Is that water leaking from my eyes?


I went to an event yesterday.

I could call it a workshop, but it was much more than that.

It was about the power of narrative as a vector for change in healthcare.

There were seventy people in the room. All were healthcare professionals. But one.

And what an enlightening 'but one'!

There came a time when a speaker showed a video about the father of a little boy.

In the story, the father described his feelings....

How he found it hard to play with his son,

because of his feelings of despair

over his son's terminal illness

which were made much, much worse

by his little boy's overt joy

at the happiness in his life.

I looked over, and there she was, the one person in the room, the young P.A. trying desperately hard not to cry from those beautiful big brown eyes.

And there we all sat, health professionals, solemn, merely nodding understandingly at the tale.

No tears. What we saw were just facts of life.

It's not that we lacked compassion.

It's that we were compassionate in a very particular way.

Cortisol and oxytocin, we are told, are the hormones responsible.

Stories, in their own way, are healing.

However, we have always been discouraged from sharing, or even acknowledging, the stories within us.

In the operating theatre, there is no time to debrief; no forum within which to debrief; there is simply another case to get on with. I'm sending for it now.

Each nurse is also party to several gag clauses:

Fears around privacy laws and patient confidentiality actively discourage us from telling the most powerful care-related narratives.

And Organisational Codes of Conduct demand:

"I will not say anything, publicly or privately, that could potentially bring my organisation into disrepute."

And who would listen, anyway?

We have never before considered the danger embedded in the culture of fear that has grown around,

not.... the 'making' of mistakes, (because mistakes are inevitable even in a perfect system, let alone in one such as ours),.... but of 'having our mistakes unequivocably and undeniably found out'!

Ours is a culture of 'FEAR of stories'.

And yet, in our own operating theatre, where patient interaction is notoriously void, we have found a way to integrate story.

To be precise, Anita has. Anita is a student. And she brings with her the light of the world.

She calls her approach the 'if' factor.

Find one 'interesting fact' about the life of each patient, and pass it on.

It is the haiku of narrative storytelling.

Personalisation in the ultimate depersonalised climate of the ultimate clinical interventional world.

A life boiled down to just a few words discovered in just a few minutes.

Nurses in general are a survivor population.

We survive our first burnout.

The fortunate find a way to thrive afterwards.

We are, however, forever changed by our experience.

I found it revealing that the only person in the room able to fully demonstrate the sharp edge of her emotion was the young P.A.

Narrative is powerful.

It can be:

Healing.

Authenticating.

Change-making.

And it seems that now there are people not only inviting us to tell,

But they are, indeed, clamouring to hear.

Congratulations to Mary Freer and Change Day Australia for organising an exceptional event.

I look forward to many more to come!


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