Stopp, Victoria. “Hurting Like Hell, Living with Gusto: My Battle with Chronic Pain”, (McFarland Health Topics), McFarland, 2017.
The Nature of Pain
Sometimes we forget that there are aspects of life over which we have little or no control. These include death and pain. Death will always be a mystery simply because no one who has experienced it can tell us about it and it remains “scary”. Pain, on the other hand, is something everyone deals with and is consciously aware of it. Of course, no one wants to be in pain and we often forget that pain is sending us a message that there is something going wrong in our bodies. Then there is the pain that comes when the dentist gives us a Novocain shot but we also understand that this is done to prevent more serious pain. We all have pain and like Virginia Stopp says it is an “unforgiving equalizer” with no regard for social status, race or gender. Pain can be a pain for those who suffer from it chronically since it involves finding out its source and to do so there are seemingly endless appointments, diagnoses, prescriptions and medical bills.
In the preface to this book, writer Stopp tells us that she had no concept of chronic pain until it took hold of her life and transformed it. She is, by profession, an Emergency Medical Technician so she knows what suffering is and has a sense of how to deal with it but we all know that regardless of how well trained we are, we have difficulties dealing with what happens on a personal level (and I will get to that).
Stopp shares what it is to be a health-care professional and a patient and she does so with candor and grace as he life changes and she has to live with pain that is often debilitating. The expression, “I feel your pain” comes very much alive in the pages of this book.
Because of her profession, she saw a great deal of suffering and hurt but she tells us that she “never saw others’ torment as something” that she would have to deal with herself one day. She certainly never thought that pain would threaten everything she did. So when she had to deal with chronic pain, she had to learn what that meant and how to deal with in. Somehow she felt that this pain would leave her but in this she was wrong. Doctors , although they tied, were unable to help her and this devastated her. She was surprised at how easy it was to get doctors to write prescriptions for narcotics and life took on a new meaning. She learned that her pain was really “hers” and that no one else could imagine how it affected her.
But Stopp learned something else from her pain and that was that she was the only person responsible for her life and that she was in control of it. She also learned that she could never give up for to do so was to lose control. Perhaps, the most difficult thing that she faced was how to ask for help and that there is no shame in doing so.
Now you might ask yourself why anyone would want to read a book about pain and I can answer that succinctly— the prose in this book is gorgeous and we get to meet a real person who chose the words to tell her story. Stopp shares her emotions and thoughts in ways that allow us to identify with her and if we want to include her bouts with her chronic pain, we can do so or not. This is Victoria Stopp’s story and she is a fine storyteller. Besides, how much pain can she write about? While that pain is crucial to her story, this is also the story of a vibrant woman who is determined to succeed despite what life throws at her and succeed she does. We all love stories in which characters beat the antagonist. They give us hope that one day we will be able to do the same. This is so much more than just a beautiful read. It is a memoir to be cherished and referred to when we are feeling down.