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Endometriosis: pain and emotional turmoil ENDOMETRIOSIS: PAIN AND EMOTIONAL TURMOIL
The human body was created with pain receptors. Without them we could not survive. Pain receptors tell us, for example, when to pull our hand from a dangerously hot object. Should we come into contact with something and it pierces our skin, pain receptors tell us we are bleeding and need first aid. Pain receptors also alert us when internal organs misfunction - heads ache, kidneys throb, throats burn, a uterus cramps. Everyone knows what most of such pain is like, but it can be difficult for a person who has never experienced a wrenching, disabling pain to comprehend another's misery. A knowledge of biology, a degree from a medical school, or even compassion for another human being cannot always guarantee either understanding or correct treatment.
Why is pain such a mystery? An individual's response to bodily pain is always unique because pain is supremely subjective. Two people may be able to agree with each other about what a headache feels like and that childbirth usually causes more physical distress than a routine internal examination. They may not, however, agree about exactly which sensations and what degree of intensity constitute acute pain or an odd and persistent ache.
Each of us has a different pain threshold, which is a combination of psychological and neurological factors. At one extreme, stoics and mind-control practitioners may choose to feel no pain—some can even staunch the flow of blood from a wound by use of willpower alone. At the other extreme, hypochondriacs fervently believe in their suffering, and encourage it or create new illness. Most people fall somewhere between these two extremes. Whatever the pain—acute, throbbing, stabbing, burning, dull, aching—they can describe it accurately enough in all us varying degrees and severity so that others can understand.
This ability to communicate a private sense of pain to another gives us a chance to obtain medical help in a manner that is most effective. But what happens when communication is thwarted by a physician who invalidates a patient's report of pain, thereby invalidating the cause?
For women who have been told by doctors again and again that the pain they feel does not exist, emotional turmoil may become as much a symptom of endometriosis as the actual physical disability. As a palliative, unsympathetic doctors may prescribe Valium or other tranquilizers. Generally, when the pain persists, another doctor is consulted. Should he concur with the first, he may simply prescribe stronger tranquilizers, and a woman's illness becomes doubly wearing. Her self-doubt begins to grow as her pain increases in severity. The questions such a victim asks herself, however, remain unanswered: "How can I be creating such horrible pain? Since doctors tell me that I am to blame, bow can I stop doing this to myself?' Clearly, this situation is emotionally wrenching. Rather than follow their own inner voices, which know chat this pain means something, these women are made to feel defeated, somehow responsible—and guilty—until the disease becomes so advanced and so serious that even a minimally experienced physician is finally able to diagnose it.
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