Thursday, January 16, 2014

Surprised by Pain

Dr Paul Brand and well-known author Philip Yancey wrote a book some years ago called Pain – The Gift Nobody Wants (London: Marshall Pickering, 1997). In it they suggest that pain is a very important gift from our creator and is vital to staying alive! They recognised the part that pain plays in our early training - teaching us the boundaries of safety and survival. They also found that the absence of the ability to feel pain is at the root of some of mankind's worst diseases - leprosy for instance. Their theory was that the lack of pain transmitting nerves in the extremities of sufferers leads to them being burned and disfigured by the absence of the warning stimuli that otherwise would protect them.

I can see their point, and in pain-free times I even agree with them, but pain has the power to throw a fuse in our rational mind and black-out the ability to appreciate the finer points in the work of creation.  Last weekend pain did that for me. Again.

The pain of pancreatitis is one of the worst known to man. It is not really understood why this should be, but the proximity of the pancreas to bunches of pain-carrying nerves seems to be involved. Pancreatic pain cuts through you like a sabre heated to glowing red in the campfire of your worst enemy. There was another man with this condition admitted to hospital the same time as I was.  He was in a side room and I was on the main ward, but I heard him retching and screaming like a woman in labour as he begged for relief. When this happens to me the wonderful spinal neuro stimulator that I had fitted to deal with the pain of chronic pancreatitis gets overwhelmed by the awesome surge of acute agony, and once again relief has to come from various forms of morphine and rest. I suppose my greater sorrow was at finding myself in this condition again after recent treatment had given me hope of a much longer period free from acute attacks - but that does not seem to be in the plan for me!

If intelligent design means anything, it surely means that pain is not meaningless. So I'm back to trying to thank God for the gift nobody wants and asking for the grace to cope with its consequences. And this I am glad about - the one who made me can mend me, and knows every nerve and sinew in my body. After all, Psalm 139 says that I am "fearfully and wonderfully made" and that includes my pain-carrying nervous system!