Almost everyone does an interview for a project at some point in their school careers, but up until now, none have had a profound impact on how I look at the world. This week, we conducted our interviews for the Illness Narratives Unit Project, and at least for me, I was able to grow in my understanding of illness and disease experiences through it. I interviewed my grandmother about a major medical event in her life, and despite it having no lasting physical effects on her, I realized how much it has affected her emotionally and spiritually throughout the course of her life. Through it, I realized how little I knew about the effects of disease or illness past the physical effects despite the fact that the emotional toll of disease can be just as challenging to deal with. It is important to listen to people’s stories not only for their sake, but so we can grow emotionally and become more empathetic as well. As most of us in the class aspire to go into the healthcare field, this unit project has the ability to teach an important lesson by building our empathy and ability to relate to those who have either just undergone a significant event or have a lasting chronic medical condition. All too often, it is easy to see ourselves as separate from those who are suffering or fall into a trap of treating the disease rather than the condition.
I work as an EMT, and since conducting my interview have had two shifts treating patients. A simple conversation or interview isn’t something many people would expect to open their eyes to someone’s experience, but I found myself relating to and having more empathy towards the patients I was treating. Having not experienced what many of my patients are going through first hand, the closest I can get is to listen to them. To healthcare providers, every shift is just “another day on the job,” but to many of the patients they are treating and the family members who are alongside those patients, it’s one of the worst days of their lives. Understanding that fact takes constant reflection on the part of the healthcare provider because it is all too easy to become complacent. Empathy is challenging especially in the healthcare field where the uncertainty patients face can be terrifying for them, but by simply taking the time to listen to someone’s story and their experience of their illness, we can make a difference in both the providers understanding and the patient’s comfort level.
I think I can speak for the class in saying that having a deep conversation with the people we interviewed changed the way we think of illnesses that people have to deal with and how they are treated. After all, it’s not simply a name given to a defined set of symptoms and treatments, healthcare is a process of helping someone heal so they can live their life to the fullest, and without an understanding of an individual’s suffering, how can one realistically expect to rectify or alleviate it?
Drawn by Gabi Battaglini