What Do You Do When The One You Love Hurts?

Kit S. Mays, M.D.

We all have pain now and then. But millions of Americans awake every morning to chronic pain: pain that controls and dictates our life and our actions. What if one of these millions is your wife or husband, your brother or sister or even your child? How can you be of help, real help?

First let’s look at the changes that chronic pain causes in the majority of people who live with it. A general rule is that the more severe the pain and the longer one has suffered with it, the more extreme are the changes it causes. Pain tends to isolate us from one another. We lose parts of our independence. Our self image and confidence likewise suffer. We become angry, depressed, tired, anxious, and experience feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. No one understands. Now, here’s how you can help.

LISTEN. One of the most common complaints chronic sufferers have is that no one knows that they are going through. We can really listen to the words and the meaning behind the words which our dear one uses to explain how he/she is feeling. When we listen we communicate that the one we listen to has something worthwhile to say, and help reduce the distance between us that pain can cause.

REASSESS. Has a good medical diagnosis been made? Has appropriate medical treatment been undertaken? Does he have unanswered questions? It may be appropriate to go to the doctor with the patient to be sure that all problems are addressed. Do not be afraid to ask about any new treatments or to ask for another opinion. Remember, chronic pain sufferers should be reevaluated at least once a year by an appropriate specialist. There is always reason for hope.

TALK. Discuss any realistic hope for improvement. Exercises, diet, medications, activities all must be reassessed from time to time. If you can encourage someone in pain to begin to stretch, and walk and get a little stronger daily, many good things will happen. It is amazing what an individual can accomplish sitting with a soup can in each hand exercising while watching television. Further on, walking outside with a kitchen timer for five minutes each way can really help regain function. The key to success is to do this daily. For the one who is helping: encourage, remind, help, but do not nag.

HOPE. Among the greatest enemies to your loved one who suffers are helplessness and hopelessness. We fight helplessness by finding ways to recover function. We fight hopelessness with hope, but a realistic solid hope. To encourage the one that we love who is suffering to bring his pain and frustration and confusion and sorrow to the God of all Comfort is a wonderful and loving service. Whenever you are tired or discouraged, remember: Never give up, never give in, never quit.

© Dr. Moacir Schnapp and Dr. Kit Mays