“Turn your wounds into wisdom.”
– Oprah Winfrey
This is an x-ray of my chest and arm. For the last 5 years I’ve been dealing with shoulder pain. It started in just one shoulder and I only felt it at night. Although I was in physical therapy, the pain worsened and eventually began hurting in several daily activities. Overtime my other shoulder began feeling the same pain. The pain got so bad last fall, that my PT and I decided I needed an MRI and there was a chance it would lead to surgery. They found some pretty severe damage to my shoulder and told me not to push myself, but to try and keep my muscles strong. It has been a long process ever since, with doctors trying various alternatives (cortisone, PT, steroids) and not wanting to do surgery because, “with ehlers-danlos it’s best to avoid surgery” and it’s not necessary “if you can get through your daily life without surgery.”
On the one hand, I have to commend these surgeons for not just cutting me open and billing for a large surgery. On the other hand I was frustrated. No one had a solution and they seemed to be minimizing my pain! As it turns out, I recently saw an EDS specialist who recommends I do get the surgery and that I just need to find the right doctor who understands the treatment plan for after surgery. The reality being, my shoulder will never be perfect and I will always have pain, but the hope is that it will decrease.
The lesson learned here is to never underestimate someone’s pain. No, it isn’t possible to feel what others are feeling and to know exactly how bad it hurts. But can’t we empathize and work to find the best solution, without making them feel as though their pain isn’t real? As someone who suffers pain, it’s our job to not compete with others on how bad the pain is, but the be understanding and willing to listen. I found this great video on compassionate deep listening. Although this video is not directly about pain, I think there is a lot to learn about how to help others cope with pain.
It goes without saying that this gets more complicated with physicians, as they are short on time and are being asked to give instruction or “expert” advice. However, I do think, at the very least, we, as sufferers of pain, can work harder to understand each other.
If someone in your life experiences chronic pain, I hope this helps as a way to let them know you’re there for them, and though you may not understand, you are ready to listen.
If you suffer chronic pain, may you find a supportive community who is there for you and ready to listen. Including a team of physicians, determined to ease your pain to the fullest extent, and who are ready to acknowledge what you experience on a daily basis. And may you be ready to listen to others who are in the same boat, using your experience to add understanding.