Million Dollar Baby

Do not read this if you have not already seen the movie, “Million Dollar Baby”. It will ruin it for you if you have not seen it.

A disturbing number of contacts from those with central pain mention suicidal ideations. We have emphasized that any such feelings should be dealt with by a professional, perhaps a psychiatrist, or other trained professional. Once depression reaches a certain level, one usually cannot climb out alone, so it is essential to get help when such thoughts appear. Nearly every community has a suicide hotline, which the 911 operators know. Do not wait until crucial tests confront you. Have coping strategies in place to prevent harm.

An interesting study on suicides at the Golden Gate Bridge revealed some survivors of the long jump. To a person, those who survived stated that no matter how strong the wish to die, they realized they had made a mistake, the instant they stepped off the bridge. This is important for all to remember.

Occasionally a movie comes along that requires a response, to counter its apparent message. This is not to say it is not powerfully and beautifully acted. It is, and if you don’t wind up loving Hilary Swank’s character, you weren’t paying attention. Clint Eastwood seems near perfect in his role, and yet, it is Hollywood’s guess about a difficult topic. If you are shedding tears already, this may not be a movie you should see. For all of its tenderness, it is not written from a patient’s point of view and pretty much writes off practical solutions. It romanticizes suicide, always a dangerous proposition. Were the screenwriters thinking of their immense pain at watching the athletic Christopher Reeve at the Academy Awards? If so, they forgot the incredible amount of good Reeve did during his lifetime, after injury. His bravery and athleticism showed best in his sensitive ability to continue as a human being. Can Hollywood grasp that humble effort is greater than being in the limelight? Is suicide really clean, and life messy? We prefer Reeve’s example.

In Million Dollar Baby, the woman comes from the worst socioeconomic level. Above all, she “knew she was trash”. This stirs the girl to become something. A long effort leads her to victory in the boxing ring, which gives her some dignity. A vicious blow and an accident leads to quadriplegia at C1.

Passing on the fact she is able to speak through her tracheostomy, which does not happen in real life, she sees that her family does not wish to be burdened. She also feels she had the one thing she had lacked, self respect, but that inability to continue the sport makes her want to go out on that one high note, and to avoid a life on a respirator. The movie is sobering in the extreme. Not only does she lose her life, but her boxing coach, who pulls the plug, disappears and more or less loses his.

The movie shows how hard it is to go on when family cannot render comfort. The mother feels it is all about her, a very selfish person, but not so unfamiliar to those of us with SCI. An early experience at a spine hospital included the admonition that virtually all would lose our spouses. We see the brave ones who continue in love, such as the wife of Christopher Reeve, and feel they are better than can be realized.

Now, what about us? We know some of you are on a respirator AND also have Central Pain. And we know that ALL who have corresponded agree that Central Pain is more disabling and more difficult than the paralysis. This is an unthinkable state. What makes survival possible? Some of you don’t know yourselves how you have done it, and how you will continue to do it, but you have the stomach to keep going. Million Dollar Baby doesn’t quite cover you. You are a bigger hero and are real. The movie is fiction. Its conclusions are speculative. In a way, it speaks to the public’s wish for an ending. The picture of the paralyzed girl is too sad to bear and so the movie provides the desired relief, but significantly, it whispers that the ending was illusory, that the “solution” may not have been a solution. Again, it is fiction. It is different for you. You must actually face the thing. You need something more than what it takes to win a boxing match. You must preserve life.

You are of almost infinite bravery and determination. Yes, little weak you, shuddering through life. No one is braver, and you have done it and will find a way to do it. You are magnificent. Do not think of the little crumpled pile of flesh, quivering before the pain in the dark moments. Think of your endurance, your persistance, your practicality and the durable spirit within you. That has grown large, beautiful, and pure. Your degree of patience, is, well, divine. We salute you and hope you will join us in the effort to promote research so the suffering can end. Stem cell research may cure immobility, at least to some degree and the pain scientists at NIH and elswwhere will surely have the pain problem whipped before too long. This will relieve not only us, but the suffering public who knows they should pay attention to us, but cannot bear to think about it. It was necessary for us to suffer, in order to drive the research, so that others would not have to suffer. Not the role we want, but an adventure against evil.

The person who says they do not believe we have terrible pain really means deep inside that if we did, they could do nothing about it, and so their denial relieves them of their burden. They have an interest in their denial, which only shows how large the idea of continuing, untreatable pain is. Do not become upset at doubting observers. They do not know where they are coming from. Do not let their “indifference” make it harder for you. We accept you. We know you are truthful. Thank you for your completion of the survey. Your submitted material provides powerful impetus for research and helps pain professionals do a better job. We honor you for the effort, and hope the material here provides some insight into the problems of Central Pain. Most of all, we want you to know we are glad to have you around. You are worth everything.

Society can’t learn what it needs to know from those who just run around taking victory laps. Sometimes, those who are struggling are its most valuable members.