Pain vs. suffering: why they’re not the same for patients

by Carolyn Thomas      @HeartSisters

dont-forget-about-me-4225379_1280I’ve written a lot (here, here, and here, for example) about cardiac pain, because I live with cardiac pain called refractory angina due to a pesky post-heart attack diagnosis of coronary microvascular disease. This pain varies, but it hits almost every day, sometimes several episodes per day, and it can feel very much like the symptoms I experienced while busy surviving what doctors call the widow maker heart attack in 2008.

But there’s pain, and then there’s suffering. The two are not the same.

I spent many years working in the field of hospice palliative care, where we all learned the legendary Dame Cicely Saunders‘ definition of what she called total pain”.(1)  This is the suffering that encompasses ALL of a person’s physical, psychological, social, spiritual, and practical struggles. Although addressing total pain is an accepted component of providing good end-of-life care for the dying, the concept seems to be often ignored in cardiac care for the living. Continue reading “Pain vs. suffering: why they’re not the same for patients”

The “loss of self” in chronic illness is what really hurts

by Carolyn Thomas     @HeartSisters

People living with chronic illness already know that the triple whammy of ongoing physical symptoms, psychological distress and the discomfort of medical procedures can cause us to suffer. But when California sociologist Dr. Kathy Charmaz studied chronic illness, she identified an element of suffering that is often dismissed by health care providers.(1)

As she explained in research published in the journal Sociology of Health & Illness, a narrow medicalized view of suffering that’s defined as physical symptoms only ignores or minimizes the broader significance of suffering in a way that may resonate with you if you too live with a chronic illness like heart disease:    

Continue reading “The “loss of self” in chronic illness is what really hurts”

Marilyn Gardner’s “Stupid Phrases for People in Crisis”


Note from Carolyn:  This guest post is republished here with the kind permission of its original author Marilyn Gardner, who writes on Communicating Without Boundaries about cross-cultural communication, with an emphasis on faith and third culture kids. Marilyn grew up in Pakistan, lived and worked in Pakistan and Egypt as an adult, and moved to the United States where she is learning to live away from curry, Urdu, Arabic and the Pyramids.  She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, 15 minutes from the international terminal where she flies to the Middle East and Pakistan as often as possible. 

Despite the pervasive popularity of the following cliché reassurances, Marilyn asks that you please leave the following well-meaning but unhelpful platitudes at home whenever you’re trying to comfort a person who is suffering during any kind of personal crisis – including a cardiac emergency:

  • God will never give you more than you can handle.  While some may believe it is theologically correct, depending on your definitions, it is singularly unhelpful to the person who is neck-deep in a crisis, trying to swim against a Tsunami. A wonderful phrase recently came from Support for Special Needs. They suggest changing this from “God will never give you more than you can handle” to “Let me come over and help you do some laundry.” This strikes me as even more theologically correct.