“Getting Smart About Pain” – a Review

March 10, 2009 saw the presentation of “Getting Smart About Pain” at the Torrance Memorial theatre. This was the fourth in the 2009 six-class “Create Better Endings” series presented by H.E.L.P.

The first act (presented by Mary Hersh, RN, and Roberta Mann, MD) included a snapshot of pain in America (did you know that 40% of chronic pain patients do not visit their doctors for help with their pain, believing that nothing can be done?) and provided a well-organized and clear review of common pain myths and their countering pain facts. The myths included often-heard gems like: “pain is a normal part of aging” – “if a person doesn’t show signs of pain, he cannot be experiencing much pain” – “if a person is able to sleep, he cannot be in pain” and more.

The first act led to an very active Q&A session (this reporter had never seen so many audience questions at one time), with questions fielded by Mary and Robarta and Glen Komatsu, MD. Topics ranged from the use of tylenol (it’s good for headaches, not good for inflamation – and its 1,000 mg effectiveness ceiling), to improving patient – MD communication, to the use of marijuana (the MDs suggested it was more useful for nausea and as a distractor, than a pain reliever).

The core of the second act was an interview with 51-year-old Mike (who has suffered for 20+ years from pain resulting from chronic pancreatitis) and his wife Colleen, conducted by Glen Komatsu. From early-on feedback that he wouldn’t live to age 40, to progressions through different pain mediction approaches (successful temporarily, or successful only two out of three days), Mike has now found significant pain relief from methodone. The stigma of methodone, however, kept him from trying it [while he continued to suffer] for six months. Colleen shared the family side of Mike’s journey – that has now taken them (at last) to a place where they can actually take a 2 week vacation. Mike does have side effects, in that he forgets things and must deal with the constipating effects of his medication.

The second act brought a continuation of the wealth of questions from the audience – and helpful information that was shared as a result.

A couple of take-aways for me: (i) if you are suffering pain, keep working to find a solution, try different options, find what works; (ii) handling pain takes good and persistent communication, and may require you to find a different MD.

Many thanks to Mary, Roberta, Glen, Mike and Colleen for an insight-filled session.

Next up in the “Create Better Endings” series – “Creating the Optimal Last Six Months” – Mar. 17 at 6:30 pm at the TMMC Health Conference Center (not the West Tower). Glen has recruited two brave women, each of whom has a terminal condition, to share their views. I’ll be there – hope you will be too!