Does pain really change a person – and is it for better or worse?

The following quotation is currently rattling around on the web:-

“I’m in pain… Every day. It changed me. Made me a harder person, a worse person. And now… Now I’m alone. You don’t want to be like me.”

Dr. Greg House, (“House” TV series – “House MD” over in the colonies)

But is it actually of any significance? Does pain so utterly change a person? Having been in often excruciating, and always unremitting, pain since I was struck by lightning in 1983, I feel qualified to take a stab at that.

First off, a gripe – House walks with his stick in the wrong hand. Almost everyone does on TV and in movies, and it really pisses me off. Hugh Laurie says he’s aware of it, but it makes for greater dramatic effect. Bollocks!

First of all, it’s important not to forget that House is a fictional character, a composite, embodying features and foibles sufficient for several people out in the real world, and quite definitely a bad choice as a role model, and his response to pain is considerably dramatised. But let’s take a look, first, at his drug of choice, Vicodin.

This is indicated for moderate to severe pain – so, analogous to my Dihydrocodeine then, which I take with Paracetamol. Vicodin, too, is routinely combined with Paracetamol, but in the same tablet (reduces abuse apparently), and chugging them at the rate House does would see him dying from liver failure in pretty short order (excessive Paracetamol causes irreversible liver failure). And anyway, as a doctor, you’d think he’d have access better drugs. But hey, it’s fiction!

But, to get back to the question, does pain make you into a baleful, obnoxious, ass-wipe, like House, in dire need of a good kicking? Based on my experience, no – not, at least, to the over-dramatised degree it happens in House.

People who share my Twitter timeline can’t help but notice that many people there are chronically sick and/or disabled, and in considerable pain, yet the amount of complaining is, all things considered, remarkably low.

Yes, we all have a moan from time to time, hell, we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t, but sustained bitching and whining is rare. The reason for that is, I think, simple – people in serious pain are only too aware that constantly moaning simply doesn’t help – it’s futile, it just keeps you focused on the pain when what’s really needed is distraction. And it alienates people.

There was just one guy who bitched, and whined, and grizzled, all day long – sometimes every day. Sometimes about pain, sometimes about his mental state (and he was amazingly selfish, as far as I could see, with no thought for those close to him), sometimes about how unfair his life was – he never fucking shut up. And it began to piss me off.

There this bugger was, amid people who were at least as badly off as he was, and often much worse, constantly whining. So, for the sake of my own sanity, rather than give into the temptation to tweet “STFU you whiny bastard!” (which would breach my own rules for online behaviour), I unfollowed and blocked him. There was a lot more to it than that, but to tell you would be to risk revealing his identity.

So yes, I’d say my own pain has made me intolerant of whingers, especially those who whinge with but little cause. And I do understand that people react differently to pain – the perception of pain is mostly subjective.

So let me try to that in an objective perspective for those of you on the outside looking in – if pain is sorted out by Paracetamol, that’s mild to moderate. If, say, Dihydrocodeine plus Paracetamol just about takes the edge off it, as in my case, then that’s severe edging into very severe territory.

Beyond that you’re looking at morphine and similar drugs, and I knew a young woman who had an implanted morphine pump and still got breakthrough pain – that’s a level of severity I don’t even want to contemplate, yet she rarely complained. Think on that, you members of the whinging tendency!

If I was honest, I’d say pain has made me impatient, too, which I’m aware of and try to control. But unlike House, I am totally free from the urge to wreck the lives of other people (people who, oddly, mostly don’t punch his lights out), just for my own malign entertainment, and because mine is shit.

From what I’ve seen of the TV series (I used to be a great fan, but I think it’s gone on too long now), House was no great shakes as a person even before his catastrophe – he’s always been a prick. In that respect, I think constant pain acts like alcohol. The Romans had “In vino veritas” – in wine is truth. That’s often interpreted – by, I suspect, people who don’t drink – as “drunks speak truly”.

I think that’s totally wrong – drunks just speak without inhibition (or speak scribble!), which isn’t the same thing as truth at all. No, what I believe the Romans meant is that someone who is a really good person, or an arsehole, when sober is the same when drunk – in wine is truth – the truth of the person.

Chronic pain, in my view, emphasises personality traits just as booze does. Some become evil bastards, like House and my erstwhile mother-in-law, and delight in making others miserable; others become positively serene, and would rather help others deal with their problems – and pretty much anywhere in between. And no, I’m not going to say where I feel I come on that spectrum.

There is a downside (beyond the obvious ones), to chronic pain – it affects how you look to others, especially strangers. I, apparently, look exceptionally bad-tempered. I’m not (unless I get crap beer!), but that’s how my features look in repose. Lately, though, I’ve begun to lose weight, and now I just look gaunt.

So, to sum up, chronic pain may well make you into a harder person – just to survive – but that is as likely to be an internal hardness – a tempering, a resilience, of the spirit, as it is to be, House-like, a self-centred hardness towards pretty much everybody.

Can it make you a worse person? Certainly, almost anything could, but it could equally make you a better person – whether it turns someone into Mother Theresa, Attila the Hun, or House depends entirely on the individual’s nature. Ask yourself, does my own suffering help me more easily understand the suffering of others? If the answer is No – you’re House!

And the reason House was alone is that he’s a complete and utter twat – and that’s probably bugger all to do with his pain though, to be fair, it won’t help.

There is, though – getting back to real people – the inescapable fact that constant pain does militate against developing a relationship and, indeed, all too often ends established ones and to that, I’m afraid, I have no answer.