What's Your Story?
I recently saw a quote by Maya Angelou, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” This stuck with me as I have often thought and have heard many people say, “I need to write a book about that.” In fact, I have told many family members, patients and even new acquaintances when I hear just part of a story they are telling, “You need to write a book.” The book I have in my head is telling individual stories of patients at the end of life. I will never cease to be surprised at the often utter shock when I tell the family of a 90-something-year-old patient that he/she may be at the end of their life. The patient on the other hand is never shocked. I want to write a book that helps people tell their story, even to their own family, and in some small way even begin the goodbye, so the family focuses on celebrating how many years they got with their loved one rather than denying death.
I often find myself explaining to families of a patient the story of their disease course and that is why I can help predict the future course and that death may be near. I help define the patient’s goals for care based on what the family believes the patient would want. It is always better to ask the patient their goals, but unfortunately we often begin the conversation too late and the patient is too confused or sick to share their wishes. This is where the sadness and shock should be--- that we never talked to our loved one about how their story of life should end. I dislike calling the patient’s disease course a story, as I prefer to hear the story of a patient’s life, not disease, but I find families understand and accept this disease course analogy the best.
We as physicians hear stories of our patients every day. We, unfortunately, often neglect our own story--- our health, our family and our own personal joy. I recently attending a conference put on by a company that helps physicians find ways to earn non-clinical income. I attended one conference topic, but next door was a session on the physician as writer. I loved this!! Our insight into human nature, suffering and family interactions, not to mention joy, is irreplaceable. I thought the physician as writer is a win-win: cathartic for physician health and priceless for the reader.
Life review is a good way for you or your patients to begin to write their story for family. Formal questionnaires are available online. You can also encourage family members to simply ask their loved one to “Tell me the story of your life,” and “Tell me what you hope for, for whatever time you have left,” as ways to help families and patients face a serious illness.
For you as our ACOI member, take advantage of whatever you can that offers help for physician wellness. This is an important topic to ACOI and many other hospitals/physician organizations. Let us know at ACOI if we can help reduce your stress in any way. These are tumultuous times for all. Take time to make the next chapter of your story a good one. Make the job change you have been considering, take the vacation, call the long lost friend, or write your book.
Take time to think about your story. Is it one of mostly work? Regrets? Family? Giving? What would your loved ones think you would want if facing serious illness? Would they know? Do you know what your patients would want? Have you asked? We are here at ACOI to hear your story and to help build it. As always, contact me or any Board/staff member if we can help!
Chapter one . . . .
Annette T. Carron, DO, FACOI