How storytelling is saving hundreds of lives in Welsh hospitals

“I was back in the hospital having my dressing changed after an operation. I’d had a lot of stitches. The nurse arrived with a pen in her mouth. She took off my old dressing and ran the pen which had been in her mouth along my chest to check all the stitches. After changing my dressing she walked on to the next patient tapping the pen against her teeth.”

This is the kind of patient story that’s been used in re-training staff to be aware of ways in which hospital bugs are spread. Hearing a short account like this has proved effective in changing hospital staff’s ways of working.

Dr Jonathon Gray (apologies for image quality)The story was recounted by Dr Jonathon Gray who heads a campaign called 1000+ Lives aimed at reducing unexpected deaths in hospitals by over a thousand. The main targets are hospital bugs (mrsa, c-diff, etc.) pressure ulcers and unnoticed worsening or developing complications.

Another digital story Jonathon showed was by the daughter of a man who’d had his larynx removed. He couldn’t swallow and he’d had a catheter put in his throat to drain saliva build-up.  He was at home recovering. The man had begun choking, struggled, and taken out his own catheter in panic. The woman called the ambulance and, as her father was really struggling, she’d tried to re-insert the catheter herself. When the ambulance arrived, the woman asked the paramedic to re-insert the catheter properly as her father’s throat was filling up with saliva. The ambulanceman had said “I’m sorry but I can’t touch him; we’re not allowed to do that; we’ve not been trained in this.” The woman’s story inspired the Ambulance Service to give its paramedics training in inserting this kind of catheter to prevent a repeat incident.

In the past, at hospital board meetings, when the finance officer was asked to invest in measures to combat pressure ulcers, he’d say: “Doesn’t sound too bad”. Now, all board meetings begin with patient stories and these first-hand personal stories are helping to change policy for the better.

Just goes to show the power of storytelling. I think the work Jonathon and his team is doing is fabulous and I hope the work the National Health Service does in Wales in the field of patient stories gains recognition internationally.

This is a report from the Storytelling & Health Symposium, at University of Glamorgan’s Atrium in  Cardiff, 13 May 2010.  I’m quoting what the storyteller said from memory, and I’m not a medic, so apologies if it’s not exactly verbatim and for any medical bloopers in my account.

News from the Center for Digital Storytelling

Joe Lambert of CDS just emailed some news that will be of interest to digital storytellers in the UK, Europe and beyond:

1. Joe’s giving the keynote at DS5 – the fifth Digital Storytelling Conference – in Aberystwyth, Wales, on Wednesday 16 June 2010. The cost is GBP15.

2 There’s a CDS Digital Storytelling workshop from the afternoon 17- 19 June 2010 at the Knowledge Lab, London: The workshop is open to the public and you can find out more about it and register at The cost is $495.

3. Lillehmammer Digital Storytelling Conference takes place in Norway from February 5th – 7th 201. It’s the conference’s fourth year and this year’s title is “Create – Share – Listen”. Apart from Joe Lambert and colleagues from CDS, speakers include Glynda Hull, UC Berkeley;  Bjarke Myrthu; Storyplanet, Knut Lundby; Mediatized stories, Simon Strömberg; “Rum för berättande” and John Hartley; editor of the book ‘Story Circle’. Conference website: has the program outline, themes and call for contributions. Registration details will be announced nearer the time.

How to squeeze digital storytelling advice into a little Tweet.

I was asked a question on Twitter yesterday by @katycom1972:

@digitalst Would like to explore digital storytelling with my 2nd graders. Any tips on getting started? We use a MAC/Imovie 9. Thx! 

It’s incredibly difficult to fit any sensible advice into 140 characters. What I really wanted to say was:

  • it’s the story that’s the most important bit of the process; if you get a good story, a great digital story is within reach
  • working in an expertly-facilitated group or groups is a good way for individuals to bring out the best from their stories
  • the facilitator needs to prescribe a form. This helps people know what they’re making. E.g. 250 words, personal, using your own stuff
  • steering people away from generic subject like race, equality, ‘this great country of ours’ type themes and onto personal subject is a good idea
  • etc, etc, and I still haven’t moved into technical advice…

Because I had only 140 characters and because I didn’t have time to write this blog post and send @katycom1972 a link to it, this is what I ended up Tweeting:

@katycom1972 my advice: focus on individuals’ own stories – not big ‘issues’- and let them use their own ‘stuff’, not Googled images.

How would you advise Katy in 140 or fewer characters?

Alex from Culture Shock

Written and first published by Gareth Morlais on  6 May 2010.