HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Akron Univ. School of Law

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Monday, September 11, 2006

Chronic Pain

PrawfsBlawg has a moving piece about chronic pain that I thought you might find interesting.  Here is a brief excerpt:

At Prawfsblawg, we've often lauded the scholarly and more informal writings of Bill Stuntz of Harvard Law School.  This week, in the New Republic, he has a strikingly more autobiographical piece describing his struggles with chronic pain stemming from an intractable back problem.  The cutline suggests Stuntz is writing a book on the topic as well.  Some of what he has to say:

    • I used to think the "chronic" part of chronic pain was the really bad part. Now I'm not so sure. Neverending pain wears you down; it's exhausting. But, on the whole, I think I'd rather have constant pain than the variable kind. . . . Pain is largely about the gap between expectation and reality: the distance between what you feel now and what your mind tells you you're supposed to feel. As reality slides downhill, expectations slide, too. Which makes reality feel less awful.
    • Something very important follows from this. Hope hurts; optimism amplifies suffering. The pain-free, healthy world is gone; this is my world now.
    • Work feels more satisfying, even though it's much harder to do. . . . Athletes have a terrific expression for this phenomenon: They say, "He left it all on the field," meaning there was nothing held back; the reserves were all spent. These days, I leave it all on the field--because there isn't any good alternative.

Stuntz's piece compels me to share some observations.  We're not normally about sharing here at Prawfsblawg, but what the hell.  I speak as someone who has had arthritis since the age of 4, who is the not-so-proud possessor of two artificial hips (implanted at the too-early age of 21), and who, alas, also suffers from some of the same back problems that Stuntz deals with.  My students are all too used to my classroom pattern of switching between brief stints of standing and longer spells in a chair at the front of the class.  (I might add that they are entirely gracious about it.).

The entire piece is well worth a read and the author has significant insights in dealing with chronic pain.   Thanks to Professor Paul Caron for sharing this article with me.

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