As I drove home from the hospital mulling the day’s experiences and thinking about what to write about on this blog, I was listening to a Terry Gross interview on NPR. She was interviewing the author Mary Karr, who was close with the late author David Foster Wallace. A new movie had come out about Wallace. It was a biopic written by a reporter for Rolling Stone who spent three days with Wallace on a road trip. Gross asked Karr whether she would see the movie, and her response below:
“I didn’t see it. I wouldn’t see it. I don’t know, you know. I mean, to me, somebody who’s doing this Saint David thing who was in the car with him for three days, to take up that much bandwidth with his memory… I’m a little cynical about it. I mean, maybe, you know – I don’t know. It feels so much like cashing in on this small contact with somebody who’s a bigger deal than you are. It just – I don’t know. I don’t know. Maybe it’s a great movie. I don’t know. It felt a little sleazy.”
Often, medical writing can adopt some of the same dynamics. As caretakers, we meet people with catastrophic or bizarre diseases for only a few days. Sometimes I feel conflicted writing about their challenges without having to actually suffer myself. To quote Karr, it can feel a “little sleazy”. But the virtue of medical writing is that by sharing these stories we can better understand how we deal with disease. For my part, the opportunity to write about the patients I’ve cared for has allowed me the space to reflect on my practice and improve. And often, I’ve asked patients directly if they mind my writing about their experience. Most of the time, rather than feeling exposed, patients are touched that their provider is thinking about them.