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2018 L&H DISCUSSION SCHEDULE - Facilitator Notes



Wed, Dec 12 UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

Book: Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs: The Astounding Interconnectedness of the Universe by Lisa Randell

Facilitator: Mark Matheson, D.Phil.

Lisa Randall’s Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs is an extended discussion of cosmology and the natural history of the Earth.  A physicist who has written a number of books on science for popular audiences, Randall offers a fairly dense presentation of “dark matter” and the Solar System.   She informs us that dark matter makes up 85% of the matter in the universe; we can’t see it, because it doesn’t transmit light, but we know of it because of its slight gravitational influence.  Randall notes that it’s quite possible, though not certain, that the meteoroid that hit the Earth 66 million years ago, leading to the extinction of the dinosaurs, was influenced by the gravity of dark matter.  The central portion of Randall’s book is a narrative of how this extraterrestrial cause of mass extinction was discovered by scientists, as well as the discovery of the actual spot on Earth where the impact occurred.  This is a dramatic story, and there is much else in Randall’s book to interest humanistically inclined readers.   Randall also looks to the future, based on her presentation of the material universe and the Earth’s past, and she encourages us to use scientific knowledge wisely as we face global warming and other environmental threats.  Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs has great value for those of us who are somewhat intimidated by modern physics, since it represents the current scientific understanding of the cosmos in a generally accessible way.  I look forward to our discussion of Randall’s presentation of the science of cosmology—and also to conversations about the humanistic and political implications of what we’ve only recently learned about the universe, based on the astonishing work of the scientific community.

Wed, Nov 14 UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

Comfort Measures Only: New and Selected Poems 1994-2016 by Rafael Campo

Facilitator: Susan Sample, PhD, MFA

In Comfort Measures Only, his seventh book of poems, Rafael Campo sheds his white coat to reveal the suffering, regret, and ultimately love that many physicians experience caring for patients but few publicly admit. Campo, an internist at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, describes the abject bodies of addicts, the sordid scars of poverty marking marginalized patients.  More importantly though, he sees in each person the humanity he shares, giving it voice in language so rich and musical that we as readers know how healing and essential comfort measures--the touch of a hand, a listening ear—are in our increasingly technological and diverse world.  These are themes Campo will address when he visits Utah later this month as our inaugural medical humanities scholar.

What characterizes Campo's newest collection is progression.  We can trace through his poems the evolution of medical care for HIV and AIDs patients whom Campo, himself a gay man, began treating during his residency in the 1980s.  We see the slow foregrounding of diversity in the culture of medicine, which Campo as a Cuban-American is keenly aware of.  And we hear the tensions between medicine as science and healing art that Campo continues to wrestle with.  To frame our discussion, we will look at the book's introduction, "Illness as Muse," and then follow up with your lists of favorite poems.  You might begin by reading:  "El Curandero," "The Distant Moon," "Ten Patients, and Another," "Lost in the Hospital," "What the Body Told," "The Abdominal Exam," "from The Changing Face of AIDS," "The Couple," "The Four Humours," "What I Would Give," "You Bring Out the Doctor in Me," "Absolution," "Health," "Faith Healing," "Iatrogenic," "Primary Care," "Comfort Measures Only," "The Chart," "Hippocratic Oath 2.0," and "I Imagine Again I Don't Let You Die."          

Wed, Oct 10 UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

Book: The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine by Lindsey Fitzharris

Facilitator: Gretchen Case, PhD, MA

Long before she wrote The Butchering Art, Lindsey Fitzharris created a modern audience for some of the most “grisly” chapters in the history of medicine and surgery, using striking visuals and compelling stories.  (Check out her online presence on Twitter @DrLindseyFitz and Instagram @drlindsayfitzharris for examples!).  In this book, Fitzharris focuses on the story of Joseph Lister, the 19th-century surgeon who revolutionized his craft with discoveries about infection, contagion, and sterility. 

Wed, Sept 12 UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

Book: Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure  Everything , by Lydia Kang

Facilitator: Gretchen Case, PhD, MA

In their book, Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything, Lydia Kang and Nate Pedersen offer a faux-encyclopedic look at many aspects of false medicine.   Arranged in sections such as “Antidotes” and “Animals” and punctuated with “Hall of Shame” pronouncements, the book gives readers a quick glimpse of the horrors, scandals, and mere embarrassments perpetrated by the unscrupulous on the unsuspecting, all in the name of medicine and health. 

Wed, Aug 8


UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

Book: To Siri with Love: A Mother, Her Autistic Son, and the Kindness of Machines by Judith Newman

Facilitator: Rachel Borup, PhD

In 2014, journalist Judith Newman wrote an article for the New York Times about her autistic son’s fondness for Siri and other technologically-mediated forms of communication.  The article went viral and resulted in To Siri with Love, her collection of essays about parenting her twin boys--one neurotypical and one neurodivergent.  The essays follow Newman’s growth as a parent from the moment she perceives a difference in her twin babies, to Gus’s diagnosis at age six of being on the autism spectrum, to the twins’ entrance into adolescence with all the attendant issues of sexual identity, independence, and self-sufficiency.  The book has been praised as a bracingly honest and humorous account of parenting two very different sons.  It also sparked some outrage in the autistic community for, at points, veering too close to what some perceived as ableism and even eugenics.  Please join us for a lively discussion of this engaging and controversial book.

Wed, July 11  UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

Book: Adventures in Human Being: A Grand Tour from the Cranium to the Calcaneum by Gavin Francis

Facilitator: Jenny Cochrane, MA

Dr. Gavin Francis is a General Practitioner and writer based in Edinburgh, Scotland. Before he became any of these things, however—even before he attended Medical School at the University of Edinburgh—he wanted to be a Geographer. It was his love of maps, atlases, landscapes, and his inexhaustible longing for discovery that led him to his study of the human body. After all, says Francis, “the two didn’t seem so different at first…” During his own professional training, Dr. Francis was a trainee Neurosurgeon, worked in Psychiatry, Oncology, and Ophthalmology, and also served as an expedition doctor for an excursion to Antarctica. These experiences—written in Dr. Francis’ lyrical, straightforward, Edinburgh tone--along with his study of philosophy, geography, basic science, literature, and classical thought, has given rise to the part-memoir, part-epic, part-atlas that is “Adventures in Human Being”. This book is an exciting, insightful look into our own being and the body we spend that “being” in from top to toe. You may never see yourself the same way again.  

Wed, June 13 UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

Book: Dreamland by Sam Quinones

Facilitator: Gretchen Case, PhD

Journalist Sam Quinones’ book Dreamland:The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic covers the scorched path that heroin and prescription opiates have blazed across North America, connecting small towns in Mexico with small towns in the heartland of the U.S.  Quinones finds the individual stories in the midst of corporate and criminal intrigue, connecting the many people affected by an epidemic that is still devastating many rural and suburban communities as often as urban areas.

Wed, May 9 UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

Book: No Apparent Distress: A Doctor’s Coming of Age on the Front Lines of American Medicine by Rachel Pearson

Facilitator: Rachel Borup, PhD

Dr. Rachel Pearson’s experiences as a bilingual patient advocate in an abortion clinic inspired her to give up her plans to become a writer and instead enroll in medical school.  Now, in her 2017 memoir, No Apparent Distress, Dr. Pearson has united her twin career goals.  In this memoir, she writes movingly about her journey to becoming a cancer surgeon and the ethical problems she sees in the current American health care system, particularly the unequal treatment of poor people and people of color.  Part coming-of-age story, part medical ethics discussion, Pearson’s book should be of interest to anyone who works in health care.

Wed, April 11 UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

Book: Memory’s Last Breath: Field Notes on My Dementia, by Gerda Saunders

Facilitator: Susan Sample, PhD, MFA

Gerda Saunders, Ph.D., may be familiar to many of you. She retired as associate director of gender studies at the University of Utah in 2011. The reason: a diagnosis of microvascular disease, the second leading cause of dementia. Her colleagues gave her a journal, which Saunders, then 60, used to "report my descent into the post-cerebral realm for which I am headed. No whimpering, no whining, no despair. Just the facts." Her book does present a dispassionate self-analysis as Saunders courageously examines her condition as both subject and impartial observer. An erudite researcher, she quotes sources ranging from Albert Einstein to Marcel Proust, Don Quixote to neuroscience texts. Yet, Memory's Last Breath is equally personal—what her mother called "heartsoreness"--as Saunders writes about her childhood in South Africa, her marriage and family life. Interspersed with her lyrical prose are family photos and cartoons, scientific diagrams and news clippings, rendering her book not only imaginative but unique and indeed memorable.

March 14

UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

Book:  Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

Facilitator: Rachel Borup, PhD

Lab Girl is a best-selling memoir by geobiologist Hope Jahren.  The book alternates between fascinating descriptions of the secret lives of plants and frank and funny accounts of her life as a research scientist, including the thrill of discovery, the desperation for funding, and the tedium of grunt work.  Jahren has often been compared to Stephen Jay Gould and Oliver Sacks and, like these two, uses her personal knowledge and experience as a scientist to ask broader philosophical questions about the human condition.

Wed, February 14

UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

Book: The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying by Nina Riggs

Facilitator: Susan Sample, PhD, MFA

Nina Riggs found inspiration for the title of her book, The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying, in a passage from her great-great-great-great grandfather, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Each morning, he would "cease for a bright hour to be a prisoner of this sickly body and to become as large as the World." Riggs does exactly that in her poignant memoir. In short chapters, some just one page, she writes with lyricism, humor, candor, and wisdom about fully living life, knowing it will end too soon. Diagnosed at age 37 with breast cancer, Riggs was told it could be easily treated. A year later, the former teacher and poet learns the cancer had metastasized. What began as a blog about her experiences as a wife and mother of two young sons grew into an essay in The New York Times and finally, the memoir, published last summer five months after her death. Yet, as she told an interviewer, "I really hope the book I wrote will make you feel much more joy than anything else"; "Even the scary parts are deeply intertwined with all the bits of life we cherish most." As you read, note both, the chapters you found heart-rending and joyful.    

Wed, January 10 UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

Book: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

Facilitator: Mark Matheson, D. Phil

In his poignant memoir, Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance offers insights into America’s white working class culture-in-crisis from one who grew up in a poor Rust Belt town. Vance chronicles his family’s story from postwar American poverty in Kentucky to hopeful escape in middle class Ohio, his narration replete with a legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and trauma. Vance, now a former marine and Yale Law School graduate, explains how upward mobility feels for him today, how effects of his family history persist for him, everyday. By sharing his story, he tries to shed light on a demographic in our country that struggle with the loss of the American dream.