The right words matter when talking about pain

Michael Vagg, Barwon Health

It is no coincidence that we describe the “pain” of loneliness or the “agony” of rejected romantic feelings. Paper cuts can be “excruciatingly painful”, but so can watching the social mishaps of Basil Fawlty or David Brent. Personal criticism can be “stinging”.

The book The Patient’s Brain outlines the evidence that later evolutionary traits such as social cognition and language appear to have grafted themselves onto the ancient brain functions that alerted us to external threats or bodily damage.

Words are neurological events. They are meaning-laden puffs of air that our brain transforms into knowledge, opinions, emotions or danger signals.

Shakespeare, perhaps the greatest wordsmith of all time, frequently used bodily sensations including sensitivity to pain as metaphors. If you’ve ever complained about the “bitter cold”, called an ugly sight an “eyesore” or felt it “sharper than a serpent’s tooth … to have a thankless child” you might know what I mean.

Words affect pain

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How badly do we want to solve this $32bn dollar persistent pain problem? | via @ConversationEDU

It’s National Pain Week in Australia and I wanted to share this excellent article by Pain Specialist Dr Michael Vagg, first published in The Conversation. I have huge respect for my colleagues caring for people with persistent pain. It is a challenging specialty, often dealing with complex physical, psychological, social and existential challenges, in the setting of limited resources. We often call upon their services to help manage palliative care patients (particularly with interventions like intrathecal catheters or nerve blocks). Also, as the palliative care approach is being taken earlier in the trajectory of many diseases, we are increasingly caring for patients with persistent pain. – Elissa


How badly do we want to solve this $32bn dollar persistent pain problem?

Michael Vagg, Barwon Health

This week is National Pain Week so it’s only fitting that I should climb onto the soapbox again in support of people with persistent pain, their employers, workmates, friends, and families. The economic burden of persistent pain in our country is enormous, and the arguments in favour of a co-ordinated national response are compelling. The lack of such a political and economic imperative puzzles me. If you don’t believe me, perhaps this will convince you. Continue reading

Elsewhere in the Palliverse – Weekend Reads

photo by David Mao itsdavo

Welcome to this weekend’s reads. People seem to enjoy the cute animal stories, so I’ve included one (near the end, if you want to read it first).

The latest paediatric palliative care video (below) from Little Stars is about treating chronic pain in children. It’s nice to see how the interdisciplinary team interacts with, and respects, the girl in the video.

An article that is all over my social media feeds this week: Knowing How Doctors Die Can Change End of Life Discussions. It also brought back to mind this article on How Doctors Die. (NPR)

“I felt like I was beating up people at the end of their life…I would be doing the CPR with tears coming down sometimes, and saying, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry, goodbye.’ Because I knew that it very likely not going to be successful. It just seemed a terrible way to end someone’s life.” Continue reading