WHY? I’m often asked. Why did I become a Pain Medicine physician? It has come as a journey out of a very simple but powerful question to connect to a sense of mission and purpose: “What have I been given to give?”
STORY. I have long been struck with the power of narrative. Nothing changes people like story, and patients have the opportunity to re-write theirs. I’m thrilled and honored to support PainRevolution because no one is better at telling the story of “therapeutic neuroscience education” helping people to re-write their story and live well again.
CRISIS. The size of this Pain problem is unbelievable - whether measured by dollars or human suffering. Pain costs more than cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease … combined. This is as true in the US ($560-635 billion annually in direct medical treatment costs and lost productivity) as it is in Australia. This is a public health crisis the world over. “Is Chronic Pain a Preventable Disease?” is one of the most critical questions to reflect on in healthcare today. A friend recently pointed out that what underlies all this are "those personal losses, fear, worry, stress, etc that affects people's ability to engage with work, society, the world in meaningful ways."
FEAR. One of the things that I’ve been ashamed to admit is just how much of my life is run by fear. I’m afraid of people, financial insecurity, how my kids will turn out, the future of healthcare, being a failure to my patients, the future of my country, and the list goes on. People tell me I hide it well … those that don’t live with me. Those that do are regularly aware of how reflexive it is for me to try to control my environment in response to perceived threat, with anger, withdrawal, or escaping - whether with a(nother) great IPA or a big project or binge-watching Netflix. But my journey over the past several years has enlightened me to what Brene Brown calls the Power of Vulnerability. What does this have to do with helping people with pain? Everything.
DANGER. Pain is a feeling created by the brain when the credible evidence of danger to the body outweighs the credible evidence of safety. There’s a tremendous amount of neuroscience that supports this, so one of the most amazingly powerful treatments is changing the perceived threat value. Of what pain means, and what it doesn’t. Of what is happening in the body, and what isn’t.
HOPE. As a physician who has treated persistent pain for 15 years, I’m so happy to have good news in pain treatment! There’s a better conversation than “What can you do to/for me?” There is hope for those who are tired of “dependence on the system” - opioids, injections, procedures, surgeries, etc.
CHANGE. Change is hard. Every day, I ask my patients, implicitly or explicitly to do what is perhaps the hardest thing to do. Change. Choose a different response. My journey over the last several years resonates with how hard this is, too. Getting in shape for a multi-day ride is an experiential metaphor, teaching me empathy for change, sacrifice, not doing what comes easily, and confronting just how difficult it is to choose a different response. How much harder for my patients whose pain is not self-imposed and when it doesn't seem to have meaning? At least the pain from training for this ride seems to serve a greater purpose.
RESILIENCE. The thing that I’ve been most emotionally impacted by is the tremendous strength of my patients in the face of adversity. Many days, I have to dig deep to endure another story of suffering, knowing that my patient needs to know they are heard, understood and believed, to “know that I care before they care what I know,” and face my feelings of inadequacy to meet the understandable hopes (and sometimes unrealistic expectations) borne of their desperation for aid. It requires a tremendous emotional investment … but it gives back. It allows me to enter a sacred place in their lives where I see the experience, strength and hope of people with pain who are able to thrive.
GRATITUDE. Why would I champion pain relief in another country? In a word, my patients and I owe Lorimer Moseley a tremendous debt of gratitude. His scholarship and particularly his ability to tell the story of pain science is some of the most hopeful information available for people who suffer in silence from this “invisible illness.”
GLOBAL. When we zoom out of our own self-centeredness, out past our own neighborhood, our own country, and begin to see what our fellow humans are dealing with all around the world, it’s really sobering. Especially in an era of increasing protectionism and isolation, I’m compelled to be a part of the global health solution where I can make the biggest difference.
COMMUNITY. PainRevolution reminds me that I’m not alone, and neither are those who are suffering. There is a growing international community of folks who are captivated with the same Pain Science - that neurotags live within metaphor and meaning of the stories we tell ourself about pain - and see how transformative it can be for people in pain and healthcare in general.
That is why I’m training (in the snow) for Pain Revolution.
GIVE: What have you been given to give? Help me spread the word about PainRevolution.org I’d also appreciate your support by clicking the Donate button. Helpful conversion fact: $200AU is only $150US!