We’re all stories in the end

This quote (from Dr. Who)  has been rattling around in my mind for a while*. When we last left off, I was writing stories from the discussions with my participants. I’d written three and a kind of prose poem thing that I wasn’t entirely sure about. They’re all in different voices, or styles – one is from the viewpoint of a patient partner, for example. I’ve mined the transcripts for ideas, and the writing was surprisingly easy and unexpectedly enjoyable. I’ve never delved into fiction before and, although this was shaped by our conversations, it was very different from my usual writing. After four I hit a roadblock. I knew there was something else I wanted to say but I couldn’t unpack it. I wrote a few false starts, tried to write in the first person, wreathed my idea with heavy figurative language – nothing worked.


I met my three participants again recently, we sat in a borrowed house and ate cookies and I read them the stories. I’d anticipated blank looks, comments like “well, that wasn’t exactly what I said” but they were receptive and encouraging.  They got it. We talked about the missing piece and Naomi, who is the quietest one, said something that stayed with me. My final story will be jumping off from that, and will pull all three of my participants back in, as they should be, front and centre. After weeks of being stuck and irritated, I think I can see the path ahead. There’s still a long way to go, I have to write “back stories” for each piece – showing the relevance of what I wrote and linking it back to the wider conversation and body of knowledge. Then I have to build the rest of the dissertation – the traditional bits like the literature review and conclusion. But the heart is the stories and I think it’s starting to beat.


Here’s an example from one of the false starts– it was meant to be a build up to an encounter with a gay patient that left a lasting impression. I decided not to use it, it didn’t fit with the conversations we’d been having and felt too similar to one of the other pieces. But it’s a little look at what I’ve been doing and tiny part of my own story from back in the day.


I’m late again, lacing up my trainers at the last minute and hurrying for the Wellesley subway. It’s January, the mornings are dark, and it was hard to get out of bed. Anna has a day off and was still asleep. I made tea and instead of getting in the shower crawled back into bed with her for an extra twenty minutes. My shift starts at ten but it’s nine already, and the trip is longer that the time I have. Checking my purse for transit tokens, my paperback and lunch money I head out into a deep freeze morning. I’m underdressed, didn’t grab my scarf, and my face is immediately cold. We’ve been here for seven years but still the Ontario winters are a shock. On really cold days my nose hairs freeze, a deeply unsettling feeling. Sometimes my legs are numb when I stumble into the cancer centre, the Marks and Spencer’s thermal undies my mum sent still in the drawer at home. Today, though, I am in luck. The connections work out, I’m off the subway and onto the bus in less than half an hour. I even get a seat. It’s warm and steamy, the windows are fogged and it’s hard to see out as we head along Davisville, adding passengers as we go.

There’s a steep turn into the hospital and I shuffle forward, clinging to the pole among the crowd of people pressing towards the exit. Steeping off the bus, I thread my way between patients walking slowly, unsure where to go or shuffling towards chemotherapy appointments. Through the automatic doors into the sun filled atrium, smiling at the white-haired volunteer in her yellow smock, I impatiently press the elevator button. I’m still going to be late, just a few minutes, but I still need to change into my scrubs. If I’m late, someone on the early shift will be late for their coffee…


*Fun fact – the last time I mentioned Dr. Who was back in October 2015!