Pain Management

My daughter awoke early this morning with excruciating neck pain. After checking for any other symptoms, we determined she had slept poorly and all the tossing and turning had strained her neck muscles. She was too sore to go to school and so is home resting today. This got me thinking about pain and how humans deal with it.

If I watch my dogs closely, I can tell when they are in pain. If one of them steps on something sharp, I hear a yelp. If the walk we took was too strenuous, I will see a limp. Unless the injury is provoked, my dogs will generally curl up on the couch and indicate they don’t wish to be disturbed. Other than keeping an eye on them for worsening symptoms, there is not much else I can do. Humans, on the other hand, deal with pain in much more complex ways.

First, there are many kinds of pain. Some are good, like when you have had a hard workout and your muscles are crying to stop. Then there is the bad kind, when you know you have overdone it and need to take a day off of your workout routine. There is long-term or chronic pain felt every day, such as sciatica; and there is sudden, acute pain which may require emergency care. Some people are better at tolerating pain than others. There are those who shriek in agony at a paper cut, and those who grit their teeth while cutting off their own trapped body part. Women experience childbirth with or without drugs, but the emotional rewards that come afterwards usually dull the memory of the pain, enabling them to justify wanting more children.

Soldiers return from war with emotional, as well as physical pain. Witnessing the horrors of war, famine or disease can release feelings similar to the experience itself. Emotional pain should never be discounted as unreal. The human brain works in ways that create physical symptoms during times of emotional stress. The hypothalamus releases hormones that trigger these reactions over which the rational mind has little control.

Regions of the cerebral cortex associated with...

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Treating pain can be done through physical or mental therapy, but the most common course is with medication. I am all for taking Aleve or ibuprofen when I have a bad day. It is what enables me to carry on with all the demands I have to fulfill. I tried to give my daughter some, but she had so much trouble sitting up that she couldn’t swallow the pills. I resorted to heat pads and a massage. I don’t think either relieved her pain that much, but it made me feel like I was helping her relax. As a parent watching your child suffer, whether with a headache, broken bones or emotional stress, all you want to do is make it better.

My brother-in-law suffered the physical and emotional pain of a brain tumor for 10 years. He underwent several rounds of chemotherapy, two surgeries and radiation. All the while we tried to have a positive outlook. The emotional pain of seeing him struggle, especially towards the end, finally convinced his family that the only thing left to do was keep him pain-free. In the last week, he was taken to hospice where the compassionate staff did everything to keep him comfortable, without prolonging his disease. It was a hard decision, but one that relieved pain in may ways. His physical pain was gone, emotionally he seemed at peace. The pains of guilt and helplessness the family felt vanished as we resolved that this was the end.

Why does pain have to be so complicated? Wouldn’t it be better if humans could handle it as calmly as dogs? But then what would happen to our moral values- whether we believe in humanitarian rights for all or an eye for an eye- which often seem linked to how much pain and suffering is acceptable in society? Perhaps the experience of pain is a condition of being human. We each have to learn how to deal with it in our own way.

As I go back upstairs to see how my daughter is handling her pain,  I will leave you with two quotes to reflect on:

“Given the choice between the experience of pain and nothing, I would choose pain.”- William Faulkner

“We can not learn without pain.”- Aristotle

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6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Behavioral Medicine R&T Foundation
    Jan 23, 2012 @ 22:31:37

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences on pain. We would like to invite you to follow our blog, “Behavioral Medicine Digest” here on WordPress. http://tinyurl.com/7a8guwt. We are Behavioral Medicine R & T Foundation. We offer information on natural interventions, and classes.

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  2. Looking Out The Window
    Jan 23, 2012 @ 23:08:12

    I love your post, especially the closing quotes. I once tried a Rx for prevention of migraine, took too much off the edge of my personality. I choose something else, less effective, but I am still me. So I am with Faulkner.

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  3. Carol
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 12:14:27

    Husband is going through the chronic pain with his cancer, but I think the emotional pain of knowing it’s terminal, but not knowing how much time might be left and the destruction of his ability to do much anymore is the most difficult.

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    • themiddlegeneration
      Jan 24, 2012 @ 17:28:16

      I’m sorry to hear his illness is terminal. The suffering of his own pain, and then watching him go through it is doubly hard. I hope you can find some relief emotionally. When my brother-in-law and then father-in-law were dying, the hospice staff were very supportive. They not only came to the house, but they also offered counselling services to any family member who wished it. They made sure the patients were comfortable and eased the mental burden of the caregivers. They proved to be a blessing at our time of distress. I hope you can find your own blessings during this time.

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  4. Trackback: I Should Care | A Taxi Dog Diary
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