Why We Hurt: The Natural History of Pain

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9780151003778: Why We Hurt: The Natural History of Pain

As much as we detest pain, it remains curiously indispensable. Medical science still struggles to conquer pain, yet those who feel no pain at all live in great peril. Dr. Frank Vertosick, a practicing neurosurgeon, explores this paradox, using pain as a lens to give insight into how our bodies function. C. S. Lewis called pain God's megaphone: it gets our attention and warns us of danger. Using stories of patients in pain, Dr. Vertosick explains how pain evolved and why it functions the way it does. Beginning with his own battle against severe migraines, he goes on to explain other common pain syndromes-back pain, angina, cancer pain, arthritis, childbirth, and carpal tunnel syndrome. A fine writer and empathic physician, Dr. Vertosick combines the scientific beauty of the bestselling How We Die with the superb storytelling of Oliver Sacks. He gives us a mixture of medicine, history, anthropology, drama, inspiration, and practical advice. For people in pain, as Dr. Vertosick explains so well, knowledge is often the first, and best, analgesic.

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Review:

If you've been paying attention, you've noticed by now that pain and suffering infiltrate nearly every part of life. Whether it's an executive nursing a quiet ulcer in the boardroom or a wailing child holding a skinned knee on the playground, this uniquely unpleasant signal must be important; if it weren't, we could more easily ignore it. Neurosurgeon Frank T. Vertosick Jr. explains the evolutionary, physiological, and psychological reasons for pain in Why We Hurt: The Natural History of Pain. Not a paean to despair, the book helps to ease suffering through understanding and learning just how far we've come in the short history of palliative practice. Vertosick's long experience working with sufferers of hideously intractable pain, and his own long battle with migraine, provides depth and illustrative stories that draw the reader into what might otherwise be dry medicalese.

It's heartening to see more surgeons like Dr. Vertosick coming to accept the often-strong psychological basis of pain and appropriate nonsurgical, nonpharmacologic treatments for it. Certainly, as in the case of the woman whose trigeminal nerve was eroded by a circulatory tangle, cutting and suturing have their appropriate place. And the author found several years ago that simple acetaminophen was all he needed to stave off his headaches. His gentle explanations and usually uplifting stories help us prepare for our own episodes of suffering. Though it might seem like small comfort, learning Why We Hurt can be as powerful as the strongest narcotic, with no side effects. --Rob Lightner

From the Back Cover:

"Fascinating insight into the greatest mystery of all: what it means to be human."—The Seattle Times

Although medical science has made brilliant progress over the last century, we have yet to conquer, or even fully comprehend, pain. And as much as we fear pain, it remains curiously indispensable. A skilled writer and a compassionate physician, Dr. Frank Vertosick explores this paradox in Why We Hurt, an expertly researched and movingly told study of pain. By sharing case studies of his patients and numerous cultural and medical anecdotes, Vertosick explains the biological nature of pain, its psychological toll, and the myriad strategies we have devised to combat it. From childbirth to angina, arthritis to carpal tunnel syndrome, he puts a human face on suffering and "transmutes the lugubrious subject of pain into a provocative and edifying treatise that tightly engages the reader" (The New York Times Book Review).

"[Vertosick] tells personal anecdotes about his own migraines and crafts stories of emergency room horrors with a deft sense of suspense and timing. [He] is writing for a wide audience, and at least in part for chronic-pain sufferers he ends with an inspirational flourish of advice."—Chicago Tribune

"Fascinating . . . Falls squarely in the territory of Oliver Sacks."—Newsday

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Vertosick Jr., Frank T.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2000)
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Vertosick Jr., Frank T.
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