Connections


"Songs from the Black Chair" by Charles Barber

1. Have you had the experience of being given “official terminology” for patients which don’t fit?
2. What do you think of the line “they may be mentally ill but they’re not crazy”?
3. What can be learned from the narratives of men like Leif and Richie?
4. The author speculates that Leif’s wildness might have served him well a few thousand years ago. Are there aspects of mental illness that are only “illnesses” in particular contexts?
5. Leif says, “I gotta keep moving. Death is being static...”. Why is “traveling” such an ingrained reflex? Is it a metaphor for anything?
6. Comment on the contrast of Richie’s attitude and the author’s “official duties.”
7. Why does the author describe his work as “strangely and cruelly exhilarating”?

Keywords: Doctor/Patient Relationships, Medicine, Mental Illness, Poverty, Separation


"Psychotherapist at the Landfill" by Lou Lipsitz

1. What does the author mean by “detective of dreams”?
2. Does the author reach closure at the end of the poem?
3. Can one read this as a coming of age poem? If so, how and in which lines is this theme prominent?
4. What is the “long initiation through the comradely, lonely stinging sweat lodge of the years” referring to?
5. Overall, would you say that the author is contented with his life?
6. Why does the speaker seek to bury or put to rest the culmination of his life’s work? How does he seek to do this? Is there any symbolism to be found in the way in which his life’s work is destroyed?
7. What role does the prayer play in the poem? What is the speaker praying for? What kind of a prayer is it? How does it affect him?
8. Consider the images of birth, death, and resurrection in the poem.
9. How does the speaker view his life, his role as a psychotherapist? Does he find, at the end of so many years in the profession, that he is confronted with as much mystery with regards to the human condition, as when he first started? What has he learned from his life’s work? Does he achieve a measure of clarity or find answers to his questions? Or is he not even looking for answers? What then, might he be looking for?

Keywords: Aging, Coping, Death, Destruction, Mystery, Science, Spirituality, Time


"The Caves of Lascaux" by Miriam Karmel

1. Is it ethical to leave patients in the dark as is written in the first paragraph?
2. Does the portrayal of the doctor’s anxieties regarding telling Nora the news of her breast cancer paint him in a favorable light? Do you think that such anxieties are commonplace for physicians or are most doctors too detached for such emotional attachment?
3. Why is Lawr attracted to Nora? Is he in love with her or in love with the idea of her?
4. In his conversation with Jack, Lawr defends the romantic ideals of love against Jack’s material cynicism. Is he able to sustain this commitment to love? Are his feelings for his wife and Nora love, or different kinds of love, or is it a question of love vs. desire?
5. Is it commonplace for physicians to feel love for their patients? If so, how might this play out on the doctor-patient relationship?
6. Do you think that it is possible for physicians to keep their work in the workplace? What effects does the introduction of their work life into the home have on the family life of physicians?
7. Lawr wonders what is happening to him. Does he answer this question himself? What is happening to him?
8. Lawr seems to reach a crisis in his personal and professional life, calling himself a “faker.” What causes this crisis, his feeling of duplicity and emptiness?
9. Why does Lawr start thinking of traveling? What do the Caves of Lascaux represent for him?
10. How does Lawr’s inability to make the hosta grow reflect on his relations with Nora?
11. Does Lawr achieve any resolution by the end of the story? If not, on what kind of note does the story end?

Keywords: Doctor/Patient Relationships, Doctors, Family, Truth


"Surgeon" by Sharon Pretti

1. How does the speaker represent the surgery? Does it seem like something invasive or something healing? What language, what tone and metaphors would support your interpretation?
2. The narrator projects into the mind of the surgeon near the end of the poem. What kinds of sentiments are revealed (with respect to the surgery itself, the patient, the patient’s family)?
3. How does the speaker feel towards the surgeon and the surgeon’s skill/methods/role? How does she react to the surgery? Does she react at all, or is she only observing?
4. How has the surgery affected the narrator’s father and the way she feels about him? (Think specifically of the language of exchange in the line “After she returns him.”)
5. The poem is silent about the outcome of the surgery, emphasizing instead the surgeon (note the title), as well as the process of the surgery itself. Why do you think the poet made this choice in terms of content? What kind of message does it send? What kind of atmosphere does it create?
6. The poem is framed or presented in terms of a journey, particularly in the last lines. Whose journey? What kind of journey? Where has s/he gone (metaphorically speaking)?
7. What are the power relationships in the poem? Do the power distributions shift? What does it mean to represent a surgery in terms of a play of power?

Keywords: Doctor/Patient Relationships, Doctors, Family, Helplessness, Power


"The Levitron" by Robert Oldshue

1. Do you feel that the description of the nurses’ job at the nursing home is an honest and real one? Do you feel more sympathy for them having read this?
2. This story is packed with satire. Name several of the aspects of the health care system that are satirized. Is the use of satire successful here?
3. Do you believe that the author is misguided in his lack of conviction that technology is the way out of some of our most difficult medical-social problems?
4. What do you think is the major point of this story?
5. This piece has the feel of a science-fiction story. What does this genre bring to medicine and nursing care?
6. How is humor deployed in the piece?
7. What are the advantages of the Levitron? How did it change the lives of the patients, the families, the nurses?
8. What kinds of flaws in legal and health systems does the malfunction of the Levitron reveal?
9. What does the malfunction of the Levitron reveal about patient-family relationships?
10. Is this piece a polemic against technology as progress, or is it a polemic against the status quo? Does the story retreat from this challenge by the last paragraph? What opinion does the speaker ultimately voice about ideas of change?

Keywords: Aging, Change, Coping, Denial, Empathy, Family, Freedom, Healthcare, Medicine, Nurses, Technology


"Miss Erma, Private Duty" by Madeleine Mysko

1. What is the relationship between the nurse and her patient? Does she care for her?
2. What is the interplay between sight and blindness? How are they conveyed (beyond merely physical blindness)? What does the speaker see and what does she not see? Do we ever get a glimpse inside the mind of Mrs. Carlisle? If so, then how? If not, then why?
3. Discuss the metaphor describing trashcans in the rain.
4. What is the effect of time and setting in this poem?

Keywords: Aging, Blindness, Coping, Empathy, Imagination, Nurses, Senses


"Biofeedback" by David Milofsky

1. What do you feel is the theme of this story?
2. Is the protagonist Sylvia a likeable character? Why or why not?
3. Why do you think that Sylvia connects with Dr. Nygaard?
4. How does a patient’s preconceptions of what a physician is supposed to be color their view in any particular patient-doctor relationship? Does “Biofeedback” make any judgments regarding this? If so, explain.
5. What does the divorce theme and Sylvia’s realization that she needs to be away from her husband add to the story?
6. Do you think that the author is asking the reader to generalize the beneficial effects of alternative therapy other than biofeedback?
7. What is Dr. Nygaard’s position in the hospital? How do the other doctors view him? How do his patients view him? How does Sylvia view him and his work? Does her opinion change? How and why?
8. Why does Sylvia go to see Dr. Nygaard?
9. What does Sylvia learn from Dr, Nygaard’s treatment? How does it affect her or change her?
10. In her meeting with Dr. Nygaard, how does Sylvia undergo the transition from doctor to patient?
11. Dr. Nygaard is described variously throughout the piece as Dr. Frankenstein, “something out of Alfred Hitchcock,” and a witch doctor. What does this say about Dr. Nygaard and the medicine he practices? How is it positioned in relation to medicine that is more conventional? What kind of judgments are made about Dr. Nygaard’s medicine, particularly in relation to his association with Hollywood fabrications, horror scenarios, and superstition? Are these judgments challenged or reversed by the end of the piece? How?
12. How does Dr. Nygaard participate in or disassociate himself from others’ imaginative construction of himself? He certainly seems aware of how others view him. How does this relate to Sylvia’s husband’s British affectations?
13. How does Sylvia feel about her divorce? How does this change throughout the piece and how does Dr. Nygaard and his treatment contribute to this transformation?
14. What is meant by the “nothing” at the end of the piece?

Keywords: Anxiety, Doctor/Patient Relationships, Family, Medicine, Trust