Friday, 22 May 2015

Review: The Painful Truth - What Chronic Pain is Really Like & Why it Matters to Each of Us by Lynn R Webster

Publication Date: May 4th 2015
Publisher: Lynn Webster M.D

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

The Painful Truth is a deeply intimate collection of stories about people living with disabling pain, their attempts to heal, and the challenges that we collectively face to help them survive and, ultimately, live meaningful lives. As a physician who has treated people with chronic pain for more than 30 years, I reveal in the book the difficulties that patients face dealing with chronic pain in a society which is often shamelessly prejudiced against those who are in most need of compassion and empathy. I share how those biases also affect those who treat patients with chronic pain.

My normal reading involves around 95% fiction and 5% non-fiction, and of that non-fiction I never really branch outside historical or memoirs/biographies etc. So this book is quite a departure from my usual reading and as a result my usual reviewing. However when I saw this title come up on Netgalley, I had to read it.

I’ve been in pain since I was seven. I was officially diagnosed with Chronic Pain Syndrome when I was seventeen. I am now nearly twenty seven. I don’t remember a time when I was not in pain. Unfortunately the general attitude towards CPS is to tell the person suffering that they are making it up, that they should suck it up and get on with life, that they should stop complaining. There is very little sympathy, empathy or treatment available, and that leaves you with a pretty miserable existence being ostracized by people who don’t understand and passed from Dr to Dr as each one either tells you to stop complaining, or runs out of ideas of what to do with you.

So a book about CPS is an incredibly important thing, and one that I was thrilled to discover whilst browsing Netgalley. The book is split into two sections. The first has stories from patients of Dr Webster – their individual battles with chronic pain and the ways that it has affected their lives and how they have come to deal with it. Some of them are living virtually normal lives, vastly improved through various means to help deal with the pain, whereas others are still in as much pain as they were at the start but with a better understanding of what they are dealing with, and a supportive network of friends. The second looks at the stigma surrounding CPS and what needs to change for CPS to be recognised and helped.

The book tackles all different avenues of support – family, friends, medical, spiritual – and tries to offer something for anyone reading it. If you have CPS, it offers the knowledge that you are not alone, some new ideas and thoughts, and a sense that you are not stumbling around in the dark with something no-one can understand. If you know someone who has CPS it can offer you a better understanding of what they’re going through and what they might need to support them through it. And if you have never encountered CPS then it helps to shine a light onto a criminally overlooked problem that so many people dismiss as nothing.

It could have benefitted from a heavy edit, some of the stories tended to go in circles, information was repeated several times and there were far too many patient stories. It was interesting to read so many different stories, but after the fourth one I began to get depressed and to lose interest. I had to put the book down and come back to it at a later point. There is a difference between something that is difficult to read because of the subject matter and something that is difficult to read because it hasn’t been edited properly and as a result is far too dense. Unfortunately this came down in the latter camp.
I also felt that whilst these tales were interesting and offered so many different view-points and thoughts on CPS, they didn’t actually help someone who is reading it without having experienced CPS to understand what it is like for the sufferer.

It felt towards the end as though it could easily have been an essay on the dangers and problems faced with pain medication – opioid addiction and all that comes with opioids being the predominant medication used to treat pain. There was a very heavy emphasis on this, and whilst it was interesting to start with I did find myself losing interest after a while. I wanted to see more ideas of ways to tackle CPS rather than just have them glossed over and leave the focus so heavily on medication.

However despite these issues I was incredibly glad to have read the book and hope that more people will discover it and start to look at CPS. It is a problem that so many people suffer from and yet is ignored and trivialised. I hope that this book will allow more people to begin to talk about it, for more to be done to try and ease the suffering of those who are affected, and for those who have been diagnosed with it to know that they are not alone. It is an incredibly isolating condition and one that I hope more people will come to understand.

If your interest has been piqued, but you are not yet ready to delve into a medical text then I highly recommend watching the film ‘Cake’ starring Jennifer Aniston. I haven’t seen CPS depicted so accurately before, and I hope that it’s a sign of a change in people’s perceptions and awareness.

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