Friday, January 21, 2011

Storied Mind - Changing the Mind’s Experience of Pain: The Witness of Reynolds Price (1933 - 2011)

When I think of recovery from a terrible illness, I think of Reynolds Price. His beautiful memoir, A Whole New Life Changing the Minds Experience of Pain: The Witness of Reynolds Price, records the powerful experience of his mental and spiritual healing from the excruciating pain of a crippling illness. However, there could never be recovery from the physical impact of mostly inoperable spinal cancer. It left him a paraplegic for life.

Most of the memoir records his painful struggles of the disease's crippling progress. After surgery to relieve the tumor's pressure on the major nerves emanating from the spine, he gradually lapsed into paralysis. He also endured a brutal course of intense radiation treatment that burned and scarred a great deal of tissue. Eventually, he lost all use of his lower body and became dependent on full-time attendants. His muscles began the unpredictable spastic leaps that have continued from that time on.

But the worst and most unrelenting problem was a scalding pain that became his constant companion.

There were … hours in which I dwelt on the steep and constant rise in a pain that had many times seemed as high as I could bear. Whatever the cause … the searing burn down the length of my spine and across my shoulders and the jolting static in both my legs only soared in intensity. Like most real agony, the pain afflicted more senses than one; it often shined and roared as it burned. More than once I panicked in the glare and noise.

The initial treatment for his pain consisted entirely of drugs, from morphine through a series of antidepressants, steroids and the often addictive methadone, regularly used at that time as an alternate to heroin in treating drug addicts. Not one of these helped his pain, but as often happens, he continued taking many of them anyway. He also tried the visualization techniques originated by Carl Simonton, a pioneer in the mind-body connection approach to the treatment of cancer. His Getting Well Again Changing the Minds Experience of Pain: The Witness of Reynolds Price is a classic description of self-help techniques based on this method. Isolating visualization from the other dimensions of that approach, however, didn't work for Price.

It was only after three years of constant pain that Price began working with the Duke research program on pain prevention and management. He started with biofeedback training that helped him develop abilities to concentrate his thought on specific parts of his body to eliminate tension and pain. After mastering those skills, he worked with a psychiatrist who was an expert in the use of deep hypnosis. That was the answer. As someone susceptible to hypnotic trances, Price found these experiences completely successful in relieving all his pain. He mastered the techniques well enough to be able to counter recurrences – largely because he had a completely different mental and emotional response to what he felt as pain.

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