I know how much time you devote to listening to your patients and attend to the many aspects of caring for them, from the human connection to the nights up-late with the Electronic Medical Record. I know you know how to do your job. This symposium isn’t happening to tell you aren’t doing enough. Unless, that “enough” is for yourself.
See, Narrative Medicine isn’t just about providing genuine and circumspect care for patients. It is also about attend to your own care. Let me explain.
I teach doctors, nurses, surgeons, chaplains, and social workers how to read stories the way I did in undergraduate English classes and in graduate school for creative writing. I’ve been doing this work for five years. In that time, I have heard every argument against Narrative Medicine there is, from my own students. Then, after a couple of weeks, without any severe undertaking, everyone notices they are being in the world in a different way from before.
I’m not saying they all reached nirvana or something like that. Being a reader of stories and a writer of reflective and creative pieces simply changes how we see, feel, hear, taste, touch, smell, and otherwise engage the world around us.
This is what this is about: being in the world in a different way.
We were all told we had to choose between the arts and the sciences as though there wasn’t room in each of us for both. Later in life, as many of my students find, whatever side they “chose” or were placed in seeks its counterpart. People who pursued the arts get fascinated with natural sciences. People who pursued the sciences get interested in meditation and writing.
What if we never divided them in the first place? What if we allowed our clinicians to also be creatives? What if we didn’t withhold an inner life of reflection, emotional sustenance, and imaginstion from people just because they’re good at math and science?
What I see in my students is a renewed joy in life. Nothing less than that. Some publish books now. Some find delight in writing little notes to patients who are leaving the E.R. all bandaged up. Some find that writing helps them say good-bye to patients whether they lived or died. The ways people employ Narrative practice in day-to-day life are countless.
This is why you should come to the symposium: to see what you will do.