Chronic Pain

Understanding The Impact Of Chronic Pain On The Whole Person

“And the leper in whom the plague is, his clothes shall be rent, and his head bare, and he shall put a covering upon his upper lip, and shall cry, Unclean, unclean. All the days wherein the plague shall be in him he shall be defiled; he is unclean: he shall dwell alone, without the camp shall his habitation be.”

Leviticus 13: 45-46  The Holy Bible KJV

Have You Considered This?

The purpose of this article will be to help people who are fortunate enough to not have chronic pain enhance their understanding of the impact that chronic pain has on the whole person. I believe that the metaphor using leprosy as a symbolic comparison to the “leper of today”…the chronic pain patient…fits appropriately.

Leprosy is a disease that was feared among the ancients.  It was reported as early as 600 BC in India, China, and Egypt.  It is an infectious disease that deforms the face, fingers, toes, ears, nose and elsewhere.

Leprosy

It also degenerates the nerves causing anesthesia of the areas it infects. The exact mode of transmission is still unknown.  It doesn’t kill directly but lingers for years causing disfigurement of its victims.

Leprosy, like chronic pain, effects every aspect of a person’s life. The medical condition itself is only one aspect of the pervasive effect the disease has upon a person.  Chronic pain effects every aspect of a person’s life too…just like Leprosy.

Chronic Pain Effects The Whole Body…Like Leprosy

Chronic pain is defined as daily pain that lasts for 3 or more months. Whereas acute pain is an early warning system that alerts one to a physical problem, chronic pain has no such beneficial alert. The very physiology of acute pain uses a different segment of your nervous system from what chronic pain uses.

Chronic pain effects areas of the body remote from the location where the pain is being generated.  For instance, a person with chronic back pain can be expected to have difficulty sleeping, difficulty with sexual intimacy, difficulty concentrating, difficulty with depression… all  effects remote to the source of the pain.

insomnia

Chronic pain offers no apparent benefit to a human being.  The incidence of many causes of death are increased in the presence of chronic pain.  People with heart disease die sooner when they have chronic pain, even given the same severity of heart disease.

pain

The incidence of cancer, strokes, and psychiatric illness are all higher in people with chronic pain. Chronic pain is an amplifier of the negative….like Leprosy.

Chronic Pain Effects All Human Relationships…Like Leprosy

In my practice I was able to observe the cumulative effects of chronic pain on relationships.  Let’s face 

relationship problems

it…chronic pain effects how humans relate to each other. A stable long term relationship can be seriously effected when one member has chronic pain. The sexual intimacy of that relationship is not only effected but its emotional intimacy is too. The distraction of the chronic pain causes an apathy towards intimacy.  The interest in putting the effort forth for emotional intimacy wanes when ones energy is depleted by constant pain.

It doesn’t take long for a couple to develop separate, parallel lifestyles in the presence of chronic pain.  Life must go on whether both parties can participate or not.The pain free partner often seeks their emotional needs to be filled elsewhere…further deepening the emotional crevasse that exists between them and their most intimate partner…just like Leprosy does.

Chronic Pain Has Serious Financial Effects…Like Leprosy

Not only does chronic pain reduce the ability of a person to be gainfully employed but it also increases the medical expenditures by a person.  Multiple doctor visits, procedures, hospitalizations, medications, special medical equipment, special therapies, and rehabilitation exhaust medical insurance coverage.

Financial Crisis

Eventually, if not effectively treated,  many chronic pain patients will require financial assistance and governmental insurance coverage.  Their ability to generate enough income to cover their health expenses is limited.


Unless very financially secure prior to the onset of their chronic pain syndrome, they often become financially destitute.  The need for the extended family to supplement the income of the chronic pain patient often becomes necessary…a tricky development to navigate in a culture where families are fragmenting daily…like Leprosy.

Chronic Pain Has Serious Emotional Effects…Like Leprosy

The person with chronic pain has their emotional health shredded.  In addition to theirpersonal self esteem being effected, they see the “drain” they have become upon their family.  Men are particularly prone to this effect and have a much higher incidence of violent suicide attempts.

The incidence of suicide in chronic pain patients is under-reported.  Death certificate analysis for cause of death is notoriously inaccurate as doctors fill out death certificates with the consideration of legal reprisal and life insurance benefits.

It is much more “tidy” to report the death of a chronic pain patient as an “accidental overdose” than to report it as “ineffective treatment of pain”.  The guilt that follows for the living is more easily negotiated with this type of inaccurate reportage.  Insurance companies ask fewer questions…as do legal authorities.

accidental overdose

For those who “soldier on” in their chronic pain…depression is the rule.  Doctors often treat the depression as the primary problem.  What is really necessary is to treat the person’s pain effectively.

Chronic pain causes personality changes that reduce the likelihood that important relationships will endure.  The person with chronic pain is distracted, inattentive, withdrawn, depressed, unmotivated, and generally uninterested in the activities necessary to maintain intimacy…just like Leprosy. 

 

There Are Serious Social Effects Of Chronic Pain…Like Leprosy

The social structure of a patient in chronic pain eventually deteriorates.  Unable to engage in family gatherings, religious activities, social events, etc. the pain patient becomes a social non-entity. Their name is eventually forgotten and they are not included in the usual activites…an “out of sight…out of mind” phenomena.

Not to mention that the chronic pain sufferer may not have the stamina to be socially engaged.  The many questions about their condition, the medications they are taking, and the proverbial “have you tried…” (an assertion that is often interpreted by a person in chronic pain as a question of the legitimacy of their pain).

Social Problems

It may be that the presence of a person in chronic pain at a social event is a reminder of one’s own enlightened self interest. A psychological realization that is painful for the pain free population.

The lack of real involvement in  a chronic pain patient’s life is a reminder of our own shallowness.  Who wants to be reminded of that…just as the Lepers were forgotten.

Chronic Pain Can Have Profound Effects On The Sufferer’s Spiritual Life…Just Like Leprosy

If you had a theology of a loving God before you developed a chronic pain syndrome…upon developing chronic pain it will be tested.  The proverbial “well God has a plan for your pain…” is not usually very comforting to a person in chronic pain.

Curiously, there can be no doubt that more acts of righteousness towards one another are done in the face of suffering.  We just don’t seem to have a natural love one for another when things are going well for us.

Perhaps, as a species, humans need to see others suffer in order to show sacrificial love for each other. It is curious that the founder’s of most relief organizations have been personally effected by suffering before having the vision to set up their relief organization…like Dr. Paul Brand and his lifelong commitment to helping those with Leprosy.     

The Worst Effects Of Leprosy Is Suffering Alone

My final observation, the one I would call “the mother of all impacts in chronic pain”, is the most poignant to me.  It is the bleakness of suffering alone. In this final insight I think the treatment of lepers is particularly relevant.

alone in the chronic pain

In addition to the disfigurement, the broken relationships, the shredded self image of the leper, and the poverty…they are forced to go it alone…just like chronic pain patients. There was no gentle touch, support group, or fellowship for the leper.  He was outside the camp…infrequently visited, no doubt.

So it goes with the chronic pain person.  Frequently stigmatized… by the medications they are taking, in the quantities necessary for relief, by the very people that ought to be compassionately caring for them…chronic pain patients often suffer alone.

Doctors avoid them, nurses deride them, pharmacies spurn them, law enforcement ridicules them…the chronic pain person is a modern day leper. They suffer without the comfort of others and live in isolation…just like the leper.  

Yet And Still, There Is Hope

It doesn’t have to stay this way for those in chronic pain.  Those of us fortunate enough to be pain free can begin to reach out today.  We each know someone who would appreciate a phone call, a text message, an email, a letter…or perhaps even a visit.

One act of kindness goes a long way with a person who is suffering alone.  The mere knowledge that others are concerned about you can fuel an attitude change in a person who is suffering. Don’t be afraid to reach out to the leper…

If you are suffering from chronic pain yourself, there is a person who can identify with you.  He died on a cross 2000 years ago.  He was abandoned by his friends too.  He knows your pain.  I have included a video that may touch your soul and give you comfort:

Please comment if you have a question. I would love to hear from you.

Wishing you joy and healing.

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