Health Notes

Getting to the heart of health care

By Giuliana Serena

How do we care for one another? How do we cope with illness, injury and loss and find the strength to heal? Stories help us grapple with these complex questions.

It was the summer of 2016 when Matthew Petersen, a second year medical student at the time, got on stage at The Bee to tell a story. The theme of the night was “The Body” and he described in vivid detail what it was like to perform an autopsy for the first time. If you have any questions regarding healthcare services, check out memory care facility in Nampa. It would come in at night,” he recounted, “and it was those times when I was alone with my cadaver that I would notice details.”

With a quiet reverence for the woman who had donated her body to science, he went on to describe the dirt under her fingernails, the IV line in her neck, her pinched nerves and brittle bones, and how he would tell himself imaginative stories about her life during those long late night hours.

“I realized suddenly that everything we do in life—whether you decide to lift weights or go running, or contract a disease—everything is being written on your body, your body tells that story.” He knew he couldn’t possibly understand the whole of her experience, and acknowledged the precious and intimate nature of their fleeting relationship.

He remained so moved by the transformative power of sharing his story that the following year he reached out to us and to Gretchen Case, Chief of the Program in Medical Ethics and Humanities to see if it might be possible bring that feeling to the campus community.

We—myself and Nan Seymour, The Bee’s Director of Narrative Encouragement—were interested. We often work with a select group of folks to share longer-form stories distinct from our ongoing evenings of lovingly competitive storytelling. These curated shows, called Storytelling for Grown-Ups, give us the opportunity to amplify the voices of storytellers from diverse backgrounds and experiences and address challenging topics.

Meanwhile, Megan Call was settling into her new role as Associate Director of University of Utah Health’s recently founded Resiliency Center. One of only a small number of wellness resource centers nationwide to provide such comprehensive services, they are especially focused on addressing burnout and loneliness among professionals in the field of healthcare.

As Call packed up her home on the East Coast and again while opening moving boxes here in Salt Lake, she listened to hours of The Moth Stories Podcast. As someone who works closely with healthcare providers, stories from physicians were especially touching. “I would be bawling in my kitchen unpacking dishes,” she recalls.

Call wondered if storytelling might be an effective way to bring healthcare professionals on campus closer together. ”I knew we needed a community event and I didn’t want to do another 5k run,” she says. “Perhaps a storytelling event would facilitate a kind of exploration and encourage a culture that supports depth while acknowledging the hard work—often emotional work—that comes with working in healthcare.”

One conversation led to another, connections and commitments were made among The Bee, UtahPresents, and University of Utah Health’s Resiliency Center and Program in Medical Ethics and Humanities. It wasn’t long before our project was underway. The Bee would bring a series of workshops to campus specifically for healthcare students, faculty and staff and produce a show for the broader community.

The enthusiasm of workshop participants and their sincere engagement with the material and one another was humbling. As one medical student reflected afterwards, “This was such an incredible human connection between strangers! I’ve felt more emotion in the past three hours than I have in the past three weeks. I’m inspired to be more vulnerable, to step out of my comfort zone, and trust more.“

Upon putting out a public call for stories, inviting anyone with a healthcare story to apply to be a part of the show, we received 64 compelling and heartfelt submissions from folks of all walks of life. The task of selecting only a handful from among them was a significant challenge. Ultimately, we chose seven storytellers to comprise the show and supported each individual to discover and articulate for themselves what would be most essential to this telling.

In oral, extemporaneous storytelling tradition, stories are rarely if ever told the same way twice—and while we are confident in the compelling nature and content of these stories, we can’t know exactly what they will say until the night of the show. The real-time interaction between storyteller and audience is alchemical, and we know from experience that once on stage, whichever exquisite details and vulnerable reflections they choose to share will be aimed directly at the hearts of those in the room, and will ripple out from there to touch countless others.

It’s a labor of love to commit to showing up and sharing such personal and profound stories, and we are deeply grateful for the storytellers willing to do the work to brave the stage, as well as all those who have done so much behind the scenes to make this night possible.

We hope you’ll join us in witnessing these poignant stories, speaking to the very heart of healthcare and the human experience.

And who knows, if you show up to listen, these very stories could remind you that whatever health challenges you’re facing, whatever you’re struggling with, and whatever the future may hold, you are not in this alone.

Giuliana Serena, founder and “Beekeeper” of The Bee: True Stories from the Hive, believes in the power

of stories to bring us together in times of need.

Healthcare: Stories of Illness & Wellness

7:30pm Saturday, January 19, 2019 @ Kingsbury Hall.

Curated and hosted by Giuliana Serena and Nan Seymour of The Bee.

Presented in partnership with UtahPresents, University of Utah Health’s Resiliency Center,

and Program in Medical Ethics and Humanities.

Tickets start at $20 with lower ticket prices for students,

U of U faculty, students, & staff, and youth under 18

(children under 12 not admitted). ADA accessible.

This article was originally published on December 31, 2018.