Monday, March 21, 2011

Gentleness And Patience While Dealing With Pain

A recent visit to a hospital brought home once more the importance of gentleness and patience while dealing with pain.  I was sitting quietly in a corner of the hospital room when a head peered through the chinks of a curtain and I saw the frightened looking face of a young woman.  She asked me if I had been through various procedures and what the process would be etc. and I did my best to reassure and amuse her until the nurses appeared and the curtain was pulled back into place.  Soon I could hear her crying aloud a little from time to time as she went through the preparatory stages for her examinations, which are not really particularly painful. I guessed she had just worked herself up into a state, but even when I felt she could not be subjected to anything very painful, my nerves jangled at every sound.  I suppose it is a reflex action; every association with pain - be it images or sounds, even if not directly concerning us, bring about a kind of wincing from within.  Anyway, after a few minutes she began to complain that she was bored, so maybe she was a habitual complainer or perhaps she was looking for reassurance or attention at a deeper level.

At the next bed lay another woman who was being given some injections that she had never taken before.  She asked the nurse about side effects and the nurse reeled out the list - nausea, headaches, vomitting...  The lady, in a burst of positivity (or defiance?) said that she usually didn't have side reactions with most medication and the nurse replied in a matter of fact way that the woman would only know after taking the injections!  Undoubtedly logical but certainly not reassuring.

At this stage I switched off and actively attempted to relax.  At this time, my mind wandered occasionally to incidents of pain or discomfort that I had felt, how I had dealt with it and what it taught me.

Physical pain compels us to focus on our bodies, diminishing temporarily the importance of everything else that might be unfolding around us.  In this way, it also limits our thoughts, actions and affects emotions.  During moments of intense physical pain, I find it useful to remember that pain is not our natural state, that it will pass one way or another, that is is caused by muscles, blood vessels and nerves being out of gear.  In many conditions (except very extreme ones) this pain generally responds favourably to a gentle and reassuring touch, be it ours or someone else's.

Mental pain is often rooted in an apprehension or lack of trust of the future, sometimes a replaying of past trauma.  It begins (as most things do, I think) from a lack of wellness in the spirit that reveals itself in the mind and trickles down to the body.  In most natural situations (not extreme or exceptional ones), the solution, therefore lies within ourselves.  I find it almost futile to attempt to negate this pain when I am caught up in it.  It is generally helpful to try and switch the mind, if necessary by picking up a cheerful book or watching a relaxing film.  When the mind threatens to swing back to its old pattern I try and pull it back to the present as much as possible.  The present rarely contains pain; an emptiness perhaps, sometimes physical problems but those can be tackled differently.  I also find that practicing some aspects of yoga (especially those involving focussing on the breath), consciously relaxing and affirming positive statements at periodic intervals during the day and being out in the fresh air amidst nature reduces a build up of negativity.  Ignoring rather than fighting seems a more effective way to deal with this kind of condition.

Pain is a very real and troubling aspect of lives, not just of people but of other creatures as well.  I end with an excerpt from James Herriot's book 'All Things Bright and Beautiful' that reminds us that we must not lose hope in the natural healing power within us, which may be eclipsed during moments of great pain.

"And as I walked back up the field a message was tapping in my brain.  I had discovered something, discovered something by accident.  That ewe's life had been saved not by medicinal therapy but simply by stopping her pain and allowing nature to do its own job of healing.  It was a lesson I have never forgotten; that animals confronted with severe continuous pain and the terror and shock that goes with it will often retreat even into death, and if you can remove that pain amazing things can happen.  It is difficult to explain rationally but I know that it is so."

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