The Language of Pain: Finding Words, Compassion, and Relief

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Overview

David Biro breaks through the wall of silence in this impassioned, hopeful work.
Pain regularly accompanies illness, as David Biro knows only too well. Faced with a bone marrow transplant, the young doctor was determined to study his pain but found himself unable to articulate its depths, even to his doctors and wife. He has now discovered a way to break through the silent wall of suffering—physical and psychological—and wants to share it with others. In his new book, the ...

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Overview

David Biro breaks through the wall of silence in this impassioned, hopeful work.
Pain regularly accompanies illness, as David Biro knows only too well. Faced with a bone marrow transplant, the young doctor was determined to study his pain but found himself unable to articulate its depths, even to his doctors and wife. He has now discovered a way to break through the silent wall of suffering—physical and psychological—and wants to share it with others. In his new book, the critically acclaimed author expertly weaves together compelling stories and artwork from patients along with insights from some of our greatest thinkers, writers, and artists.
In the tradition of Susan Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor, Biro’s groundbreaking book is sure to transform our understanding of and ability to communicate pain. Language can alleviate the loneliness of pain and improve the chances that other people—family, friends, and doctors—empathize and respond most effectively.

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Editorial Reviews

Perri Klass - The Washington Post
“[E]rudite and ambitious....Biro brings an extraordinary range of voices into this silence and moves through a huge variety of experience and narrative, without straying too far from the bedside.”
Andrew Solomon
“A literate and deeply felt work of medical philosophy that ponders the subtle mystery of how words give meaning to—and even relief from—corporeal and psychic anguish.”
Publishers Weekly
Here's a pain medication you can't get at the pharmacy. Biro, an M.D. with a Ph.D. in literature from Oxford, asserts that language itself can alleviate pain—particularly its daunting power to isolate and silence. “Illness and especially pain give rise to a wall that separates a person from the world,” because pain literally leaves us speechless, Biro finds. What sufferers must do, he asserts, is find the words and images to describe what nobody else feels in exactly the same way. “We need to think like Joyce and Tolstoy,” Biro declares, and search for metaphors that are universal. His thoughtful, lyrical challenge is, in essence, a study guide to some of the last century's most powerful writers, their metaphors of pain and suffering parsed and pondered. Biro even turns to evocative artist Frida Kahlo to illustrate the look of pain (portraying herself as a wounded deer, for example). And here's why we should pay attention to Biro's difficult, complicated lesson: “as long as the conversation lasts, we are not alone.” (Jan.)
Library Journal
Biro, a practicing physician, explores a concept that many patients have a difficult time communicating—pain. Biro is able to bridge the gap between patient and doctor because he has experience from both sides, having received a bone marrow transplant as a young doctor. He also presents a history of pain and how it has been expressed through everything from art to rating charts to novels, compiling the stories and artwork of ordinary patients in addition to considerations of pain from writers, philosophers, and artists. Though Biro's previous work, One Hundred Days: My Unexpected Journey from Doctor to Patient, is a stand-alone, it would be a useful companion reading to explore where his journey began. VERDICT This well-researched book will be helpful to medical professionals and psychologists as well as those who suffer from chronic or extreme pain, offering encouragement and inspiration for explaining their experiences to their doctors.—Helena Travka, Cleveland P.L.\
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393070637
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/18/2010
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

One of New York magazine’s Top Doctors, David Biro, MD, practices in Brooklyn, New York, and teaches at the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center. He lives with his wife and twin boys in New York City.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 21, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Pain: The Language of Agony

    This is an incredible book. I suffer from chronic pain (fibromyalgia) and am permanently disabled due to this and other pain inducing disorders. I also have a PhD in psychology, and, ironically, prior to becoming disabled 5 years ago, my sub-specialty was working with patients with physical disabilities, one-third of whom have chronic pain issues.
    Pain and I are intimate "friends." At 7 I was hospitalized for a MONTH with unrelenting, agonizing pain in my hip; no doctor could find a cause. My shrill screams filled the silent hallways of the hospital corridors, as my foot was tethered to the bed's end to keep my hip in traction. My visceral, hysterical sobs begged the nurses, "No more shots!"
    But they had to follow "Doctor's Orders:" deep intramuscular injections in my frontal thighs 3 times a day. Bloodied and scabbed then, my thighs still bear the hundreds of pin-point scars.
    A miracle occured in the form of a "brilliant, Black surgeon" (my mother's phrase & praise). Major surgery on my hip revealed all: a MASSIVE abscess. Two cups of pus were sucked out of my skinny, 7 yr.-old hip, and a 10 inch scar, shaped like a thick, crescent moon, was all that remained.
    Or so I thought. Years, and many other surgical procedures later, I now have fibromylagia, & severe osteoarthritis in many places in my spine and sacroiliac joints (which connect your back to your legs). 4 herniated discs in my neck. CFIDS/ME. And the list goes on.
    Pain, pain. pain. Pain that caused me to see doctor after doctor, starting when I was 18. I know they doubted me, and that doubt caused me to doubt myself. Was I nuts? Exaggerating? An hyertical female? Just whining & complaining too much? Depressed, anxious? "Somatizing" too much? (Oh, just stop focusing on those "normal" aches & pains).
    We NEED to have a new language for pain, as Dr. Biro so cogently suggests. We NEED new NOVEL ways of expressing this inherently subjective, personal yet UNIVERSAL experience. We CAN describe this breathless experience when we DO catch our breath. People like me, with severe experiences of both acute & chronic pain, owe this to our fellow humans. We have suffered in our silences. We have suffered in our
    desperate attempts to communicate our agony. Suffering FROM our attempts to communicate our suffering MUST stop. Health-care practitioners need to learn to LISTEN to us, without doubt. That is their RESPONSIBILITY. But we, the sufferers, must devise new ways of catching their attention, and that is OUR responsibility. Yes, it is hard. Yes, we sometimes feel as if we cannot speak one more word, lest we lose our what is left of our precious sanity. But speak we MUST. And Dr. Biro has given us that impetus in his incredibly crafted work.
    Pain is as real as temperature, pulse, blood pressure & respiration. It IS the 5th "Vital" Sign, as now recognized by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Care Organizations (JCAHO). The accurate diagnosis & appropriate treatment of pain IS vital, because untreated pain is an absolute destroyer. It destroys families. It destroys an individual's ability to work, love, laugh. It destroys, in effect, LIFE.
    Thank you, Dr. Biro. Your book has created a paradigm shift in my life, and quantum leaps such as these are few and far between. Write on!

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    Posted January 30, 2010

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    Posted January 7, 2010

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    Posted January 15, 2010

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