Although there was only a small turn out for the commission’s “Pain Awareness Open House” on October 10, I received some much needed encouragement from an activity at the event.
Two OPMC members participated on an interview panel to discuss the personal aspects of living with pain. Dr. Tom Carr is a physician who works at the VA and had previously participated in a National Public Radio “Story Corps” project in which he interviewed pain patients to give them the opportunity to share their pain stories. Coleen Carlisle is a Public Member of the commission who has lived with pain for almost twenty-five years. Since no audience members volunteered to participate, Dr. Carr interviewed Coleen by asking her a number of questions including: “What are some of the most important lessons that living with chronic pain has taught you?” “What are you most proud of during the period you have lived with chronic pain?”
The discussion that emerged from this conversation was both enlightening and inspiring. Coleen noted that living with chronic pain has taught her to be more patient and understanding in interactions with other individuals because “you never know what they may be dealing with that you don’t see or understand.”
She also repeated some of her essential beliefs about chronic pain that she included in her written application to be a member of the commission. “Over the years I have found that chronic pain does not define me, but rather, is just part of my life. I have found that I am not a victim. In the time that I have lived with chronic pain, I have been very active in finding as much information as possible about my condition and how to treat it. I have participated very closely with my health care team.”
One of the things that Coleen does to give meaning to her life is to participate in the work of the commission. “I would like to do everything I can to help other patients that live with chronic pain to not become victims and to be involved in their own care. I would like to help them to become their own best advocates... I also serve on the commission to help educate the public about those living with chronic pain. To let them know the majority of these people want to be productive members of their families and in their communities.”
I have collaborated with Coleen since she began serving on the commission in June 2012, so her answers were no surprise to me. Coleen arrives early at every commission meeting with a smile on her face and the first question she usually asks is, “What can I do to help?” She leads a full and active life that is a healthy model even for those of us who don’t have pain management issues! Her positive outlook, enthusiasm, and inquisitiveness are a testimony to a life well-lived, in spite of living with chronic pain.
Coleen’s message of encouragement came at just the right time for me. I will soon be leaving my work on the Oregon Pain Management Commission as my family and I relocate out of state. It is a little daunting to be leaving Oregon after living and working as a registered nurse in the Willamette Valley for over 27 years. However, I take heart from Coleen’s “can do” approach to life and look forward to this next adventure in my life.
I wanted to take this last opportunity to thank those of you who have invited me into your life as the Pain Management Coordinator. I have exchanged many e-mails and phone calls with individuals who have shared the poignant details of their lives as they live with pain of one kind or another. I appreciate the information, concerns, and expectations that you have shared. I appreciate all that you have taught me about living with pain.
I hope I have been able to provide you with relevant answers, optimism and hope. I leave you in the hands of a very dedicated, experienced and expert group of professionals who serve as commission members. I leave you with a wish for improved health, decreased pain and a life well-lived.
Kathy Kirk, RN