I started my career as a medical social worker/patient advocate 40 years ago. I worked with people facing catastrophic illness like strokes, burns, head injuries, and cancer to name a few. I also covered the emergency room where lives were forever changed in a moment. That was my identity. The only writing I did was in hospital medical records.
Then one day when I saw the family of my patient standing outside his room crying. I asked them what was wrong. I looked in the room and the medical resident was just taking a preliminary EKG to record his heart rate. His family thought he was going to die because the medical resident had not explained what he was doing or why. They were so intimidated they were afraid to ask the doctor what was going on. It struck me at that moment how vulnerable they were. I also realized if they knew what questions to ask their anxiety and fear would be gone. Shortly after that I began to write my book Patient Power: How to Have a Say During Your Hospital Stay. At that moment I realized information and education could empower people who were in crisis and felt vulnerable. They just needed to know what to ask and that they had a voice too.
One day I got an email from a woman in Shri Lanka. She wrote to thank me for writing my book Riding the Infertility Roller Coaster. I had suffered infertility and promised myself if I was ever lucky enough to have a child I would do all I could to help others who experienced infertility. She had infertility and was unable to talk to anyone in her homeland about it. It was a cultural taboo. This woman was so isolated. She told me she wept while reading my book because she had felt so alone. My words made her realize she was not. I confess her words made me cry. It helped me understand the power of words. It caused me to reflect about the impact the right words can have. This is true especially for people in the midst of a life crisis.
My latest book, Role Reversal, is about the ultimate role reversal for those of us who are now taking care of our aging parents. I went through that with my parents. There are currently 40 million caregivers in the U.S. I hear daily stories about people who are at a loss with how to cope with this new role and its ramifications for them on a daily basis.
All of these life circumstances have universal themes. The people in the midst of these crises feel fear, anxiety, loneliness, grief, anger, and hopelessness. I have been writing about health related topics for 17 years now. There is nothing worse than feeling helpless in terms of helping yourself, or helping a loved one during a medical crisis. These are scenarios many of us take for granted until a health crisis emerges.
Often in these life changing moments we feel there is nobody we can talk to. Many times the people we can talk with do not know what to say or how to respond. I think about these people, and these moments when I decide what to write and who to write for. Over the years I have come to understand how important the right words are in these overwhelming times. It is comforting to know that you are not the only one experiencing these feelings. We need to understand that feelings of helplessness and at times hopelessness are normal when we simply don’t know what to do to overcome these enormous challenges that present themselves.
Another goal of mine when writing is to give people information and to educate them offering resources and insights about how and why they feel as they do. I also try to offer them ways to cope so they can begin to emerge from their life crises and move forward. I like to think of my words as little life rafts that my readers can cling to as they slowly regain their footing.
We are all very bad at taking care of ourselves during a life crisis. We are in survival mode and just doing what we can to make sense of it all and get through each day. Learning from others who have been through a similar experience and emerged on the other side is powerful. It can offer us strength in the very darkest of moments.
Sometimes I have been struck by the power of spoken words. In my experience offering counseling to others we do a lot of talking. On numerous occasions my patients or family members I have worked with have come back to me to say that something I told them really was helpful or stayed with them. There were times when it was something I barely remembered saying.
As a result of these experiences I have come to understand that the power of words, both written and spoken, can make an incredible and indelible difference in all of our lives if we seek them out and remain open. I am so gratified to have the opportunity to have touched lives through my work as a social worker and as a writer. I never take that responsibility lightly. I have come to appreciate these jobs can play a unique role in the lives of those I have the good fortune to come in contact with.
Category: Contemporary Women Writers