The Gift of Connection, Communication for Managing Pain

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Everyone who knows me would probably agree that I was blessed with the gift of gab. I also have been told I am a people connector. I suppose this is true because I was raised in a family with a genuine desire to know people, and an ingrained flair for writing. I carried that gift into my nursing career, where I further developed the skill for listening and communicating effectively with patients.

I believe you

A while back, I had the honor of attending a presentation by fellow advocate friend, Lynn Webster, M.D., retired pain specialist and past president of the American Academy of Pain Management. The gathering was to hear about his book, “The Painful Truth,” and “The Painful Truth Documentary,” now showing on PBS. Dr. Webster is a leader in his field because of his education and experience, but it is his heartfelt desire to help those living in pain that shines.

At the gathering, Dr. Webster shared how he was impacted by his patient’s primal release of emotions when he said these three words, “I believe you.” That statement, those three words, validate he is listening, really listening, to his patients, and helps them feel connected to him.

Loss of communication

In my HealthCentral interview with Lacy Fowler, arachnoiditis delegate for the International Pain Foundation, Lacy said, “I had lost so much of myself due to untreated pain, and others have too. Ironically, development of arachnoid chronicles became a healing process. My pain has helped me blossom into a better person.” You see, she didn’t know she had a diagnosis of this rare disease until she gathered up her medical records on a quest to get answers. The lack of communication negatively affected Lacy for many years.

Patients as teachers, clinicians as learners

What we talk about with our loved ones may not be as important as how we engage in conversation. At a Center for Practical Bioethics symposium, we learned all about the skillful art of asking questions and listening to the answers.

One of the psychiatrists speaking offered the suggestion that physicians ask open-ended statements such as, "How is your family?" I am still uncertain if he understood the implications of that question for the person living with chronic pain. If asked, the answer to that question could give the physician an inside look at coping strategies and the support someone living with pain has at home.

The gift

If you live with chronic pain, you know stigma and disbelief can affect our relationships. Mostly, it’s born from ignorance that can be changed by the power of human interaction. When my mother was alive, I took her to doctor appointments. I was always amazed at her desire to know more about those caring for her. To my mother that meant, their credentials, their ethnic background and anything more they could teach her, how many kids they had, if any, if their family was close by, their hobbies, and more.

Ironically, in return, the doctor, nurse, or other health care professional wanted to know more about her, not just her medical complaints, but her family, how we supported her, and her abilities as an artist despite pain and disfigurement from arthritis. She had the gift of communication, and because I shared that meaningful time with her, now I do too.

So as we gather together for the holidays (or, really, any time of the year when we see family members and friends), let’s do better. We can’t change what others may do, but we can change what we do. Ask those questions you always wanted to ask, and be prepared to listen to the answer. The gift is in the gathering, in the connection we forge with others, if we use it wisely.

See more helpful articles:

12 Ways to Be a Better Communicator

Practical Advice for Building Doctor-Patient Trust

10 Must-Watch TED Talks That Every Person With A Chronic Illness Will Relate To