A thought, a word, a story. Simple concepts in a complex world, but they can have a profound effect on how we live our lives. Today’s world may seem, at times, a blur. We are inundated every day with headlines of natural disasters, man’s inhumanity to man, and simply, just life slapping us in the face. How can we maintain a sense of sanity and security when the world around us seems to be spinning out of control? “Telling and listening to stories is the way we make sense of our lives,” said Dr. Thomas Houston, a researcher at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
The art of storytelling has been with humankind since the very beginning. It has been used to chronicle man’s actions from one generation to the next. Stories give meaning to our own existence and define the heart and soul of our lives.
Communicating one’s thoughts in written or verbal form can also play an important role in one’s health. A few years ago, I suffered a heart attack. It shook my very foundation — like the rug had been pulled out from under my feet. After a week’s stay in the hospital, I was discharged to go home. But now what? My assumption that I had been living a healthy life had crumbled. Every twinge of pain brought fear of a subsequent heart attack. It was like I was frozen in my tracks. Upon the recommendation of my doctor, I enrolled in a cardiac rehabilitation program to get me back on track physically and emotionally. It was during this time period that I took up writing as a means of dealing with my emotions. I shared my writing with the nurses of cardiac rehab with the hope that they might get a fuller understanding of what I had just experienced. I found by putting down on paper my feelings; I was starting to heal the emotional scars that were left behind.
Sometimes just being able to hear that someone else has “walked in your shoes” brings comfort to one’s mind. It allows you the ability to move on in the healing process. I had the immense honor of visiting heart patients during their hospitalizations. Many of these visits left lasting impressions on me — meeting and spending time with these strong individuals who were attempting to rebuild their lives. I shared my story of being a heart patient and, eventually, they would share their concerns and hopes. Sometimes putting your fears into words can be quite difficult, but they came to realize that I knew what they felt because I had walked that same path. My philosophy during these visits was to, hopefully, bring a smile to their faces during probably one of the most trying times of their lives.
What is also important is the ability to share your story with your doctor. In the age of the electronic medical record and the various demanding requirements placed on physicians to fully document patient visits, the actual doctor-patient interaction has been short-changed. To really know what makes me tick, you need the opportunity to listen to my concerns, fears, and hopes. Numbers on a screen or boxes checked off do not adequately give the full story. To develop a strong doctor-patient relationship, there must be adequate time. Currently, the way most health care systems are administered, this, for the most part, doesn’t happen. Solutions to the time crunch can potentially be found in revisions to the current format of EMRs to allow the physician to document the subtleties of the patient visit(which are, in fact, important to diagnosis and treatment) or reassigning some of the strictly clerical duties that beleaguer our doctors. Solutions can be found if concerned sides are willing to make compromises.
As the saying goes, where there’s a will, there’s a way. And that is the crux of the issue — is there enough impetus to make necessary changes, not only to benefit the care of the patient but also to improve and strengthen our health care systems.
Each one of us has our own life story; let us hope it will be heard.
Michele Luckenbaugh is a patient.
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