Last Friday, I was in Houston to give a talk about storytelling at the annual Arts and Health Alliance Conference. I described the work we do each year through the UF Health Shands Arts in Medicine program to honor StoryCorps’ National Day of Listening and asked audience members to consider taking part in their own communities.
In 2008, StoryCorps first began encouraging Americans to take an hour away from shopping on Black Friday each year to record a loved one’s story. Since 2010, my Arts in Medicine colleague, Barbara Esrig and I have participated. We record patients’ oral histories through the month of November and upload them to SoundCloud and StoryCorp’s website.
Prior to our involvement, I read a book by StoryCorps’ President and founder, Dave Isay, called Listening Is an Act of Love. I was immediately drawn to the title. I thought about its implications in the context of a healthcare setting. Is listening truly an act of love? If so, how?
Before working with Arts in Medicine, I was an arts journalist. I listened in a very particular way. I worked with an editorial staff at a newspaper or magazine and usually had a prearranged story in mind before I did my first interview.
I learned to listen a different way by working with Barbara and my other Arts in Medicine colleagues. Listening is a fundamental part of our interpersonal relationships, but real listening can be sorely lacking in a busy healthcare environment. Barbara empowers patients by letting their stories unfold naturally.
Barbara has a unique perspective after being hospitalized herself following a near fatal accident in 1997. Her experience as a patient helped her realize the importance of being heard and treated as someone more than “just a bunch of broken bones.” (You can hear Barbara’s story on the StoryCorps’ website.)
Barbara has been doing oral histories with patients at UF Health Shands since 1999. She has interviewed hundreds of people. Often she records the stories she hears and returns them on paper or on CD to patients and families.
Listening and recording stories gives patients a chance to leave a legacy for their friends and families. Read what StoryCorps’ Isay told PBS in this 2012 interview:
“With each StoryCorps interview, participants in his oral history program “have the chance to leave a legacy — so that their great, great grandchildren will get to know them through their voices and stories. The StoryCorps experience reminds us that if we take the time to listen, we’ll find poetry wisdom and magic in the stories of the people we find all around us.”
Check out my recent interview with my friend, Nancy Sharp, author of Both Sides Now: A True Story of Love, Loss, and Bold Living. It is on an excellent new e-zine for writers called How-to-Write-a-Book.com. Nancy and I talked about the writing and publishing process as well as the book’s structure. Nancy’s memoir tells the story of her husband’s passing due to cancer and the simultaneous birth of her twins. It’s a story of loss and renewal warmly and uniquely told.
NBC Nightly News recently ran this story about the Mark Morris Dance Group’s work with Parkinson’s patients.
Here is what one of the participants has to say about the program:
Charles Tobey, a Parkinson’s patient, has been coming to the dance classes at Mark Morris for about six years. “I feel great when I come here and feel like I have something that makes me feel really good about myself,” he said.
Center for Arts in Medicine Director, Jill Sonke runs Dance for Life, a program for Parkinson’s patients here in Gainesville Florida. In 2012 The Center hosted a Mark Morris’s Dance for PD Training workshop to help those who wanted to work with people dealing with Parkinson’s in their community.
In this Inc. article, David Kelley, co-founder of the renowned design firm IDEO tells a story about how he was once forced to redesign an MRI that failed to serve the children it was intended for. David, who is also a Donald W. Whittier Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University, was illustrating his term “design thinking”:
“Design thinking is: let’s try to understand what people really value, what’s really meaningful to people,” David said. “And then we’ll take the technical and business risk that we can come up with something that satisfies that need. We call it need finding.”
The key to this approach involves having deep empathy for people, David added.