The Face of Pain
Lines of pain etched into her face. Eyes too bright, revealing the agony inside. Jaw tight, skin stretched taut. I never really thought about the descriptions of people in pain that I have read in newspaper stories, magazine articles, online sites, novels and non-fiction books, other than to appreciate the evocative images. However, it has struck me, that not only are those phrases highly accurate, but they only reveal a small piece of what a person shows externally when they are living with chronic pain.
There are many physical conditions that result in chronic, intense pain. People with these conditions have to manage to live and try to function in varying degrees of agony, sometimes 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This is an entirely different situation than the pain that the majority of the population may encounter, say, from a broken bone, childbirth, or dental work.
To add insult to injury, many people suffering from intense chronic pain are told that it is “all in their head” and that they should see a psychologist. Or they are referred to a pain clinic, whose doctors are more interested in administering the latest drug of the month, likely not covered by insurance, than in listening to the patient and understanding the nature of his or her specific condition.
Chronic pain itself, whatever the underlying cause, is a killer. The effect of ongoing intense pain on the mind and body actually does result in an earlier death. http://updates.pain-topics.org/2010/04/severe-chronic-pain-is-killer-study.html
This evidence shows that effective treatment of ongoing severe pain is essential for any sort of positive quality of life.
Thankfully, we at Patient Navigator have unearthed several palliative care physicians who are not only invested in alleviating the patients’ pain, but actually listen to the patient, working with them to improve their quality of life, while coordinating care with other members of the medical care team to treat the underlying cause. I have seen patients weep in gratitude that a medical professional finally takes them seriously. I have seen their energy levels increase, and their lives turn around, when they finally find the right balance of medications for pain management.
I have seen their eyes turn bright with smiles, without the pain shadowing behind.
For more information on managing chronic pain, see:
Pain Topics: http://pain-topics.org/
American Chronic Pain Association: www.theacpa.org
For more information on Palliative care: http://www.getpalliativecare.org/ and http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/palliativecare.html on Medline.
Submitted by Patient Navigator Debora Harvey
My doctors say pain left it’s permanent mark on me. I have a large coupe de sabre down my forhead and adjacent deep etched pain lines (large wrinkles from squeezing my brows together when I’m in pain). I’ve been living with mixed connective tissue disease (systemic lupus and schleroderma) almost my entire life. It’s never been longer than 1 year in remission. Pain management has become so difficult for both patients and doctors. I have the unique view of being both. I believe that a right to pain management needs to be passed at the federal level. And specifically not just for cancer patients but those in need living with lifeong chronic diseases such as porphyria or multiple sclerosis.