Or do they? This week in Poetry and Prose Rounds we wrestled with this question, and read a chapter by the same name from Rachel Naomi Remen’s Kitchen Table Wisdom. It is one of the shortest chapters in her book, which is partially what motivated me to use it for the Rounds. It intrigued me to have us read her chapter and discuss some of the different ‘cultures’ surrounding crying within different health-related (or other) professions. This week we had group members from medicine, nursing, social work, public health, anthropology/women’s studies, and please forgive me if I missed anyone. Our group expanded to two tables as the hour progressed.
We started off the session by writing an instruction manual for newbies to our particular professions: “The Rules of Crying.” What I heard from the pieces people shared, and then the from ensuing discussion about the reading, was that social work has a lot to offer the rest of us in terms of building in debriefing sessions and ways of processing grief. People discussed different types of tears in professional work environments, with the most common being tears of grief and tears of anger/righteous indignation. I also wrote about tears of joy, which probably don’t happen enough in health care settings.
Burn out prevention: we touched on this as part of our discussion, since Dr. Remen talks about tears in the context of burn out prevention. A family medicine faculty member discussed the use of Balint Groups to support practicing physicians who want to enrich their physician-patient healing relationships, and help prevent burn out. I brought in a copy of Graham Greene’s A Burnt-Out Case, which is purported to be the source of the term “burn out.” Although not his strongest work, I like this book for it’s psychologically and spiritually nuanced description of the process and consequences of burn out. Used as a metaphor in the book, the literal burnt out case is a leper who, while cured of the active disease of leprosy, is so altered that he or she cannot leave the leprosarium and return to normal life. We ended the session by writing about our own rituals of grieving. This naturally leads into next week’s reading from Terry Tempest William’s Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place. A beautifully written book, she writes of the personal, intertwined with environmental loss.
On another note, our group discussed ways of improving and growing the Poetry and Prose Rounds Blog and group sessions. A common suggestion was to have more narrative medicine content in the blog posts, including links to other resources around the University of Washington, Seattle and even the Pacific NW. I’m working on growing that list and will post it as it becomes available. Another request was to have some writing workshops related to narrative medicine, since there are group members who are writers and want to hone their skills. All great ideas and I’ll see what I can do to work on them. One local UW-based group is the Critical Medical Humanities Research Group who maintains a list-serve you can join (there’s a non-UW affiliated link for joining as well). They are sponsoring a medical humanities/narrative of/for/by medicine event at UW on April 29th, so stay tuned for more information. Here’s their link: