Misusing Pain Awareness Month as a Political Tool and not Advocacy
As I was reading through various notices about Pain Awareness Month, I came across a disappointing commentary. Last Friday Jeffrey H. Birnbaum, well-known columnist for The Washington Times, wrote an article entitled, “Political pain awareness month” in which he basically ignored the issue of physical pain and presented his case that the real pain we are suffering is political in nature.
Birnbaum opened his article with, “Believe it or not, Congress has designated September as Pain Awareness Month.” First of all, why would he say “believe it or not?” Most serious health issues have an awareness month – why shouldn't pain? Why does the idea of a Pain Awareness Month seem so ridiculous to him? Could he possibly believe that living every day of your life in debilitating pain is no big deal? I hope not. Maybe he just hasn't given it much thought – which is exactly the reason we need Pain Awareness Month!
Birnbaum continues, “The label is redundant. Americans don't need to be reminded how much pain they're in. And that's the political problem of the moment.” Political pain is the problem? Not if you're living in constant physical pain.
His commentary goes on to criticize President Obama's recent Oval Office speech about the end of combat operations in Iraq and ends by commenting on the “pain” voters feel from the economic slowdown and how it may impact the upcoming elections. Yes, the economic problems have hurt me, too, but they don't compare to the enormous toll daily physical pain has taken on my life.
I'm willing to give Mr. Birnbaum the benefit of the doubt. I don't think he intentionally set out to hurt chronic pain patients. I suspect he was just trying to find a clever way to present his opinions. But I do think the usurping of Pain Awareness Month for political purposes was, at best, insensitive.
Think about it. Next month, October, is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Will he or some other commentator try to say that the real cancer we have to be concerned about is the greed of Wall Street or the threat of socialism or some such thing? Probably not because they wouldn't think of minimizing the seriousness of cancer. Why should pain be any different?
As a writer, I understand the desire to tie a story to some current event to make it more relevant. And I know the satisfaction of coining a clever phrase. But in the future, I hope commentators like Mr. Birnbaum will refrain from making their political points at the expense of real people who are suffering and need to be heard.