Every Illness Has a Story

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I love stories! I particularly love listening to a story.

There’s something so wonderful about listening to the seemingly perfect voice telling the tale or sharing information. Hence, I’m a big fan of audiobooks and given all the driving I do, find them great company in the car, not to mention I can learn something, too! At my very first class last Friday “Foundations of Health and Wellness” I was fascinated by one particular theme we discussed, that of “Narrative Medicine”. We watched a Ted talk given by Dr. Rita Charon titled “Honoring the stories of illness.” Every time I watch a Ted talk, I think to myself, I really should watch more of them – they’re so good!

Narrative Medicine

Dr. Charon and her colleagues at Columbia created a field called “Narrative Medicine” which they defined simply as “Clinical practice fortified by the knowledge of what to do with stories.” What they are trying to achieve is to train doctors to recognize when a patient is telling a story, and to hear that story, to absorb it, interpret it, even to guess through hints at what might be being left unsaid, to honor the story and then to be moved by the story to action. Dr. Charon gives some examples of how she’s used Narrative Medicine in her practice and the ways that it has benefited both her patients and herself. Doctors are busy people and these days their schedules often don’t allow for much more than asking a few direct questions and quickly trying to diagnose the problem before moving on to the next patient. Through their focus on allowing the patient the time to tell their story Dr. Charon and her colleagues have found that they learn so much more from the patient, that helps lead them to the diagnosis and the root of a problem or concern. In the talk Dr. Charon uses a touching example of a patient who had breast cancer. Naturally, this was of particular interest to me. After her surgery, the patient felt very fearful about her cancer returning. She wanted to hear her doctor say it would never return, but that is not something anyone can or will tell you. Dr. Charon reassured her patient that her surgery and treatment had been very successful but her patient kept coming in for appointments and checkups. Dr. Charon finally realized that what was really worrying her patient was the thought that she might die. (I remember very clearly thinking the same thing myself.) Dr. Charon realized that this patient, as she put it “is standing in the glare of death” and no one could change that, but what she could do is stand in that glare with her patient, and that made all the difference. There is so much valuable, touching information in this Ted talk, so if you have 18 minutes to spare to watch it, I think you’d be happy you did!

We all have a story.

all our stories are unique to us and each one as important as another. I know that sharing my story has been transformative for me. It took some time, but I came to realize that it was important to share my story, both for myself and my own personal healing and also to help others. I feel incredibly fortunate that I have and had doctors and surgeons who listen very well to my “stories”. I’m always given the time I need and I always feel heard. I wish this for everyone! Do you have a story to share that you haven’t shared yet? What are you waiting for? Is it trying to get out? Share in the comments, so we can all listen, absorb and honor it. email_signoff1