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Phoning Home


Jacob M. Appel

Publication Year: 2014

Phoning Home is a collection of entertaining and thought-provoking essays featuring the author’s quirky family, his Jewish heritage, and his New York City upbringing. Jacob M. Appel’s recollections and insights, informed and filtered by his advanced degrees in medicine, law, and ethics, not only inspire nostalgic feelings but also offer insight into contemporary medical and ethical issues. At times sardonic and at others self-deprecating, Appel lays bare the most private aspects of his emotional life. “We’d just visited my grandaunt in Miami Beach, the last time we would ever see her. I had my two travel companions, Fat and Thin, securely buckled into the backseat of my mother’s foul-tempered Dodge Dart,” writes Appel of his family vacation with his two favorite rubber cat toys. Shortly thereafter Fat and Thin were lost forever—beginning, when Appel was just six years old, what he calls his “private apocalypse.” Both erudite and full-hearted, Appel recounts storylines ranging from a bout of unrequited love gone awry to the poignant romance of his grandparents. We learn of the crank phone calls he made to his own family, the conspicuous absence of Jell-O at his grandaunt’s house, and family secrets long believed buried. The stories range from the humorous to the poignant and capture the author’s distinctive voice—a blend of a physician’s compassion and an ethicist’s constant questioning.

Published by: University of South Carolina Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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Phoning Home

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pp. 1-13

During the summer following my seventh birthday, my parents began receiving prank telephone calls from an anonymous source. These calls ranged in frequency from once in an afternoon to many times in an hour, and the barrage lasted for several months, until eventually my parents changed their...

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Two Cats, Fat and Thin

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pp. 14-28

In fifth grade, we are asked to sacrifice: our prized possessions must be inventoried and surrendered to the state. This is, mercifully, an exercise. I am a sheltered ten-yearold boy in an upscale bedroom suburb of New York City, a community so flush that its grade-school teachers must simulate...

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Mr. Odd and Mr. Even

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pp. 29-43

My maternal grandfather, Jacob Henry Friedman, answered to “Jimmy” on the streets of New York’s Lower East Side, but at Tulane Medical School he assumed the alias Jack Murphy. The story, as it currently survives, goes something like this: On his first day in Louisiana, my mother’s father was invited...

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The Man Who Was Not My Grandfather

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pp. 44-52

In his early eighties, my grandfather—happily married for six decades and rendered impotent by prostate cancer—received a desperate letter from a woman he had dated while on military leave from the United States Army in 1943. All I knew of Blanche was that she’d once been trapped with Grandpa Leo...

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Caesura—Antwerp, 1938

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pp. 53-61

My grandparents came from remarkably different worlds, yet their relationship thrived for sixty-five years because they agreed about nearly everything. In the first months of their marriage, of course, they’d endured the occasional squabble. My grandfather, whose Orthodox Jewish family had fled Belgium...

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Sudden Death—A Eulogy

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pp. 62-69

My great-grandfather Simon Litman, Latvian immigrant, secular Jew, inept businessman, gifted egg candler, doting father, cigar smoker, and pint-sized omnivore who (at least in family lore) could devour his own body weight in gribenes, holds the distinction of being the last of my forebears to drop...

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An Absence of Jell-O

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pp. 70-81

Lime Jell-O, as served up in my grandaunt’s kitchen, was a weapon of torture. Among my earliest childhood memories are the three-hour drive along the backbone of Long Island to the cozy, tchotchke-cluttered home of my mother’s aunt and uncle...

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She Loves Me Not

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pp. 82-95

Unrequited love again. This time it’s an up-and-coming jazz singer who works in a pet shop. Even I am surprised that I’ve fallen for her. My penchant is for dark-eyed girls with full breasts and child-bearing hips, sturdy women bearing Mediterranean or Slavic surnames. If I were placed in charge of...

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Opting Out

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pp. 96-115

I had been serving as God’s assistant for three weeks when I first encountered Mrs. Y. She was an ancient Russian widow from a rural village, a woman who appeared as though she’d stepped off the pages of a Turgenev novel and into the medicine ward at the frenzied New York City hospital where she...

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Charming and Devoted

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pp. 116-135

I had braced myself for medical Armageddon—for hundreds of disease-ravaged bodies in simultaneous death throes—but my first two patients are actually in better shape than I am. Both men are mildly senile, saddled with benign bladder ailments.* Of the 216 years we share among us, I have contributed...

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pp. 136-156

Every physician has a favorite patient, and mine, Mr. Nimble, was living out my own worst nightmare: he was perfectly healthy but unable to leave the hospital.* The trouble had started the previous morning, when the lanky, square-jawed ninety-four-year-old had stumbled on his daily walk to the...

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Our Incredible Shrinking Discourse

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pp. 157-170

I received my first death threat on March 5, 2009. I’d logged into my home computer after a long workday at the hospital, hoping for an email message from the comedic actress who was my crush du jour. Instead I discovered a flurry of symposia announcements and reprint requests and—at the very bottom...

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Divided Expectations

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pp. 171-178

I am approaching my half-life. According to the most recent data from the United States Department of Health and Human Services, the average American now lives 77.9 years, which places our mean halflife at approximately 38 years, 11 months, and 12 days. That is discouragingly short when compared to uranium (t½ = 4.47...

About the Author

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E-ISBN-13: 9781611173727
E-ISBN-10: 1611173728
Print-ISBN-13: 9781611173710

Page Count: 192
Publication Year: 2014

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Appel, Jacob M., 1973-.
  • Appel, Jacob M., 1973- -- Family.
  • Physicians -- United States -- Biography.
  • Lawyers -- United States -- Biography.
  • Bioethicists -- United States -- Biography.
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