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Perception of Pain

It starts as a dull sensation just below my rib cage, as if someone is trying to blow up a balloon inside me. Despite the expanding discomfort, I try to focus on my breathing. Without the ability to fully exhale, it’s difficult to calm my nervous system and avoid the dark places my thoughts are taking me: It’s an abdominal aortic aneurysm, gallstone pancreatitis, a perforated ulcer!

There isn’t room for more reasonable explanations until I sit up in bed and turn on the lights. Maybe it’s just indigestion from eating dinner too fast, or the greasy empanadas I got for lunch from the food truck outside our clinic. The pain eventually subsides after routine home care.

The next morning, the ache is still present in my upper abdomen, but it’s not as intense. As I cross Dumbarton Bridge on the way to work, the sun’s blood-orange crown is just beginning to peek over the hills. I imagine the light of its blessings passing through me and feel held in the sun’s benevolent embrace.

I know I can always walk over to urgent care and ask for an abdominal ultrasound or a CT scan to assess my internal structures and any possible pathology. Having worked in family medicine for twenty years, I’m trained to recognize disease states and to consider worst-case scenarios to ensure that I don’t miss anything potentially fatal.

I’m also trained to place a stethoscope on a body and listen for the symphony of life on the other end – the percussion of the beating heart, the woodwind-like breath sounds, the digeridoo belly rumbles. As I place my hands on each patient today, the sun’s energy flows through them to offer something beyond compassionate care. It feels like awe –  a combination of gratitude and wonder for the sanctity of life, mixed with fear for humanity’s susceptibility to illness.

Pain will always be a part of our lives. Perhaps it’s the perception of pain that renders it sacred or profane—or some place in between.

Kaveri Patel
Palo Alto, California


7 thoughts on “Perception of Pain”

  1. Andrea, I appreciate the notion of ‘right field’. If I remember medicine as an abstract art and more than just an exact science, new dimensions open up. May you find wonder and compassion in your chosen field.

    Michelle, the notion of rest as medicine is an exquisite gift. I’m glad you listened to your body and offered what was most needed. Well done in finding that balance!

  2. It’s amazing that you took a marvelous gift that on any given day we take for granted that provides us literal nutrients most of our bodies are starved for. It’s mystery, it’s beauty, it’s warmth. You let it shine it’s nourishing glow upon you and then you pocketed some healing beauty too bestow upon your patients. That kind of warmth can calm even the most rattled nerves with pain. I live with undiagnosed cyclical pain… recently diagnosed with another pain issue that popped up…. A very rare condition…. Epiploic appendagitis. So relieved that although the pain and symptoms effected me , that it was only rest that I needed for this appendage to uncoil itself and find itself comfortably pulsing in tune with the mastery of the rest of my body to all form together a melody that is the function of the miracle of me.

  3. What a blessing to be able to have the knowledge to help people, And the pain that comes with it to know about possible worst case scenarios, as you rule them out
    For them and for you. Some days I really
    Wonder if I chose the right field to work in day to day. It’s can be very hard.
    Your words are beautiful as they remind me that no matter where we are at in health, we can always appreciate the sunsrise and feel compassion for others and self.

  4. Virginia, that’s a lovely way of putting it. Mirroring hope and beauty when it feels hopeless and discouraging.

    Beth, thank you. It’s easy to forget on a busy day, and so important to pause and remember.

  5. I love how you took the sun’s embrace you received on your drive to work and passed it on to each of your patients. Beautiful.

  6. Virginia L Taylor

    I appreciate the weaving of humanity’s pain and the healing energy of nature. Perhaps part of any western prescription should be to find the sunrise.

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