“There are no drugs to treat suffering. But giving meaning to an illness through the creation of a story is one way in which physicians can relieve suffering.” [Eric Cassell]
I notice that when patients are suffering from joint pain, they want a diagnosis and a treatment, but they also want something more. Often, they want their story to be heard in its entirety, and to be affirmed in what they are going through. Listening without interrupting and validating a patient’s experiences can be just as therapeutic as the medications I prescribe.
Humans are meaning-making creatures, and we want our experiences, both the good and bad, to make sense in the full context and tapestry of our lives. Arthritis often interrupts the cohesive narrative of our lives and makes us wonder, “Why am I having these symptoms? What good could possibly come from it? Am I going to be okay in the long run?”
Identifying how a patient’s pain has affected their daily living, their ability to do activities that were previously easy for them, and helping them mourn a loss of a previous part of themselves, can help give meaning and hope to their suffering. It is this hope that eventually helps patients transcend the difficulty of arthritis to find a new way of living and cope with the uncertainty of their circumstances. They are better able to accept they journey they have been on to get to this point, and to start a new journey of healing and recovery.