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Magali’s job: telling the stories of people at the end of their lives at Rouen University Hospital


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“It’s an art of relationships. We set ourselves the objective of allowing the person to remain connected to themselves, to their loved ones, to offer them the possibility of leaving a trace of their life in our society. » Through his words, Magali Verdet sums up his job. This profession is that of hospital biographer.

A new profession, still little known

For almost 10 years, this sunny and smiling woman has been a hospital biographer, a brand new profession which attempts to “bring more humanity into the medical world”.

After several years spent in health establishments in Cergy-Pontoise, Fécamp, Pont-Audemer and even Lillebonne, Magali recently landed at Rouen University Hospital, in the palliative care unit. It was in her office that we met her.

What is a hospital biographer?

“The hospital biography allows a seriously ill person and/or in a palliative situation, hospitalized in a care establishment or at home, to tell their story to a professional biographer who is an integral part of a care team, and to receive them free of charge. even or a designated loved one the story of his life in the form of a very beautiful art book”, describes the Passeur de mots et d’histoires association.

“There must be around twenty of us working in France,” she confides. It is a brand new profession, It’s normal that this is not yet known to the general public. » Thus, some can be attached directly to hospital centers, as employees, but others, like Magali, are self-employed.

“Today, the hospital biography (BH) is developed in 25 establishments, 50 departments and in the homes of patients by around twenty couriers on duty. It is also supported by regional associations and collectives,” specifies the Passeur de mots et d’histoire association. This association was created by Valéria Milewski, pioneer of hospital biographyhaving created this profession about 15 years ago.

Build a relationship of trust

Today, Magali is therefore attached to the palliative care unit of Rouen University Hospital. “We are part of the medical team,” she explains. But many patients are unaware of the very existence of this profession. So how does this all play out?

“It is always the caregivers who make the decision to talk to patients about the hospital biography, according to the profiles. I never enter a room if I’m not invited.”, explains Magali. Then, if the person is receptive to the approach, the challenge is to succeed in building a relationship of trust.

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When we know we are coming towards the end, we want to put things straight, in order. Writing your biography allows you to keep control over your life

Magali VerdetHospital biographer

Once the process has started, several interviews are carried out. These are exchange sessions with Magali. Equipped with her notebook and voice recorder, the hospital biographer listens to the stories. The idea is to give the person total freedom. “Some are very modest. Others only answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to questions. I adapt to everyone,” she says.

Most of the time, Magali has between seven and eight interviews to have all the material needed to write the biography, even if “sometimes, the story cannot be finished since the person is no longer there. Despite this, there are always things to tell, even if it cannot be written only on a few pages “.

There are complicated life paths. But as soon as the person buys in and trust is gained, they realize that they need it, that it does them a lot of good. And it becomes obvious

Magali Verdethospital biographer

How is a biography written in a hospital?

On her methodology, she explains that the first thing to keep in mind is respect for a chronological common thread : “I always start with grandparents, because it’s important to know where you come from! » It then goes back to the parents, to childhood, to the first times, then to the life that follows.

Her role, as a biographer, is to make reading pleasant and fluid. “I keep the tone, the words and the expressions of the people. This is the first transition from oral to written. We must write as if the person themselves had written it”she explains.

It is essential to show that their life is not just about their illness and that we can die alive

Magali VerdetHospital biographer

Once the story is finished, the book concludes with a short questionnaire. Quite general questions are asked: “Do you believe in extraterrestrials, what do you have on your bedside table, what do you order if you go to a bar, etc.?” » For Magali, it is a way to bring a touch of lightness and humanize. “It’s also so that the person remembers who they were, that they were young, that they experienced beautiful things,” confides the biographer.

Then, at the very end of each biography, Magali made the decision to leave ten blank pages in the book. “It allows you to let life go on,” she confides soberly.

Helping to grieve

The exercise, which she recognizes as difficult, is an outlet for the person who plays the game. “What touches me the most each time, more than the stories themselves, is the authenticity, the depth and also the modesty of people’s view of their own lives. There is a pride among them in having written their own biography. »

This document is also according to Magali a way to support mourning : “Once the person has left, for the family, there can come a totem, a stele. I really think this can help. »

It was also convinced of this, ten years ago, that she made the decision to turn to this profession, having lost her mother to cancer when she was only 30 years old. . “I realized that there was a lot of education and support to be had at the end of life, and that I had missed it, missed it a lot. »

So, despite all the complexity and delicacy of the task entrusted to him, that of tell the story of a person at the end of lifeit also became for Magali a way to calm herself, while calming others.

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