Some say my main job, as a physician is to take away pain.
But as bad as it can be, most of the time pain has a purpose. Pain can be both physical and emotional; sometimes teaches us to avoid harm, sometimes helps define a problem so it can be fixed, and sometimes helps allow for healing.
A 20-something-year-old light-complexioned woman came into the emergency room with a severe sunburn. She had forgotten the sunscreen before she climbed into the boat, and three hours later after all that fun she realized she was in trouble. Her bright red color and blisters indicated extensive first and second-degree burns, for which pain medicines, salve, and time were prescribed. I hope pain taught her not to do that again.
A 50-something-year-old man came into my office this week with abdominal pain. It was dull, cramping, nauseating, and drove the man to stand up from his chair and walk around the room ineffectively trying to find a comfortable position. The differential diagnosis included gallstones, pancreatitis, appendicitis, and intestinal obstruction. With further testing we found a sick gallbladder, and surgery gave him relief. Pain helped define and resolve the problem.
An 80-something-year-old gentleman came into the office with a thick callus on the side of his foot from bad fitting shoes and a blood blister under the callus became an infected ulcer. It turned very painful, which helped him find a way to keep pressure off the sore so it could heal. It took three months, but the pain helped allow for healing.
A 70-something-year-old woman lost her husband to a month-long struggle with multi-system failure starting with heart, then kidney, then brain, and then the tough decision to stop life support and let go. I watched how she deeply suffered from this loss from which there was no escape, but then how she allowed for healing by diving back into work, and expanding her connection with family, spirit and friends. The pain moved her to healing.
Physical or emotional, pain sometimes guides us away from harm, helps solve problems, and allows for healing.
Please give me the wisdom to know when to, and when not to take it away.
Dr. Rick Holm wrote this Prairie Doc Perspective for “On Call,” a weekly program where medical professionals discuss health concerns for the general public. “On Call” is produced by the Healing Words Foundation in association with the South Dakota State University Journalism Department. “On Call” airs Thursdays on South Dakota Public Broadcasting-Television at 7 p.m. Central. Visit OnCallTelevision.com.
When to take away pain