Healing Through Stories

Stories are powerful. How many times have you heard a childbeg, *Tell me a story.* Scientists say we are wired to learnthrough stories. In fact, the first three polysyllabic wordsyour child spoke are most likely Mommy, Daddy and story.

Story-telling is an important activity when seeing yourdoctor. Your doctor's question -- *How do you feel?* -- isyour doctor's way of saying, *Tell me your story.* Yourdoctor can diagnose your medical condition most of the timejust by listening to your story.

Sometimes doctors have difficulty interpreting your story.That's because you and your doctor have differentperspectives. Imagine how different Little Red Riding Hoodwould sound if told by the grandmother or the wolf.

For example, you may have episodes of abdominal pain andbloating. You never know if it will be a good day, or if youwill stay home from work with cramping. In your experience,you have two pains: the abdominal symptoms and thelimitation on your activities.

Your doctor's goal, which you share, is to arrive at adiagnosis and eliminate the source of your pain.. If youhave gallstones or an ulcer, you can be cured; so both youand your doctor will be gratified to see an end to theunpleasant symptoms. In that case the story you tell and thestory your doctor tells are much the same: *I had an ulcerand my doctor cured it with medication.*

However, doctors don't always have a *cure*. You may undergoan exhaustive series of tests to learn that you do not havea serious medical condition. Your doctor tells you that youhave *irritable bowel syndrome*, a poorly understoodcondition that is not curable, but rather managed.

When your doctor cannot cure you, it can feel as if yourdoctor is telling you that your pain is not real. It's likea parent saying to a child, *You can't be hungry. You justate an hour ago.* You might even think your doctor has lostinterest in working with you because you cannot be *fixed.*

This is when your story becomes even more important. Even ifyour doctor can't cure you, your doctor can listen to youand offer recommendations that will enhance the your qualityof life. This will assure you that your doctor cares andwill be there to minimize your suffering. Knowing thatyou're not going through this alone offers comfort.

You can use your story as a way of establishing the caringrelationship that you want with your doctor. Here's how:

Know your story.

You may know the doctor's version of your story. *I have thefollowing medical conditions that has been treated by...*While this is an important version, I encourage you to tellyour own version of your story. What is your experience ofliving with this medical condition? What challenges have youfaced and what have you learned as a result of going throughit? You may have never done this before. You can eitherrecord it in a journal or tell it to a friend.

Ask for the time you need with your doctor.

Telling your story takes time. So ask for it. When you callto make the appointment ask, *How do I schedule a half-hourappointment?* Offer to pay for time your insurance companywill not cover.

Understand that you and your doctor tell different stories.

After a brief time of telling your story to the doctor, yourdoctor may interrupt and guide the story to a diagnosis. Ifit's important to tell the story your way, say, *I wouldlike just three more minutes to tell my story my way, thenyou can ask your doctor questions.*

Tell your doctor how you're feeling.

Your doctor may understand how the gastro-intestinal systemworks, but you are the expert on what you feel. Yourfeelings convey information that is as important as any labtest or x-ray. If your doctor doesn't understand howimportant something is to you, speak up! If you tell yourdoctor about the nausea with your new medication and yourdoctor brushes it off and moves on to the next topic, say,*For me, nausea isn't just a little annoyance. It's a bigdeal. Are there other medications that will work?*

Recognize the healing power of having someone listen to yourstory.

Have you ever had the experience of simply listening tosomeone and hearing the other person say, *Thanks I feel somuch better having told you my story. Thanks for listening.*Some say healing means accepting the past as it is, notneeding to change it.

Pain and illness are part of the human condition. You makechoices that determine if pain will lead to suffering. Whenyou're sick, your goal is to restore the quality of yourlife. You - not your doctor - know what that means for you.After all, you're the one living your story.

Your personal health story, as distinctive as your face, maybe the most important story you ever tell. Dr. Vicki'sPersonal Health Journal is a place to store and organizeyour medical records and your account of your story.http://www.medicalbridges.com/products.html

Copyright © Vicki Rackner MD, 2005

Vicki Rackner, MD, president of Medical Bridges, is a board-certified surgeon who left the operating room to helpemployees become active participants in their health care.She is a consultant, speaker and author of the *PersonalHealth Journal*, author/editor of *Chicken Soup for theHealthy Heart Soul* and author of the lead story for*Chicken Soup for the Breast Cancer Soul.*

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