One of the blogs I follow is healthskills.wordpress.com. It’s written by a woman in New Zealand who originally trained as an occupational therapist but who has since achieved her masters in psychology followed by her Ph.D. The blog’s audience is health care providers but I find the posts approachable as well as being quite thoughtful and insightful, especially when they enter into areas of why things are done or why they happen and the effects not only on the patient but the therapist.
A recent article discusses the question, “What is Pain For?”. It turns out the answer isn’t quite as straightforward as you might think and has a lot to do with both being aware of and defining one’s self. I was especially struck by a quote in the post, as follows:
Our sense of self also disappears when we experience pain we can’t escape and we can’t make sense of. Throughout the time while people are trying to label their pain, establish the meaning of their symptoms, and while people are searching for a solution to their pain, people’s experience of both time and “who I am” is threatened (Hellstrom, 2001).
My husband always knows when I’m not feeling well — not because I tell him — but because I get quiet. I stop interacting. I lose interest in doing things I usually enjoy. I stop being the person he knows me usually to be.
I know this is true of a lot of people. When they hurt, they get quiet or grouchy. They don’t want people around. All they can really focus on is trying to be as comfortable as they can and perhaps find a way around or through what’s causing the pain.
Which now brings me to my rant. (You’ve been warned …)
When we deny deserving people appropriate pain relief, we are denying them their right to be themselves. We have denied them their ability to express themselves as their true individual selves. All we have left them with is their ability to respond to their pain.
I don’t use opioid pain relievers on any kind of regular basis (primarily for post-surgical pain), but I am touched by the lives of many people who do. They use them responsibly, and often as a last resort, to manage the chronic and debilitating pain that comes with long-term illness. These drugs are essential to their ability to function as humans and, as it turns out, the ability to define who they are as people.
I understand, but at times can’t fathom, the current opioid crisis that we’re in. However, the current climate of overreaction to the point of denying people the ability to control their pain is not the answer.
We have to do better.
**Note that these views are my own and do not reflect any views expressed by the author of HealthSkills.wordpress.com.