The Powerful Connection between Pain and Hope
March 20, 2017 | Posted in: Chronic Illness and Pain
As an Occupational Therapist, I deal with other people’s pain daily. As soon as the introductions are over, I ask about pain levels. “Do you hurt anywhere? On a scale of one-to-ten, how much pain are you in? Describe your pain.” Most people I encounter are in some kind of pain, so much so that I sometimes become numb to pain.
When chronic pain hits someone you love, it is both heartbreaking and tiring. You hurt for them but can become numb to their complaints. After a few months of the same reports of pain, we can become like the rehab professional who deals with pain in numbers and adjectives. Pain becomes a qualitative descriptor.
For the individual with chronic pain, it is so much more than a number and an adjective. Click To Tweet It can consume them. Their focus becomes relieving the pain, masking the pain, doing anything to distract from the pain. In the absence of a solution to heal, chronic pain brings on an irrevocable hopelessness.
I watched my dad spiral under the weight of chronic pain. Dad suffered from avascular necrosis of his hip. Over the course of a year, he became more immobile, more withdrawn, and less able to care for himself. He stopped attending weekly breakfast with his friends. He ordered his groceries online to avoid the long walk through the market. He started missing his grandkids’ birthday parties. At his lowest point, he decided life from his recliner was the best he could hope for.
Hopeless. Resigned to miss his grandkids big moments. Sundays spent remembering what it was like to sit in a church service. In the morning, he would look at his coffee maker and decide it wasn’t worth the pain to get a cup of coffee. The destructive power of pain decimated his hope.
Chronic pain may not kill the body, but it drags the soul to the grave. Click To Tweet While the heart still beats, the light in the eyes grows dim. Breath still fills the lungs, but it only prolongs the suffering.
The death of hope is hard for an outsider to grasp. Click To Tweet Therapists be-bop into the room and ask patients to push through a painful set of exercises. Family members don’t understand why they can’t seem to push through the pain in order to function normally. “Pushing through the pain” requires hope that it will be worth it in the end.
We see the facial grimace. We hear the moans. But we can’t see their hope, shriveled and left for dead.
A brave orthopedist reviewed the list of reasons that made Dad’s surgery a high risk. He looked at his alarming x-ray and saw the dimness in his tired eyes. He agreed to proceed with the surgery, knowing that without it, Dad’s spirit would certainly find it’s way to the grave.
Our hero of a surgeon fixed more than Dad’s necrosed hip joint in that operating room. More important than mobility, independence, and breakfast club appearances, Dad found hope again. He is still working hard to regain all he lost in those years spent suffering in his chair. Only now, hope fuels him as he pushes through the pain.
As a matter of fact, he is overwhelmed with hope. He finds it hard to keep a dry eye when he talks about those dark days and the extraordinary change he experienced in that operating room. The operation may have been on his hip, but it treated his heart, too.
If you live with someone suffering from chronic pain, don’t fail to acknowledge the loss of hope. Grieve that loss with them. Cheer them on each time they push through the pain, grasping for hope. And if you are the one with shriveled hope, tend to that hope as much as you do your painful symptoms. Hope is the truest antidote for suffering.
Kelly R. Smith is a small town girl who married a small town man. They have three children. In the quiet minutes of her day, you will find her at the keyboard or curled up with a book–always with coffee. Kelly believes we are created for community and loves to find ways to connect with other women who are walking in the shadow of the cross. She blogs at mrsdisciple.com.
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