Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Tell Me a Story

I just spent two days with my friend Bob at the SF VA Hospital. During that time, we didn't watch TV or read, but we did spend a lot of time telling stories.

At first, the life stories Bob shared seemed random and unconnected. But it didn't take long to see a theme emerging. In each story, Bob is cast as the wandering adventurer who uses his wits and charm to overcome obstacles. ("I was hitchhiking through the Appalachia Mountains and needed a place to spend the night. . .")

Bob often shared a story with one of his doctors, a competent crew of young residents from UC-SF. Some looked confused, as though they were trying to figure out the point of the story. Others looked like they hoped the story would end soon so that they could continue their busy rounds. But one female resident, my favorite, would listen to Bob like he was her favorite great uncle. She had all the time in the world.

She must understand the healing power of stories. She knows they aren't the incoherent ramblings of a doddering patient. They are a patient's way of telling doctors, "See - I wasn't always frail and helpless like I am now," or "Please see the complete me."

The stories are also Bob's celebration of who he was and a reminder that perhaps the wandering adventurer who overcame obstacles with wit and charm still exists in his older, cancer-ravaged body. Could he channel that same charming adventurer to help him overcome the greatest obstacle of all?

I hope that Bob will keep telling his stories - to himself, to friends, to doctors, to anyone who will listen. I know I'll be there to listen as much as possible.


Anonymous said...

Wow, interesting. My dad was in the army in WWII. What did Bob do in the military? Details please!

Lisa C.

janet aird said...

Hi Susan - Very poignant, insightful. He must have felt a very strong need to connect with people. Really, our stories make up our lives. And the ones we have and the ones we choose to tell, tell who we are.

He must have been so glad you were there.

Karen said...

My dad was hospitalized during his long final illness and I noticed that he told a lot of stories, too. I heard things about his life that he'd never talked about to me before.

Your take on what motivates this tendency is really insightful and interesting. Thanks and hope you had a wonderful trip!

Mrs. Duck said...

You said: "They are a patient's way of telling doctors, "See - I wasn't always frail and helpless like I am now," or "Please see the complete me."

I think that is so true, so insightful, so touching. Thank you.