Storyhealing, by Gavin Francis.
The weight of clinical practice can be overwhelming for some – that’s why more doctors in the West are working part-time and retiring earlier than ever before. But the profession’s very multiplicity offers insights and inspirations, satisfactions and consolations, available in few other others.
I’m now 20 years into my medical career, and medicine and literature have sometimes felt like the verso and recto of a single page, at other times the left and right foot of a steady gait, but neither of those metaphors carries the sense of heaviness that medical work can bring, which a love of literature can leaven.
If the two can work together, there’s a limitless ocean of humanity out there to explore.
Francis tells the story of an army veteran who, fifteen years after coming home from Afghanistan, is still haunted by flashbacks, rarely goes out, sleeps poorly, sometimes slices at his own forearms. Since leaving the army, he has never had a girlfriend. Self-neglect has robbed him of strength and self-confidence. He offered him a book he’d been reading – Redeployment (2014) by Phil Klay – short stories about US military operations in Iraq. No book can substitute for direct experience, but the stories gave a way to start talking about what Fraser was going through. It seemed to help.
So storyhealing can work for patients. But equally striking is the part of the essay when he reflects on how literature helps the practitioner too.
- Gavin Francis (Wikipedia); own website
- Words Work Well promotes bibliotherapy, using literature in a more structured way to help patients. (Bibliotherapy toolkit page).
- Image: Sea of books – Yajirushi