Impact of Narrative Medicine in Surgery

31 Jan 2024

 By: Raslina Shrestha, MD

We can make the world a better place, one story at a time.”- Lisa Gerber

 A revelation unfolded during my shifts in the burn ward in Nepal. As the patients grappled with excruciating pain, disfigurement, and an arduous path to recovery, I observed an extraordinary phenomenon: patients from diverse backgrounds, occupying different beds, formed unexpected bonds of friendship and support. They shared their personal stories, extended solace to one another, and, most significantly, provided invaluable insights into coping and healing. It became abundantly clear that shared experiences and a sense of community had a remarkable impact on the recovery process. To bolster the confidence of these patients, they needed to be reminded that they were not alone.

Motivated by this insight, I stumbled upon the realm of “Narrative Medicine”, the intersection of the humanities, art and health care. This emerging discipline equips clinicians to better comprehend their patients’ experiences and perspectives to deliver effective health care.The concept seamlessly aligned with my objective of delving into patients’ narratives to provide more tailored and empathetic care and hence the vision was created for the story booklet to foster a sense of community amongst the patients, to elaborate on the personal experience of those who have survived major burns, and to educate current patients on the reality of their recovery.

As a physician, I had always believed that our primary responsibility was only to educate patients about pain management, physical therapy, and post-operative care. While these elements are crucial for enhancing patients’ physical well-being, our traditional education can never fully encompass the lived experiences that only someone who had triumphed over the injury could truly grasp.

Out of the ten individuals we interviewed, eight emphasized their yearning to be understood. They shared how even simple acts of kindness, such as doctors engaging in meaningful conversations, had a profound impact on their hospital journey. When presenting these findings to the department of surgery, there was unanimous consensus amongst the surgeons that there were time constraints which resulted in shorter patient rounds and less patient interaction, and the recognition that small acts of kindness could make a world of difference became apparent.

The department director took this commitment further by appointing one of the survivors I had interviewed as a “patient counselor”. This remarkable individual had overcome a horrifying acid attack by her spouse, which had left her with facial disfigurement. Yet, she radiated resilience and kindness, brightening the lives of everyone she encountered in the ward. Witnessing this transformation from a small project to a profound impact underscored the incredible potential of our efforts.

Though we may never fully grasp the depths of what our patients endure, our modest endeavors can yield tremendous results in their lives. Through the stories of burn survivors, I gained a profound understanding of effective communication, empathy, compassion, and a newfound appreciation for the patient experience, extending far beyond the walls of the operating room.

Raslina Shrestha is a physician at Department of Burns, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery in Nepal Cleft and Burn Center in Nepal. She is also a NIH/Fogarty Global Health Fellow, nominated from University of Washington with her projects focused on improving access to burn care in LMICs. Her areas of interests are Burns, Trauma Surgery and Global Health. She loves cooking traditional Nepali dishes, exploring new cafes and soccer.

To checkout more stories about the burn survivors:

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