The Power Of Storytelling In Patient Care



The Best Stories Happen To People Who Can Tell Them

-Ira Glass

“Blood! No, I don’t want blood. I’m fine after the IV, when can I go home?”

These were the words uttered by my mother after her admission into the Kaiser Resort on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood. I received a call from her at 7 am stating, “I’m not feeling well, I think I need to go to the ER!”


My mother is 73 years young, and thinks she’s the energizer bunny. She’s a self-sufficient Italian woman and still see’s clients for her seamstress/ tailoring business. When she utters the words “I think I need to go to the ED” it’s serious!


She was dehydrated and pale. Too much Super Bowl partying at the casinos in Palm Springs, so I thought. Until her hemoglobin came back at 6.8. Besides dehydration she was anemic and needed a transfusion, 2 units of packed red blood cells.


Once upon a time, my mother became a Jehova’s Witness. She states it was because some people came knocking on her door in the 1970’s and wanted to talk about the bible. So she converted, for a month. The only thing she took away from her short stint, as a JW was that she should not have another person’s blood in her veins because it carried that person’s soul.


She was honestly freaked out! I tried to come up with several different options for her only to have the ER doc rolls his eyes at me. As an NP, I looked at the big picture and possible repercussions of not getting a blood transfusion: stroke, heart attack, and the doc’s morbidly dirty looks headed my way.


“I had a blood transfusion, it’s not bad!” chimed in Penelope.

“Penny,”my mother’s ER nurse, who had Greek parents, connected with my mother as we were admitted into the ER. Her storytelling began instantaneously as she started to connect with us. She told us about how my mom reminded her of her own mother now deceased. How her mother was a proud Greek woman who showered her with hugs and attention. How her father was the epitome of health as he obsessively watched Jack LA Lane on TV and mimicked his routines.


As my mother started to resist the blood transfusion, Penny shared her own personal story. “I had an ulcer at age 55. It had been bleeding for a while and I was severely anemic. They transfused 2 units of PRBC’s in the ED which saved my life.” She also added: ”You will feel much better once you get the blood.”


My mother still protested, “But I don’t want someone else’s blood!” Penny looked my mom straight in her eyes and said once again “But you will feel much better!”


After a deep sigh, my mother said: “OK!”

The blood was ordered, and then transfused. My mother was no longer pale but pink! She perked up and was her old active self again. She literally was calling her clients at the bedside and networking with the healthcare staff while she handed them her business card.


Much like Penny’s diagnosis my mom had a bleeding ulcer, a 2-inch polyp (that was removed) and H. Pylori. Thankfully, her stay at the Kaiser resort was short and uneventful.


Penny’s ability to connect and share her personal story with my mother made all the difference in my mother’s care. My mother was able to gain confidence in Penny’s story and connect with her on a different level. As a professional storyteller myself I saw the true magic in this experience. How connection through the power of storytelling can make a positive difference in a patient’s care and outcome. It was beautiful to see a process I have been studying for the past 5 years come to action.


Like Ira Glass’s quote: the best stories happen to people who can tell them. Many ‘best” stories happen to Nurses. Sharing them with their patients in a true act of connection and empathy can improve patient care and patient outcomes for the better.