Patients


"The Plagiarist" by Hollis Seamon

1. Why doesn’t the teacher notify the Dean’s office of Derrick’s plagiarism?
2. What does the teacher learn about herself? What does the student teach?
3. Is Althea sick? What makes us healthy and what makes us ill?
4. Althea loses her beloved dog, the love and friendship of a colleague—what does she gain?
5. How does she use poetry to understand her situation?
6. Note the importance of rhythm in this piece—the heartbeat, the meter of poetry.
7. Discuss metaphors for the rhythm of the heart.
8. Contrast the cardiologist’s explanations of Althea’s medical condition with her own experience of it.
9. What is the power of language in this story? How is it used in poetry, in word play, in communication, in silence?
10. Quotes and excerpts from different authors appear throughout the story, set in different narrative frames. (An example is the story of Flush, drawn from reality, appearing in Barrett’s poetry, then in Woolf’s fiction, then in Althea’s oral narration to her dog.) Are these narrative strands borrowed? Stolen? Recycled? How does this compare to Derrick’s actions? What is the story’s final assessment about plagiarism?
11. In Althea’s parting injunction to Derrick, she seems to equate language and words with life. Is this really true?
12. Compare the interactions and relationships between Althea and Derrick and those between the doctor and Althea. Are there differences and/or similarities between these relationships that cast different lights on sickness and the experience of sickness from different perspectives?

Keywords: Anger, Animals, Doctor/Patient Relationships, Empathy, Illness, Literature, Loss, Music, Truth

 


"Having an MRI/Waiting for the Laundry" by Jan Bottiglieri

1. How do we learn about this woman’s life?
2. How does she reveal to us who she is, where she comes from, where she is now?
3. Are there different types of memory? What is the nature of this memory?
4. Discuss the sounds in this poem.

Keywords: Family, Illness, Memory, Music, Relationships, Technology


"The Road to Carville" by Pat Tompkins

1. Why is Gar conflicted about driving Eldonna to Carville?
2. What defines a patient? Is Eldonna sick?
3. How is Gar’s ambivalence displayed by the author?
4. How has Gar’s war experience influenced his feelings about Eldonna and the other patients he drives to Carville?
5. How are animals used in this story?
6. What do you think about the ethics of Gar’s decision?
7. Is this a story about Gar or about Eldonna? Does anyone change or grow? Who? How so?

Keywords: Animals, Dreams, Empathy, Freedom, Illness, Relationships, Truth, Youth


"What Were the White Things?" by Amy Hempel

1. Why does the author delay going to the specialist’s office?
2. Who is speaking? Elaborate on their meanings.
3. How does the author connect all of the “white things?” How are they related?
4. Questions recur throughout this piece. What kind of questions, posed by whom to whom? What kind of information is being solicited? What questions are left unanswered, and why?
5. The author juxtaposes a scene of an artist displaying slides to an audience and a scene of a doctor displaying slides (X-rays?). How do they reflect upon each other? How and why does the author position these two scenes in such a manner?
6. Comment on these lines: “finding the mystery in the clarity;” “the mind wants to make sense of a thing, the mind wants to know what something stands for.”

Keywords: Confusion, Diagnosis, Memory, Mystery, Uncertainty


"Angina" by Alicia Ostriker

1. What is the poet anxious about?
2. How does the poet use images from nature to describe her chest pain?
3. What does the deer stand for?
4. Discuss how the poet describes the changes in her body in comparison to changes in landscape. How does she map her body onto the land? How do the changes in the land reflect her physical and emotional/mental state?
5. What happens in the moment that the speaker’s gaze locks with the deer’s? Is there an affirmation of life and the struggle to live? Or the abandonment of this struggle?
6. What is the tone of the poem? By the end, does the speaker express acceptance? Relief? Despair? Apathy?

Keywords: Anxiety, Change, Coping, Illness, Nature, Pain, Uncertainty


"Cold Kiss" by John Kay

1. What is cold in this poem?
2. Do you feel hopeful at the end of the poem?
3. What does it mean to “sidestep” time?
4. How and why are italics used? What effect do they create and at which point in the poem?
5. Does the wordplay offer humor? Bitterness? Irony? Is it effective?

Keywords: Cancer, Diagnosis, Memory, Mortality, Time


"Nesting in a Season of Light" by Angela Wheelock

1. Did Dr. Brown or the visiting doctor treat the patient incorrectly? Was Dr. Brown honest? Was it right for him to tell the patient that he “missed the ectopic but saved her life”? Did the missed ectopic pregnancy change the patient’s relationship with Dr. Brown?
2. “Listening is the greatest gift we can offer to one who grieves”. Who was listening to the narrator? Did the narrator derive solace or succor from being listened to, from telling her story?
3. Discuss the juxtaposition of the patient’s possible death and her effort to create new life.
4. Comment on this line: “[Grief] isn’t really like sadness; it is more like feeling you’re going crazy”.
5. Is pregnancy/infertility a state of health or sickness?
6. How do the narrator and her husband process their grief?
7. What is the relationship between the narrator and her husband? Does it change? How?
8. How are images of nature used—particularly elements of fertility and growth—in relation to the narrator’s personal situation?
9. In this story, the medical world seems to offer more ambiguity than certainty. Does nature offer something different? Are nature and medicine posed as antithetical to each other?
10. What is Dr. Brown’s role? Is he an antagonist or an ally? Is he a source of support and comfort? Does he stand for something beyond himself?
11. What does the narrator take from the image of the young moose near the end?
12. The narrator reads a number of books throughout. What kinds? What do they tell her? What do they tell us?

Keywords: Forgiveness, Grief, Helplessness, Home, Isolation, Loss, Safety, Security, Trust, Truth, Women's Health


"Fissure" by Debra Anne Davis

1. The narrator provides various definitions of “fissure.” How does the narrator’s experience of “fissure” compare with or reflect upon the medical and dictionary definitions?
2. Describe the style of the piece, the way in which it “converts” a horrific episode of rape into “ordinary” prose.
3. How does the rape affect the narrator’s view of and experience of her own body?
4. Is there any parallel between the rape, the examination, and the enemas? Do you think that even patients who have not been victims of assault might find these procedures to be violating?
5. What are the “ironies” of the doctor’s visit?
6. Is the hope of healing a possibility by the end of the piece? If not, does the narrator find an insight that enables her to live with her wound?

Keywords: Anger, Choices, Destruction, Isolation, Pain, Power, Trauma