Welcome to Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine
LETTER FROM THE EDITORS
Dear Readers, Writers, Contributors and Friends,
As we welcome you back to join us for another issue of the Intima, we also want to present you with an invitation: to explore your relationship with listening as you encounter the writing presented in this issue
Now it might seem as if we are confusing sensory descriptions when we say “listen” and you are encountering text to read, and visual art to view, but in fact we are offering you a broader context from which you might consider how you are “listening” to the words each contributor has carefully chosen and crafted into the work they have shared with us. Allow yourself to imagine the voices behind each of the experiences shared in the narratives, what might they sound like? How can we hear the emotions in the often difficult and complex exchanges about health and illness, life and death, or comfort and suffering that the authors describe in such rich detail? What does it feel like to imagine the experiences shared in these works and how can we focus our attentiveness to read more than only words on the screen, to move closer towards “listening” to what matters most to the person or people in the story and how they make meaning of what they have witnessed?
It can be overwhelming to force ourselves to exercise this kind of attentiveness to detail and nuance, especially in light of how loud the voices, messages and rhetoric can be in our current conversations about health and healthcare. Amidst the daily bombardment of marketing and advertising, troubling news headlines, social media posts, podcast and internet videos, it can be challenging to make an effort to listen to the individual stories and narratives of the ill, the disabled, the disenfranchised, the marginalized, the traumatized, and those who care for them. Those voices can be overshadowed by generalizing and hegemonic representations of narrative presented as click-bait and sound bites that detract from sharing and acknowledging the individual experiences of those who are vulnerable, under-served or in need of care. Yet “listening” for those unique voices is precisely what the editors have done while thoughtfully curating the final selections for this issue from a pool of over 500 submissions, a new record for us!
Pieces like Elizabeth Lahti’s Field Note entitled “Lily Darwin,” remind us of how the words shared between patient and provider in a palliative-care setting can shape decision-making. She writes, “Listening to Lily’s stories gives me a window into who she is.” In the poem “Adult ADHD Screening Questionnaire,” Kathy Tran explores how the act of listening might be described or experienced by someone managing the disorder when they respond to the question, “Do people often complain that you don’t seem to listen when spoken to?” Mandeep Singh introduces us to the interior thoughts and self-doubts of a young mental health professional in our first-ever-accepted original hip-hop song in the multimedia category “Two Sides of A Man” with the lines, “Pull it together, professional aura. My medical student mask tries to deflect all my flaws as I walk up a corridor that stretches into infinity.”
Eileen Valinoti creates a fictional nursing student from a previous era to imagine what it feels like to listen to an evaluation of one’s performance. In “Sisters of Mercy” she writes, “Some of the head nurses were sympathetic and added comments like 'willing to learn' or 'kind hearted and enthusiastic,' taking some of the sting out of all the 'below averages.' " A brief review of youth-centered healthcare spaces by Kelley Yuan in the Academic selection “Stories from Kids: The Unheard Voices of Pediatric Patients” allows her to consider alternative means of eliciting the narratives of young children. Endorsing a more open approach she challenges narrow definitions of listening, writing “…younger patients are limited by their command of words, but that doesn’t detract from the words they can say.”
In the non-fiction piece “Red Line Rising,” Michael Brown uses the second person perspective to highlight a moment of professional burnout and the search for recognition of the challenges in an over-burdened setting. He begins, “If you could walk in my shoes and look through my eyes as I fight in the primary care trenches of America, you might see something like this…” Finally, from Studio Art, we have “Inside” by Ryan Brewster, which presents the viewer with no words and only the image of a man holding open an incision to expose the unlabeled anatomical structures within the neck. This absence of text leads us to contemplate what other words or names might we hear from a patient to describe these places and sensations in their body? How might listening for those kinds of responses lead us to discover or co-create new and more accessible language for our bodies to share with one another?
As you read through the pieces noted above and the rest of the amazing work shared in this issue, we invite you to immerse yourself in the words, the narrative presented, and consider the voices speaking in them. What do you notice about the identities shared, what details catch your attention, and what do you find yourself wanting to know more about? As you listen, take the time to reflect on how it feels to listen with a different intention. Beyond fact-finding or attempting to confirm or disprove a theory, or to validate our own sense of self-worth or moral correctness, this is listening with the hope that it expands our willingness to recognize and appreciate the perspectives of others, particularly when they differ from our own.
In these turbulent times, when the volume and speed at which the many different voices informing us about natural disasters, social justice issues, international affairs, extreme acts of interpersonal violence, and occasionally, even random acts of kindness, are ever increasing, we present this new issue to you with the goal that it provides more than just relief but also inspiration. While traveling with our contributors to visit different times, places, and people, we hope you’ll accept our invitation to challenge yourself to listen more deeply to their experiences.
Listen to the words that demand action and the silences that deserve greater attention. Listen and note what makes you feel comforted and what causes you to feel unsettled. After you listen, think about how this kind of attention might provide us, as a community of both providers and recipients of healthcare, with better tools to more adeptly address the individual needs of those we encounter in our daily lives, and more respectfully recognize our shared humanity.
—Mario de la Cruz for the Editors of Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine