Friday Fiction Feature

FictionReboot2_inksmudgeHello and welcome to the Friday Fiction Feature! Tabatha here to remind you about the other half of the blog. That’s right, it is once again time to recognize the Daily Dose and bring some of their medical fascination into our fiction-focused world here in the Fiction Reboot. This week we’ve got aesculapian lineup (10 points to anyone who didn’t have to look that one up- I did) featuring medical mysteries ranging from real-life poisonings to cerebral plastic surgery with a woman doctor in disguise in between.

Mistress of the Art of Death (Mistress of the Art of Death #1) by Ariana Franklin

Mistress of the Art of Death (Mistress of the Art of Death, #1)What’s more terrifying than a series of murders? than a race which has been castigated for hundreds of years? than a brand-new science based on doing what was recently called sacrilege and a crime? Mistress of the Art of Death takes readers back to the medieval times, it’s less-than-admirable inter-cultural relations, and the very early days of autopsy to answer these questions with a resounding: “Of course, a woman doctor!” The novels merges a mystery in the earliest days of the science that would come to define murder investigations with the (I hope) humorous lengths the talented doctor must go to to hide the scandalous fact that she is (gasp!) female!

A chilling, mesmerizing novel that combines the best of modern forensic thrillers with the detail and drama of historical fiction. In medieval Cambridge, England, four children have been murdered. The crimes are immediately blamed on the town’s Jewish community, taken as evidence that Jews sacrifice Christian children in blasphemous ceremonies. To save them from the rioting mob, the king places the Cambridge Jews under his protection and hides them in a castle fortress. King Henry II is no friend of the Jews-or anyone, really-but he is invested in their fate. Without the taxes received from Jewish merchants, his treasuries would go bankrupt. Hoping scientific investigation will exonerate the Jews, Henry calls on his cousin the King of Sicily-whose subjects include the best medical experts in Europe-and asks for his finest “master of the art of death,” an early version of the medical examiner. The Italian doctor chosen for the task is a young prodigy from the University of Salerno. But her name is Adelia-the king has been sent a “mistress” of the art of death. Adelia and her companions-Simon, a Jew, and Mansur, a Moor-travel to England to unravel the mystery of the Cambridge murders, which turn out to be the work of a serial killer, most likely one who has been on Crusade with the king. In a backward and superstitious country like England, Adelia must conceal her true identity as a doctor in order to avoid accusations of witchcraft. Along the way, she is assisted by Sir Rowley Picot, one of the king’s tax collectors, a man with a personal stake in the investigation. Rowley may be a needed friend, or the fiend for whom they are searching. As Adelia’s investigation takes her into Cambridge’s shadowy river paths and behind the closed doors of its churches and nunneries, the hunt intensifies and the killer prepares to strike again.

The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum

The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New YorkWhile this book may not technically belong on the fiction reboot, it was just too cool to exclude. While our other contributions build mysteries on the science of detection in bygone eras to explore medicine, murder, & changing perspectives on both, The Poisoner’s Handbook explores the real-life work of the poisoners who thought themselves smarter than the police and the forensic scientists who draw on the newest & most innovative techniques available to outwit the cleverest of their age’s criminals and the laziest of it’s chemists & cooks.

Deborah Blum, writing with the high style and skill for suspense that is characteristic of the very best mystery fiction, shares the untold story of how poison rocked Jazz Age New York City. In The Poisoner’s HandbookBlum draws from highly original research to track the fascinating, perilous days when a pair of forensic scientists began their trailblazing chemical detective work, fighting to end an era when untraceable poisons offered an easy path to the perfect crime.
Drama unfolds case by case as the heroes of The Poisoner’s Handbook—chief medical examiner Charles Norris and toxicologist Alexander Gettler—investigate a family mysteriously stricken bald, Barnum and Bailey’s Famous Blue Man, factory workers with crumbling bones, a diner serving poisoned pies, and many others. Each case presents a deadly new puzzle and Norris and Gettler work with a creativity that rivals that of the most imaginative murderer, creating revolutionary experiments to tease out even the wiliest compounds from human tissue. Yet in the tricky game of toxins, even science can’t always be trusted, as proven when one of Gettler’s experiments erroneously sets free a suburban housewife later nicknamed “America’s Lucretia Borgia” to continue her nefarious work.
From the vantage of Norris and Gettler’s laboratory in the infamous Bellevue Hospital it becomes clear that killers aren’t the only toxic threat to New Yorkers. Modern life has created a kind of poison playground, and danger lurks around every corner. Automobiles choke the city streets with carbon monoxide; potent compounds, such as morphine, can be found on store shelves in products ranging from pesticides to cosmetics. Prohibition incites a chemist’s war between bootleggers and government chemists while in Gotham’s crowded speakeasies each round of cocktails becomes a game of Russian roulette. Norris and Gettler triumph over seemingly unbeatable odds to become the pioneers of forensic chemistry and the gatekeepers of justice during a remarkably deadly time. A beguiling concoction that is equal parts true crime, twentieth-century history, and science thriller, The Poisoner’s Handbook is a page-turning account of a forgotten New York.

*P.S. this “Handbook” does not count as one of our handy “How-to” contributions!

The Anatomy of Deception by Lawrence Goldstone

The Anatomy of DeceptionPerhaps our most medically-oriented fiction of the day, our next novel is another broaching the questionable nature of autopsy in a society more inclined to call it ‘sacrilege’ than ‘science’ and unsure if the doctor is really any better than the the criminal he finds. Wading through the moral morass of high society, low society, and medicine, The Anatomy of Deception uses science & psychology to unravel a mystery & unveil the dark secrets of a growing city and a soon-t0-be indispensable branch of medicine.

A mesmerizing forensic thriller that thrusts the reader into the operating rooms, drawing rooms, and back alleys of 1889 Philadelphia, as a young doctor grapples with the principles of scientific process to track a daring killer.
In the morgue of a Philadelphia hospital, a group of physicians open a coffin and uncover the corpse of a beautiful young woman. What they see takes their breath away. Within days, one of them strongly suspects that he knows the woman’s identity…and the horrifying events that led to her death. But in this richly atmospheric novel–an ingenious blend of history, suspense and early forensic science–the most compelling chapter is yet to come, as young Ephraim Carroll is plunged into a maze of murder, secrets and unimaginable crimes….
Dr. Ephraim Carroll came to Philadelphia to study with a leading professor, the brilliant William Osler, believing that he would gain the power to save countless lives. As America hurtles toward a new century, medicine is changing rapidly, in part due to the legalization of autopsy–a crime only a few years before. But Carroll and his mentor are at odds over what they glimpsed that morning in the hospital’s Dead House. And when a second mysterious death is determined to have been a ruthless murder, Carroll can feel the darkness gathering around him–and he ignites an investigation of his own.
Soon he is moving between the realm of elite medicine, Philadelphia high society, and a teeming badlands of criminality and sexual depravity along the city’s fetid waterfront. With a wealthy, seductive woman clouding his vision, the controversial artist Thomas Eakins sowing scandal, and the secrets of the nation’s powerful surgeons unraveling around him, Carroll is forced to confront an agonizing moral choice–between exposing a killer, undoing a wrong, and, quite possibly, protecting the future of medicine itself….

The Blood Doctor by Barbara Vine & Ruth Rendell

The Blood DoctorNow we’ve looked at murderers, scientists, doctors, and even prohibition bartenders, but now our narrator tells his tale from a very different perspective: the descendant of a man who may fit any or all of those other categories. Carrying us through the mystery with him as he uncovers each piece, The Blood Doctor‘s great-grandson slowly unravels the dark secrets of his own family with the literary version of peeking through your fingers: you cover your eyes because you know you don’t want to see it, but you can’t help but look regardless.

When Martin Nanther, Hereditary Peer in the House of Lords, is choosing the subject of his next biography, he becomes intrigued by the life of his own great-grandfather, Henry Nanther. So grateful was Queen Victoria for Henry’s services as physician to the royal family that she granted him a peerage, making him a lord, the first doctor ever to be so honored. Henry had been especially attentive to hemophiliacs in the royal family, for he was obsessed with blood. As he recounted in his diary, “Red is my favorite color. To me a splash of blood is beautiful, and I profoundly lack understanding of those who flinch or even faint at the sight of it.”
As his research deepens, Martin begins to uncover hints that his great-grandfather’s fascination with blood may have had its darker side. The murder of Henry’s fiancée, the death of his young son, the remarkable number of relatives and friends who died mysteriously—could all these have been mere coincidence? Martin scours England and America for relatives whose attics or memories might hold clues, until finally the tragic truth stands revealed.
Drawing from the dark themes of obsession and murder that drive so many of Barbara Vine’s extraordinary novels, The Blood Doctor is also enriched by domestic intimacies familiar to readers of Ruth Rendell’s beloved Inspector Wexford novels and by details of Dame Rendell’s own experience as a Life Peer in the House of Lords. Once again we have a masterful work from a storyteller of the highest order.

The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells

Finally, it seems fitting to end this iatric (again, 10 points to the smarty-pants who knew that one) list with one of the genre’s pioneers- H.G. Wells and his tale of a doctor who managed to give animals the ability to speak English by performing plastic surgery on their brains in The Island of Dr. Moreau. So while we may begrudge Mr. Wells the misguided films which he inspired, I say hats off to the man who can set a novel on an island full of nightmare-inducing monsters and make his audience feel more sorry for the monsters than the poor bastard who got himself stranded there.

Ranked among the classic novels of the English language and the inspiration for several unforgettable movies, this early work of H. G. Wells was greeted in 1896 by howls of protest from reviewers, who found it horrifying and blasphemous. They wanted to know more about the wondrous possibilities of science shown in his first book, The Time Machine, not its potential for misuse and terror. In The Island of Dr. Moreau a shipwrecked gentleman named Edward Prendick, stranded on a Pacific island lorded over by the notorious Dr. Moreau, confronts dark secrets, strange creatures, and a reason to run for his life.
While this riveting tale was intended to be a commentary on evolution, divine creation, and the tension between human nature and culture, modern readers familiar with genetic engineering will marvel at Wells’s prediction of the ethical issues raised by producing “smarter” human beings or bringing back extinct species. These levels of interpretation add a richness to Prendick’s adventures on Dr. Moreau’s island of lost souls without distracting from what is still a rip-roaring good read.

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Review: The Pierced Heart by Lynn Shepherd

by Tabatha Hanly

The Pierced Heart by Lynn Shepherd takes a new look at a familiar story. The plot follows along much the same lines as the well-known Dracula. A man is sent on business to the castle-home of a nobleman in foreign parts, sees some suspicious behavior and promptly finds himself injured and committed, fleeing for home as fast as the impossibly-slow traveling methods of the time will allow. Once he returns to England, the man learns of some suspicious deaths; young women slain in an unaccountable way. He must then gather what allies he has and set out to stop the menace and save the beauties of England. Meanwhile, we learn the confounding tale of a young and beautiful woman who meets and is enthralled by the foreign nobleman, and follow her journeys with him through the medium of her diary. While the similarities may be striking, The Pierced Heart is by no means the same novel.

Who among us has not read Bram Stoker’s Dracula and shouted the pages, telling Johnathan Harker to get off his unsuspicious-tuckus and do some investigating? Who has not wished Dracula’s neighbor’s would get suspicious, notice at least one of the not-so-subtle signs, and take some action? Well, at last The Pierced Heart gives us some satisfaction. When Charles Maddox comes to the castle of Baron VonReisenberg and notes the man’s penchant for darkness, vicious pets, and solitary meals, he gets suspicious. When he hears the sounds of a woman in a supposedly empty wing, he gets up and investigates. When he is interrupted and sent back to his room, he does not give up, assume he was mistaken or feel bad for failing; he investigartes some more. Of course we should give our old Mr. Harker some credit- he didn’t have the investigative skills Maddox uses everyday as a private investigator. Nor did he have the police connections to be brought in on the gruesome deaths and begin investigating the English phenomenon in earnest as Maddox does. (I’ll leave it to you to learn how the other characters twist their classic roles).

Lynn Shepherd has augmented the tale with more than just active characters and new locations; she has incorporated an element of science and industry which show the technological advancements and fears of the 1850s and add an extra air of mystery to the tale. As we learn about the scientific discoveries which reshaped Victorian perspectives, we are also forced to wonder; is this a tale of a supernatural monster and his prey, or of a scientist and his subjects? Science and magic are interwoven so closely you will be wondering until the very last page.

The fast-paced mystery will ensnare monster and mystery-lovers alike as the action mounts, the mystery unfolds, and the chase begins.

The Pierced Heart is available for purchase Today! 

*Not recommended for younger readers.

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Friday Fiction Feature

FictionReboot2_inksmudge Hello & welcome back to the Friday Fiction Feature! This week we’ll be diving into some uncharted territory. We’ve explored demons, monsters, holidays, children, & other scary things, but this time, we’re diving into the final frontier. No, not space, the afterlife. Now of course this is an academic forum & Tabatha likes her skin too much to risk losing it by making theological statements online, so the theology will be entirely in the hands of the characters themselves. These charming tour guides will each show you their version life, the afterlife, & those messy transitional bits in between.

Divine Misfortune by A. Lee Martinez

Divine MisfortuneWhat better way to start off this week’s theme than with a novel that lets you chat up the gods themselves? The idea of a interested & caring god goes to new levels in Divine Misfortune, a world where the gods are not only a regular part of the day, but present enough to be irritating. These gods will help with your insurance premiums, make your grass greener, get you a promotion, throw parties for the other deities in your living room…crash on your couch.

Divine Misfortune is a story of gods and mortals—in worship, in love, and at parties.
Teri and Phil had never needed their own personal god. But when Phil is passed up for a promotion – again-it’s time to take matters into their own hands. And look online.
Choosing a god isn’t as simple as you would think. There are too many choices; and they often have very hefty prices for their eternal devotion: blood, money, sacrifices, and vows of chastity. But then they found Luka, raccoon god of prosperity. All he wants is a small cut of their good fortune.
Oh — and can he crash on their couch for a few days?
Throw in a heartbroken love goddess and an ancient deity bent on revenge and not even the gods can save Teri and Phil.

Necropolis (Matt Richter #1) by Tim Waggoner

Necropolis (Matt Richter #1) Not all deities, devils, & supernatural beings are as welcome in the mortal coil as Divine Misfortune‘s eponymous couch surfers. Most supernatural beasties (of good or bad temperament) are not allowed in the ‘real’ world with all those squeamish humans, and there’s not much of a social life to be had in afterlife’s which only admit of one god at a time, so Necropolis had to be built to house all the homeless all-powerful. Of course a single city filled with all the supernatural powers (un)known to man is subject to its own particular issues. Fortunately they have Matt Richter the zombified private investigator to keep an eye on things & show us around.

A home for all of those creatures that go bump in the night.
Centuries ago, when Earth’s Darkfolk — vampires, werewolves, witches and other creatures — were threatened by humanity, they departed our planet’s dimension and journeyed to a shadowy realm, where they built the great city of Necropolis. Matthew Adrion is an Earth cop who came through a portal to Necropolis on a case, died, and was resurrected as a zombie. Unable to return home, he works as a private investigator on the very mean streets of this shadowy, dark city.

Armageddon: The Musical (Armageddon #1) by Robert Rankin

Armageddon: The MusicalWhile the rest of us are busy trying to plan for our afterlives & gussying ourselves up for that first meeting with our chosen almighties, an impatient few have decided to take no part in all of this ‘wait & see’ business & want to hurry the whole process along. Ready to meet those godly incarnations now, even if it means catching them in a TV haze, these folks want to see Armageddon! That said, they’re not so rushed that they can’t appreciate the fine touches; every planet-ending-catastrophe needs some drama, some good dramatic music and…synchronized dancing?

From the point of view of 2050, you’re history
Theological warfare. Elvis on an epic time-travel journey – the Presliad. Buddhavision – a network bigger than God (and more powerful, too). Nasty nuclear leftovers. Naughty sex habits. Dalai Dan (the 153rd reincarnation of the Lama of that ilk) and Barry, the talkative Time Sprout. Even with all this excitement, you wouldn’t think a backwater planet like Earth makes much of a splash in the galatic pond.
But the soap opera called The Earthers is making big video bucks in the intergalactic ratings race. And alien TV execs know exactly what the old earth drama needs to make the off-world audience sit up and stare: a spectacular Armageddon-type finale. With a cast of millions – including you! DON’T TOUCH THAT DIAL – IT’S GONNA BE A HELLUVA SHOW!

Brains: A Zombie Memoir by Robin Becker

Brains: A Zombie MemoirOf course it wouldn’t be a supernatural Fiction Feature without zombies; what a monstrous mistake that would be (ha! get it monsterous! Hoo hee I crack me up). One very important version of the afterlife is simply the beforelife part 2. Now I don’t know about you, but I have very little interest in a beforelife part 2 where all I do is shuffle around & eat my neighbors. Boring. (Besides, I like my neighbors). Brains: A Zombie Memoir shows us an alternative to the zombie lifestyle. No more shuffling off the mortal coil only to keep on shuffling, these zombies think talk, laugh, pursue goals (no not brains!), and form the typical post-apocalyptic survivor group (minus the ‘survivor’ part). So, if you’re not sure you want one of those in-your-face-on-you-couch-walking-down-the-street deities cluttering up your afterlife, consider joining this ragtag group in their beforelife.

College-professor-cum-zombie Jack Barnes is a different breed of undead—he can think. In fact, he can even write. And the story he has to tell is a truly disturbing—yet strangely heartwarming—one.
Convinced he’ll bring about a peaceful coexistence between zombies and humans if he can demonstrate his unique condition to Howard Stein, the man responsible for the zombie virus, Barnes sets off on a grueling cross-country journey to meet his maker. Along the way he recruits a small army of “super” zombies that will stop at nothing to reach their goal. There’s Guts, the dreadlocked boy who can run like the wind; Joan, the matronly nurse adept at reattaching decaying appendages; Annie, the young girl with a fierce quick-draw; and Ros, who can actually speak. United they embark on an epic quest to attain what all men, women—and, apparently, zombies—yearn for: equality.
Brains is a blood-soaked, darkly humorous story that will have readers rooting for Barnes and his zombie posse to the very end.

Final Exits: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of How We Die by Michael Largo

Final Exits: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of How We DieFinally, I thought we’d wrap up all this theology with some perspective. And statistics! We can discuss theology until we’re blue in the face (or, in the case of a few of this week’s protagonists, grey), but at the end of the day, no matter which ending you are rooting for, no one gets to find out & do their patented I-was-right-about-death victory dance without making a brief stopover at Death’s door first. Since our afterlives as zombies, ghosts, boggiemen & women, or otherworldly horrors must all begin with death, death seems a good place to end. And so without further ado, I will leave you with Final Exits & an interesting look at the more creative ways you can kick off to your own personalized afterlife with a bang. Or a bzzzzz. Or a ‘hhrrk’ Or an ‘aaaaaa!’ Or a…you know what, you’ll just have to read the book.

To die, kick the bucket, to meet your Maker, dead as a doornail, get whacked, smoked, bite the dust, sleep with the fishes, go six feet under—whatever death is called, it’s going to happen. In 1789 Ben Franklin wrote, “In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.” Death remains a certainty. But how do we die? It’s the enormous variety of how that enlivens final exits.
According to death certificates, in 1700 there were less than 100 causes of death. Today there are 3,000. With each advance of technology, people find new ways to become deceased, often causing trends that peak in the first year. People are now killed by everything, from cell phones, washing machines, lawn mowers and toothpicks, to the boundless catalog of man—made medicines.
In Final Exits the causes of death—bizarre or common—are alphabetically arranged and include actual accounts of people, both famous and ordinary, who unfortunately died that way. (Ants, bad words, Bingo, bean bag chairs, flying cows, frozen toilets, hiccups, lipstick, moray eels, road kill, starfish, and toupees are only some of the more unusual causes.)

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Guest Post: Lea Povozhaev on Addiction and Narrative

DailyDose_darkstrokeWelcome back to the Daily Dose and a segment for MedHum Mondays. Today, we feature a guest post by recent PhD Lea Povozhaev on some of her work concerning addiction and narrative. Recent work has been done in the fields of anthropology and narrative medicine, particularly about the embodied experience of patients. Welcome, Lea!

Conceptualizing Addiction and Narrative Understanding


Lea Povozhaev, PhD

It is essential to listen to patients’ expressions of their thoughts and emotions because in them, they tell of embodied realities that effect physical well-being. My resent research of conversations between an addiction doctor and his patients illustrates a disconnect in communication, particularly when the doctor fails to hear and respond to patients’ utterances about these thoughts and emotions. When doctors perceive their conversations with patients as narratives through which patients express senses of “selves” (including explanations of emotions that lead to behaviors and effect one’s body), it leads to greater facility in treatment and understanding.

Like most people, I have met with doctors who seem to perceive me as “merely” a body. I have, however, also known a doctor who took my story into account and became more aware of who I perceived myself to be, which effected the over-all way that I felt. I’ll begin here as an example.

I’d been meeting with my family doctor for the past decade, and I was comfortable with her. She was always open to hear stories of my life, to understand me emotionally and physically. While she, like other doctors, budgeted the valuable minutes we shared, she did so with a keen ability to interpret my utterances on emotional and physical well-being in symbiotic relationship. For example, when I later picked up my medical records, there were many notes regarding anxiety written alongside notes on my physical conditions throughout the years. She had an ability to tie together the workings of my body in relationship to social situations in my life. She listened to my complaints of a sinus infection and also heard the pains of having in-laws move from Russia to the States. At that session, she watched my two small boys bounce around the exam room and she seemed to understand more than I complained of, as evidenced when she suggested mothering wasn’t always easy. With this fuller story in her mind, she counseled me as she was able. She seemed to take seriously my complaints of digestive problems. However, she encouraged me to seek counseling as a way to deal with stress and anxiety, even as she also referred me to an internist.

Interestingly, when I met with the internist, she listened to my narrative only to segue into a number of tests (most of them ultimately wasteful and unnecessary), even going so far as to say that it would be “good if I had HIV,” which I did not, because then we’d know the root of the “problem.” She added that there were many good medications now for HIV–and I realized then, as I realize even more now, that doctors’ utterances shape the narrative with the patient. It certainly affected how I felt about myself and about the encounter. As a result, I wanted to understand from a rhetorical perspective how this interaction worked. At one of our last appointments and after expressing my research interest, my family doctor (not the internist) suggested I do a study at a nearby addiction clinic.

At this clinic, I studied the rhetoric of addiction by investigating the doctor’s and his patients’ manner of thinking about addiction by their conceptual metaphors in their conversations. My study shows how one doctor and twenty patients characterize addiction with their utterances of emotion, thought, and activity, and with their responses to each other during conversations within patient-doctor interview sessions. I borrow Conceptual Metaphor Theory (CMT) from George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (1980) and code the metaphorical expressions, or utterances, in my study as disease or illness experience. I find that the doctor typically speaks of addiction as a disease, and the patient typically speaks of addiction as a personal illness experience. However, the doctor at times characterizes addiction as illness, and the patient at times characterizes addiction as disease, and these exceptions occur with certain patterns of response. In the typical conversation, modifications of the conceptual metaphors deployed by the doctor and patients suggest a change in how the participants respond to the topic addiction and to each other. Furthermore, with their utterances and responses, the doctor and patient ultimately construct a conversational illness narrative. And this is important.

Doctors and patients construct a rhetorical position along a spectrum of consensus and resistance. There are times when the patient and/or doctor seem to understand each other and respond, and there are other times when the patient and/or the doctor do not respond to each other. When anyone fails to respond to “the other,” the conversation becomes one-sided and the listener may “resist” the speaker’s conceptual frame and fail to work with him/her and past addictions.

In the context of my study, “addiction” is one’s personal experience of mental and physical illness from chemically altering one’s own consciousness. Therefore, my study of the rhetoric of addiction observes first and foremost that addiction is conceptualized by embodied experiences. One understands addiction from the particular lived accounts one has had with it. For the doctor, medical studies and the wider medical community with which he associates frame his understanding of addiction. In contrast, the patient’s on-going personal experiences with addiction frame his (or her) understanding, and is informed by the doctor’s perspective on his (or her) condition. Therefore, the patient is vulnerable and developing a sense of the disease, while the doctor is “sure” of what addiction is and what needs to be done. Furthermore, a patients’ communities, including friends and family, affect their perspective, which can be at odds with the doctor’s perspective. Because patients are informed by others’ perspectives and don’t yet have a decided perspective on addiction, contradictory suggestions frequently cause confusion. As a result of their different positions with respect to illness, the doctor’s and the patient’s conceptual metaphors underlying these expressions are essentially different. Understanding that–and the narrative quality of the encounter–is thus incredibly important.

Medical humanities, in its focus on intersections between medicine and narrative, can offer important interdisciplinary perspective that allows for greater understanding of the interconnection of patients’ minds, bodies, and spirits. My research continues to investigate ways doctors’ perspectives of patients may become more realized with skills of narrative understanding. For example, recognizing patients’ expressions of thoughts and feelings as characterizing who they perceive themselves to be can be informed by the manner in which the doctor responds to them and shapes their narrative encounter. Currently, I continue research on the science and psychology of addiction to better understand the “addicted brain” and also how this concept intersects with one’s illness narrative.


Dr. Lea Povozhaev earned a PhD this August, 2014, and published her dissertation Addiction Rhetoric: Conceptual Metaphors in Conversational Illness Narratives with Scholars Press. She has an MFA, specializing in non-fiction, 2007, and an MA in Composition, 2004, from the University of Akron. Her memoir When Russia Came to Stay, appeared in 2012 with the Orthodox Research Institute. She is a non-fiction writer with multiple publications ranging from spiritual and creative to academic and literary. Dr. Povozhaev currently teaches composition as an adjunct at Lake Erie College, fueling her passion for medical humanities with research on the science and psychology of addiction.


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Friday Fiction Feature

FictionReboot2Hello & welcome back to the Friday Fiction Feature! Tabatha here again, and this time I have a secret to share. Are you ready? Bet you’ll never guess. No really, don’t even try, you’ll never guess it. Ready? I love Halloween! I know. Shocking. Never would have guessed but it’s true. I love the decorations, I love the bats & pumpkins everywhere,I love the socially sanctioned month of gothitude, but most of all, I love to dress up! Since we are now firmly into Halloween month (otherwise known as October), it’s time to start thinking about finding the right costume. Now, you could follow the trends & just go out in lingerie & some cat ears (a tradition which has sadly been limited to women), but that’s the lazy option. A real costume should be much more involved (for instance: by my rules, a costume should rely on more than a headband to distinguish a pirate from a cat from Batgirl) so to help you get started on your costume selection early, this week we’re offering some interesting folks to emulate this year as you go out on your merry trek to scare the pants off the candy-hoarders.


Transylvania 90210 (Elvira #1) by Elvira

Transylvania 90210 (Elvira, #1)

Our first option is a one-and-only for the list and it comes with a requirement. The costume: Elvira: Mistress of the Dark. The one-and-only: cleavage-dependent costumes. As a rule, we at the Friday Fiction Feature do not condone “Slutty __(Noun)__” costumes. A Halloween costume should let you jump into your personal nerdom & be your own conversation starter, starting conversations on something cool. (So let us be clear here: dress up as Captain Mal, you get to talk to other Firefly fans about Firefly. Dress up as “slutty (noun)” you get to pointedly not talk about your boobs with people who are there to talk about your boobs. Just sayin’).

Elvira does make the list because despite her rather noticeable…assets…she is a the figurehead for so many cool things! Awful horror movies, picking on awful horror movies, the awfulness of the 80’s…the list goes on and on! (It is an awfully good costume you know). Heck, she’s even an author! And this literary-inspired costume even comes with a group option: some vampire pals from Transylvania 90210 to slay or…make friends with.

In her first hairdo-raising adventure, Elvira meets the weirdos next door–a pasty-faced group of coffin-carrying bloodsuckers! Elvira likes vampires as much as the next ghoul. But when they start chomping on her friends, the new creeps on the block receive a little visit–from ELvira’s unwelcome wagon. This book begins a new series starring America’s favorite glamour ghoul.

Necessary Equipment: Attitude, puns, black dress w/ knife, cleavage (your own or manufactured because really, only 5 people in the world can wear it on their own), long hair w/ 80’s poof. *Caveat: Only counts if all equipment is present: a black dress with cleavage doesn’t make you Elvira, it just makes you cold!

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

FrankensteinThis costume is an old favorite with a twist. Everyone knows the typical costume: dress up as Frankenstein’s monster, put some bolts in your neck, paint yourself green & call yourself Frankenstein. But that’s old hat…or old bolt..whatever. I think a much more fun way to go (and keep your freinds guessing) is to dress up as Frankenstein. (Frankenstein. Not Frankenstein’s monster. I cannot be clear enough on that distinction. Please stop calling the monster Frankenstein!)

To do this one well, eschew the bolts & dress like a fop! Dress like a 19th c. doctor (that means frilly sleeves not lab coats folks) and walk around being generally annoying (In your best Percy Shelley style). Remember to always look morose, ignore your date, wax romantic about the nature of life & death, refer vaguely to your ‘sins’ and ‘responsibilities’ and then wander away from the party early without telling the host why. Bonus option: if you have a kid, run out of the room screaming every time he/she walks into the room!

Frankenstein tells the story of committed science student Victor Frankenstein. Obsessed with discovering the cause of generation and life and bestowing animation upon lifeless matter, Frankenstein assembles a human being from stolen body parts but; upon bringing it to life, he recoils in horror at the creature’s hideousness. Tormented by isolation and loneliness, the once-innocent creature turns to evil and unleashes a campaign of murderous revenge against his creator, Frankenstein.

Necessary Equipment: Frilly shirt, humorously tight/frilly pants/tights, ability to sound whiney for at least the length of the event, a basic knowledge of monster v. mad scientist.

The Addams Family: An Evilution by Charles Addams & Kevin Miserocchi 

The Addams Family: An EvilutionThe next selection is a very versatile idea: The Addams Family! In deciding to emulate the Addams family, you can either dress up as your favorite character: Wednesday, Morticia, Lurch, Gomez, Uncle Fester, Pugsley, Cousin It, Thing, etc. (P.S. if someone manages to dress up as Thing- please let me know how!) Or you can have a family costume with everyone joining in as one family member. You can even include friends as terrified neighbors  & your new baby as Pubert! If these options aren’t enough (or you have a sullen teenager who refuses to join in the morbid fun) just remember Wednesday’s costume when she shows up in her normal clothes: “I’m a homicidal maniac. They look just like everyone else.” The easiest costume possible, provided you’re willing to repeat that line over and over and over and over…

If that’s not easy enough, we’ll even help out with the costume design! The Addams Family: An Evilution shows you comics of the Addams family over the years so you can get a good chuckle while you double-check your Wednesday-braids against the original.

The Addams Family: An Evilution is the first book to trace The Addams Family history, presenting more than 200 cartoons created by Charles Addams (American, 1912-1988) throughout his prolific career; many have never been published before. Text by H. Kevin Miserocchi, director of the Tee and Charles Addams Foundation, offers a revealing chronology of each character’s evolution, while Addams’s own incisive character descriptions, originally penned for the benefit of the television show producers, introduce each chapter. As the presence of the Family continues to permeate generation after generation, and in celebration of the Broadway musical debuting in 2010, this book reminds us where these oddly lovable characters came from and, in doing so, offers a lasting tribute to one of America’s greatest humorists. Includes more than 200 cartoons (approximately 50 are published here for the first time), many in color.

Necessary Equipment: Really, just black clothes, attitude & puns (and probably some temporary hair dye).

Let’s Panic About Babies!: How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant who Will Ruin Your Body, Destroy Your Life, Liquefy Your Brain, and Finally Turn You into a Worthwhile Human Being by Alice Bradley & Eden M. Kennedy

Let's Panic About Babies!: How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant who Will Ruin Your Body, Destroy Your Life, Liquefy Your Brain, and Finally Turn You into a Worthwhile Human BeingI was once told that I wore the scariest costume in the room when I showed up to a Halloween party still in my Walmart uniform. While I’ll definitely call that a terrifying one, the last few years have shown me an even more frightening figure: crazy person with baby. Think about it; what’s more terrifying than a person who has not slept in 6 months, who doesn’t remember a time when he/she didn’t have mysterious food/bodily fluids/who knows spots on every article of clothing, and worse, a person who willingly supports and feeds their tormentor, maintaining it from it’s beginning as a parasite through its development into a practiced poo-throwing machine. You’ve even got a handy how-to guide for your appearance & appropriate level of crazy in Let’s Panic About Babies! Your friends can’t possibly compete with this level of insanity: even mad scientists keep their apocalyptic horror beasts in cages.

Warning: The humor of this costume may depend on your audience. Probably not recommended for your brother’s “my baby & me” class get-together.

BABIES. Maybe you’re thinking of having one. There might even be one inside you right now, draining nutrients from your system via a tube growing from its midsection. Or maybe you’ve already got one around the house, somewhere, and you’re responsible for its continued survival. You’re saddled with a helpless being whom you’ve agreed to house and feed and love with all your heart for the rest of your life, more or less.
Either way, you’re confused, you’re frightened, and 911 won’t take your calls anymore. But don’t despair! Let’s Panic About Babies! is here to hold your hand and answer some important, age-old baby-related questions, including:
– How can I be sure I’m pregnant? (Torso swells gradually until baby falls into underpants.)
- Did I just pee myself? (Yes.)
– What happens if I have sex during my pregnancy? (Your baby will be born with a full, lush beard.)
– How can I tell if I’ve chosen the wrong pediatrician? (He/she can’t pronounce “stethoscope.”)
– How do I make sure my baby loves me back? (Voodoo.)
From the moment they’re created until the day they steal our cars, our babies demand center stage in our lives. So join Alice and Eden as they tell you (and your lucky partner!) exactly what to think and feel and do, from morning sickness to baby’s first steps. They know everything!

Necessary Equipment: Plastic baby, hair frazzled until it stands straight up at the back of your head, stain-covered sweat shirt & sweat pants, a wild I-haven’t-slept-in-years look in your eyes, & belief that poop stories are funny & good dinner conversation.

In the Peanut Gallery with Mystery Science Theater 3000: Essays on Film, Fandom, Technology and the Culture of Riffing by Robert G. Weiner, Shelley E. Barba

In the Peanut Gallery with Mystery Science Theater 3000: Essays on Film, Fandom, Technology and the Culture of RiffingNow this last costume was not as novel-inspired as I would have liked, but I think it warrants inclusion on the basis of how fun it could be. Just think: you & 2-4 friends dress up as JoelorMike & the bots, sit down wherever you want with folding chairs & just start heckling. Everything. Narrate conversations from afar, concoct implausible B-movie plot-lines for the people next to you based on their costumes, start singing bad background music when it’s quite for too long. And when people ask who you are, or why an academic/all-around-smart-person (as I know you all are) would want to dress up as a line of heckling robots, you can assure them that you are simply referencing a known academic work integrating culture phenomenon and its critical & social interpretation into the broader framework of pervasive media as proven in thier text In the Peanut Gallery with Mystery Science Theater 3000: Essays on Film, Fandom, Technology and the Culture of Riffing. 
The award-winning television series Mystery Science Theater 3000 (1988-1999) has been described as “the smartest, funniest show in America,” and forever changed the way we watch movies. The series featured a human host and a pair of robotic puppets who, while being subjected to some of the worst films ever made, provided ongoing hilarious and insightful commentary in a style popularly known as “riffing.” These essays represent the first full-length scholarly analysis of Mystery Science Theater 3000–MST3K–which blossomed from humble beginnings as a Minnesota public-access television show into a cultural phenomenon on two major cable networks. The book includes interviews with series creator Joel Hodgson and cast members Kevin Murphy and Trace Beaulieu.

Necessary Equipment: Jumpsuit, gumball machine, various articles of kitchen equipment, paint, and probably some cardboard boxes & scissors.

*Alternate costume choice: do the same things, but instead dress up as Statler & Waldorf


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Friday Fiction Feature

FictionReboot2Good morning (or afternoon/evening/later-in-the-week) to you all! Tabatha here again with another Friday Fiction Feature. This week we’re going to the worst of the worst; beyond who has the most annoying students, who has to work the longest hours, or who has lost the most digits on the job, we’re taking a peek at the very worst jobs available. These novels explore the demanding careers where you have to clean up after planet-sized messes, escape the devious designs of a billion 10-year-olds, work with clients who are never happy, or even dust those tricky corners on a world-ending-cataclysm device that they just have to store in the dustiest corner…

Planet Janitor: Custodian of the Stars by Chris Stevenson & Toni Zhang 

Planet Janitor: Custodian of the StarsWhen we’re talking about dirty jobs, the first & most obvious step is custodians: the brave ranks of custodians/janitors/caretakers who clean up after our awful messes. They distinguish themselves by cleaning, unphased, the most repulsive & creative messes the rest of us slobs make every day. Now any elementary school custodian  can top even the worst ‘gross out’ stories most of us can come up with, and they’re just talking about Tuesday afternoon, but there is still a long way to go. How? you ask, What is grosser than cleaning up after 300 small children? Easy: cleaning up after 3 billion adults. The crew in Planet Janitor cleans up the mess of ages. Literally. That one’s not leading into a convoluted metaphor, they really have to clean up after eons of messy & destructive humans. If you thought your brother’s bedroom was a disaster area, just imagine what it takes to clean up after a thousand years worth of his fast-food wrappers.

Captain Zachary Crowe and the crew of Planet Janitor Corporation are adept at handling environmental clean-ups and close system jumps to collect precious ores and space trash. The problem is they have yet to complete an assignment without a mishap to add to their not so stellar record. Scraping the bottom of the barrel, Orion Industries contracts Planet Janitor for a clandestine operation that no one else wants, offering them more money than they could spend in three lifetimes. The mission entails a 12 light-year trip to a newly found habitable planet in the Tau Ceti system. The crew will lose 26 years on Earth due to the cryo jump, but that is the least of their problems. What they find on Tau Ceti will rattle their wits, test their courage, and threaten their very survival.

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows (Flavia de Luce #4) by Alan Bradley

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows (Flavia De Luce, #4)Probably one of the worst jobs available is one we rarely think about, and certainly don’t think of as bad: Santa. It sounds like a cushy gig: only work one day a year, spend the rest of your time supervising a factory floor & maintaining an expected standard of corpulence. You get some nice perks like friendly letters from little kids, junk food left out with a note just for you. Sounds pretty good right? But that’s only because you don’t know about the other side of the job! Sure you get nice letters, but what about the mean ones? Selfish kids demanding you bring them toys they didn’t earn, mean letters after the big day angry because they didn’t get their fully-functional light saber (which her parents would never have allowed even if it existed–I mean, even elves have limits). What about the disgusting cookies & souring milk that has been left out too long? And don’t get me started on the bellyache that comes from eating every last cookie! They mean well, I know, but…there’s billions! Hoping that the elves don’t catch wind of this ‘union’ & ‘striking’ business. Yikes.

Anyways, this is all just the trivial stuff: the real trick is avoiding the traps. Kids like this Flavia de Luce from I Am Half-Sick of Shadows who spend all year thinking up ways to get me stuck in the chimney or steal my magic bag… That’s the real terror of the job. And when it’s a kid smart enough to solve murders… Oh boy, what I wouldn’t give to trade with the Easter Bunny. All she has to do is lay eggs & hide!

Precocious Flavia de Luce — an eleven-year-old sleuth with a passion for chemistry and a penchant for crime-solving — is tucked away in her laboratory, whipping up a concoction to ensnare Saint Nick. Amid a blizzard, the village gathers at Buckshaw to watch famed Phyllis Wyvern perform. After midnight, a body is found strangled by film. Flavia investigates.

Hell by Robert Olen Butler

HellSince we’re not all that concerned with this whole ‘reality’ business, we may as well jump to the most obvious choice for bad jobs: Satan. The devil has a nasty job. First off, absolutely no one likes him. Really, no one at all. Even the people who think he isn’t real (ouch!) think he is awful. Then of course there’s the job: he only gets to talk to the worst people, everyone else in Hell is always complaining, even when the interesting sinners chat him up it’s only because they want to trick him or shorten their sentences. And now in Hell they’re even getting the audacity to question him! How dare they question his omnipotence? Why can’t they just accept that everyone has done something & probably deserves damnation for one reason or another. That’s what he does…

Hatcher McCord is an evening news presenter who has found himself in Hell and is struggling to explain his bad fortune. He’s not the only one to suffer this fate—in fact, he’s surrounded by an outrageous cast of characters, including Humphrey Bogart, William Shakespeare, and almost all of the popes and most of the U.S. presidents. The question may be not who is in Hell but who isn’t. McCord is living with Anne Boleyn in the afterlife but their happiness is, of course, constantly derailed by her obsession with Henry VIII (and the removal of her head at rather inopportune moments). One day McCord meets Dante’s Beatrice, who believes there is a way out of Hell, and the next morning, during an exclusive on-camera interview with Satan, McCord realizes that Satan’s omniscience, which he has always credited for the perfection of Hell’s torments, may be a mirage—and Butler is off on a madcap romp about good, evil, free will, and the possibility of escape. Butler’s depiction of Hell is original, intelligent, and fiercely comic, a book Dante might have celebrated.

Laminar Flow (The Book of Drachma #1) by Timothy Cook

Laminar FlowOur next contender puts up a good fight for the title because it doesn’t stop at just one bad job, it moves that bad job into the worst context. We all know it is difficult to be a doctor. You have to finish years upon years upon years of school, study & work long hours, all for the eventual award of discussing pus with patients who think you should be able to fix everything. For free. We could probably assign some serious points just for working in a profession where oozing wounds & “Why on earth would you put that in there!?” are a normal part of your day, however, why bother with the lesser contender when someone is willing to go an extra mile? And so Laminar Flow leaps to the head of the competition by taking all the implied gross of ‘doctor’ & shoving it into an era where soap was considered optional at best. (Also I hear there is murder & philosophy & other things that will muck up an already dirty job).

What does being a doctor really feel like? What is it like to get called out in the middle of the night to care for a desperately ill patient, to be the one everyone depends on? Bob Gilsen knows only too well. And what does a fifteenth century physician, who gets called out in the middle of the night in winter, possibly have to offer his patient? This is the beginning of The Book of Drachma, a novel of medicine, murder, fantasy, and self-discovery, set in two times and places. It is a novel for the curious, for those who really wish to know what it means to be a doctor, in this, as well as past ages. In Part One, Laminar Flow, readers find the two stories have a commonality that transcends the barriers of time and place, and leads to the two tales coming together under the watchful eye of the mysterious Drachma.

Maintenance, Volume 1: It’s a Dirty Job by Jim Massey & Robbi Rodriguez

Maintenance, Volume 1: It's a Dirty JobOur final contender is another group of custodians, this time they aren’t cleaning up galaxies, they’re cleaning up after mad scientists. Now, this one should lose on the scale of things- I mean, up against entire worlds & medieval pus anything else seems to fall short–but don’t forget the particular challenges of cleaning up after a mad scientist. While the world cleaners might be able to give up & administer the planet-sized version of just dunking everything in bleach, these poor Maintenance men have to consider what kind of world-ending calamity they might cause by upsetting the delicate chemical balance of the lab whenever they want to use a bit of soap.

You think your job is bad? Well, Doug and Manny have you beat! These guys are janitors! But they’re not your typical custodial crew – no, sir! They’re the guys who keep things shiny and clean at TerroMax, Inc., the world’s biggest and best evil science think tank! When they’re not dealing with toxic spill monsters, they still have to worry about their jerk of a boss, multiple mad scientists, crazy would-be dictators, and the cute girl who works at reception! And when an experiment doesn’t go as planned, it’s up to Doug and Manny to socialize the lonely “man-shark” in Lab 3B, turn back the laser gun-armed caveman army that’s escaped from prehistory and fend off the aliens intent on taking back whatever otherworldly technology TerroMax has “acquired” over the years!

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Medical Humanities: Building a Community


Visitors in the Blaufox Hall of Diagnostic Instruments, one of the most comprehensive in the country

How do we build community? What makes it possible?

The Medical Humanities, operating at the intersection of fields, aims to bring diverse perspectives together. But that isn’t as easy as it sounds. In the mad tumult and breakneck pace at which we presently live, it’s increasingly difficult to be heard–though we are less like voices crying in a wilderness and more like people shouting at a hurricane. Carving out space for truly meaningful engagement is tricky business, and today I am going to liken it to a similar issue faced by museums and libraries.

For the past year, the Dittrick Medical History Center has hosted a medical humanities reading group. Housed in the Allen Memorial Medical Library, we provide a beautiful building and a practical space–but also much more. Our historical collections are diverse

Male figure, anterior view showing blood vessels, liver heart and bloodletting points.  Woodcut circa 1530 - 1545

Male figure, anterior view showing blood vessels, liver heart and bloodletting points.
Woodcut circa 1530 – 1545

and fascinating (500 year old ivory anatomy models, Beck’s defibrillator, Vesalius’s Fabric of the Human Body), but any curator will tell you, objects simply do not speak for themselves. Museums, libraries, and other cultural spaces must do more; we must build a relationship between history and humanities–we need supportive communities.

And those communities need us, too. One thing that has become increasingly clear to me since leaving the usual tenure track appointment for academics in favor of museum work is that a real hunger exists for alternatives and intersections. The usual routes–be they for degrees, careers, interest, investment, and engagement–don’t always satisfy. Hybridity and interdisciplinarity garner a lot of press, but how can we put such things truly into practice? One way is to form alliances between the medical humanities and medical museums like the Dittrick. We believe in the value of such communities, and want to make them an integral part of all we do. Here’s a look at how we’ve made those inroads.


Kate Manning, signing books in the contraception gallery after her talk

To build–and so to provide–a robust inter-disciplinary community, the Dittrick Museum has focused on membership, exhibit engagement, social media presence, and event planning. That means welcoming those beyond the walls to join us in new ways. This past September, we hosted a book talk by Kate Manning (author of My Notorious Life), packing the Zverina roomfor a talk about women’s issues, women’s health, contraception, history, and fiction. Kate signed books, gave a reading, and talked about the value of museum collections for her work. A link to the talk appears here; as Kate said, “here at the museum, I am surrounded by the things I once only imagined.” We’re also hosting a “mystery at the museum” night, as well as our other annual lectures, talks, and receptions.


Members at one of the Explorations talks, this one on the changing doctor-patient relationship brought about by the stethoscope

Of course, to bring in a public is only part of the process; we want those who visit to feel part of what we do. We want and need vibrant and engaged people to help us bring the humanities and medicine to the wider public. As a result, we’ve also begun to offer things like the Explorations talks for our members, interesting and behind the scenes chats about the museum or about history and the humanities more generally. We are also hosting a trolley tour of the Lakeview Cemetery the day after Halloween; many medical luminaries are buried there and it provides an interesting way to get the “dirt” on local history. These events are free to our members (see how to join), a fee for non members, but the point is this: Provide a narrative, the story of our shared medical past. Provide a space and also a reason to see the relationships among culture, society, health, gender, and more. To engage with the human side of medicine has always been one of the goals of medical humanities; to engage with the human at the interstices of culture, history, medicine and the humanities is also the goal of many a medical and scientific museum.


Members of the Medical Humanities Reading Group at Case Western Reserve University

And so, with our continued programs and projects–and a robust online platform (twitter, instagram, web, and blog), the Dittrick museum has sought to be a center for outreach and engagement. It has been our pleasure to host the medical humanities reading group and we welcome other like-minded affiliations. Join us. Be part of our community. Let’s make history.

[Images by Frank Lanza]

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