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Patient and Healthcare Professional Narratives: Home

Illness Narratives in Quotation

I felt as if my illness were a blanket the world had thrown over me; all that could be seen from the outside was an indistinguishable lump. And somehow I transformed that blanket into a tent, beneath which I almost happily set up camp. I had no sense of how my life was supposed to be, only of how it was.

  • Lucy Grealy, Autobiography of a Face (1994)

The Power of Personal Narratives

Illness narratives, written either by patients who are suffering from an illness, or from the healthcare professionals who do their part to fight sickness, bring into the limelight subjects which people would rather avoid--subjects like death, and the devastation of the human body. However, these stories breed many positive outcomes.

Narratives written by patients can provide consolation, a sense of a shared struggle, for fellow sufferers of illness and their families. Some people battling illness will take pride in ensuring that their voice is heard, and will live on. Patients may feel that, through writing, they have regained control of their own body.

Patient narratives can also be beneficial for caregivers, practitioners, and especially students of medicine, nursing, and allied health. By documenting the lived experiences of patients and their families, these narratives can build empathy and enhance how health care workers engage with them.

Narratives shared by practitioners are likewise beneficial to students and health care professionals. These stories can push students to move beyond listening and absorbing information and begin to formulate answers for themselves, while practicing professionals can use stories and storytelling as a tool for reflection.

Health Blogs and Other Digital Narratives

The world of illness narratives has been changed enormously by the internet. The experiences of patients and their families can be shared with friends, family, and health sciences professionals literally as they happen.

 Patients benefit from sharing and venting their feelings, and making connections to individuals in similar situations.

This journal article indicates that young adults battling disease may find comfort in writing or reading blogs about illness.

  • Treadgold, Claire L. and Kuperberg, Aura. 2010. "Been There, Done That, Wrote the Blog: The Choices and Challenges of Supporting Adolescents and Young Adults With Cancer." Journal of Clinical Oncology, 28(32): 4842-4849. DOI:10.1200/JCO.2009.23.0516.

This news story from NPR includes comments from medical practitioners about the value of keeping in touch with feelings during traumatic illnesses.

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David Nolfi