Cook column: Coping with pain
When making rounds in the emergency department one afternoon, I stopped in to visit Mr. Smith, who had been having chest pain.
As I was talking with Mr. Smith, the nurse stepped in to ask Mr. Smith: “On a scale of 1-10 how is your pain?” In health care, we refer to this as the “pain scale.” This is a way to identify the patient’s perception of their pain tolerance. We can then begin to help the patient to manage their pain. For Mr. Smith at this very moment, and for all of us, it is very important that we address and find ways of managing our pain.
Pain is a part of our lives. We can sometimes delay it, but not really deny it. We can refuse to deal with it, but ignoring it will not make it go away. We all suffer pain, but it may vary on the pain scale in kind and degree. Pain can come from a variety of places and reasons. Pain is felt in our physical bodies, and injury or disease ó or pain may come in an emotional form such as extreme distress or heartbreak of a broken relationship, abuse, rejection, parents who have lost a child, the loss of a limb, or the loss of a job.
It does not matter whether it is emotional, physical, psychological, or even spiritual, pain hurts.
We all want to rid ourselves of pain as quickly as possible. Mr. Smith wanted to find the reason for his pain and alleviate the pain he was experiencing. Often times when patients come to the hospital, they are seeking to understand and quickly find the reason and remedy for their pain.
Pain is often looked upon as a negative, but sometimes it is beneficial. It may be a warning of a severe problem, like Mr. Smith was experiencing. In the emotional, psychological and spiritual aspect of our lives, pain tells us that something went wrong. This kind of pain can bring us to take corrective action in our lives. It is an opportunity to learn and grow.
Sometimes we hear people say, “Time heals all wounds.”
I am here to say, “Not always.”
The cause of the pain needs to be determined before the pain can be subsided or alleviated. If we solely depend on time, it may only serve as a distraction.
In this case, we may never reach the source of our pain. In health care, we do tests and assessments to determine the cause of pain. When it comes to the emotional, psychological and spiritual pain, we may need to depend on professionals, friends, pastors, and doctors to determine the cause, but still, it is pain.
Dealing with the many aspects of pain in our lives brings us to the realization that we need help in managing our pain. Emotional pain affects relationships with family and friends, and can impact our sense of purpose in life. If not addressed, it can become like phantom pain, feeling like it is coming from a body part that’s no longer there. It may be the memory of something painful that has happened to us in the past. The mind says it hurts, making it real the person.
We all have experienced some kind of pain. There are many ways of managing pain, and each individual does so differently. God never said that we would be free of pain.
In fact, pain can serve to teach us lessons if we do not allow it to cloud our ability to see through the experience. There is often a message to be found in the experience. I have often felt the presence of God when I have been in pain.
Daily, we have the opportunity to be with those around us that are experiencing pain ó to be present with them. There is such great power and healing in sharing your story of pain with someone. This is so important in the healing process to have the ability to share, to be understood and be heard. When you hear someone’s story, you become a part of their story in the healing process. It brings comfort and makes pain more manageable. You become a part of the supportive community for the person sharing their story. You are doing something special for this person and yourself. This is what God calls us to do for each other.
God is present with us in our pain. When was the last time you were with someone who was in pain? Who is with you, in the midst of your own pain? We also need to pray, laugh as much as possible, keep breathing, and when necessary seek medical and professional attention to help us manage our pain.
The Rev. James Cook is chaplain at Rowan Regional Medical Center.