Pain is ubiquitous - headache, backache, toothache, menstrual cramps. Nearly all of these go away with simple medicines. However, there are some types of pain that don't; they can be somewhat ameliorated with potent painkillers, but they are intractable. The cancer patients whom HCA Hospice Care serve are often plagued with such severe pain that a few confess to wanting to end their own lives.
Pain is therefore not something we welcome and it is natural we treat it as an enemy. I was however taught otherwise by two patients of mine.
Mr Ong had discovered a raging foot infection only after his footwear was soaked with bloody pus. He had diabetic neuropathy and was unable to feel his wound earlier even though it was a gaping hole from a small sharp object he had stepped on. The disastrous outcome was an amputation of the affected foot. He had lamented: if only I could feel pain like normal people, I wouldn't have lost my foot.
Mdm Teng had stage 2 breast cancer 8 years ago and was told that she was disease free after treatment. When she started having intense back pain and cough, her investigations led to the sad conclusion that her cancer had recurred in a disseminated way. My eyes welled up when she was updating me about the malignancy relapse. I asked if she was coping with the pain from the bone metastases (the development of secondary malignant growths at a distance from a primary site of cancer). Her reply was brave: when I feel the pain, I know at least that I am still alive.
Pain is not the enemy, but the loyal scout announcing the enemy, according to the renowned late Dr Paul Brand. Bearing pain is part of authentic living. Dr Brand had made meticulous observation of his patients and came to this conclusion: “Pain is a priceless essential gift – of that I have no doubt. And yet only by learning to master pain can we keep it from mastering us.”
The wisdom I have acquired regarding pain has been instrumental to my endurance running. After 12 hours on one's feet, any human being will experience considerable agony. I have learned to treat pain as a loyal companion. I train meticulously to listen to this friend - if the pain is something I can endure or if it signals injury. I grow accustomed to its abiding presence - not resenting it, not wishing it away. Over time, I have come to appreciate pain as a gift nobody wants.