"Revelations" by David Shine

1. When a person becomes a patient, describe some of the levels of fear that he/she may experience.
2. How do health care givers’ fears affect their relationship and communication with patients?
3. In your experience, are fears regarding medicines and surgery adequately handled by the health care system?
4. Describe how the “resolve of the device” contrasts with our more human foibles and how this may affect a person psychologically.
5. How is medical technology positioned in relation to the human body, a person’s humanity? What affect does the artificial heart have on the patient, his sense of self, his connection with other people?
6. Who is the man speaking to before he dies? Is there anyone to hear him or listen to him?
7. What kind of values or associations are attached to the heart in this poem? By extension, what does it mean that the living heart is replaced with a machine, an alien piece of technology?
8. What is the meaning of the tile? Who experiences a revelation in the poem? Who doesn’t? What is revealed to whom?

Keywords: Coping, Death, Empathy, Fear, Isolation, Love, Medicine, Nature, Technology

"The Little Things" by Joan Malerba-Foran

1. Does the protagonist sound her stated age? Why or why not and are you surprised?
2. Do you feel that the “counselors, therapists, and psychologists” have missed the protagonist’s underlying problem with alcohol while focusing on more ancillary ones?
3. Do you believe that the protagonist has a handle on her problem? Or is she in a state of denial?
4. Does the author sympathize with the protagonist? Students? Who do you sympathize with, and why?
5. What does the author mean when she writes, “tonight I’m going to do a planned drunk, the second hardest thing any professional drinker can attempt”? What is the hardest thing?

Keywords: Addiction, Alcoholism, Class, Coming of Age, Pain

"Writing Poems on Antidepressants" by Nikki Moustaki

1. Do you believe that “love is a type of madness”?
2. How does the author view the creative process and how is it impacted by the therapy for depression? Do you think that the author believes that the trade-off is worth the treatment?
3. How does an individual try to determine which treatments should be considered in the face of adverse reactions due to treatment, the severity of illness, the chance of cure?
4. Describe the major elements of irony in this poem.
5. What is the relation between madness and sanity in this poem? Are they clearly divided or more complicatedly interwoven? What kind of images are used to illustrate sanity and madness?
6. How does medicine/medication/science figure into or impede the speakers efforts to create art/poetry?
7. What does it mean to be “cured” in this poem? How does the speaker treat or represent the notion of being “cured”?
8. Consider the self-conscious nature of the poem, its premise of being a poem about writing poetry. Does this intense self-reflexivity relate to the role of madness in the poem? What might it be saying about identity and subjectivity, and medicine’s or depression’s affect on or distortion and undermining of identity and subjectivity?
9. What is the interplay between reality and dreams, or sanity and madness? How does this relate to images of the fantastic and the mundane in the poem and how are such images related to poetry and the creation of poetry? (Consider the poem’s last line).

Keywords: Depression, Loss, Love, Medication, Pain

"The Bald and the Beautiful" by William Bradley

1. Why does the narrator like soap operas?
2. How does the narrator present his views of soap operas, to his fiancé and to the reader? Are the methods humorous? Serious? Critical?
3. Is the narrator’s emotional investment in soap operas a form of escapism? Denial? Does this investment ultimately help him or harm him?
4. What differentiates “highbrow” and “lowbrow” art? How do the merits or flaws each relate to life in general and to the narrator’s situation in particular?
5. What is the relationship between the narrator and his fiancé? Do they deal with it differently?
6. How does the narrator’s fiancé view soap operas?
7. What is the author saying about the line between fiction and reality, between art and life?
8. Are patients hesitant to be optimistic? Are physicians hesitant to use humor?

Keywords: Coping, Denial, Humor, Marriage

"In the Hospital" by David Lehman

1. What type of hospital does the author refer to? Is it relevant to this poem?
2. What does the author mean when he writes “Denmark wasn’t a prison or brothel, it was a hospital?”
3. How does the perception of time change when a person is hospitalized?
4. Explain the poem’s reference to Freud.
5. How is the form of the poem (the lack of punctuation) incorporated into its meaning? What sense of time does it create? How does it figure into the stream of connecting ideas extending from the hospital to Freud to Hamlet?
6. What is the relation between Hamlet, Freud, and the speaker in the hospital?
7. What is the role of madness in the poem? Do the speaker’s reflections on Freud and Hamlet’s madness provide any indication that the speaker is going mad? Or maybe he fears going mad? Why would this be a possibility for the speaker? What is his situation, where is he, and why might his situation drive him mad?

Keywords: Art, Coping, Hospital, Time

"How Suffering Goes" by Melisa Cahnmann-Taylor

1. What is the significance of the title? Consider it in relation to the attempts at healing figured in the poem, and the abortive attempts at healing.
2. How do you think the girl perceives her mother? What does she feel about her and how does she cope with the problem?
3. How do the images of the monkeys figure in the poem? Are they literal, imaginative, signs of madness, projections of feelings of the speaker, or manifestations of others’ feelings? How does the speaker view them and respond to them?
4. Is the mother’s sickness real or imagined?
5. Some key words in the poem are italicized: “stomach,” “neck,” “sick,” “pain,” “aversion,” and “suffering.” Consider where they appear in the poem and in what context. Why are these words italicized? Why are some of them repeated? What effect does this create?
6. Different kinds of feelings and different ways of expressing and coping with those feelings are presented in the poem. Compare the meditation leader, the mother, and the speaker with regards to their feelings and how they deal with them. How does the speaker view the meditation leader? What light does the meditation leader’s instruction cast on the relationship between the mother and the speaker?
7. How is healing and the healing process (physical, emotional, mental) represented? How do different people in the poem (the mother, the meditation leader, the speaker) try to find a path to healing? How are their efforts frustrated?
8. How does the speaker represent her childhood and how does it figure into the healing process or the failure of the healing process?

Keywords: Childhood, Chronic Illness, Coping, Family, Isolation, Pain, Parenting

"Postoperative Care" by Arlene Eager

1. Transformation through illness is a common theme in literature. Describe the ways in which this poem explores transformation.
2. Does detachment serve a positive role in dealing with illness for the patient?
3. Discuss the metaphor in the poem. How does it reflect the speaker’s feelings about herself, her body, her treatment, and those who “cared” for and operated on her?
4. Describe the tone and meaning of the first line: “glad to be alive.”
5. What is the interplay between the speaker’s physical confrontation with herself in the mirror and the way in which she regards herself psychologically/emotionally? Is there a disjunction of sorts? How so?

Keywords: Control, Coping, Delusion, Isolation

"Midnight in the Alzheimer’s Suite" by Floyd Skloot

1. How does the poem illustrate the difficulty of converting intention into action?
2. Are there positive aspects to dementia?
3. Is the “struggle to maintain her poise” a metaphor?
4. Do we infantilize older, demented patients?
5. What is the most powerful image in the poem?
6. Is there any part that makes you “choke up?” Why?
7. The poet uses very simple language. Why is the poem so powerful?
8. What is the relation between past and present in the poem? How does the poet represent the slippage between the two, the confusion of past and present?
9. How are images of theatricality presented and how does theatricality figure into the conflation of reality and illusion?

Keywords: Change, Confusion, Delusion, Family, Loss, Time

"Flu Shot" by David Watts

1. How is the appointment for the flu shot positioned in relation to the other, larger issues of cancer and death? What kind of meaning is attached to the actual flu shot?
2. How does the doctor change after the encounter with the wife? How does it affect the way the doctor views himself, his profession, the purpose of helping and saving lives, the possibilities and impossibilities inherent in his role and the human interactions it entails?
3. The doctor admits to feeling “shame” and “humiliation,” but on what grounds? Are these feelings purely on a professional level? Does he feel the shame of failing at his job? Or does his articulation of his feelings imply remorse or guilt and therefore a more human connection with his patients as people to whom he is accountable?
4. In relation to the notion of shame or guilt, it’s important to note that the doctor never offers an explicit apology to the wife. Why do you think this is?
5. Was closure attained by either husband or wife?
6. Discuss the irony of the title and the medical lapse described in the essay.
7. Why doesn’t the wife sue the doctor?
8. How does forgiveness operate in this piece? Under what circumstances, what kind of a meeting and exchange, is forgiveness brought about, developed, or resisted? Does the wife forgive the physician? Does the physician forgive himself?

Keywords: Cancer, Coping, Death, Doctor/Patient Relationships, Forgiveness, Grief, Loss, Marriage, Medicine, Responsibility, Relationships