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Hello, I am your patient…

Posted By Eric Palmer RN, BSN, MSN/MHA, Monday, October 7, 2013

We are creating a chapter in my life. You control a large part of this part of my life’s story. For the time being you and I are co-authors of me and of my experience as a patient in your care. Let’s get started.

Any story has the following elements.

1. Setting: You control most of the setting in this story.

  • Please listen to me. I may not be a nurse or a doctor, but I know how I normally feel. I don’t feel normal, so I came to you. Help me, but please listen to me first.

2. Characters: Obviously you and I have a starring role in this story, but there are many others.

  • Some I will never meet face to face, but they can control my destiny in this story, just as much as you.
  • I want to believe that the only villain in the story is what is making me sick. I need heroes. I need the kind of hero that takes the time to listen, to ask and to respond quickly and kindly.

3. Conflict: I most certainly have conflict; otherwise, I would not be here. Ironically, as your co-author, I might not fully understand the conflict raging inside me. Norman Cousins wrote a book about the conflict experienced in his own story called Anatomy of an Illness. It is remarkable how many things on his list are the same conflicts I am experiencing. My conflicts might be that I feel…:

  • …helpless.
  • …I may never function normally again.
  • …as though I am a burden to you and to my loved ones.
  • …conflicted between wanting to be alone, but yet, being left alone.
  • …a lack of self-esteem, since maybe my illness was caused by me, because I am inadequate.
  • …resentment.
  • …confused. The technology surrounds me, yet, I may go days (certainly hours) without knowing the results of the last exam or worse the definitive answer is, "The test results are inconclusive.”

4. Climax: The highest point of tension in any story often involves a decision that needs to be made. I may fear those decisions because they…:

  • …are made about me but without me knowing.
  • …may rest solely on me and I don’t think I know enough to make that decision. 

5. Resolution: Even the end of this little story is written by both of us. It is not just me and not just you. But, I’m the one who has to write the other chapters of my life’s book. You can help me resolve this part of my story and continue on to other ones in my life if you will:

  • Please answer my questions. If you do not know, that is okay. Just tell me you don’t know, but please get me the information that will help answer my questions.
  • Please tell me about my medications. All of them. Even if I take them at home regularly, I may not be taking them the right way. But, always tell me about the new medications.
  • Please finish this part of our story in a language and at the level I can understand.

Please ask me to teach you the information you shared with me. Rather than merely repeating back to you the same words you used. You see, I need to be as independent as possible when I leave your care. So, here we are at the conclusion of our story together. I know it wasn’t always easy. I know you were co-authoring many other stories at the same time as we co-authored mine. But, I never felt that there were any other authors out there. Thank you for your time, your care and for being a hero and my family’s hero.

Eric Palmer RN, BSN, MSN/MHA is the Patient Experience Director at Saint Francis Hospital-Bartlett in Bartlett,Tennessee. He can be reached at

Tags:  conflict  patient experience  resolution  setting  story 

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Comments on this post...

Andrew Gallan says...
Posted Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Love the take on patient experience, from a patient's perspective.
Permalink to this Comment }

Zal Press says...
Posted Monday, November 11, 2013
I find the notion of "co-authorship" to be the most compelling principle in your piece. Its true that patients come into the illness journey with only one key asset - their story. Every patient has a story. Telling our stories makes us feel good. And when a story comes from an honest place and is well told it has the power to change lives. Each patient's story is different, told differently, and heard differently. Entering into the illness journey is an interactive event at every touch point, and each individual coming into contact with the patient affects the plot line. There's a wonderful website called Wattpad which is a great example of how stories are a social media event, with contributions to theme, plot line, character development coming from writers' fans - essentially the crowd co-authors the story. The same is so true in patient experience - thanks for highlighting.
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