Sharing a Patient's Pain

At first glance there seemed to be nothing wrong with her. She appeared young, fit and attractive. The first glance was wrong. She was young and fit, but she was also in significant pain and quite afraid.

A few years ago she had meningitis. Her life was never in danger but she was incapacitated due to pain and needed to be hospitalized for several days. Her struggles didn’t end with her hospitalization as she battled severe headaches on a continuous basis for the following year. Her headaches sapped her energy and made it nearly impossible to work. After 12 long months the headaches finally remitted and she went on with her life, free from such pain. Until ten days ago. The headaches had comeback.  She was desperate when she arrived in my office.

We talked about the nature of headaches and how they could be difficult to treat, none of which was news to her. It was part of why she was afraid. She knew that treatments did not always work, she was just hoping that I could do something.

Without making any promises of cure I told I would do all her can. Then, almost in passing, I said something that I think helped a little. I said, “Your pain matters to me.” I shared my experience with severe pain years ago and the fear that came with, fear that I would not be able to live my life if it did not go away. I then told her again, “I will do everything and anything I can to help you. I will not just throw a pill at you and say, “Come back in a month.” I will work to help you through this. I gave her a few prescriptions to try and had her come back in three days.

She was back three days later with only minimal change so I adjusted the medication again. We agreed to touch base again within 4-5 days. While I was not able to give her a lot of hope, I think that knowing she had a doctor who cared meant that she was not totally hopeless.

Here is praying I stumble on a solution in the coming weeks. Her pain matters to me, and shouldn’t it? 

Her story reminds me that we all encounter hurting people and how much better it would be if other people's pain actually mattered.

- Bart

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