Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Narrative and Story Featured in Canadian Creative Arts in Health, Training and Education Journal

Photo by C. McLean "Reclamation"

Dr. Rita Charon, Director of Narrative Medicine at Columbia University, an internist and literary theorist, writes; “I realized that the narrative skills I was learning in my English studies made me a better doctor. I could listen to what my patients tell me with a greater ability to follow the narrative thread of their story, to recognize the governing images and metaphors, to adopt the patients’ or family members point of view, to identify the sub-texts present in all stories…any doctor, any medical student can improve his or her capacity for empathy, reflection and professionalism through serious narrative methods of study in reading, writing, reflecting and bearing witness to one another’s ordeals.”

We published an article in the September 2006 issue of The Canadian Creative Arts in Health, Training and Education Journal "The Poetry of Practice" written by Maureen Rappaport MD FCCFP, McGill University, Montreal Quebec. She writes about the creative writing course she teaches as an elective to fourth year medical students. The group was created to help offer a safe place for students to express their feelings about their experiences with patients in the hospital. In the article Rappaport writes, "one cannot watch death and suffering and not be touched but these feelings are hard to express, hard to articulate and many times impossible to acknowledge as students run around the hospital not quite sure of what they're supposed to do as student doctors. Poetry offers a language to express the inexpressible. For those who wrote, shared and listened in this context, these moments of bearing witness became medical acts."

In the book “Grief and the Healing Arts” and the chapter, “To Know of Suffering and Teaching of Empathy” by Sandra Bertman and Melvin J. Krant, it is also suggested that creative literature such as fiction and poetry may help “promote a humanistic or empathetic grasp of the hurt and pain that often accompanies illness”.

Narrative and story can offer a place to communicate those difficult thoughts and feelings that may have few other channels for expression. This also holds true for the stories of the caregiver or patient advocate. In our September 07 issue of CCAHTE , we featured an article written by Jadranka Novosel (CCAHTE Publisher's Student Support Program Feature Story pg. 26 - 32).

Jadranka Novosel was 29 when her husband David, 33 years old, died of terminal cancer. She expresses her feelings in the article;

"My entire identity as "the wife of a terminal cancer patient" was gone. My other "selves" as student and employee I had let slip long before. I was an empty shell without the luxury of being dead."

Through this powerful narrative Jadranka Novosel chose to share her personal story with the world as an act of love, recounting her personal experience, as she had lived it, to help others.

She closes with the words,

"in the end, the joy, hope and exuberance I credited to my husband remains alive in me. That I choose to remain is my legacy and the greatest love story of all."

Hope lives through the power of story. Through our work with The Canadian Creative Arts in Health, Training and Education Journal there is perhaps no greater goal than to provide an opportunity for a worldwide community to join in the circle and bear witness to the universally human stories we publish, to offer these stories a place and to help in our way to make the inexpressible, expressible.

Full article is available to read at:

September 06 CCAHTE issue

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