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First published in 1991, and available in reprint edition, this is a compendium of selected artworks and excerpts of diverse medical and literary writings from pre-Hippocratic times to the end of the 20th C. Each chapter integrates selections from medical or scientific treatises, with commentaries written by historians, essays by physicians and writers, and prose and poetry by physicians and by patients. The 235 images in this book include illustrations from medical textbooks and manuscripts, as well as cartoons, sculptures, paintings, prints and sketches. The colour illustrations are stunning and copious, and provide a visual narrative that resonates with each chapter of the book.
The first part of the book, Traditional Medicine, includes chapters on Ancient, Medieval, Renaissance, and Enlightenment medicine. These serves as a preamble for the second part, Modern Medicine, which includes art, medicine and literature from the early 19th century to the end of the 20th century.
The chapter “From the Patient’s Illness to the Doctor’s Disease” illustrates the rise of public health and scientific research with excerpts from works by Edward Jenner, John Collins Warren, René Laënnec, and John Snow, together with experience of epidemic diseases described by writer Heinrich Heine in his essay on “Cholera in Paris”. The chapter on “Non-Western Healing Traditions” includes botanical research by Edward Ayensu, a short story by Lu Hsun and the writing and paintings of George Caitlin on North American Indian healing.
In the patient-focused chapter, “Patient Visions: The Literature of Illness,” are stories of sickness by Thomas DeQuincey, Leo Tolstoy, Giovanni Verga, Katherine Mansfield, André Malraux, and Robert Lowell. The chapter which follows, “Scientific Medicine: the Literature of Cure,” provides the medical counterpoint with personal correspondence by Freud, medical treatises by Wilhelm Roentgen and Louis Pasteur, an essay on surgical training by William Halsted, and an excerpt from George Bernard Shaw's play, Too True to Be Good, in which a microbe takes centre-stage.
There are chapters on “Medicine and Modern War,” which includes personal writing by nurses Florence Nightingale and Emily Parsons, and poems by Walt Whitman, and Emily Dickinson, and “Art of Medicine,” with works by Arthur Conan Doyle, Anne Sexton, James Farrell and W.P. Kinsella.
The final chapter, “The Continuing Quest for Knowledge and Control,” contains no medical treatises but rather ends with personal reflections by the writer Paul Monette on AIDS, and by physician-writers, John Stone, Sherwin B. Nuland, Lewis Thomas, Dannie Abse, and Richard Selzer.
Summary:This remarkable collection of short writings, introduced by renowned poet Naomi Shihab Nye, who visited the Sutterwriters (of Sutter Hospital in Sacramento, California) to offer a workshop, provides a broad, compassionate, imaginative window into the life inside and around an urban hospital. Patients, staff, and all interested in healing through writing are invited to come and participate-with an accent on the latter: no one is invited who isn't willing to write.
This slim volume is Calvin Trillin’s tribute to his wife Alice, not only his muse and his first and most critical reader but also a figure well known to his readers. First written as a long essay in The New Yorker, the book is a slightly expanded version that chronicles their relationship, their family life, her many and varied interests, her illness—lung cancer—that first appeared in 1976, and her death in 2001 waiting in the heart failure unit of a hospital, her heart having been damaged by the radiation treatment 25 years before.
George Stewart had always loved his best friend's wife, Catherine. After her doctor husband, Jerome Martel, is presumed to have died in a Nazi prison camp, George and Catherine marry, respectful of Martel's memory and mindful of her chronic illness. The central crisis of the story, which is introduced in the first chapter, is the surprising return of Martel a decade after his death.
Martel still burns with the passion for social justice that took him to war in Europe. The long story of their lives is narrated by George through a series of flashbacks and reminiscences, in which Catherine's illness is ever present.
This short novel is the story of one man’s death, starting with his interment at the cemetery, where his daughter and older brother offer reminiscences over the coffin; and then dwelling on aspects of his life within which the seeds of death germinated and grew. The man himself is unnamed—Everyman—and his death is no different than any other. At the same time, this death is different because the dead person’s narrative voice remains behind to tell the story.
As a young boy in his father’s jewelry store, he fiddles around in a drawer of old broken watches that his father has accepted as trade-ins. The boy is a dreamer, an artist. But he goes into the advertising business to earn a living, rather than pursuing his first love, painting. He marries and divorces three times, becomes alienated from his sons by the first marriage, and winds up spending his relatively affluent, but bleak, retirement years in a New Jersey condo, maintaining at least some contact with his daughter Nancy. Meanwhile, his brother Howie becomes a fantastically successful international businessman still married to his wife of 45 years and close to his loving family.
Everyman’s brushes with death begin when he is still a child admitted to the hospital for a hernia repair and his roommate dies during the night. As a relatively young man, he experiences a close call when he collapses and is found to have a burst appendix and peritonitis. Later, he attends his father’s Orthodox Jewish funeral, where the mourners actively bury the coffin. In 1989 he experiences a massive heart attack, followed by coronary bypass surgery. In 1998 he is admitted for renal artery angioplasty. The next year he requires left carotid artery surgery. The next, placement of coronary artery stents. The next, insertion of a permanent defibrillator. Finally, he learns that the right carotid artery has now become obstructed. During the subsequent surgery, he dies: “He was no more, freed from being, entering into nowhere without even knowing it. Just as he’d feared from the start.” (p. 182)
Richard Selzer’s memoir is subtitled “A Doctor Comes of Age.” The book is structured around childhood memories, interspersed with stories from more recent times. Selzer’s father, a general practitioner in Troy, New York, serves as the focal point for most of his early memories--a commanding figure of warmth and goodness in his son’s life: “If I have failed to describe father… it is because none of his features did him justice. I should have had to mention wings in order to do that.” (p. 152)
While his father brought science into Selzer’s life, his mother represented the world of art. She was an amateur singer with a “small pure soprano voice” (p. 15), as well as being the doctor’s wife. After the doctor’s death from a massive heart attack when Selzer was 12 years old, his mother had numerous suitors, at least some of whom she eventually married. When he went to college, she began a life-long practice of writing her younger son (Selzer has an older brother William) weekly letters, including such advice as “Rise and flee the reeling faun,” “You do not take enough chances” and “You must learn to be absurd.” (p.227)
Toward the end of Down from Troy, Selzer writes of his parents, “Of all the satisfactions of my life, the greatest is that I have at last fulfilled each of their ambitions.” (p. 251) This is in reference to his having practiced both surgery and writing. He goes on to enumerate the many unexpected similarities between the two professions. The book ends with a narrative that brings together narrative and medicine, the story of a retired surgeon who reaches out to help a young man dying of AIDS.
Dr. Aloysius Lana, a "Black Doctor" of Spanish ancestry, settled in a Lancashire town and courted Miss Frances Morton, a young woman of the local gentry. After he unexpectedly broke off their engagement, he was found dead, and Frances's brother was arrested. At the trial, Dr. Lana himself appeared: the corpse was instead his dissipated twin brother Ernest, dead of a heart attack. Ernest's secret arrival had forced Aloysius to dissolve his engagement, not wishing scandal; Ernest's death allowed Aloysius to create a new identity abroad, his future shattered. But, hearing that the death had been misdiagnosed as murder, Aloysius explained the situation, and he and the Mortons were reunited.
This three-part collection of poems offers powerful images and vignettes from the life of a family practitioner living and working among the urban poor. The first section is the most explicitly medical in theme, including poems that pay painful tribute to a mother after stillbirth, a hydrocephalic child, an addict covered with boils, a young man murdered at eighteen, an old man with a failing heart.
The second section weaves images from the writer's personal story together with those from his life as physician, and the third focuses primarily on life lived as a gay man among the sick and dying, patients to be treated and friends to be mourned while life remains to be claimed and savored.
Despite the pain and grief attested to in many of the poems, a lively voice of clarity, compassion, and consent to the goodness of life even on hard terms gives the collection a defining note of celebration. Pereira's lines about a bereaved Cambodian seamstress suggest something true about his own work: ". . . she joins the circle / of other Khmer women to sew. / Punctuating the fabric / with yellow thread, finding her remnants / into a piece that will hold." ("What is Lost")
Pook, Dante, and Wyatt inhabit the social margins of an inner-city school in Oakland. Pook's family has disintegrated from drug trade, Dante needs a heart operation he can't afford as a result of his now-dead mother's addiction to crack cocaine, Wyatt, slowed and ostracized by obesity, provides a frequent refuge for the other two at his mother's rundown dockside café. The three of them are no strangers to the violence of drug-infested neighborhoods, Wyatt manages to smuggle a gun into the schoolyard despite metal detectors, but none of the boys is eager to use weapons. They are "homies," committed to each other's survival, and intensely loyal.
Radgi, a younger, smaller homeless kid, follows them for occasional handouts and eventually is taken into Dante's apartment where his father, a dock worker, is frequently absent. All are threatened repeatedly by "Air Touch," a leader in the local drug trade who deals with smugglers and rich white patrons. Another occasional friend is Kelly, a Korean boy whose father runs a convenience store in the "hood."
The plot follows the fortunes of the boys after they witness the police beating Air Torch, see him toss his gun and briefcase away before being apprehended, and pick up both as they run for home. In the briefcase is a load of cocaine ready for sale. They have to decide whether to sell it to get the money for Dante's operation or pour it down the toilet. They sell the gun with the help of Kelly who, discovered by Air Torch, is killed, along with his father.
Eventually, after some hair-raising close calls, the boys get rid of the drugs, assemble in Dante's apartment, and discover that the petite Radgi, who they thought was bloated from starvation, is a girl, about to have a baby as a result of rape. Pook, who longs to be a doctor and has read a medical book sequestered among his few possessions, helps deliver the child, a "little brutha."
This collection by a physician-poet covers a wide spectrum in topic and tone. The poems in the first of the four sections speak in voices of those waiting surgical outcomes, those whose loved ones are about to undergo invasive and dangerous procedures, those who are coming to terms (partly clinical terms) with death. The poems in the second section focus more explicitly on Jewish experience, and on experiences of suffering that take place in the wider context of biblical tradition and recent history.
The third section features lighter-hearted poems, many rhymed, that make playful reference to moments in domestic life and relationship which, while not free of suffering and anxiety, are also the stuff of laughter. The fourth focuses on love--erotic, romantic, familial--and death, which includes the ordinary losses that living through time entails. Elegiac, wistful, musing, and poignant, they end the collection in a complex, sustained key that holds an elegant tension between sorrow and hope.