October 2012 Archives

Pain is the first alarm warning us of danger. People who are born without the blessing of feeling pain are always in serious trouble; they can’t avoid what they can’t intuit through one of their senses. We get too close to a flame and the heat causes us to flinch and pull back, saving us from serious burns. A child cuts his finger on a sharp object and pulls away, avoiding a deeper cut. A skinned knee helps a child learn how to balance more carefully on a skateboard, or ride his or her first bike. This kind of pain, the acute kind, is present for a reason: to warn us of danger. Or perhaps, acute pain will draw our attention to a condition needing our attention, such as infection from an appendix about to rupture! PAIN is invaluable, and we should be humbly grateful every single time we experience the sensation of pain.

Chronic pain, however, is a different story. Of what human value is chronic pain? Some might consider chronic pain as a tedious, drawn-out warning of mild to severe danger. Chronic pain is ongoing discomfort of varying degrees – from the kind of pain that can almost be ignored to the biting, encompassing pain that simply dominates the conscious mind. The development of chronic pain should never be ignored. Usually, if not always, pain needs the careful consideration of a qualified physician in order to remedy the situation before it controls the patient’s life.

Nothing is as discouraging or as depressing as the feeling of uselessness, helplessness, and depression from unrelieved pain. The victim is left lonely and afraid. We are basically social beings, and as long as we can relate to each other, and help someone else occasionally (even if it’s just with a smile of encouragement), we feel better physically and mentally. However, when the chronic pain dominates our lives, all the small interactions that make us smile and laugh as humans is washed away.

For our purpose in discussing pain, think of the brain as the clearing-house in a gigantic import-export company. Our brains have the uncanny ability to categorize the nerve impulses pulsing through our systems faster than we can have the words to describe what part of our body is injured. The brain is the epicenter where emergency procedures are assigned, administered and monitored. The brain analyzes the pain and signals us to faint, scream, or grit our teeth and wait. And, when possible, to try and stem the flow of blood, or get into a more comfortable position, or tear a shirt with our good hand and our teeth, or signal for help from a passer-by – or, in other words, to fight. Our natural instincts move into action when we are injured, and we fight hard to survive. Without this survival instinct, we wouldn’t make it. It is this mysterious power that makes the maimed and crippled soldiers determined to walk again, even when they have lost one or both legs and some one or both arms as well, or the young man blinded by shrapnel determined to learn Braille. The human body, under the direction of the human brain, is a tough customer. By optimizing pain management through the considerate and compassionate care of a medical professional, the patient can attain as productive a life as possible, thereby allowing for a greater quality of life and goal attainment.