Pain Shared Is Pain Halved

“A problem shared is a problem halved” is a proverb that applies to the subject of coping well with chronic painful conditions such as those from which I suffer.

Albert Einstein once said: ‘I never think of the future, it comes soon enough’.
From my own experience, when suffering pain, as I deliberately concentrate on other matters, time not only begins to race by, but my pain is not so intense and I do not find it so hard to bear. I want to encourage those multitudes of people who live with chronic pain to put a FIGHTING SPIRIT into their hearts. 

I developed shingles 14 years ago on my 80th birthday. Not only is the eruption of blisters painful at the time, pain can remain long after the skin has healed and is reckoned to be one of the most painful conditions anyone could have. The Danish people call it, quite rightly in my opinion, “Hell fire”. My post-herpetic neuralgia has not been cured; the pain is if anything worse now than when I first had the condition. I have had to learn to endure it.

I have survived because I am a fighter. I’m working with all the little might and strength that is left in my old body. I firmly believe that from the beginning of my 80th year to the present time have been the most productive years of my life, writing three full length books and many short pamphlets.

Even though I am 94 and confined to bed, I often joke, “I haven’t got time to die!”

I am therefore well qualified to encourage you to win through, Don’t just attempt to bear the pain, but keep thinking, as Einstein said, not on what disaster might happen tomorrow, but on what you can do right now and you will find that the pain will not be so hard to bear. There are two effects of living in pain, the actual pain itself and its mind-sapping consequences. As pain specialists recognise and can demonstrate with objective tests, a positive mental attitude, distraction and anything which absorbs you attention increases your pain threshold and diminishes the suffering of chronic pain.

I believe the experiences of my childhood and being a fighter pilot taught me the mental strength I now use to combat the mental inertia and help me to endure the suffering I now face constantly. My father was gassed during World War I and was seriously ill as a consequence. We had to make many adjustments to our lives because of this. We left  England for the warmer climate of South Africa to help my father’s breathing. Despite all our expectations, he lived until he was 70, while my mother died of a brain tumour when I was in my early teens. 

Early experiences of pain

On the farm in Natal I attempted to pole vault a small pond and broke my ankle. That was my first real experience of physical pain. That was followed by a riding accident when I was teaching my horse to jump. He shied, hitting my kneecap on a sharp spike jutting out from the side of my horse-jump. That pain was excruciating for a long time.

When training with the South African Air Force Elementary Flying School at Baragwaneth I had a crash landing and injured my back badly. I had just been cleared to fly solo and was practising upper air flying stalls, spins and sharp turns in the Tiger Moth biplane. I came into land and as my wheels and my tail wheel were about to touch ground in what I thought was going to be a perfect 3-point landing when suddenly the plane became completely uncontrollable and I crashed. A tiny, fast-moving dust storm had roared across  the landing strip and hit my plane at the moment of touch down. Fortunately I had a tight-fitting leather flying helmet  which protected my head when it hit the compass. I undid my full shoulder harness and scrambled out of the plane, but my back was hurting quite severely. A few moments later  the Commanding Officer (CO) and the Chief Flying Instructor (CFI) arrived in a staff car and told me that the accident wasn’t my fault. 

When they asked me if I was alright, I was not prepared to admit that my back felt bad because I knew I would never get my pilot’s wings. I endured the pain for the rest of WWII

A few more years slipped by before I experienced any more agonising pain. In 1950 I resigned my Permanent Service Commission with the South African Defence Force, and went to the Sudan to one of the remotest mission stations in the world with my wife, Kay, and three young children to be the first operational mission pilot in Africa with the recently formed Mission Aviation Fellowship.

One day I was looking at a massive, virtually hollow, Baobab tree when a bee attacked me, stinging me in my nostril. African bees have a reputation for being aggressive and are larger than English honeybees. It caused my face to swell alarmingly, sometimes the swelling is bad enough to block the windpipe and Kay and I were afraid I might not make it for a while. There was no doctor within reach who could help me. I lay on the cool concrete floor to make my fiery face feel less painful.  Kay bathed my face with water, but nothing helped.

In Africa I saw first-hand how courageous the Africans are when it comes to pain.  Some of the tribes with whom I worked as a missionary pilot in Africa are only acknowledged as adults after they have gone through very painful initiation rites. Their cheeks are cut with spears and ash is rubbed into the cuts to make sure that when they heal, visible scars remain for all to see. At the ceremony, the women and young girls watch.  If the young lad shows any sign of fear or discomfort he would be despised by them all.

I am sure that these examples have helped me to become more courageous and have helped to develop in me a fighting spirit. What surprises me is that there do not seem to be any pain clubs. I used to talk to Spitfire clubs about my war experiences which may have benefitted those with post-traumatic stress and I am sure other pain sufferers would be helped by contact with those who had also experienced severe pain, people  such as me who would help them maintain their fighting spirit.

When I went to the doctor, he asked me quite directly,
“Do you want to remain alive?”

“Yes! I want to outlive my wife of 62 years who is now 93 and I also want to live because I desperately want to get my next book ‘Fighting for Love Purity Marriage and Family Life’ published. ”

“If that’s what you want, I’ll do all in my power to keep you alive”
This wonderful doctor has admirably kept that promise.

Kay died in March 2012 and I was just strong enough to be able to chair Kay’s Memorial Service and I was very grateful to Stuart King and Lyndon Bowring for their support and participation. Stuart King is President Emeritus of Mission Aviation Fellowship with whom Kay and I worked for 20-years, both in Africa and then in the UK for 17-years. Lyndon Bowring is the Executive Chairman for Christian Action Research and Education (CARE) whom Kay and I have known since the early Festival Of Light days.

Soon after Kay’s Memorial Service I foolishly overdosed myself with Tramadol as a result of not consulting my doctor after a conversation with a 23-year-old young lady who has been fighting pain all her life. One day I hope you will be able to read the story of this courageous young lady. The Tramadol caused me to vomit badly. I thought I might be able to sort out what I should do on the phone to one of the ambulance men who over many years have kept  this young lady topped up with morphine, but that was not possible.
I had to call in the paramedics who after being with me for about an hour found that I had other things wrong with me that necessitated my going to hospital.

In hospital they were not very concerned about the nausea, as they knew it would soon clear up. But they were concerned that I had quite a serious urinary infection and a minor chest infection that needed antibiotic treatment.

That evening I was put into an Elderly Patients’ ward in Worthing Hospital.  One man opposite me struggled out of bed on his own.  He was so unsteady on his feet that I sensed he would soon crash to the floor.  I shouted for the nurses, but no one heard.  He had a horrific fall and was in terrible pain for the rest of the time I was in that ward. one day while I was there, the man next to me died unexpectedly soon after his family had left.

It was so noisy that I could not sleep and the staff eventually kindly put me into a private ward. One night I rang the bell for a bottle, but the staff were so busy that no one came. My wheeler frame was out of reach and as my loo was only a few yards away I decided to make my way to it without the frame, but I never made it. I fell awkwardly, damaging my knee and breaking my hip. I had to be hoisted back into bed in pain.

Next day I was operated on under local anaesthetic because they felt I was too frail to survive a general anaesthetic. The operation was easy to cope with, but the recovery was horrifically painful. They had to cut through the muscles and rejoin them with ten stitches.

I had always thought that a hip operation was not very serious. How wrong I was!
After I got home I asked my doctor, “Do any of your patients die after they have broken their hips?   “One quarter of my broken hip patients die after their operation”, he responded. much to my surprise.

I would like to warn you, keep your thigh muscles strong by doing exercises if you need to spend any time recovering in bed and take care not to do anything that might precipitate a fall. Do anything to avoid a fall. Do ask for a frame and practice using it rather than risk breaking your hip, they can be borrowed from the Red Cross on a long term basis, your surgery nurse can advise you about this service.

After being back at home for a few weeks with carers coming in every day, I woke up one morning with a limp hand; I had suffered a mini-stroke during the night.  I was whisked back to hospital for urgent treatment. I had only been there a few days when I caught the hospital’s worst infectious disease called C. Difficile, which resulted in my being in an isolation ward for nearly a month. Everyone who came through my door had to be covered from head to foot with a disposable apron and disposable rubber gloves.

This was the most horrific experience of my life affecting my bladder, my bowels, my memory and my ability to think straight. Two weeks in such claustrophobic conditions gave me such a horror of hospitals that I never want to go back.

Now I am back at home with carers who come twice a day. It is my work that keeps me alive. I am not afraid of dying. I have certainty that I shall have a future for eternity in heaven. I say in a leaflet I give to all my carers “the best is yet to be”. I’ve called it “Personal to You” and it is available from me on request. That little leaflet is all about getting ready to move out of this body into eternity.
This booklet “Pain Shared is Pain Halved” has been written to be an encouragement to all you pain sufferers to fight back and never give in even when you feel it’s not worth the effort to fight to stay alive. This booklet has been written also to encourage my readers to consider forming a PAIN CLUB in their town. There seems to be a complete absence of pain clubs which I believe should be formed everywhere for millions of people, one in every town. “For  pain  shared  is  pain  halved”

Because the muscles in my left leg are still so weak there is a possibility that it might not take my weight, so I use my wheeler frame and hold onto its rails very tightly and put my head well forward so if I do stumble I might be able to prevent myself from ending up on the floor. This safety precaution has worked excellently and I have never felt insecure, but because my head is so far forward and looking down, I can’t see the faces of my carers. One day I felt a little stronger and turned my head up to look at them as I was standing, which meant I was leaning backwards and knew I was off balance and about to crash. Just in time I was able to regain my balance and to get my head forward and down again.

A few days later that happened again. Had I crashed I might easily have cracked my skull open on something as I fell. Then the words of Psalm 91:9-12 came into my mind.

“If you make the Lord your refuge,
and if you make the Most High your shelter,
no evil will conquer you;
no plague will come near your home
For he will order his angels
to protect you wherever you go.
They will hold you up with their hands
so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.”  (New Living Testament)

In future when attempting to move around I will not only do all I can to prevent myself from falling, I will call upon my guardian angel to help me.