Two lessons from a really cool story

I am officially a Longhauler. Oh, I’m not sure that’s the actual term for it, but it’s the term I’m using to explain my membership in the oh-so-lucky club of people who are having often-debilitating COVID symptoms long after that 14-day period of suffering. We’re a fun bunch of people who are trying to support each other and find someone, anyone in the medical community who will take us seriously and be able to help us.

But alas, until then, we have symptoms. One of mine is insomnia. I have trouble getting to sleep, which is odd for someone who is consistently exhausted. I have trouble in that I get up extremely early, no matter when I go to bed. And sometimes I have trouble staying asleep. Nice combo.

But sometimes… sometimes… it all works out for the best.

One morning last week, I awoke at 2:30 a.m., and my brain was going. “Ya know,” said my brain. “You have all the stuff you need to write this really cool story about how your hospital treats everything from the most rare conditions out there — literally the one-in-a-million cases — all the way down to the routine things like breaks and fractures.”

“Shut up,” I told my brain. “We can talk about this later.”

And I went back to sleep.

By 10 a.m., however, I had written a story I’m really proud of, a story I feel shows exactly who we are as the St. Louis Shriners Hospital. This story shows the heart of what we do by letting the people who do it or who have it done for them speak. That’s a Storyteller’s job: to be a conduit through which people can share.

There are two lessons to be learned from how this story came together that speaks to The Storyteller Life.

  1. The only new interview I had to do to make this story complete was to talk to the chief of staff of our physicians about our commitment and vision for sports medicine. I was able to get that interview done, from first contact to completion, in about an hour. Why? Because Storytellers make connections. I’ve worked really hard in my four months here to develop relationships with our physicians, who are a busy bunch of people and who have lots of better things to be doing than talking to the marketing guy. But because I’ve been courteous to them, because I talk to them at times other than when I need something from them, they are willing to respond to me — often, quickly. I have also gotten to know their head nurses. These folks are amazing, and they are often the gatekeepers to the physicians. I love these folks. And again, just by being nice and by helping them out where I can, I’ve connected with them. They are often the ones who help me connect with a physician when I need a quick comment or two.
  2. Great stories can come from pieces of other stories and interviews. The people in this story have been seen in a lot of the other work I have done. The lede of the story, talking about Chloe and Dr. Wall, appeared in the story “Chloe’s Bad Break.”

Camille’s story was the first I wrote in my new job, “Hello, Ms. Hollywood”, and I have developed a great relationship with her family. We’ve been able to turn her story and smile into many different marketing pieces. Camille is a future Shriners star. She and her family are amazing, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them in national commercials someday.

I got most of the comments from Dr. Luhmann during an interview I did with him about our hospital winning an award for excellence for inpatient care, “Turning a Hospital into a Home.” We talked for a while about the award, and then, since he has some time, I asked about his mission as Chief of Staff and how things had evolved under his watch and under the watch of his predecessor.

And then there are the quotes from parents about the quality of our physicians. The thing that has amazed me most in my job is that I have had not one negative comment on any of the hundreds of social media posts I have done. For anyone who is into social media management, you know this is unheard of. People love our hospital. And they’re not shy about praising our physicians if you prompt them — and sometimes even if you don’t. So I spend time prompting them and gathering their comments, knowing that at some point, they’ll be useful somewhere.

This all led to me having a great story to tell right there, just waiting to be compiled and written.

So my advice to other storytellers? Get out there and meet people. Value them for who they are, not what they can do for you. Be honest with them. Treat them well. Don’t surprise them with what you do. Make them look good because they are good. Take interest in what they do. Try to understand the complexities of it. Meet them in their world. Be vulnerable and ask questions. Be real.

And keep your notes, not just in writing but in your mind. Your notes are never, ever for just one story. They are little nuggets of gold that can be repurposed in a million different ways. For example, Camille’s story, plus a separate interview I did later with Dr. Gordon, turned into a marketing piece — a two-sided postcard — to be put in new-donor packets.

So yes, that’s my advice based on this story. Oh, and maybe get COVID. The lack of sleep evidently creates fertile ground for some good storytelling.

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