Fiction is an odd concept in narrative medicine. Fiction borne out of our reflections in healthcare is fiction in name only. In my piece, “Country Doctor,” the superficial details are made up. But the feelings are real. The sights and sounds are real. The anatomy is as it always has been. Perhaps more than in any other field, fiction in narrative medicine is grounded in concrete, informed by real life. The lines are blurred. Sometimes the lines are blurred in both directions. Sometimes our lived experience is so intense, so extraordinary, that it feels surreal. It feels like a dream.
Dreams are a kind of fiction, built up from our lived experience. M. Sophia Newman’s non-fiction piece, “Under the Wreckage, An Ocean,” blurs the lines for us between reality and dreams in the context of how we respond to trauma. She describes an experience as real as can be, sifting through the rubble of a terrible industrial disaster. She wonders at her psychic response, the way her dreams seem to say the things she is trained not to say outright, about injustice and vulnerability and the fleetingness of life and the possibility of otherworldly peace. It seems as though, when her analytical mind proves inadequate, her dreams step in to express her feelings in vivid detail. Her dreams are fiction, and not. The feelings are real.
I think nature has an interesting role in our reflections. Whether snow, ice, surf, or sky, nature is expansive. Whether in writing, in dreams, or in our day-to-day life, experiencing nature pulls us out of our heads. The natural world around us gives us permission to think bigger thoughts, to fall outside linearity and algorithm, and to inhabit colours, temperatures, sensations. Nature has a way of sharpening our experience of a story. For all the grim detail of disaster, described with clear-eyed sympathy and grace by the author, her story is that much more evocative for its descriptions of the ocean and the sand. In the midst of heartbreak and tragedy, she paints her reader a space for serenity. In nature, and in dreams, she finds space for a truth just beyond the reach of our daily reality.
Rory O’Sullivan is a practicing family physician in Toronto, Canada. Before starting in medicine he worked briefly in newspaper journalism, and has maintained an interest in creative and non-fiction writing. His medical career has taken him to rural and remote parts of four different Canadian provinces, and he feels privileged to have collected the extraordinary stories of people and places along the way. He is passionate about Indigenous health, care of the elderly and care of vulnerable populations. His short story “The Country Doctor” appears in the Spring 2019 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine.
© 2019 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine