Sunday, October 2, 2016

why you can't make this stuff up

Don’t let the term “narrative medicine” intimidate you. This is a broad and inclusive writing niche. You don’t have to be a physician to practice it. In fact, you don’t have to be a health care provider at all to share your story with the world. Nor do you have to be a patient who survived a serious illness or encountered a life changing injury to engage readers with your experience, thoughts and feelings about it.

Perhaps you work in the hospital laundry and never have direct contact with patients at all. What if you were sorting through the surgical scrubs that came down from the OR one day when a half-burnt joint fell out of a pocket? Which bleary eyed surgeon did that come from? Or, imagine you’re a janitor called to fix a leaky faucet in the middle of the night. When you walk into the room, the patient is breathing quietly. Then you hear a groan and his breathing stops.

Oh, you have stories to tell all right.

If you’re a patient, tell us what went through your mind the day the chest pain started. What worried you about it? Why didn’t you go to the ER sooner? Tell us what it was like to wait in the ER for hours before someone came to set your child’s broken wrist. What did you see there? An angry drunk in handcuffs escorted by the police? Drops of blood drying on the floor? The surreptitious pinch on her behind the doctor gave the receptionist when he thought no one was looking?

What is it we like to say? You can’t make this stuff up.

Now, let’s add another layer.

What if the surgeon who is scheduled to replace your aortic valve in the morning was up all night because that afternoon his son totaled the car on his way home from school? What about the ICU nurse who found the cigarette burn on the shirt her ten year-old wore to school yesterday? What about the single mother who works in food service with the dull ache in her low back and unpaid bills collecting on her kitchen counter? What are their stories?


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