Pain is not something I have ever been a fan of. Actually, I have always been afraid of it in lethal doses as with torture, cancer, trauma, or acute disease (myocardial infarction) or the myriad exacerbation possibilities of chronic diseases. I have made a career of trying to eradicate pain from the lives of all patients, but especially hospice patients. With the help of my wife in promoting end of life conversations, we have tried to lessen and soften the emotional, mental and spiritual pain of inevitable changes we ALL will face.
As a nurse for over 24 years, I have witnessed the devastating effects of chronic conditions and diseases. Too long to name here, the lengthy list of aliments that have the ability to affect our quality of life is known to many people. Most everyone knows someone who is living with an awful disease. Some may often be preventable, and many are treatable. Certainly there are always behaviors we can eliminate and choices we can make that may promote the general wellbeing of our future health. Many of us hope to grow old, with dignity and good health. Many wish for a peaceful end for our lives which, despite all hope, often does not go as we expect. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst I like to say.
Personally, and I say this very seriously … I did not expect my fate would be to fall prey to, of all things, something as common as Arthritis! More pointedly, “end-stage arthritis” as the orthopedic doc I saw this week phrased it. It never occurred to me that arthritis could be the source of such mind numbing, relentless, severe pain as I have been experiencing with growing intensity for the past 5 years. Although arthritis, in and of itself, is not really fatal, the death of my independence and function as it once was, occurred none-the-less. And there are millions who experience this around the world every day.
I always thought arthritis was an “old person’s” disease. I never would have dreamed in a million lifetimes that this is what would finally break my armor and take me down.
I once believed in the “no pain, no gain” slogan often spouting from the competitive nature many have within the rigors of physical achievement in sports and general athletics. This mantra of Spartan-like stoicism in the face of brutal resistance even spills into academia, politics, and religious worlds of all who believe that they will achieve their goals “no matter what” the costs. Just ask any nursing student who has worked full time throughout their entire nursing education. Or ask any Evangelist who builds wells in Africa in the midst of civil war and political coup. We all fight our fights, pick our battles, and slay our demons as we struggle toward our personal (or unified) goals.
So, yes, in the majority of the circumstances I agree with the “No pain, No Gain” philosophy. Just my own experiences with backpacking the Grand Canyon for many days at a time ring true in this sense.
But then there are the situations like the one with which I now have come face to face; the ones where no amount of suffering will yield a positive outcome. Fortunately, I can have hip replacements to alleviate my pain and be able to regain some of my independence for a while longer. I won’t die in arthritic pain as some may have in generations before me.
Clearly there is a reason most human beings died before age 60 in the past. There just wasn’t anything to gain from prolonged suffering. There were few options to constant unrelenting pain. With the exception of opium, alcohol, and barbaric, antiquated surgical measures, humans suffered and died long before 50 became the new 30.
And yet even with the modern technological advances in medicine and surgery, there are many who now find themselves in states of mind-numbing pain. Whole disciplines of science have been developed over the recent years to combat pain, cure diseases and even stave off death. But one factor has been sadly overlooked.
There are not enough resources to cover the continually growing numbers of people approaching “older” status. There are too few doctors, nurses, social workers, aides, clinics, hospitals, ancillary staff and even funding to handle the growing populations across the entire planet.
Escape Fire is a documentary (available on Netflix) that exposes this “Achilles’ heel” of our medical profession today. This is not alarmist, fatalistic, or negativism. This is reality. Unless we, as a country, align ourselves with forward-thinking neighbors in other countries, the world is destined to fall into a “Survival of the Fittest” mentality. But unfortunately there may be no relief from pain for anyone unless you are affiliated with the “winner.” To me, this is a frightful prospect to ponder.
As humans, we possess the capacity for the most beautiful artistic creations, marvels of scientific advancement in space travel and DNA modification, architectural designs, agricultural success and compassionate empathetic behavior worthy of sainthood. Yet we focus much of our resources on defensive posturing and aggressive superiority in matters of future concerns. My hope is that we may all join together in the united effort worldwide to alleviate fear, hate and pain for everyone. We were all given free will, but some do not wield this compassionately.
“The value of life. That people have to be kind to each other…” Helga Weiss- an interview with a holocaust survivor.
So where do you stand?
©2016 Caring Choices