With More Storytelling, Maybe Diagnoses Wouldn't Be Such a Mystery

One of my favorite guilty pleasures is the TV show “Mystery Diagnosis” on Discovery Health.

MysteryDiagnosis.jpg The true stories in the shows follow a pretty standard format. The patient starts out normally, but somewhere along the way, a weird symptom emerges, usually followed by more bizarre symptoms. Sometimes a seemingly irrelevant tidbit will be thrown in early on, and you can be pretty sure this information will turn out to be an important plot point, such as on a recent show when a mother stated that portrait photos of her two-year-old made the child appear that she had Down syndrome. It turned out, of course, that she did have a form of Down syndrome.

The shows have rather lurid titles, such as The Woman Who Couldn’t Cry, The Girl Who Couldn’t Be Touched, and The Girl Who Turned Blue. Invariably, the script includes a line: “Nothing could have prepared her for [what the doctor told her] or [the hideous new symptom that emerged.]”

But the real hook of the show is that no one can figure out what’s wrong with these patients, who see doctor after doctor sometimes for years before finally getting a diagnosis. Doctors keep telling these patients there’s nothing wrong with them.

Which brings me to a recent blog entry by Paul Furiga in which he describes taking an elderly aunt to the emergency room. He observed ER doctors overwhelmed by, even drowning in, data. They had to spend most of their time, Furiga writes “‘connecting the dots’ of informational components that included patient histories, diagnostic results, and physician phone consultations, vital sign reports and the like.”

Imagine if there were an easier way to take slews of data and connect the dots.

Ahhh, but there is: story.

Furiga calls for a medical “person who could share the patient’s ‘story’ in a way that connected all the dots and the bits and bytes of data so that a complete (and accurate) diagnosis could be made.” He asks: “Why does the model of treatment not place a trained professional front and center to continually provide patient context to physicians?”

Although narrative medicine has been making inroads, medical training generally omits patients stories. Mary Sykes Wylie writes in an article about child psychologist Daniel Siegel (about whom I will write more in the future) that in medical school (granted this was in 1978), Siegel was “regularly being dressed down for spending too much time listening to his patients’ stories. ‘If you want to listen to people’s stories, go to social work school-that’s not what doctors do!’ one irate supervisor told him.”

If doctors really listened to their patients’ stories instead of relying on mounds of data, perhaps there’d be no material for a “Mystery Diagnosis” show.

A Storied Career

A Storied Career explores intersections/synthesis among various forms of
Applied Storytelling:
  • journaling
  • blogging
  • organizational storytelling
  • storytelling for identity construction
  • storytelling in social media
  • storytelling for job search and career advancement.
  • ... and more.
A Storied Career's scope is intended to appeal to folks fascinated by all sorts of traditional and postmodern uses of storytelling. Read more ...
Subscribe to A Storied Career in a Reader
Email Icon Subscribe to A Storied Career by Email

Dr. Kathy Hansen

Kathy Hansen, PhD, is a leading proponent of deploying storytelling for career advancement. She is an author and instructor, in addition to being a career guru. More...


Email me

Free: Storied Careers: 40+ Story Practitioners Talk about Applied Storytelling.
$2.99: Tell Me MORE About Yourself: A Workbook to Develop Better Job-Search Communication through Storytelling. Also $2.99 for Kindle edition



The following are sections of A Storied Career where I maintain regularly updated running lists of various items of interest to followers of storytelling:


Links below are to Q&A interviews with story practitioners.

The pages below relate to learning from my PhD program focusing on a specific storytelling seminar in 2005. These are not updated but still may be of interest:

October 2012

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 31      

Shameless Plugs and Self-Promotion

Tweets in the
« »




Personal Twitter Account My personal Twitter account: @kat_hansen
Tweets below are from my personal account.
« »

AStoriedCareer Twitter account My storytelling Twitter account: @AStoriedCareer

KatCareerGal Twitter account My careers Twitter account: @KatCareerGal


Follow Me on Pinterest


View my page on
Worldwide Story Work


Kathy Hansen's Facebook profile





resume-writing service


Quintessential Careers




My Books


Cool Folks
to Work With

Find Your Way Coaching



career advice blogs member


Blogcritics: news and reviews


Geeky Speaky: Submit Your Site!


Storytelling Books