tenpastmidnight blog

Making hay while the sun shines

The BBC is running a news article saying that under fifties are 'blighted by pain', and that many people suffering from constant pain are also diagnosed with depression.

Although I've managed to get hurt in various ways, it wasn't until I had an abscess earlier this year that I realised how debilitating a constant, but small, nagging pain is. I think our brains are wired to forget what pain is like quickly, helping us get on with our lives after injuries have been recovered from, but this may affect the understanding of people who are treating those with pain. While you may remember that pain is a nasty thing, and not something you wish to suffer from, it is difficult to be truly empathic about it.

My sister had a very bad form of arthritis for twenty years, which spread across all of her joints and affected some of her internal organs. Now, lots of people have arthritis in their back, or knees, and while you can feel sympathy, there's always a part of you that says, "Well, sometimes my knees hurt, but it's not really that bad."

To bring the pain of severe arthritis in to a comparison, last year Sam, my sister, broke her hip. It didn't get diagnosed for eight days. This wasn't a fracture, it was a clean break, completely visible on the X-ray when she managed to get in to the hospital, several days after a physiotherapist was supposed to have come out to visit her. Sam knew she had a problem with her hip and thought she'd dislocated it, the arthritis having damaged the joint that held it in place. But no, it was broken.

Now, I'm guessing you've stubbed your toe at some point, or got cramp in your leg. Jumped around for a while maybe, rubbing it, the feeling of that pain being the entire focus of your being for a few minutes. Now, try to imagine that the amount of background pain that you feel all the time, every day, is enough to mask the fact that you've broken a bone in your leg. You know something's wrong with it, but it really doesn't feel like you've broken it, because if it was that bad, you'd go to casualty.

There's some decent research going in to blocking and bypassing pain, the actual mechanisms of which are still not largely understood. Things like MRI scanners, psychopharmacology, neuroscience, they're all helping to develop better treatments. But for now, there's something you can do, no matter what your profession:

When you're on the bus or train and someone gets on who's shuffling a bit, has a stick, or just seems to be finding it difficult to stand up, get off your seat, give it to them. That's it. Stand up for a journey. It's a piece of cake. Believe me, you could be making that person's day, a little bit of kindness to make an undoubtedly bumpy journey a little easier. They might not be at quite the point where they wouldn't feel a broken bone, but lets face it, do you really need someone to be in that much pain just so you'll do them a simple favour?
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