It’s a funny old thing.
Since about Tuesday night (it’s Saturday lunchtime as I write this), I’ve been in quite a lot of pain.
It’s a recurring thing. Only happens once every few months, at most, but when it hits it often hits pretty hard. A stabbing pain, right between the shoulderblades. Makes any movement of my head, neck or shoulders a risky business.
Now, sometimes I take some nurofen and it just goes away. Sometimes it lasts for days and I don’t get out of bed until nearly 3pm, like today.
I get a bit awkward when someone else describes their pain to me. It often acts like a multiplier, if that makes sense. If I already care about them, I care even more. I offer to help. I worry. I check up on them.
If I don’t know them very well, or care that much, it doesn’t make me care. Quite the opposite. Why? I might just be a bit hard-hearted. It’s sort of an intimate thing to share with someone, and quite a lot of the time it’s done with the expectation of sympathy, so if I don’t feel willing to offer said sympathy, it instead feels more like emotional blackmail. Then the stubborn streak kicks in, and I’m all like “whatEVer”, *z snap with four snaps*.
Some of the people reading this will care about me, some will not. I wonder if they react in the way I would.
There are a couple of stereotypes about men in pain. One is that they bear it with a kind of grim, grey-faced stoicism, to the point of foolhardiness. Remember Philip in Shaun of the Dead?
Philip: You didn’t call the doctor, did you?
Barbara: Well, I thought we ought to be on the safe side.
Philip: I’m quite all right, Barbara, I ran it under a cold tap.
Barbara: I really think…
Philip: We had our jabs when we went to the Isle of Wight.
Barbara: But Philip…
Philip: It’s a lot of overblown nonsense, a lot of drug nuts running wild.
The other stereotype is that of ‘man flu‘. The smallest case of the sniffles becomes a debilitating plague that renders us near-comatose.
Obviously, these two don’t work very well as a tag team.
Historically, I will more often play the role of the stoic. Partly, I’m sure, because my Dad was and still is a pretty businesslike chap when it comes to scrapes, bumps and limb loss (the latter is a guess).
This time, though, I really couldn’t be bothered playing the martyr. It hurts. It really hurts, and I’ve been telling people the truth about that. I don’t know what difference it has made. Maybe people are secretly a little disappointed – they thought I was made of sterner stuff? Maybe their suspicions that I was faking it were dispelled? I have no idea. But I am fascinated by the thought of honesty in all matters. As an aside, read this Esquire article on Radical Honesty.
There’s a saying that there is no such thing as an atheist in a foxhole. That’s obviously not true, but you get the gist. I think that applies to people in pain, too.
I am no expert on the medical industry. I know about as much as anyone about ‘big pharma’, and about alternative treatments. With that said, here is my general stance: if it worked, it wouldn’t be alternative medicine, it would just be medicine.
Here are the opening lines from the Wikipedia article on Alternative medicine.
“Alternative medicine is any practice that is put forward as having the healing effects of medicine, but is not based on evidence gathered using the scientific method. Alternative medicine is usually based on religion, tradition,superstition, belief in supernatural energies, pseudoscience, errors in reasoning, propaganda, or fraud. Alternative therapies lack scientific validation, and their effectiveness is either unproved or disproved. The treatments are those that are not part of the conventional, science-based healthcare system.“
Wow. That’s strong stuff, right there. And I agree.
And then, enter stage left… pain. Suddenly, things look a little different.
I was referred to a physiotherapist by my GP. I spoke to them on the phone (partly because the thought of trekking out to wherever their office is was an unpleasant one at best), they asked me a bunch of questions, and made their diagnosis. It’s not a pinched nerve, despite how it feels, because I don’t have the right symptoms. It’s very likely a deep neck flexor muscle issue, and exercises will help strengthen it, minimising the chance it will happen again.
So. There was no uber painkiller I could take to make it just go away (although I was told I could take them, nothing had worked so far, so it felt like a dead end). I had my answer, from a medical professional, but because I was in pain it just… wasn’t good enough. I felt unsatisfied. This didn’t feel like the neat, tidy, final act resolution I felt I deserved.
I believe that this is one of the main ways in which alternative therapies get traction. You get the answer, but you don’t believe it. You don’t trust it. You want something else. You want something more. You want this pain gone NOW.
So you keep looking for answers. You Google options. You find yourself looking at… alternatives.
I have friends and family who believe in the power and efficacy of alternative medicine. I like these people. I don’t intend to be rude to them, but I must also be honest about my own feelings on the matter.
I am in pain. It brings doubt into the picture. But ultimately, it will take a lot more than just pain to get me to abandon my trust in science and start endorsing mysticism.