Published by The Advocacy Committee of the
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When Patients Share Their Stories, Health May Improve

The New York Times (New York, NY) , February 10, 2011


A gifted artist in his early 60s, the patient was a liver transplant candidate. Despite the worsening fatigue that accompanied his liver failure, he threw himself into preparing for his transplant. He read everything he could about the procedure and the postoperative care, drilled doctors with endless questions and continued to drag himself to the gym each day in the hopes of being better prepared to withstand the rigors of the operation.

The only reservation that he mentioned was the same one all the other patients had — he feared that death would come before the perfect organ.

But during one visit just before he finally got the transplant, he confessed that he had been grappling with another concern, one so overwhelming he had even considered withdrawing from the waiting list. He worried that he would not be strong enough mentally and physically to survive a transplant.

In desperation, he told me, he had contacted several patients who had already undergone a transplant. “That’s what made me believe I’d be O.K.,” he said. “You doctors have answered all of my questions, but what I really needed was to hear the stories about transplant from people like me.”

Patients and doctors have long understood the power of telling and listening to personal narratives. Whether among patients in peer support groups or between doctors and patients in the exam room or even between doctors during consultations, stories are an essential part of how we communicate, interpret experiences and incorporate new information into our lives.

Subjects Covered: medicine

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