Saturday, September 20, 2014

More great stories from Canadian family physicians

In January 2014 Canadian Family Physician magazine published three stories that had won the annual AMS-Miriam Divinsky awards in the preceding year. They are introduced via an article by Sarah de Leeuw on page 65 titled Telling Stories About Stories. Sarah describes them as follows: 

“Dr Vivienne Lemos’s story Fledgling recounts the way that a story provides a lifesaving bond between a physician and the father of a critically ill child. Taking place in an isolated northern location, the story turns on the need for an indigenous man to accompany his desperately sick child to a hospital in Toronto, Ont., a city he has never been to, which frightens him terribly. The physician, with an incredible reliance on narrative medicine, tells the story of what the father can expect upon arriving in Toronto, allowing the father to feel safe on his next journey with his daughter. Sometimes a story is the most powerful medicine—exactly what is needed to convince a father to travel with the daughter who will not live without him.

If more evidence is needed about the role that fathers have in shaping—and saving—lives, we can easily turn to Dr Catherine Hudon’s personal essay, Merci papa (Thanks dad). Merci papa is a grand, arching narrative that crosses many years and spans the coming of age of a physician who begins from a place of being inspired by her father and, after years of hard work and critical questioning, returns to a place of being inspired by her father. What is important to note in the essay is that it is through stories—by listening to the stories that her father tells of practice and patients—that Dr Hudon is inspired to become a physician herself, and to then tell us, the readers, her own stories of what she does and what she has gone through. Stories are the very stuff of physicians’ lives and practices.

Dr Alex Kmet is a remarkable physician-storyteller. And he is an avid reader, something very evident in his deft use of metaphor to enliven one of the most profound narratives that humans speak to each other about: being close to someone who dies. In Alex’s narrative-making hands, scissors transform into 'metal prey' and a yellow plastic allergy bracelet becomes a ‘serpent’s poisonous coil.’ At the heart of Dr Kmet’s story, Little Things Matter, is a remarkable lesson—the only thing we have upon exiting the world is the connections we have made with each other. And so the little things do matter: Making someone comfortable. Building some kind of relationship. And, in the end, honouring them by telling the story of what you remember of them and what you learned from them.”

Sarah also describes how at age 12 she volunteered in the Queen Charlotte City General Hospital, and sat with Charlotte, the oldest living Haida person on the globe. She read her stories, and also listened to but did not understand her stories in Haida. The image from Wikimedia Commons shows a sculpture by Bill Reid of the Haida creation story, which likely was a story that Charlotte told.

In August 2013 I blogged about Best stories told by Canadian family physicians: the AMS-Mimi Divinsky Awards.

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