September is National Pain Awareness Month

“Pain is a more terrible lord of mankind than even death itself.”

(French physician Albert Schweitzer, 1931)

You might have taken a look at the title of this post and thought, “An awareness month for pain? This whole ‘Awareness’ thing is getting out of control. Can just anyone have an Awareness day, week, or month?”

And it’s true that sometimes it seems that way. But as opposed to, say, National Chicken Dance Day (May 14), or Play God Day (January 9–not that I’m not particularly talented in that arena), National Weddings Month (February), National Apple Jack Month (October–and, please, do not insult the month by confusing it with those sugary pink circles we devoured as kids.  Apparently an applejack is an alcoholic drink made from fermented cider.  Now it’s clear why it’s got its own month, right?), or even Sarcastic Awareness Month (also October),  Pain Awareness Month is meant to bring to our consciousness something we really have an obligation to remember.  We owe it to the millions of Americans who suffer–not just every day–but every moment–from pain.

 ”The greatest evil is physical pain.”

(St. Augustine)

It’s estimated that 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain.

[Were we to look outside ourselves we would learn that 120 million adults (that is 20% of the world population) suffer from pain worldwide, with 60 million (that’s 1 in 10 adults) newly diagnosed with chronic pain each year.]

But back inside our own walls.

The National Institute of Health notes that pain affects more Americans than diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined.

Pain occurs for all sorts of reasons, but 27% of Americans identified low back as their most common pain srouce, seconded by headaches/migraines (15%).

Moreover, pain is the leading cause of long-term disability.

The Institute of Medicine Report from the Committee on Advancing Pain Research, Care, and Education, published in 2011, estimated that, when you combine the medical expenses of caring for pain with the economic ones (disability days, lost wages, etc.), the cost to our health care system due to pain ranges between $560 billion to $635 billion.

 ”It is easier to find men who will volunteer to die, than to find those who are willing to endure pain with patience.”
(Julius Caesar)

And lest you think the month came out of nowhere, it is part and parcel of a long-term awareness plan established by none other than Congress itself. No, no. No complaints accepted in this department about a ‘do-nothing’ Congress,  for back in 2001 that illustrative legislative body passed not just a month but a Decade of Pain Research and Treatment.

Like you, I have indeed noticed that the decade has ended. Perhaps there’s some scholarship out there, summing up the findings of 10 years of concentrated research.  At the moment that (surely) fantastic article is eluding me on Google, Google Scholar, PubMed, and Medline. I did find a page entitled  “The ‘Decade of Pain Control and Research’: Part I.” The highlight is where a reporter asks a doctor, director of a pain center at Albany Medical Center in NY, for his assessment of the achievements of the past ten years.  I wonder what the decade of research costs to produce his answer:

“There has been tremendous progress in the past decade in understanding that there is a critical need to do a better job in treating pain.  However, this increased awareness has not led to increasingly better outcomes. [italics mine]

Money well-spent, as they say.

Pain has a way of clipping our wings and keeping us from being able to fly … and if left unresolved for very long, you can almost forget that you were ever created to fly in the first place.

(WM Paul Young, Canadian author)

But anyway, while Congress was busy co-opting its decade, the American Chronic Pain Association (ACPA) jumped on board and declared, also in 2001, the first Pain Awareness Month. A focus of their early awareness campaigns was the assertion that pain is more than just a symptom.   In fact, as Partners Against Pain declare, “Pain is the fifth vital sign.”

Translation: the amount of pain the patient is feeling should be determined and documented, right along with all the other ‘vital’ signs, like temp, blood pressure, pulse, etc.

And while they were adding on to vital signs, the ACPA was joining up with organization after organization, from the Interstitial Cystitis Association to the Trigeminal Neuralgia Association to the (and I honestly thought this next one had to be a typo, but there you have it) National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Pain — expands the Time —
Ages coil within
The minute Circumference
Of a single Brain —

(Emily Dickinson)

Ok, you’re probably wondering: What in the world am I supposed to do about such a huge problem?

To quote the American Chronic Pain Association: “The key to raising awareness is to get involved.” Now, as far as I could tell, they, first and foremost they seem to have meant that as another way of saying, ‘Donate.’  But they had other ideas, too;  here they are:

  • Call your local government and community leaders to let them know about Pain Awareness Month and issues of pain and pain management.  Tools to communicate with governmental and community leaders are available: Click Here.
  • Call your local media and ask them if they are doing a story on Pain Awareness Month. Tools to communicate with media can be found here.
  • Donate to the ACPA: Your contributions allow us to help fulfill our mission  and work year-round to raise awareness and support for those with chronic pain. Click here to donate.
  • Take care of yourself!  Take time out for yourself this month.  Tools to help take care of yourself are below:

And I–with no experience and no qualifications, just a small platform to encourage me–would say, if you have been fortunate enough to escape chronic and severe pain up until now, and you want to imagine the horror of it–listen to those who are suffering, listen closely to them–and also read, many times if necessary, the words of the poets  who knew that pain can drag out time like a stretched-out rubber band, can make us fear it more than death, and can clip our wings–and prevent us from flying at all.

There is a pain — so utter —

It swallows substance up —
Then covers the Abyss with Trance —
So Memory can step
Around — across — upon it —
As one within a Swoon —
Goes safely — where an open eye —
Would drop Him — Bone by Bone.

 (Emily Dickinson)

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