May 6, 2021
The art of storytelling, the art of writing – is something that is so powerful. It’s how we teach. It’s how we experience life. For me life has always been a series of interwoven narratives, of your life and my life. The threads weave and then unwind, and come back. They get frayed and then when we reform community and connections, we reweave them together.
When a new family comes in, I have always thought of it as another storyline that arrives. Each new baby is a fresh book, and the chapters may follow a similar arc – birth, breastfeeding, first roll, first food, crawling, walking and than toddlerhood, but the details of the stories are different. And it is those details that make life and families and patients so interesting.
I think I had realized that I was burned out when I no longer was interested in the patient stories. Maybe it’s called compassion fatigue. But taking walks now and taking the time to self-care, has helped me relearn that. Catching those details in clinic are so key. How a teen reacts to announcing there are vaccines. What the parent is wearing. What room they are in today. What activities are they doing now. Did they seem happy or sad. I used to be a voracious reader. I still read, but I read less now. I consume less TV shows as well. Filling myself with imaginary stories that someone else created preventing me from appreciating the real stories happening around me. And that’s my job, to notice those patient stories and notice the stories of the young physicians that inhabit the real world with me. It’s my job to notice the arc of the teenage drama that is my daughter and the quieter story of our older son. Even Mr. Plastic Picker has the arc of his story, physician leader, proud father, exasperated husband of wife who disappears to pick up trash.
I wasn’t able to notice the stories when it was noisy. When I heard upper management’s endless stream of emails about metrics. This is why I detest shortcuts on the electronic medical record (I still use them), but I want to write the patient narrative myself and give them the instructions that I have created. I felt the endless workflows and smartphrases was erasing me.
But I realize now that I can use these shortcuts created at work to spend more time with patients, because I keep the stories in my heart. I remember them. I write about them (vaguely) on the blog. I echo my memory of the day in my silly art. I wish this for everyone. To live your life purposefully and slowly. Treasure the details, the moments. That was the true answer to burnout really. Reclaiming the narrative of my life and just slowing down time. It was rushing too fast before, and now it is gloriously slow.