Thursday, February 17, 2011

Story Rx: Have Novel in case of Car Accident. (Or, How Katsa Saved me from Whiplash)

The other day, I was in a car accident. Not a super serious one, thank goodness. Was sitting at a red light (a RED LIGHT!) when someone crashed into the driver's side rear end of the car.

The car was still driveable. I was still driveable. But I was pretty shook up.

Luckily the police were there within seconds (we were in a busy college area of Manhattan) and went about doing their police reporting business.

All sounds pretty mundane so far, right?

Well, there I was waiting in my running car (it was a cold night) for the cops to finish doing their thing, when my back started to hurt. And my neck. And my sides. And I felt myself tensing up, thinking "Oh, no, I've hurt something! I could be really hurt!"

I had visions of walking around in one of those big white collars you always see car accident victims wear on TV. I thought about things like disability insurance, and hospitals. My mind started racing. It was not pretty.

So I took out the only weapons I had at the time against the evil forces of anxiety and darkness. My own mind (I did a lot of deep in and out yoga breathing); and more specifically my own imagination. I happened to have Kristin Cashore's Graceling in the car with me, and I opened it up, and in the strange glow of a Manhattan streetlight, began to read.

I read about the brave, two-color eyed Katsa and her fighting skills, her sheer physical will. I read about her love for the Graceling Prince Po (whose name, in a totally unrelated sidenote, means "bottom" in German. Sorry to say, hard for someone married to a German speaker to get over...), her care for the princess Bitterblue. I read about her fights and her love affair, her sword fighting and her emotional growth. In other words, like any devout reader, I became transformed -- transported into a world of fantasy and possibility.

And I started to forget about my own mundane problems. Like why the cops were taking so long. And why that man had hit me in the first place. And how I would match my wardrobe to a ginormous neck collar.

And as my mind relaxed and rejoiced in the novel, my muscles relaxed, and rejoiced in their own luck. I didn't have whiplash, I didn't have anything. I was fine. I was whole. And I was reading.

I'm not saying literature is the cure for all physical ills. But, as my work in Narrative Medicine has shown me, it does have an important role in the training of clinicians and also potentially the healing of the sick.

Katsa didn't save me from evil, but she did, in a very real way, save me from myself. From my own body's tensions and from being more shook up than I had to be.

So my Rx? Drive carefully, people. Put on your seatbelt. Obey traffic rules. Don't talk on the phone or text for goodness sake.

And for those moments you need to escape the madness of life's highway, pull over (safely) and open your favorite fantasy novel.

(Anyone else have stories of novels saving them? :)


  1. Sorry to hear about your accident - but yes, books are quite something, aren't they? :)

  2. Thanks Sabrina - yes, I think that Katsa definitely helped my muscles relax and my body not hurt itself more than it was hurt already! Yea fantasy novels!

  3. Yikes. I'm glad you're okay! Never underestimate the power of a good book. :)

    I'm thinking about entering a poetry contest, and I was wondering if you could consider critiquing my poems before I enter them?

  4. Sorry to hear about the accident but glad you're ok.
    I have chronic illnesses which often leave me housebound, and books save me. They help me forget about the pain, connect in some way with the world outside my door and explore places I'll never be able to go or things I'll do because of my limitations. I don't know what I'd do if I couldn't read.

  5. Hi Sayantani. I am an educational school psychologist and I just loved your blog post. I am also really interested in narrative medicine and will check out the link you provided.

    I just blogged in my blog about how learning involves so much more than studying - it must be meaningful and I think Narrative Medicine addresses just that. Would you be interested in posting something about it on my blog?

    In you're interested, please check it out:
    Maybe we can work something out together.

    All the best,
    Meryl Jaffe, PhD

  6. Thanks for all the comments, all! I'm doing much better - thanks for your support!
    Sarah - would be delighted to look at your poem, send it to me sayantani16 (at) gmail (dot) com with info on how to get back to you. Glad the conversation we had at pseudonymous bosch's site is continuing!
    de Pizan - thanks for your insight and sharing your experience
    Meryl - sure I'd be delighted to write something for your blog, you can write me at the address I gave Sarah above, and also check out my website for more on narrative medicine and my 'day job'(I tend to write more about kidlit, parenting, etc. here)