Moroccan friend, shocked by the discovery that she was not completely at ease with the shape of her body, having thought she'd gone well beyond that stage.
Growing up in a culture that viewed thinness the way modern U.S. culture views fleshiness, the narrator describes her strong sense of unworthiness and disgrace and the jealousy she felt for the "ripe, round cheeks of the other girls, and their chubby arms and legs." Now more comfortable in her body, she is still struck by the ancient standards of beauty--thin or heavy--that are decreed by men. In this Moroccan bath, plumpness means that "women still stick to the rule that says that the male eye is the only mirror where [women] can see their true reflection."
Summary:A brief, but to the point description of Zora Neale Hurston's visit to the office of a white physician in the mid 1900's. In a very few words, she provides a description of blatant racism. Although referred by a white friend, Hurston is badly received by a white nurse and physician. Separated from the other patients, she is placed in a closet-like waiting area with soiled towels and uniforms. The physician shows significant lack of interest in this patient, examining her in a rushed and desultory manner.
In this rich opening chapter of his work on the Nazi doctors, Lifton lays out the groundwork for answering the question of how German doctors became the agents of Hitler’s vision of the purified Aryan race, sterilizing involuntarily several hundred thousand citizens with a variety of mental and physical deficiencies. His answer, in brief: a romanticized genetics coupled with total political control.
Amazingly, the Nazi medical atrocities were carried out not against the opposition of Germany’s medical establishment, but with its approval. (Of course, there were individual dissenters, the more vocal of whom were removed from positions of authority or put to death). Nazi leaders worked hard to convert medical people to the official position. This was accomplished partly by force, but also partly by metaphor, as the normal language of medicine was used to hide the unethical nature of what doctors were being asked to do.
Individual patients were replaced by the racial term "Volk," meaning the (Aryan) people, and their rights were superceded by their doctors’ new duty to assure the health of this collective political idea. According to Nazi publicity, the Aryan race was in grave danger of "Volkstod," of dying out, because its genetic pool had been contaminated both by the transmission of inherited genetic defects and by the "foreign invasion" of Jews and their intermingling with members of the "superior" Aryan race.
To save their new patient, German doctors were expected to carry out the sterilizations, medical experiments, and, later, the euthanasia required by Nazi doctrine, which, in the words of one Nazi writer, declared that "misery can only be removed from the world by painless extermination of the miserable." Doctors were urged not to worry about ethical issues, because Nazi medicine was "nothing but applied biology."
In these ways, says Lifton, Hitler’s racial policies were ’medicalized’ and their evil made less obvious. Those who went along were billed as the "saviors of mankind," the "alert biological soldiers" whose actions would restore the purity of the Aryan race. Jewish doctors were not invited, of course, their research having been officially discredited in the mid-1930s, Lifton tells us, and their medical licenses revoked in 1939--in spite of the fact that they made up half the doctors in some large cities.
Summary:Nick Hornby's introduction to the anthology, Speaking with the Angel begins with an explanation of why he wanted to produce this book of short stories: he humbly compares this rather small project benefiting a school for autistic children to the global ambitions of Bono. He then discusses how his son Danny has achieved so much because of the school, and places this in the larger context of the children with autism who will not be getting this specialized education. As he does so, he describes gently but evocatively the challenges parents face when trying to provide an education for their autistic children. The essay then asks that the reader imagine "a child who slept for maybe five or six hours last night", and Hornby briefly describes how some parents feel trying to look after their autistic child.
Summary:The author lists 173 twentieth century physician-writers, including both well-known and relatively obscure figures. The roster features each author’s dates, nationality, gender, year of medical degree, medical specialty, and his or her literary genre (fiction, poetry, drama, and non-fiction). The information about each author is documented by a reference to source material. The article also contains tables indicating (1) the percentage of physicians in the United States who were published physician-writers by decade from 1930 to the present; (2) a breakdown of physician-writers by medical specialty; and (3) literary genres by medical specialty.
Woolf wonders why illness "has not taken its place with love and battle and jealousy among the prime themes of literature." After all, illness is a consuming personal experience that brings about great "spiritual change." Why do we write only about the mind and ideas? Why not the body?
Woolf takes us through the experience of lying in bed ill; the world looks different, feels different, is different. "It is only the recumbent who know what, after all, Nature is at no pains to conceal--that she in the end will conquer." Toward the end of this short essay, Woolf discusses how illness changes our reading habits. We turn to poetry, instead of prose.
Summary:This is a selection from "The Call of Stories" in which Robert Coles argues for a medical ethics rooted in particular lives and particular situations, rather than (or to supplement) the ethics of abstract rules and principles. He tells the tale of an "uppidy nigger" in Clarksdale, Mississippi, in 1967 who took issue with her clinic doctor because he was insulting and condescending toward his patients: "I told him I expected more of him. Isn’t he a doctor? If he can lord it over people, being a doctor, then he ought to remember how our Lord, Jesus Christ behaved . . . did He go around showing how big and important He was . . . ?"