Sharing stories, transforming ourselves

Evelyn McKnight, president of HONOReform
Evelyn McKnight, president of HONOReform

In my work as a patient safety advocate, I have had the great good fortune of meeting many people who share with others their tragic story of how they were affected by unsafe healthcare. Like my family, their families were hit with a Mack truck on the road of life when they went to the doctor seeking better health, but came away with a worse medical condition because of unsafe healthcare. Telling the story may be gut-wrenching – it can be like living a nightmare all over. But through sharing their stories, these brave men and women are able to transform their experience into something useful, rather than simply a horrible personal trauma.

That is the motivation for retelling our story – the hope of preventing the occurrence of more situations like ours. But we know that the retelling of personal stories changes the storyteller as well as the listener. Henri Nouwen, a renown author, writes about the value of sharing personal stories:

“But there is a way of telling your story that does not create pain…You will see that you are no longer there: the past is gone, the pain has left you, you no longer have to go back and relive it, you no longer depend on your past to identify yourself.” (The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom).

When my co-author Travis Bennington and I were preparing to publish my story, several lawsuits were filed against us with the intention of preventing the story from being told. It was a very difficult time for me. I questioned whether we should go ahead with publication. I agonized over it for months; I worried about telling the story as truthfully and fairly as possible. We re-wrote the book, asked legal and editorial consultants to check it for truth and fairness, settled the lawsuits out of court, and published the book. I am now thankful for those months of intense review, because it set me free to speak about my experience with a certain amount of distance. The past no longer dominates my life and the event has lost its power. My personal tragedy no longer burdens me in sorrow, but instead, has led to a new life of empowerment and satisfaction.

A recent health news story caught my attention: People who feel they have a purpose in life live longer. The story reports a sense of purpose in life may protect against the harmful effects of stress. As I listened to the story on the radio, I thought about the hundreds of thousands of people who have been affected by unsafe injections in recent years. Some are very willing to share their story publicly in the hopes that someone, somewhere, will take the story into their heart and resolve to do all they can to prevent a similar tragedy from happening again. They have found solace and healing by using their story to become a change agent for transforming healthcare in ways that foster patient safety.

Do you have a personal experience of unsafe healthcare?

How could sharing your story change your perception of the event?

How could sharing your story result in a new purpose and meaning for your life?

Isak Dineson said, “All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them.” If you would like to be part of transforming healthcare as well as transforming yourself by sharing your story, please contact me at evelyn@honoreform.org.

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