When storytellers tell their stories, they don’t often beat you over the head with the lesson you should take away from their work. No author — be it of a 1,000-page novel or a 300-word article — says, “This is how I want you to think differently once you’re finished reading.”
There are several reasons for this. One is that to do so would be really, really weird. But the most important reason is that we want to tell our stories in such a way that your thinking is changed because you felt something so deeply you couldn’t possibly stay the same.
In my month at Shriners Hospitals for Children — St. Louis, I’ve told a half-dozen or so stories that have been shared with the public. In none of them have I come out and said, “And this is what you should think of Shriners Hospitals because of what I have just written.”
That’s about to change. Why? Because it’s a blog and because I want to.
“These are two things you should think about Shriners Hospitals because of what I have written in my first month here.”
Thing 1: St. Louis Shriners Hospital is treating kids who come from spectacularly diverse backgrounds and is a force for unity in a country and world that is increasingly full of anger and disunity.
In my first month, I have told stories of families from wealthy backgrounds, middle class backgrounds and lower-income backgrounds. I have told stories of people from suburban, urban and rural areas, people from the United States and from far beyond our borders. White, Black, Latino, Asian. People of great religious faith and people for whom spirituality is not a central part of their lives.
Somehow, this incredibly diverse bunch lives harmoniously in what I see as the Shriners Family. When the 16-year-old white girl from a great middle class family in Illinois is giving comfort to the 12-year-old girl from Belize who is having surgery in three days and the two are bonding like they have been next-door neighbors all their lives, something special is going on. The commonality of being “different” because of a medical condition unites these kids in incredible ways, and the shared experience of raising a child with a rare condition is bringing families together in mutual support and, dare I say, love. Nations should be exploring how this is happening so they can replicate it on grander scales (he wrote with only slight hyperbole).
Things 2: The level of expertise and care at the St. Louis Shriners Hospital is among the best in the country.
One of the perceptions we battle is that, because we will treat any child regardless of the family’s ability to pay, our care is somehow substandard. This could not be further from the truth. The physicians here are tops in their specialties. Our hospital was recently ranked the sixth best pediatric orthopaedic hospital in this entire freaking country by U.S. News and World Report.
This isn’t some run-down clinic with physicians like Dr. Nick Riviera from The Simpsons. (And seriously, folks. Click that link. Do it. I’ll wait.) It is a state-of-the-art medical facility staffed from top to bottom by talented people who know how to treat and care for kids dealing with some of the most rare conditions known to humanity. (Did you click that link? Come on. Do it.)
And the results are so often life-changing. People who have been told they will never walk end up on their high school cross country teams. Kids whose spine curvatures threatened their lives walk arrow-straight down the aisle at their weddings. Children whose families were told they will lose their legs as infants are still well-acquainted with their limbs in adulthood.
So one of my missions is to make sure every area from where we draw patients knows this. Yes, you can get care without having to pay anything out of pocket. And it’s going to be the most amazing care anywhere.
So there you have it. Thing 1 and Thing 2. Go ahead and read the stories I’ve written so far. I’m not beating you over the head with these Things in any of them. But if you pay attention to them individually and as a collection, you’ll see the Things over and over again. My belief is that, if I tell enough of these stories the right way, it’s going to make a difference in how people see our hospital.