Tag Archives: pain

Explaining Pain in its Own Voice

By Jason Menard

I hurt.

Normally, I don’t talk about it. And I pride myself on the fact that, for the most part, people don’t know about my situation. But recently I’ve had the opportunity to share parts of my story with three people. It seemed to help, so I thought I’d put it down on paper — virtually.

When it comes to pain management, I have no advice to give. I only have my experience to share and to let people know that what they’re feeling is normal. Continue reading

Putting the Care Back in Healthcare

By Jason Menard

If Hippocrates was alive today, he’d be greatly ailed by the state of our health care system. Of course, good luck on him for actually finding a doctor that would treat him.

Healthcare in this country has rapidly deteriorated to the point where the concept of a house call is little more than a quaint memory – akin to a Normal Rockwell painting hanging on the wall. Care and compassion have been replaced by productivity, efficiency, and billable visits.

Healthcare is extinct and in its place has risen the concept of Health Management. And we have no one but ourselves as patients to blame for this devolution of care.

We have deified our medical professionals. We have come to accept their judgments as the final authority, to be accepted without question. Our great failing is that we no longer look at doctors as humans, with their own frailties, trials, and tribulations.

Due to one person’s wish to get to their destination just a little quicker, my wife and I have been deeply immersed in all aspects of the health management system. And we have seen the best and the worst. We have seen great displays of compassion, caring, and adherence to the basic ideals that Hippocrates set out when he crafted his oath.

Yet those qualities have not been displayed by those with the letters M.D. after their name. Rather, it has fallen to practitioners of so-called alternative medicine to fill in the gaps. They, the chiropractors and physiotherapists, are the ones who now display the bedside manner so often lacking in our coolly efficient doctors. They are the ones who understand that a caring ear attuned to our frustrations is just as therapeutic as any prescription that can be written. Yet many continue to write them off as quacks and opportunists, despite the fact that they’ve made a commitment to caring for their patients.

Recently I attended a seminar presented by an insurance broker who explained that, in order to maximize profitability, doctors and other medical professionals ascribe to a five-minute window of treatment. Three minutes of face time, followed by two minutes of paper work. Many of us have walked into a doctor’s office to be greeted by signs indicating that only one issue will be dealt with per appointment. Any other concerns must be addressed in another, billable, appointment. The situation has deteriorated to the point where new doctors in the region where I live have the audacity to make potential patients apply for their services.

These doctors should feel shame! They should apply for the right to treat us! When it comes to my health and life, I should have the right to choose amongst my doctors for the one who gives the best care – not just be forced to take whatever table scraps are left, and to be thankful for it.

Doctors have a difficult job, I understand that. Especially in this region of southwestern Ontario, they are overwhelmed by work, dealing with funding cut-backs, and stressed beyond imagination.

But could part of that stress come from a lack of enjoyment in their job? There is no longer the sense of familial relations that we once shared with our doctors. The personalized care, understanding, and knowledge have been replaced with the medical equivalent of working on a factory line. It has become repetitive, productivity-driven, and – most importantly – soulless. One would hope that the majority of people were called to the medical profession because of a desire to help people – not just line their pocketbooks. So can this new age of medicine truly be fulfilling?

Louis Lasagna, the academic dean of medicine at Tufts University in 1964, penned the modern version of the Hippocratic Oath. In it he said, “I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being whose illness may affect the person’s family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care for the sick.”

Yet, more often than not, patients are made to feel like they are nothing more than the sum of the numbers on their health care card. We are a necessary, but unwanted, imposition upon the lives of those to whom we turn for help.

We need to change the focus back from health management to health care. We need to work with our medical professionals to petition the government for more funding to ensure that we have a system of which we can be proud. The focus has to be on quality of care, not on quantity of care. Our doctors must feel able to spend more time with a needy patient, rather than watching the seconds tick by on their watches.

Most importantly, as patients we must demand to be treated as humans, not just numbers.

The modern Hippocratic Oath ends with the phrase, “may I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.”

To experience joy, one must have a soul. Our medical system needs to find it.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Waiting for Dawn

By Jason Menard

The old adage states that it’s always darkest before the dawn, but when life has the feel of a recurring nightmare, is it any wonder that one can wonder when the sun will shine again.

In relative terms, my wife and I have a pretty good life. And, in the good Ontario Calvinist fashion to which we’ve been exposed, we can put up a good front on the outside, refusing to share our troubles and, in doing so, keeping others at bay.

However, internally, enough is enough. It’s hard to maintain a positive attitude throughout overwhelming negativity. Can one really be expected to keep turning the other cheek when no matter which way you look you get slapped? In this life, you can never expect a hand up or a hand out from anyone – but at least you can hope that the hands will be off your throat once in a while.

Recently my wife was in another car accident. Again, another accident that was not her fault, was unavoidable, but leaves lasting damage. But more than the physical aches and pains, it’s the emotional damage that is more devastating. It’s the weight of yet another negative experience that threatens to crush our will.

Until you’ve experienced a serious car accident, you can never understand the full ramifications of an event of this nature until you’ve experienced it first-hand. It’s not the impact that hurts the most – it’s the aftershocks, and they can reverberate much longer. That’s what we’ve found from our own experience, starting two years ago and continuing to this day.

Over two years ago we were in a severe head-on collision. Ironically, while the accident totalled our car, it set the wheels in motion for a continual test of faith, attitude, and commitment. As a result of the accident, both my wife and I have suffered continual pain. Despite treatment, medication, and therapy, my wife’s arm is still in severe pain and only seems to be getting worse. My shoulder is still damaged and I have my good days and bad days.

This initial accident has changed our lives immeasurably, in almost every aspect of our existence. From social to financial to emotional, a split-second impact has had lasting repercussions. It’s a physical embodiment of the old adage states that dropping a small pebble in the ocean will eventually cause a ripple effect that will carry waves across the world.

The initial accident has given us years of a unique perspective on the world, allowing it to unfold before us and display its true colours. It has allowed us a new perspective on friends and family – the former, in many cases, we had overestimated, and the latter we had previously grossly underappreciated. And it has exposed us to the best and worst of human nature. From expressed and unexpressed doubts and looks of bewilderment, to offers of support and callous dismissals, to hearty displays of support and gentle commiseration, we have seen the best and worst of life.

Yet, throughout all of these trials, the one fact that has stood out above all the rest is that at the end of the day, we have each other.

No matter how well prepared you are to deal with the after-effects of guilt, what you can’t prepare for are the lasting effects of guilt. No one can understand the eroding force that guilt can have on your life – slowly and steadily wearing away your resolve – until you’ve had reason to experience it first-hand. For example, my wife continues to feel guilty for being a burden – her words – on me as she’s unable to participate in the household chores, work and bring in income, or be the wife she wants to be. Yet her guilt persists despite the fact that I appreciate what she is able to bring to me. My doing a few extra dishes, assuming the housekeeping chores, and cooking the family meals are small prices to pay for the joys that she brings by being in my life.

Of course, it’s also a small price to pay on the guilt that I feel. Although I’ve been told ad nauseum by officers, doctors, and my wife that the initial accident was not my fault, it’s hard to not feel some culpability when the woman you love is continually in pain for an accident in which I was behind the wheel. I know I am innocent of any culpability, but yet one still can play the old what if game. Guilt doesn’t have to be rational. I know the full weight of that initial accident lies on the shoulders of the other driver but, as a husband who loves his wife, I can’t help but want to do everything in my power to make her life easier, more comfortable, and more enjoyable so that she can eventually get better. Those vows say for better or for worse, in sickness and in health – they’re not empty words.

Since that initial accident, our lives have been beset with a number of challenges. Guilt gets in the way of moving on simply because you want to help the other so much. Pain has restricted our lives; it has prevented us from doing what we need to live our dreams. The accident has added a variety of stressors to our lives, whether they are legal, financial, or emotional.

Yet, in the end, through all the darkness there has been some light. As we’ve been forced to turn inwards and turn to each other for support, we’ve developed a greater appreciation for what we have. We are blessed with two children, a roof over our head, and food on the table. And we are blessed to know that, no matter what, we’re in this together and supportive of each other unconditionally. Any of our previous skirmishes and arguments now seem petty. We have grown up immeasurably and are looking forward to a brighter future together.

Yet, still it’s hard not to feel that we’re being punished for something – as if these continuing trials are some sort of Karmic retribution for past transgressions. Is this some sort of punishment for the sins of our past? Are we not to be judged on the person we are now? In my youth, I was much more cynical, much more callous, and much more flippant. I was egocentric and certainly not as sensitive to others’ feelings and needs. But I was also young and was learning my way through life — protecting myself and my development from others by putting up a façade.

Since the birth of my children I have mellowed. I’m not so angry at what I perceive are the world’s wrongs. I am more understanding and more compassionate towards others. I have learned what it means to live and to love. Mistakes were made, but they’ve been acknowledged and learned from. So when do we get to move on?

Life doesn’t always go as planned. And, obviously, whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. But no matter what cliché you use, the fact is that it’s hard to be a good person when you see others who don’t treat life with the same respect succeeding. My wife and I truly try to be good people, positive roll models for our children, and – in good Cub Scout fashion – leave the world a better place than what we found it. But it’s so hard to be positive when negativity seems to hang over you like a cloud.

So now we come to another accident: another jarring impact that stops life for a time. But where will those ripples lead us? We will spend our time fighting the current and trying to keep our head above water, or is it now time for us to coast on the waves to a better, more positive, experience?

Either way, no matter where life takes us, we’re going to continue to be positive, going to continue to look for the good in life, and continue to appreciate the fact that no matter what happens we have each other to support. Life owes us nothing more and has already given us so much by allowing us to find each other.

And if that realization is the first rays of sun filtering through the darkness, then I say it’s time to bring on the morning – we’re ready to tackle the day and make the best out of life!

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Giving Pain a Voice

By Jason Menard

Pain has no voice of its own, but it certainly has the power to rob you of yours – and to drown out the existence of everything else through its sheer volume.

Over two years ago, my wife and I were in a serious car accident. From that moment, when we were hit head-on in an intersection, our lives have been changed in ways we couldn’t have imagined simply because of a new addition to our family – pain.

It’s always there. It permeates every aspect of our lives and it becomes the driving, underlying force that guides us through each day. When a doctor asks you to describe pain, they often offer suggestions like burning, stabbing, or throbbing. But these words seem so insignificant when the better descriptors are debilitating, sapping, insidious, and demoralizing.

Most of us go through life knowing pain in only an acute sense. From stubbing a toe to breaking bones, the pain is intense, but fleeting. What hopefully most of us will avoid is that long-term, incessant accompaniment – a pain that is never truly relieved. Hopefully few will experience a time when that silent scream of pain becomes the soundtrack of your life. And as much as you try to block it out, it creeps in through the cracks of your resolve.

I consider myself lucky in that I’m capable of living a semblance of a normal life, despite my pain. I’m able to continue to work and I’m able to get through the day, yet with the help of pain-killers, therapy, and treatments. My wife is less fortunate. She lives her life in excruciating pain, where even the simplest of maneuvers – the ones we take for granted on a daily basis – have immediate and painful ramifications. And that just adds to the weight of pain as both of us watch the other suffer, yet are able to do little to help.

What this experience has taught us is that pain is nothing to be taken lightly — and it is certainly nothing to be mocked. It is insidious and it permeates every aspect of your life.

Pain robs you of the freedom to reach your dreams. Our shared goals and desires for the future have been put on the backburner in lieu of dealing with the here and now. Instead of being able to work on bettering ourselves, we’re focused on treatments and managing the pain.

Pain robs you of your family. Uninjured by the accident, our children still suffer from its ramifications. We are unable to be the parents we want to be, so we have to be the best we can. Cherish the moments you have with your kids while you can, because they mean so much once they’re gone. Things I took for granted in the past, like playing catch with our son or picking up our infant daughter, now are insurmountable challenges. Pain lets you try to be the best parent you can, but leaves you with the haunting feeling that you’re doing them wrong.

Pain robs you of your freedom. Nothing comes easy anymore. Going to the mall, getting groceries – even taking a leisurely drive, all of these tasks need to be planned and prepared for. When a one-hour walk means days of agony, then you better be darn sure that you’re prepared for the ramifications. It no longer is a question of what do you want to do – pain reduces it to what can we do?

Pain robs you of your faith. At times like this, I had always believed you could turn to certain people who would be on your side. But, perhaps due to the cynical way in which we look at our world, those days are long gone. The family doctor, once believed to be a source of unwavering support and resolve to find a solution, now becomes nothing more than another roadblock along the road to recovery.

Because there is no tangible indicator of pain, one is made to feel like they’re presumed to be lying. Tied up in red tape and unfounded fears, our medical professionals err on the side of over-caution bordering on obstinate. Yet what is lost is that we’re not treating words in a file – we’re dealing with real-life people in real-life agony. What ends up happening is that a culture of mistrust forms, and those already isolated by their situation feel that there is now one less person to trust. And let’s not get into the adversarial relationship that insurance companies foster.

You want to have faith that things will get better, but dealing with the day-in-day-out reality shakes anyone’s resolve. And it makes it harder when you’re working in spite of the system – not with it.

Pain robs you of your social life. When it’s hard just being in your own skin, putting on a brave face for the outside world is intolerable. You get tired of living your own reality, so it becomes even harder to share with those around you. And what makes it more difficult is the lack of understanding. Although rooted in good intentions, unsolicited advice often does nothing more than add to the demoralization. Questions like, “Are you sure you’re hurting?” or “Are you still in pain? After all this time?” or comments like “Well, maybe you’re not trying hard enough,” or “Maybe you should be more positive” don’t make things better.

We’re all unique and our situations can’t be compared. My wife and I were in the same accident, but our situations are completely different. Those in pain don’t need to know what worked for you – we just want to spend some time forgetting about our reality. So, when faced with this type of scrutiny, we insulate ourselves even further, finding solace in those that understand – even if it is only ourselves.

Yet, out of all this darkness there is light. Pain lets you find out who your true friends are, who you can rely on, and it stops you from taking things for granted. The constant hurt makes those moments of joy, love, and happiness all the more sweet. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but a valuable one for life. And it’s one that must be heard over the overwhelming silence of pain.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved