Ask the Doctor: Pain is everywhere I go

June 10th 2011: This paper about human pain. During my trip to Greece with a delegation of prominent Canadians accompanying the Prime Minister, people quickly found out that I was a pain doctor. Even in our delegation people felt free to talk to me about their afflictions. As a matter of fact I had treated a member of our group 20 years prior for some significant pain across his shoulder blade after a lifting injury. Smiling, he told me that the pain is still there but it is controlled with proper diet and exercise. Others, however, were not so lucky. A couple of my high school classmates (who spoke to me by phone the night I arrived in Athens) were in bad shape. One was suffering from diabetic neuropathy (a painful condition that attacks the nerves of the feet) and the other one from very bad neck pain after a car accident years ago. Even my own sister who could not come and see me as she was in her summer home in an island, could not help but cry when she told me about her serious hip pain over the phone. It had robbed her of her quality of life and deprived her of the things she loved to do (like dancing and going to the gym).

The worse case involved the elderly mother of a prominent Canadian Diplomat stationed in Athens. Since the diplomat had to attend all the ceremonies with the PM and his company, the mother wanted to come and see Steven Harper as she was a great fan of his. She never managed to do so. The old woman was suffering from serious spinal stenosis (a condition resulting from advanced degenerative changes in the spine which end up strangulating the spinal nerves). Three months ago she had received an epidural injection (done by specialists in Anesthesia) and this had helped very much for a couple of months. However, the effect was by now gone and her leg pain had returned with vengeance, making her unable to walk a few yards. The diplomat is returning to Canada soon and I am sure my advice about where to refer her mother will be sought.

I don’t see pain everywhere I look simply because I am a pain doctor. The truth is that pain is an integral part of our existence for both humans and animals. I have two dogs, a male German Shepherd and a smaller female Dutch Shepherd. The female ran against a sharp tree branch and got herself into some serious trouble. We had finally brought her to our veterinarian who cleaned up a large infected wound and gave her many stitches. That meant a familiar site (for dog owners): a large cone to protect her from licking the wound and pulling the stitches away. She was given strong painkillers but despite the drugs it was obvious that she was in pain. She walked slowly, had no appetite to eat her food and retreated herself to a corner in the property. When the male dog approached her playfully she growled, telling him more or less to leave her alone. Then the male dog’s behavior changed too. He slowed down, licked her face many times, smelled the wound and spent hours laying by her side to keep her company. Days later, when the stitches were gone and the cone was removed, my dogs resumed rough playing with each other and enjoying their every moment – obviously, the pain was gone.