The whole field called Narrative Medicine is beginning to take off. Or at least that is my perception since I am so closely tied to and interested in it. There are masters programs, certificate programs, programs in medical humanities, and a host of literary/medical journals being published that reflect many aspects of health, illness, healing and both practitioners and patients responses, now. I have been published in a few of them and am grateful for their existence. (see publications under Resume).
Here, in Seattle, I have had the pleasure and honor of meeting and befriending a professor of nursing at the University of Washington School of Nursing, Josephine Ensign, who is pushing the boundaries of this genre and opening up nursing students eyes and ears to what narrative medicine means, in its many permutations. She also writes a blog called Medical Margins, in which she gives voice to the variety of writers in the field and offers her course’s approach and thoughts on the intersection of medicine and literature. I highly recommend you read her blog.
Today, Josephine invited me and another author, Mary Oak, The Heart’s Oratorio to read and speak to her Narrative Medicine class. I read my poem Teeter Totter, which the class had read before and we had a discussion about my intent and feelings of the poem along with some of the word choices and images, corrugated sadness, or leaving others up in the air, for example. Someone wondered if I felt frustrated and helpless, as this was his impression from the poem. Since I’d written the poem a few years ago, I said I no longer felt frustrated by other’s lack of understanding and that helplessness comes with the territory of being a parent of a child with rare disease for which there is no cure.
I gave this class the same writing exercise I gave her previous class last November, though this group was much smaller and more intimate and seemingly more willing to share their own writing up front. It was a lively discussion and I look forward to hearing or seeing some of their poems they began today.
Mary read from her book and I was struck by wondering how much her writing had changed what she felt or thought about her medical experiences or about writing in general. She hoped, as I do, that the book offered hope to those in similar situations. We both feel that telling the truth about our experiences leads to less isolation on the part of someone suffering other illnesses and offers them glimpses into how others have dealt with many of the same issues.