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Telling stories
  1. Brian D Johnston
  1. Dr Brian D Johnston, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington, 325 Ninth Ave, Box 359774, Seattle, WA 98104, USA; ipeditor{at}

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As I write this, Seattle is experiencing its annual epidemic of children falling from windows. In the warm summer weather, windows are thrown open, and, with depressing predictability, young children start dropping through them. Our trauma center treats many of these cases, and I am often called upon to speak to the media, offering some perspective and suggestions for prevention. Public interest in these events is strong, and the stories told by distraught parents are always moving.

I am surprised, really, that journalists ever come back to speak with me. They want strong pronouncements, maybe even veiled accusations that the window manufacturer or a landlord is somehow to blame. But instead, I prevaricate. We do not have controlled research to identify risk factors. We do not know if public education campaigns are effective. Programs suitable in the high-rise building of New York will not necessarily be acceptable in our low-density suburban neighborhoods. I am caught between the power of individual stories and my tempering allegiance to evidence-based public health.

Recognizing the energy harnessed in this retelling of injury narrative, I wonder if there are not opportunities to bring the power of story into our work in a more systematic manner. There are, it seems to me, at least four ways in which storytelling figures into our …

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  • Competing interests: None.