The power of stories of children's pain

Carter, Bernie and Simons, Joan (2013). The power of stories of children's pain. In: 9th International Symposium on Pediatric Pain, 17-20 Jun 2013, Stockholm, Sweden.



Introduction and aims
We navigate our lives through stories. Some stories are powerful, resonant and heard; others are overlooked, told only to an internal audience or smothered by more powerful stories (Carter, 2002). Pain stories have the capacity to express, expose and frame many different elements of a child’s experience of pain.
There is a tradition of using stories in nursing research (Kelly & Howie 2007), as they provide a means of understanding patients and the context of nursing practice. Andrews et al. (2008) suggest that narratives enable us to identify different and sometimes contradictory layers of meaning, and to ultimately understand more about each other.

Drawing on around 40 stories and images we have collected from children, families and health care professionals from all over the world as the foundations of a book on stories of children’s pain, we have explored what stories can tell us about individuals’ perspectives on pain. We have also explored what we can learn from them. The stories range from the ‘minor’, everyday pains associated with bumps and bruises through to stories of intractable pain and suffering.
Here we share excerpts from some of this wealth of stories. We also share the drawing which accompanied Luci’s story and the ‘tiny’ story told as part of Shantell’s drawing. Fauzana’s story considers the difference in pain management between poorly-resourced and welll-resourced countries. Luci’s story starts with a dramatic fall from her scooter which she is quite sanguine about, her story shifts when her injuries are cleaned and the pain becomes ‘agony’.Shantell’s story is tiny but evocative. The nurse’s story reflects a moment when she decided to use guided imagery in an unfamiliar setting.

The children’s stories are made powerful through both their use of language, imagery and the sparseness of the descriptions. The parents’ stories reflect excellent and poor pain care, their own fears and hurt when watching their child experience pain and an urgency in terms of ensuring that other children do not suffer. The health professionals’ stories are at least as poignant and evocative as those told by the children and their parents. They tell of ‘turning points’ in their professional careers, when they learned something important about caring for a child in pain. Considering the stories from a socio-narratology perspective (Frank 2010) these stories reflect ‘trouble’ and ‘suspense’, they have ‘resonance’ with our own experiences and stories and they have ‘inherent morality’ as well as many other capacities.

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