Where Does it Hurt?
There are good things to be said about pain, along the consoling lines that it’s an important message, telling us that something needs attention. But we know that’s all rubbish. Any decently designed body wouldn’t need such attention or would at least have more acceptable methods of communicating with its manager. Besides, many of the pains which trouble us either have no obvious purpose, or continue to hurt, long after we’ve got the message.
It wasn’t always this way. It used to be much worse. Think back to the days, not so long ago, before we had pain pills, numbing injections, consciousness-erasing gases, and all the other substances and devices which group themselves under the general heading of anesthesia. How did people cope? Were they tougher then? The answer is that they had to cope, because there was no alternative — just as we must accept the unthinkable prospect of death, because (except for religious and spiritual beliefs) coping is all we can do.
And there’s no part of the living body or mind which can’t in some way be afflicted by pain. I’ve often wondered how a medical student chooses which bodily part, or illness, to specialize in. What makes someone want to make an intense study of the knee, or the skin, or some internal organ? There must be much more money in some ailments than in others. I suppose the plum positions are in research funded by governments, or by Big Pharma. But high-minded medics would go where the need is, not where the money is. And the need may be to help people with rare “orphan” conditions that get little publicity.
It’s well-known that some of the most important medical discoveries have been made by accident. The classic example is Penicillin, which came along just in time for World War II. A few years earlier, and World War I might not have taken nearly so many lives.
But, apart from physical troubles, there are of course the mental ones, which can involve just as much pain — in such forms as depression and anxiety, not to mention what we used to call insanity. It’s a world of hurt, “out there,” but also “in here.”
Yet, strange as it may seem to the rest of us, there are people who actually enjoy inflicting pain on others — and even people who enjoy having it inflicted on themselves (sometimes by themselves). There are names for all these aberrations, but the fact that they’re still around shows just how far medicine still has to go.
In the meantime, most of us, to some extent, are at the mercy of those of our fellow mortals who have diplomas from medical schools. We have to believe what we are told and follow the instructions we’re given — or else seek the venerable second opinion.
Another approach to pain is through so-called “alternative medicine,” whose popularity may in part be ascribable to its freedom from ordinary restrictions. Conventional doctors at least have to adhere to certain standards of care and responsibility. But outside their professional restrictions, anything goes — from needling, manipulating, and hypnotizing, to weird herbs, eye-reading, and sheer faith healing.
And of course, each of these methods has its believers, and its stories of remarkable cures.
I once had the dubious privilege of watching a Tibetan doctor examine a new patient (my wife, who had paid for this experience while we were visiting Tibet — although she had no particular medical problems at that time). The entire examination, as far as I could see, consisted of his taking her left wrist in his hands, and feeling it in various ways. I’m glad to say she survived this ordeal by about 27 years.
I myself, while enduring the torments of recovering from a broken limb, tried acupuncture — but felt no benefit from the treatment. I was left to get better on my own, with the help of a conventional orthopedist, a “rehab” clinic, and that well-known physician called time.
But the persistence of the pain problem, even with all types of human intervention, both traditional and unorthodox, explains the popularity of various opioid-type drugs, despite the well-publicized dangers of overdose. The fact is that pain, in one form or another, is an almost inescapable part of life — so that escaping from pain, in many sad cases, means escaping from life.
Or, to put it slightly more cheerfully, as I did, many epigrams ago:
“One thing about pain – It proves you’re alive.”