Whatever happened with my decade of narrative?

On my 40th birthday, in 2010, I threw a party for my friends. Standing before them, I pledged to make my next decade one of narrative, in which I would learn to be a better storyteller and find ways for others to tell their stories.

(My 30th birthday inaugurated a decade for writing, in which I blogged regularly and edited and published a book by my father and a book by my grandfather. My 20s were for growing up and experiencing the world; I lived in Hawaii, got married, edited a magazine, and served my country as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer.)

I started my forties well, telling stories on stage and organizing events; I posted an update in 2012, another in 2013.

Then, five years ago, I had my online wipeout. In the blogging and social media sabbatical that followed, I thought long and hard about the many lessons I had learned in the preceding years, especially the importance of listening, really listening to the people and world around me. Thankfully, in those lessons and through the people I know, I found new energy and meaning.

All along, I was looking for some way to create a “listening booth” at Duke University Hospital (where I work), some way for patients and their families to talk about who they are.

One afternoon, while I was waiting outside the auditorium for a research seminar to finish, I watched silently as a patient, pushing her IV pole beside her, shuffled by in hospital-issued gown and yellow socks. She glanced over her shoulder at me, and said, “This is bored to death.”

At the time, I was reading the excellent book by Dr. Danielle Ofri, What Patients Say, What Doctors Hear. But I was also hearing from health system leaders that physician and nurse burnout was an important issue that needed to be addressed in innovative and systematic ways. One colleague challenged me to submit a proposal that might focus the listening booth on the stories of the health care providers and staff across Duke, so that we all might be inspired by their meaningful conversations. (Think StoryCorps for the hospital.)

In 2018, I’ve given some hints about what came about. Last February, I posted Voices and stories, and in March a short follow-up post, More Voices, then in September came Finally, Voices to report that the Duke Institute for Health Innovation gave me a small grant to pilot the Voices of Duke Health listening booth and podcast. Since then, I’ve been working with a great team — third-year medical student Karishma Sriram, recent Duke grad Susannah Roberson, and Dr. Jonathan Bae — to facilitate those conversations and share them in a podcast.

Voices of Duke Health lives at listeningbooth.info. I hope you’ll subscribe to the podcast, or just take 15 minutes to listen to at least one episode: The Roller Coaster is a good starter, or learn the correct way to use a stress ball.

My decade of narrative is almost over, and I’m taking stock: My storytelling skills haven’t improved much, but I have been able to collaborate with others to make something that can inform, educate, entertain, and inspire others. I hope it will help us all to listen more patiently, deeply, lovingly.

There are many more Voices of Duke Health podcast episodes to come; we’re already working on possible next phases for the listening booth. I’m hoping this project will continue well beyond the start of my next decade, though I am working on ideas for what focus I might kick off on my 50th birthday.



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