I am resting comfortably in my room, the morning after the final session of the three day intensive Narrative Medicine Conference here at Columbia University (101 version—there is an advanced version but not until 2012). I miss my groupies—my small group groupies. It was as if we did a sort of group therapy all weekend. I got to know them and they were a diverse group—from Paris and London and Canada and California. Some of us West Coasters plan to get together in San Francisco in about a month to do a post-Narrative Medicine letdown processing and check-in time. One of our West Coast group has been to Burning Man and that’s what they do, so why not?
A convert to Narrative Medicine I am not. I remain skeptical of its lofty claims to be able to humanize medicine. Nevertheless, there is a lot within it—and many of its leaders—that and who I like. The best session of the conference for me was the last. The title of the session was “Actionable Narratives: From the Clinical to the Political” by Marsha Hurst, PhD. Marsha is a political scientist by training and also has a long history with patient education and advocacy work. Hers was the first talk to include more critical reflection on the pitfalls and misuses of narrative medicine. She talked about how the deluge of personal narratives within all the media serves to dilute the power of story. She also pointed out how personal narratives that fit within a certain mold (generally redemptive, cheerful/upbeat) are used in politics and public policy—so that there really is only a single, simplified and sanitized story that gets heard. The content of Marsha’s talk yesterday was what I had really hoped I’d get more of in this conference, but perhaps that is what they include in their advanced Narrative Medicine conference.
My head is full of Ivy-league egg-headed (but a touchy-feely version of egg-headed, maybe soft boiled egg-headed) thoughts. I do have the post-partum narrative medicine blues. (Notice narrative medicine returns to un-capitalized as it should be). I am in NYC, so the perfect antidote is to go to SOHO and go shoe shopping.