The Sentimental View of Pain

What mind set will deliver a cure, pragmatism or sentimentality? The dentist who numbs us and is smart enough to fix the problem is to be preferred to a sentimental bandage wrapped around our heads. Pragmatic service is greater than lip service.


We wish we could equate willingness to prescribe with likelihood of a cure. No matter how worthless the worthless cures are, their presentation to us has always been accompanied by some degree of sentimentality. There is something within the parade of sentimentality which is about concealment, the cloaking of an aversion to work, a polite cruelty. It is no longer possible to reel off theological remonstrations about supposed weakness in those with severe pain when the medicines fail. We are too close to a cure. Finally, the tools have emerged to fight it. The time has come to address it and to stop it.

Sentimentality has contained in it, a self preserving illusion that the bearer of this two edged emotion, is sufficiently involved to have actually done something. The head of pulmonary medicine at the National Institutes of Health said it this way, “True compassion is not to hold the patient’s hand True compassion is to help the patient get well, and that takes hard work.”

It has been said that where pain is concerned, patients risk making the profession look bad. Not just another disease, pain has an urgency that must either be addressed or ignored. The minute you say you believe it exists, your white coat obligates you to do something about it, and the line of defense for central pain is very thin. There is not enough to prevent the discovery that the medical profession has no clothes. Who is content to scurry around for a cure, hiding their nakedness as best they can?

Where severe CP is concerned there is a long history of ineffective remedies being thrown at it, which suggests a haste to get the whole mess under wraps. It is dangerously close to a scandal. There is a segment of medicine, definitely not comprised of those at the top, which has a reputation to protect. Tney tend to get their degrees, move into whatever comfortable desk job keeps them away from the front line of illness, and then set up a gated community where they hope for Stepford patients, whose illnesses stay inside the marked lines of existing cures. We tend to mess up the neighborhood with our unsightly pain. No wonder that some attribute this to a moral weakness rather than a physiologic process they have not yet unraveled. Their theories are easy to spot, it always involves blame rather than addressing the underlying chemistry of pain.

In contrast to this are the real doctors. They hate suffering instead of the sufferer. They hate it sufficiently that instead of marginalizing us, they stay awake to try to cure us. If there is a more saintly group on the planet than the pain researchers, we do not know who it is. They are not in the glorious groups fighting fashionable diseases. They expect no Nobel prizes, although they know they deserve one.

They understand that society does not take pain seriously. It is just that they have this problem, THEY take pain seriously. How thankful we are for them and wish them godspeed as they labor through the long days, out of a pragmatic approach to a terrible evil which ought to be cured in society. They are angels in disguise, however much they argue amongst themselves in furious molecular debates. It is the music of a cure, the hope of relief.

These unusual men and women have faced the huge problem of pain with few implements. Strangely, they are actually slaying Goliath. When it is done, those who had given us up for lost, and stayed home from the battle, will claim a victory.