Returning

(Written on the road on New Year’s Eve.)

This year is drawing to a close. I’m thinking about all the ways I’m going back to places I’ve been before.

As I write this, I’m on my way back to my Illinois hometown. My sister is driving us back from Rochester, Minnesota. Our Dad has been having trouble with his strength and stamina since the summer, and his doctors thought he would likely have to have a stent put in his heart.

When Dad had an angiogram, his doctors at The Mayo Clinic told him that no, what he needed was a quintuple bypass.
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Thursday Review: “Restoring the Patient’s Voice: The Therapeutics of Illness Narratives”

The bulk of my work is wrapped up in teaching how stories can be useful in clinical situations. I believe that stories and storytelling make life better and more meaningful. I tend, though, to downplay narrative work that can’t explicitly help doctors, nurses, and administrators serve patients more effectively. I suppose that comes from a need to show healthcare professionals the value of medical humanities.

The way that Dr. Jurate A. Sakalys writes about the need to simply let patients talk, though, is a good challenge for me. Writing in the Journal of Holistic Nursing, Sakalys brings up several themes which have come up in the context of patient-provider communication. The focus of the article, though, is on why those narratives are healthy for the patient.

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Thursday Review: “The Meaning Of Healing: Transcending Suffering”

I enjoy work like Thomas R. Egnew’s article, published in The Annals of Family Medicine. Egnew asks a simple but profound question, and the answers open up new avenues for understanding the role storytelling plays in a medical relationship.

If healing is a part of medicine, why is there no operational definition of healing, nor … any explanation of its mechanisms?
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Emotional Signposts

In the next few months, I’m going to be doing some work around children, so I needed to get an updated TB test.

Stuck in a small room with a clinician while she prepared the tuberculin, she asked me the usual pleasantry: “So, what do you do?”

I told her briefly about how I work with medical storytelling and help people connect better through narratives.

She paused thoughtfully for a minute, and said, “My dad passed away recently. In the hospital, there was one doctor who took the time to listen to my dad’s stories…” and her voice trailed off as she choked up.
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A Love Note To You Who Work in Healthcare

To those of you who have saved my life, or cared for someone’s loved one when they were sick, or gave comfort to another human being in pain, I can’t thank you enough for all that you do.

Here’s a letter from 1963 that expresses the sentiment better than I could. For so many people, myself included, when we needed you, you were not found wanting.

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The Examined Life Conference 2017

The Examined Life Conference is a gathering for the medical humanities hosted by The University of Iowa’s Carver College of Medicine. The conference is focused mainly on the intersection of writing and medicine, and is cross-pollinated with the literary chops of organizations like The Iowa Writers’ Workshop and The Iowa Review.

Dr. David Thoele, the Director of Narrative Medicine at Advocate Children’s Hospital, has been going for years. He introduced me to the conference, and convinced me to submit a workshop.

Now that the conference is behind us, here are some thoughts as I reflect on what I took away:
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To Begin: What Illness Takes

Hello, world (from Southern California)!

My wife recently took a position at the University of Southern California, so I’m writing this from sunny Los Angeles.

I’ve been using the ideas ideas for MeaningWell in practice for a few years: that knowing how to tell a good story and listen to one even better can cement doctor-patient relationships, improve health outcomes, and lower costs.

With this new start, I’m officially launching MeaningWell, where I want to talk about the details of these ideas, what they look like in practice, and what academic and “Narrative Medicine” work is being done to support them.
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