So the summer camp started with a heck of a video. For following along at home or in a dissociative fugue (not enough coffee) this morning, the gist of it was as follows. A beautiful little 100 second long cartoon starts. It tells you the story of a child named Tom. This little child has brain cancer and has had multiple rounds of therapy and is starting to feel better. Then it introduces his father who is having a hard time with the cognitive dissonance of a child who suddenly feels healthier than ever, but his own knowledge that the child is still terminal with a severely limited life expectancy. There is some signs of deep struggle the father is going through and he wonders how he will stay brave for his son…. then it ends. Which causes a number of feelings. Firstly, I want to just run up and hug the child and the father and not even explain why. They will clearly both get from that hug exactly what they need to. But secondly…. and I need to stress this was the part that impacted me the most… THEY ARENT REAL PEOPLE AND ITS KILLING ME!
I say this because it was presenting in a way where I fully believed this was an artistic rendering of an actual fathers issues he is facing. It was told in such a way that I fully believed Tom to be real and Mr. Tom’s Dad to be real as well. The emotions I felt were real, why weren’t the people? I may personally be a bit saddened that I felt that emotionally manipulated by a fully fictional story, or at least a non-biographical story, but Im also really impressed by what it represents. Namely that a well told story (hopefully a true-to-life one) can absolutely impact people in deep and meaningful ways. It can cause action. It can cause me to try to figure out where Tom’s father lives and send him an e-mail of support. It made me want to care about the outcomes of child cancer, which before this morning I really only cared about in the most abstract of ways. It made me regoogle childhood brain cancers because Id realized how much I forgot about them since medical school and made me worry a little bit that I might be forgetting to think of them when a Child shows up with a headache in my ER.
Of course Tom’s father is a 2-dimentional fictional being whose existence is to recreate a common but non-specific patient family situation. I can’t really hug him or send him an e-mail. But what I did because of that story matters. What I did because of that story is very real. And maybe Tom and his father aren’t real people, but we do need to never forget the stories of loss and suffering that we do witness on a daily basis in real patients and their families. And we need to know how to speak about their experiences, likely through their own voice. These stories have power, the power to inform and the power to change future outcomes. We just need to not forget the stories our patients are experiencing, and when we find an opportunity to better the world with one of these stories we need to know how to tell them and, perhaps, who should be telling them.