All through my life I have been a witness to the pain and suffering of others. I grew up in a home where our mother lived through the constant agony of chronic pain and disability, I have been there to see loved ones struggle to the end of their battles with terminal illnesses, and I have supported others in the pain they have been experiencing. Yet, other than perhaps the toothache, I have not been the victim of serious pain. Now having gone through serious and invasive surgery I have real experience of the immediate attention grabbing power of physical pain. It should be given another name. Real pain is not like the toothache – not in the least. Real pain is not local. It is general. Real pain paralyses the mind and the imagination. It makes the sufferer almost completely self-centred. I will be the first to admit that when the thermo-nuclear blast of pain exploded across my body it was all about me. I couldn’t care less what fresh hell anyone else was going through; I wanted – I needed – painkillers. Only in the aftermath of pain relief did I manage to get an unflattering image of myself as a selfish coward.

Was my pain suffering? I don’t think so. However much pain I felt in my body I was in a place where pain was always relative. Around every corner there were people in greater pain. Some coped with it better than others, but each pain was unique to the sufferer. What was strange was the level of suffering; some with the least pain suffered the most, and others in the most pain suffered the least. Pain is somehow connected with the body, while suffering seems to be about a state of mind. What I came to realise was that my pain was very real, while my suffering was completely illusory. Most of my suffering was about being stuck in hospital, and not about the physical pain that I was feeling. Painkillers dealt with the pain, but the suffering remained. Nowhere in the hospital was there a pill to take away the suffering. Suffering, like pain, has to be unique to the person, and therefore its remedy too has to be in some way unique. For me, my suffering began to evaporate as I moved my focus from the self to the other. All about me there were people in pain, and people suffering. Meeting others on that road lessened my own sense of suffering, and I hope that it lessened theirs.


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