Stay calm, breathe; you're in good hands, competent hands; these hands can save your life; they've saved others' lives, applied bandages, hooked up IV lines, removed pain; relax, that one drip will bring relief; inhale the tingling that feels like fireflies in your head; lie back on the clean, sterile sheet, newly spread across the gurney just for you; stay calm, breathe; relief is just moments away; brace yourself for the long haul; inhale past the tube in your nose and throat, scratchy and hard-to-swallow; embrace the heartbeat of the hospital; bandages on and off; new IVs every three days; nurses in and out, 7 to 7, like sunrise and sunset; stay calm, breathe; lie back against the raised head of your bed; press a button, help will come; the days will start and end and start again; time will crawl by; keep your eyes on the second hand of the clock, the one that hangs on the blue wall across from your bed (a blue darker and more muddled than the sea or sky); count the minutes, the hours till morning; watch the tiny DVD screen; stare out your doorway into the dim light of the corridor; close your eyes; stay calm, breathe.
I've walked more than a mile this morning to arrive at the Loews Hotel for a conference called Telling Your Health Story. It's a fantastic event, a combination of journalism and medicine, all about storytelling and how it reveals the human side of health care.
The opening speakers, Michael Vitez and Dr. Naomi Rosenberg, teach narrative writing to medical students at Temple University.
"If it's not anatomy and physiology texts, students won't do the reading," they joke. And so we read aloud together like they do in class, an essay by Jamaica Kincaid called GIRL.
It has nothing to do with medicine, and yet it has power. It's a vivid set of instructions -- mother to daughter -- a collection of phrases and images, memories and responses, one after another in a rhythm that lets you feel the experience as you read. (Read it for yourself here.)
Then they tell us it's our turn.
Think about your own role and why you're here, they say. Write instructions for your role, in the style of GIRL.
You have 7 minutes. Go.
Remember the first paragraph of this post?
I admit it's not fully baked yet. It takes every ounce of willpower to stop myself from editing it, but that's kind of the whole point.
It's ok if you don't have time or space to get it perfect. This crowd doesn't either. They're doctors and nurses, social workers and psychologists, journalists and writers, caregivers and patients who've been through their own health experiences, like me. We're busy people, all of us, and yet we all have stories to share.
The line-up of speakers at this conference is impressive -- with potent writing already in their bylines. Read a few here and here and here. Take your time. It's worth it. Their stories pack a punch.
(And if you're interested, check out the story Michael Vitez wrote about my journey back in 2011!)
I listen from my chair, transfixed, for 8 hours straight. In a rock-hard prosthetic socket, that says quite a lot.
At the end of the day, exhausted and energized, I ride the elevator down to the lobby with two young women. One tells me she's applying to med school; the other, I learn, is in her first-year of med school. At Jefferson.
"You spoke to our class," she says. "I remember."
Again, I'm struck by the power of storytelling.
Stories linger long after we tell them. They can teach in a way statistics can't. They can affect policy, spur legislation, move us to unexpected conclusions, and connect us to people we may otherwise never have met.
When we grapple with a difficult experience, the story that remains is a snapshot of what matters most.
So... what's yours? (Come on, everybody has one.)
And why not get it out there? In an article or on a blog (or a comment on this one!). Tell it to a friend. Share it on social media. Write it in a notebook. Scribble it on a napkin.
You never know the difference it might make -- for you or someone else. Or for the world.
You have 7 minutes. Go.
|Your story matters. Tell it.|