Tuesday, August 2, 2011

We are the Storykeepers

Photo credit: Mayo Fujji, my classmate, on her trip to Montana

I don't think I knew how much of medicine was storytelling.

The majority of time is spent gathering people's stories,
"taking a history".
And people tell you everything.
They will tell you about the aches in their little toe, their great aunt's hernia repair, the time of their last bowel movement, that they're having sex with someone who isn't their wife, all the drugs they've done, and they'll tell you their fears.
Fears about cancer, about heart attacks, about death.

Then we keep these stories.

We can't share them with many people,
only those involved in their care.

But we write them down in H&P's (History & Physical)
or we present the story to our attending physician.
And we keep them inside of us.

When we see that patient again,
this time for high blood pressure,
the history of their divorce and their family history of diabetes
comes tumbling out of our story chest also,
like a pulling a piece of tangled string and realizing that it's connected to everything.

And these stories become a part of us.
We know someone who is a recovering heroin addict.
We grieve the loss of people with stage 4 lung cancer.
We struggle with the knowledge that COPD (emphysema) patients are out there still smoking slowly causing themselves to drown in their own lungs.

Today I started my psychiatry rotation.
I have a feeling that the stories are about to get more harrowing,
and that they may haunt me.
But I feel like these might be the most important stories to hear,
because there are no dressings to be changed,
no stitches needed,
listening might just be one of the best medicines we have.
And there are no side effects for the patient,
only the care giver.


Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of those rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.
-Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

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