Says Who??

Verstehen, through shared perspectives

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As I write this post, the date is February 1st. When I noted the date this morning, my reaction was “Finally! February is here. What a relief!” I surprised myself. The first 28 years of my life were spent in western New York State, so I can assure you that this is not my normal reaction to the first day of February – or any other day in February, for that matter. February was always the month when Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) reached its peak: Gray days, dirty gray snow, cold days and colder nights, chapped skin, shoveling snow day after day – by the second month of the year the reality of winter was enough to send me into at least a minor depression.

…Until recently. Chronic pain has for years held an even greater power in my life for bringing on depression, especially after a few long months of winter weather. However, once I had become convinced that my thought patterns and beliefs could actually make my pain even worse, I decided to try an experiment. Last year, I decided that instead of suffering through the blues of February – or grays, if you prefer – I would welcome the month as a certain sign that we were on the downside of winter, and better days were ahead.

That was actually true for me in several ways last year. I did concentrate on thinking positive thoughts about February, which was no small achievement. I also met my pain management physician that month, and had two epidural procedures which alleviated my pain enough to allow me to manage several other medical problems over the following months. I didn’t think any more about my experiment until this morning, when I surprised myself by welcoming the thought of February. My perspective has certainly changed.

All this soon led me to thoughts of chronic pain, and the Pain Care Providers Day campaign. I thought how over this past year I have watched and read about chronic pain patients who have joined their voices and efforts to bringing about national awareness of the hundreds of thousands of people who exist with daily, even constant, severe chronic pain. I thought of those professionals and clinical personnel who have joined to champion the cause of those people that they care for, day in and day out. And I remembered the families, and friends, and neighbors who join in to assist people who cannot always manage on their own, and who have also supported this campaign.

As I looked back over the year, I realized that attitudes are changing. Perspectives are changing. Many people who have been victimized by both their own bodies and by unreasonable laws and regulations regarding their care have refused to be labeled victims. They have found their voices, and are speaking out, demanding to be heard and treated fairly. And they are being supported by the voices and efforts of their caretakers.

Physicians are pushing pharmaceutical companies to produce medication that will not harm their patients. Medical societies are pushing for multidisciplinary approaches to treatment for chronic pain patients that will be more effective. During the month of September 2014 we celebrated Pain Awareness Month, and more people joined the efforts to bring new resources to the treatment of chronic pain.

So now, on March 20th, 2015, we will celebrate Pain Care Providers Day (PCPD).

What is this day all about?

It is definitely NOT about drugs. It’s not even about chronic pain patients, per se. It is about celebrating the steadfast and selfless gift of presence and help by all those who have cared for us all these years when we have generally been thought of as malingerers, hypochondriacs, drug seekers, or worse.

Admittedly, we chronic pain patients are not always easy to deal with. Sometimes it is difficult to discover what has caused our pain. Sometimes we are cranky, angry, depressed, uncooperative, or downright mean. Sometimes we are hopelessly fatalistic. Sometimes we are suicidal, because the pain and isolation is winning out over any potential for loving life. Yet our caretakers and providers are still there.

But there is hope—which for many of us, is an entirely new perspective.   Awareness is happening throughout the nation, thanks to the campaigns, and more changes of perspective are taking place in unique places. Some people are actually changing their opinions about pain care providers and their patients. Of course, it takes longer for government agencies to adjust their perspectives, but with all our voices together, we can and will be heard. And those who have cared for us will still be right there, working alongside of us. And on March 20th, the first day of Spring—a day of hope—we want to celebrate their presence and work in our lives, and what it has meant for us.

 For our pain care providers, and for those who will join their ranks in future generations, I offer the following statement in support of these achievements, and these changes in perspective. It was written by Henri J. M. Nouwen, and I have borrowed it from his delightful book Bread for the Journey:

 Joy is hidden in compassion. The word compassion literally means “to suffer with.” It seems quite unlikely that suffering with another person would bring joy. Yet being with a person in pain, offering simple presence to someone in despair, sharing with a friend times of confusion and uncertainty…such experiences can bring us deep joy. Not happiness, not excitement, not great satisfaction, but the quiet joy of being there for someone else and living in deep solidarity with our brothers and sisters in this human family. Often this is a solidarity in weakness, in brokenness, in woundedness, but it leads us to the center of joy, which is sharing our humanity with others.


Please join us in celebrating Pain Care Providers Day on March 20th. Tell your friends and neighbors, and encourage leaders to proclaim the day. It is our day to share our humanity with others. It can be a day of joy.


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There is a price to be paid for developing the skill of critical thinking. Its practice may cause us to focus on seeing the negative. In order to appear wise, we strive to unveil what is hidden, or lacking, in the ideas presented to us.  (In so doing, our perception becomes more narrowly focused on negative reactions to what we perceive.)

Once it was possible for this negativity to be pretty much confined to academic discussions, news op-eds, and a few people whose sole interest in life was complaining about everyone and everything else.  Today, it is more likely for everyone to attempt to outdo the latest—and possibly extremely well-constructed—rant against their chosen evil, or injustice, and the challenges from those who disagree.  It only takes moments to put our latest and best critical assessments of anything on line, for the world to see and challenge, immediately.  In order to keep the cause at the forefront, we almost have to live and breathe not only the reality of what is happening, but also keep up with what is being said about it.  Sometimes, we reach the point where we just can’t listen or read any more:

sane or well informed

             When this happens to me, I find that it is because I have neglected my own most important antidote to “negativity overload.”  I have forgotten to actively seek and observe HOPE.

There is an old story about the man who entered a stable and saw a young boy energetically (and messily) shoveling manure out of a stall literally covered in that substance.  Intrigued by the huge smile on the boy’s face, the man inquired as to what the boy was doing.  The boy never stopped shoveling as he replied “With all this manure, I know there is a pony in here somewhere.”

To state the obvious, it is sometimes necessary for us to recognize the signs of hope instead of dwelling on the signs of disaster, and to keep working with those signs until what is hoped for may be seen.  We must remind ourselves to seek, and then to see, where hope lies in a given situation.  We need to observe hope in the same ways that we observe holidays, respect, and just laws, for example.

Where have I most recently observed hope in an unjust, troubling world?

  • Just when I had become so disillusioned with all politicians that I didn’t want to see, hear or know them, I met a State Senator whose integrity is beyond question.  Who works ceaselessly to improve conditions in our state, and has led the way to legislation that is helpful and makes sense, despite the inability of other states to do so.  Whose smile and warm handshake extends to his eyes, and who actually listens when you talk to him.  There is hope.
  • Just when I gave up hope of receiving medical care that would take my own unique medical conditions into consideration; when I had given up and accepted that a computer would now and forever come between me and any meaningful conversation with my physician, I met a whole town full of physicians who do not allow a computer in the examining room while working with patients.  They make eye contact with their patients, and actually listen to them.  And even though hampered by the “15-minute per patient“ rule now in effect in most medical organizations, for that brief 15 minutes your doctor knows you as a person, cares about you, and does his or her very best to help you.  There is hope.
  • Just when I gave up hope that there would be any way out of the present hysteria over narcotic prescribing and the resultant rise of over 100 million chronic pain patients to the category of “discriminated against” and therefore oppressed, I read the following articles:

Education allows you to prescribe with confidence and optimize patient care. 

And an even more exciting concept:

Basic Pain Care Certification

The first article provides for physician access to the latest information about pain management certification; the second is the strongest hope that I have observed that we can substantially address the problems of drug abuse and addiction, and still safely care for the needs of millions of patients with chronic pain. The reasons are outlined in the article.

Right now, this is a hope observed.  Like the little fellow in the stable, we have to work for it to make it real.  But all the signs are there:  as the boy said, “there is a pony in here, somewhere.”

What is the HOPE you need to observe around you?