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THOMPSON: Living with chronic pain

March 09, 2020 - 12:00 PM

 


OPINION


Most of us don’t live with non-stop pain, so we sometimes forget that others do. I have a friend who lives with pain…and what’s worse…she doesn’t know why. It is scary to suffer and not know why…and somewhere beyond scary to find that others - doctors and researchers - don’t know either.

I talked recently with my friend…a woman less than half my age and gained some insights into what she lives with…every day. Ever-present pain is - to be sure - the harshest four-letter word you’ll ever know. When pain is every bit as much a part of you as your eye or hair colour…and neither sleep nor activity can assuage it…it changes you.

My friend has some type of neurological issue physicians say. As it turns out, that’s not much more of a diagnosis than your mechanic telling you your car has engine trouble. My friend’s ailment probably doesn’t have a website…like Multiple Sclerosis. Even MS is considered rare…with about 2.5 million people diagnosed worldwide.

Some of her doctors have ruled out MS…at least one hasn’t. So, there’s a good chance what my friend suffers from is even more rare. Uniqueness is something you don’t want in matters of health. Obviously, when fewer people are effected…there’s less research focused on that disease. That all sounds perfectly reasonable and practical…unless, of course, you are one of those suffering every day from that less common disease.

Image Credit: ADOBE STOCK

Suffering from chronic pain doesn’t mean every day…or even every part of a day…is constant. So, you wait to see what will happen that day or part of a day…debilitating pain…or something bearable.

My friend doesn’t have flu or a cold…those have an end. I’m sure when she hears well-meaning friends say, “I hope you feel better soon,” she wants to answer, “No, you don’t understand.” She measures pain…not in days or weeks…but years.

She can’t remember when she didn’t suffer as she does…but now the symptoms and pain happen closer together…and last longer. She has been misdiagnosed since she was in kindergarten. Still, she perseveres without feeling too sorry for herself…because that’s just her.

Of course, as friends, we want to help those we care about. But, I’ve been guilty myself of suggesting strategy rather than giving my friend what is needed most…empathy. If you know someone in pain…rest assured…they’re researching, probing and seeking answers…and they have medical professionals working diligently for them.

It’s often a fine line between managing pain with medication and the crossover into living in a stupor. Taking medicine is like walking a tight rope…there’s very little margin for error. My friend spends more time in misery or in a drug-induced fog than feeling “normal.” When the meds and therapy work…does she enjoy that respite…or are does she ask herself, “When will the worse pain come back?”

My friend sometimes sees her life as a bank account…with a finite amount of cash available. You can’t afford everything…so, what do you want to spend your money on? Forget luxuries…we’re talking things you might deem as necessities…what do you have to give up?

She acknowledges how her suffering has changed her. She is moodier. She‘s less tolerant of superficial people and situations that really don’t matter. She worries…and even worries what her worrying is doing to her physical and mental states. She smiles and laughs a little less.

The goals and dreams we have in our youth are hard to give up. You really shouldn’t have to fret about your limitations when you’re 30 years old. But the fact is…more people than we might think do just that. My recent conversations with my friend made me think.

Whether it’s right or wrong…I’m glad I don’t face days like hers. I’m not sure I’d be as strong as her. But our conversations made me realize how some face extraordinary challenges…and we don’t always know who those people are as we pass them in the grocery store.

I’m outgoing and engage people. Even so, I’m going to smile more when I see someone…not just friends…strangers, too. You never know what someone faces. And when a friend needs to talk…I’ll listen better…and give them the empathy the deserve.

I don’t know what the future holds for my friend. I hope and pray that her physicians will diagnose her precisely…and treat her as best they can. I want her to have the life she so desperately wants to embrace. I want her to go more than a few hours or a day without pain…and beat what has been beating her for so long.

— Don Thompson, an American awaiting Canadian citizenship, lives in Vernon and in Florida. In a career that spans more than 40 years, Don has been a working journalist, a speechwriter and the CEO of an advertising and public relations firm. A passionate and compassionate man, he loves the written word as much as fine dinners with great wines. His essays are a blend of news reporting and opinion.


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