I was reading this book the other day: ‘Milkman’ by Anna Burns. It won the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 2018. It’s set in Northern Ireland, in Belfast, during the troubles in the 1970s. It reminded me of one of my flat-mates, Anne, when I was a chiropractic student. She was from Belfast, and when one of us (guys) was telling a fanciful, beer-embellished story, Anne would say ‘Jackanory’, in her lovely Belfast accent , referring ironically to the children’s TV series of story-reading, implying that we were ‘just telling a story’.
But story-telling is important. My sister lives in Brisbane, Australia. One of my favourite Australian authors is Elliot Perlman who writes in his book ‘The Street Sweeper’: ‘Wouldn’t you want someone to tell your story? Ultimately, it’s the best proof there is that we mattered. And what else is life from the time that you were born but a struggle to matter, at least to someone’?
When chiropractors see a new patient, we want to hear their story. It’s the most important part of the interaction. An elderly patient who tells us that she developed back pain after lifting something heavy is telling us a different story to a younger patient whose back pain is bad in the morning and then eases off during the day. These stories give the clinician important clues about what might be causing the patients’ pain, helping is to come to an understanding of the problem.
This understanding will often metamorphose into an insight into the patients’ life, and it is this insight, and the evolution of the narrative that creates the special relationship between clinicians and the patients that they get to know over long periods of time. Sometimes I feel that I benefit more from the dialogue than my patients do, and I’m grateful for that. I have learned so much from my patients over the decades. I miss seeing them, and I miss you.
We still don’t know when we will be able to open the clinic. We’re working hard on creating an environment that is safe for everybody. One of the things that will be different is that we’ll be giving you a mask to wear when you visit. We’ll be wearing masks too. It seems that using masks does help to limit the transmission of Covid-19. We’ll be implementing a number of measures like this to ensure that we can all stay safe.
And…. we’re looking forward to hearing your stories!