I'd survived the traumas of a major motor car accident, the ignominity of a prostatectomy, and the despair and exasperation of three separate cancers and their harsh therapies, but nothing had prepared me for the greatest challenge of my life, dealing with chronic pain
Chronic pain is one of those things you read about, study, discuss with colleagues and ponder solutions for as a surgeon, but no matter how diligent or knowledgeable, one does not even begin to fathom the circumstance that is chronic pain until experienced first-hand.
Pain is one of those intangibles; you can't see it, you can't measure it and, without comment from the sufferer, it remains hidden and elusive. I thought I knew pain from the experiences of broken bones and other injuries, I thought I understood pain spending my career caring for the sick and injured, and then chronic pain came to visit and stayed, and all my past experiences seemed so insignificant, and my knowledge so inadequate.
Chronic pain proved to be different, it's continuous and unremitting nature challenged my psyche, mocked my considered strengths, and upended my confidence. The realisation that each morning pain will be the first experience on awakening and the last experience at the end of the day dominated my thoughts, imposed on all plans and restricted all activities.
Seeing chronic pain from the perspective of a sufferer and the perspective of my former career as a surgeon has been interesting. The dichotomy of understanding chronic pain, and the difficulty in communicating the nature, extent and imposition of the condition have given me a different, if not unique, approach to it.
The key to my survival and the driving force which keeps me going has not been some inner strength or belief system, has not been from the drugs, although they have been helpful, but from outside factors. My family and friends have been supportive, patient and understanding, and, perhaps most important, have been tolerant of me with my mood swings, newly found idiosyncrasies and the occasions when my mouth comments before my brain has engaged. And then, of course, the doctors and therapists who have examined, treated, goaded, cajoled, and tolerated me. Being a fellow doctor has been a challenge for some of them as it has for me and I will be eternally grateful to those who didn't throw me in the "too hard" basket.
As a medical practitioner my private life was kept just that. Appearances are important, patient confidence comes in part from a perception of the individual, their morality and professionalism but rarely from their mortality. So we keep our personal circumstances in the shadows, hidden away from our patients, and sometimes even from ourselves so that we can function efficiently in the role as medical carer. Working in regional centres where anonymity, especially as a member of the medical fraternity, was virtually impossible, dictated that my personal circumstances were kept behind closed doors, and now, no longer confined by the necessity of my career.
I still find it difficult to discuss my circumstances with others. I often ask myself whether this has been a good or bad thing. Many people deal well with adversity by discussing and sharing it with others but this is not a formula which works for all, and has not been a technique I have found personally effective. Perhaps I am wrong and this opportunity to expose my condition, warts and all so to speak, may have a therapeutic or cathartic effect for me. It's certainly been an interesting exercise.