Writing is hard because it takes you places in your heart that you have spent a lot of energy trying to avoid. It’s healing for the same reason.
My Parents by Caroline Canute
I was upset at Dr. S. for giving my late dad too many morphine. I wish he asked us first if anyone wanted to speak to him. The same thing happened with my mom. Why couldn’t they give us a chance to speak with our parents? Dr. P. could of asked if any family want to speak with their parent. My late dad struggled with cancer. My late mom had pneumonia.
In 2005, the Second Canadian Conference on Literacy and Health (sponsored by the Canadian Public Health Association) invited adult literacy learners from across the country to contribute their stories to a great gallery wall, in order to help health professionals understand their difficulties with the medical system.
I’m always looking for an audience for student writing, so I told the class about the request for personal stories about medical issues and literacy, and suggested it as a possible topic for the day’s writing.
Caroline chose to write for the conference wall, but she started to cry as she wrote her first few words. She said she would like to stop working on it and do it for homework.
The next day she brought her story in, and when she started to read it to me, she began to cry. She was unable to go on, so, with her permission, I read what she had written to her, out loud. I asked if she had ever talked to her doctor about how the experience felt. She said no, and the expression on her face told me it would be impossible for her to think of approaching her doctor about it.
I asked some questions to get the story clearer; she made some revisions and typed it up. The next day I proofread it with her, and she was able to read it out loud, although still with tears in her voice. We sent it off to the conference that week.
A couple of weeks later we were getting ready to make a presentation about our Centre for a visitor from England. Students were asked to prepare a talk about some aspect of the Centre’s program, and Caroline said she would like to use her health story as her topic.
When the day arrived to make the presentations, she spoke about how important it had been to her to be able to tell her story to doctors, so that they could learn from her experience and might treat patients differently in the future. Finally, she read her original story (above) out loud, proudly and without tears.
This is the speech she prepared for the presentation for the visitor from England:
I, Caroline will be talking about the medical conference. We sent our stories to the conference. The nurses and doctors wanted to hear stories from people who have trouble reading. I was happy to let the doctors know my honest feelings about my late parents. I wish we had time to speak with our parents before they were given morphine and ask my late parents if they had anything important to say to their children. My late dad understood English but my late mom never understood English. I’m so happy to let my feelings out and the doctor will understand me.
By Caroline Canute
Caroline’s story appeared in Learners in Action in 2005; she was happy to give permission for it to be published, with her photo, and she also read and approved my account of the events as they happened.