If you want to hear an outpouring of stories about medicine, start a conversation about childbirth with a gathering of women or about sports injuries among men. Ask a group of doctors about their most difficult cases. Listen to any cancer survivor describe her diagnosis and treatment. Ask a child about the band aid on his knee. You’ll find a story there.
These stories serve us in several ways:
- Storytelling is an attempt to understand the cause and timing of an illness. Why me? Why this? Why now? What did I do, or fail to do, to bring this on?
- It enables us to understand the role illness plays in our lives. How it affects our family and friends, our team, our job, our finances. Our future. It all comes out.
- It forces us to ask some difficult questions. What could I have done differently? How much pain can I bear? Who will take care of me? How long do I have to live?
This is a big deal. Illness disrupts our lives at the same time it grounds us. It forces us take a good hard look at what we value. Shared stories of recovery and healing dispel fear and give us hope. Stories of loss deepen empathy and help us confront denial. Stories of courage and faith strengthen us for our own battles.
The importance of storytelling in medicine cannot be overestimated. Most of us are bursting with stories, about to explode with the untold narratives we stuff inside because no one invites us to tell them.