Nocturnists share powerful stories of love

Bay Area doctors told touching stories about love on Tuesday at Brava theater in The City in a live version of The Nocturnists, a San Francisco-based podcast dedicated to bringing out humanity in today’s complex, impersonal world of health care.

At the end of the compelling show, Nocturnists co-founder and host Emily Silverman (an academic at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center) said she was seeking submissions for April’s live presentation, on the theme of death and dying.

That topic also could have been the focus of Tuesday’s event, in which thoughts on mortality played a huge role in the monologues by all nine presenters, most young physicians.

Yet one of the older storytellers in the lineup, Denah Joseph — a Buddhist, psychotherapist and chaplain at UCSF — powerfully exemplified the connected themes in her tale about how her father’s death when she was a young teen influenced her subsequent, varied career as a mental health professional. In her calm, soothing voice, she concluded, “There is no love without loss; love, loss — it can’t be any other way.”

Meg Schwarzman, who has training in medicine and environmental health, started the show with an intense and sweet story about her crush on firefighters — the Berkeley paramedics who saved her life after an accident in which she was the “bicyclist pinned under a car” reported by the extra-serious emergency dispatchers. It has a happy ending.

Adeline Goss, a neurology resident at UCSF, shared her thought-provoking story and conflicted feelings about a middle-aged cancer patient, a Muslim man who called her an angel and told her he loved her; and Elie Adler, an internal medicine intern at UCSF, talked about the weird juxtaposition of having a loving sweetheart with a chronic liver disease at the same time her job put her at work on a liver transplant unit.

Peter Barish, a clinical fellow at UCSF, related a life-and-death story about an ICU patient with collapsed lungs (and on a ventilator) with whom he never spoke; and Archna Eniasivam, a clinical professor at UCSF, offered a compassionate story about her influence on, and friendship with, a 90-year-old lady with mysterious malady who spoke only Mandarin.

While guitarist-composer Scott Gagner provided peaceful musical interludes, Grace Hunter — a UCSF internal medicine intern who makes it a point to wear her doctor badge prominently — began the show’s second half with perhaps the evening’s most relatable talk. She described her frustration about a delirious, difficult man with multiple failing organs, and his wife, who didn’t recognize the futility of his situation. However, after getting to know her, and hear the couple’s story, Hunter admits how easy it is for her to forget that her patients are people.

Daniel Lowenstein, a neurologist and UCSF provost, told a life-affirming story about his mother, a busy social worker born in Germany who escaped the Nazis, who bravely knew when she “had enough” after her cancer diagnosis and took her last breath on her own terms.

Closing the evening, Rosny Daniel, a UCSF emergency medicine resident, pronounced his affinity for the phrase “I love you” in his moving story about a favorite patient who reminded him of his dad.

Although host Silverman — who came up with the name “The Nocturnists” (referring to a hospital physician who works only at night) because of its sense of mystery — said none of presenters are actors, all were remarkably well-spoken.

Perhaps it’s not a surprise, given that what Silverman calls “narrative competence” — the “ability to construct, absorb or be moved by a story” — is a crucial skill for doctors working in today’s automated health care industry.


The Nocturnists’ next event is April 20 at Verdi Club, 2424 Mariposa St., S.F.; visit thenocturnists.com for more information.

Leslie Katz

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