November 8th, 2004

abstract butterfly

a brief note about pain

"I didn't think we should make too much difficulty about believing what people say. I think the simplest and probably the best definition of pain is pain is what the patient says hurts. I think that they may be expressing a very multi-faceted thing. They may have physical, psychological, family, social and spiritual things all wound up in this one whole experience. But I think we should believe people and once you believe somebody you can begin to understand, and perhaps tease out out the various elements that are making up that pain. But it may be simplism there. It may be a perfectly straightforward pain in something that has gone wrong and can be dealt with and we should not, perhaps, make it too complicated. And just deal. So it means just listening and analyzing what they are talking about".--Cecily Saunders

I like to think myself an empathetic person. But sometimes I find myself less than perfectly gifted at helping people in pain. I find myself applying a kind of measuring stick to pain. Hospice pain? right enough, that's okay. But ordinary "I'm sad" pain? A bit more complex. I do not always "accord it value".

I think that by nature I believe in trying to fix things. I'm not saying I'm a great remedy for anyone's pain. But my first instinct is mathematic. We have a problem--there must be a linear solution. No wonder I barely passed Calculus III.

Sometimes people in day to day pain want something concrete. But I find so often people want someone to recognize and acknowledge the reality of what they feel. When someone says "I hurt", because the solution is to say "tell me about it", rather than "here's how to fix it".

It's so easy to have those fugitive thoughts--notions you want to erase the moment you have them. A voice inside you tells you that people define their problems so that they cannot be solved. You want to urge them to redefinition. Less often, but not infrequently, you want them to appreciate what they have.

But pain is not respecter of comfort or luxury. Pain comes to the educated and the ignorant. Pain respects no emotional boundaries. Pain fails to temper itself to the outside stimuli. Sometimes people are in pain, even in circumstances when others are not in pain. There's no one formula for pain.

If I had three wishes, I might make one "I'd like to be non-addictive morphine for people in pain". The second could be "I'd like to be able to touch an eyelid, and eliminate pain". For a third stanza, I might pick "I'd like to be able to simplify pain, and isolate it for eradication".

But I know no genie. I have no medical or psychological training. I am much better with the Uniform Commercial Code than with the steps of grieving. I suspect I could acquire the fortitude to help those in pain, but I find my best weapon is conversation. I can look pain in the eye, and talk about trivia.