Narrative Medicine: Bearing Witness through Writing

Narrative Medicine: Bearing Witness through Writing

The Medical Students taking part in this project were interested in the role of narrative in their medical practice. Through philosophical enquiry and creative writing they reflected on their ability to listen and to find meaning in the the stories of others and to tell meaningful stories of their own.

Each student produced a reflective philosophical essay and a portfolio of original writing in response to a series of enquiry-based and creative workshops over six weeks. The purpose of this creative output was to develop in the students what advocates of narrative medicine describe as narrative competence; the ability to “recognize, absorb, metabolize, interpret, and be moved by the stories of illness”* and to invite the students to asses whether, in their view, this exploration of narrative “fortifies [their] clinical practice””* (From the mission Statement of the Program in Narrative Medicine, College of Physicians & surgeons. Columbia University)

In the project we were particularly interested in the impact of art, artifacts and literary writing – our workshops took place in inpiring places around Leeds including the City Art Gallery and the Thackray Medical Museum

Here’s an extract from a students work:

‘Crossroads’ – By Paul Lobaz

We travelled different paths at different times
And would never have guessed as much.
Experiencing different lives, drinking different wines.
Different people conversed and different hearts to touch.
Merely 50 years apart in the same timeless world,
The same timeless trees and buildings carrying different loads.
Such stories, so diverse and splendidly unfurled
Before we would even meet at those crossroads.

We travelled and met in a home of the ill and old
Though he was still full of life and love to show.
Each tale of planes and pints and pink ladies told;
From each kick of the rugby ball and boats to row
And each day of the week – the same each week
We would converse as though it were the first of tales cold.
‘till it warmed up into comedy and insult and jokes to seek
As we would meet at that solitary crossroad.

The leg was ‘lamped’ off; the caviar and blackberry jam;
Stories so unique that no-one else would comprehend.
Those dream meals of steaks and mussels and smoked ham
And sharing those birthday beers like the truest friend.
Thus time and those crossroads would start to pull apart
And news of my future, his present and his modes
And his health would pull out from beneath and start
Our departure away from those divine and unforgettable crossroads.

Copyright, All rights reserved, Paul Lobaz 2011

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