“Please look after yourself. It is ok to have a good life.”
As a nursing school drop-out who eventually was granted an English degree in Shakespeare, I greatly admire science folks who can write and writers who can science.
Dr. Jillian Horton has this full toolkit of talent. She has a graduate degree in English and she’s a physician. Her new book We Are All Perfectly Fine showcases her narrative skills. This book spoke to my heart. I believe that nurturing storytelling in the data and research-heavy world of medicine is what is going to bring humanity back to health care for us all.
We Are All Perfectly Fine is a story well told of Jillian’s experience at a meditation retreat for doctors. It is a tale that offers a social commentary on the sacrifice and trauma inflicted on medical students and residents during their training. Her sister Wendy is also ever-present in the book, as a muse for Jillian’s medical career.
As a patient, I was surprised to read about the deep grooves that patients leave on physicians’ hearts. All the physicians at the retreat carried those patient stories with them. The weight of all those lives is a heavy one.
I’m always wary when patient stories are recounted by health professionals in narrative medicine. I think it is best that patients be given more of a chance to tell their own damn stories.
But in this case I had no need to be worried. My favourite parts of the book ended up being Jillian’s essays that shared her own relationships with patients. She did not co-opt these patient stories as her own. Rather, she told her story of being their doctor with great respect and care.
This is a deeply personal book, a peek into a Jillian’s well thought-out reflections. Poetry from the retreat participants, Mary Oliver and David Whyte make an appearance. It reads more like a novel rather than a work of non-fiction, for Jillian’s memory for detail and dialogue is impressive. This is creative memoir writing at its best.
I will confess that I’ve struggled to read an entire book the past few months of this pandemic. I read We Are All Perfectly Fine in two sittings. I’m glad to see the author getting so much press for it. It is a book for physicians, yes, but also a book for anybody who loves someone that is a health professional. Dr. Horton’s words offer a rare glimpse for patients to gain a greater understanding of those humans who stand by our bedside. Understanding each other’s point of view is the way trusting relationships are built. And trusting mutual relationships are our only hope in transforming our broken health care world. We Are All Perfectly Fine, a book about physicians’ healing, can help us all start on the road to post-COVID healing too.