Judy Foreman: A Nation in Pain: Healing Our Biggest Health Problem


Judy Foreman
Oxford University Press
Co-publisher: The International Association for the Study of Pain
February, 2014, $29.95
ISBN: 9780199837205

Foreman reports:

Judy Foreman
I got into all this the hard way, with excruciating neck pain that came on, seemingly out of the blue, a few years ago. I never knew this kind of pain existed, which turned out to be an important insight: If you haven’t actually felt severe, unrelenting pain yourself, it’s easy to minimize or even scoff at other people’s pain, and to assume that pain patients who need opioids are just drug seekers.

Medically, the issue was a long-lurking arthritic problem probably exacerbated by too many hours spent hunching over a new laptop. On a subjective scale of zero to 10 (there is no simple objective test for pain), even the slightest wrong move — turning my head too fast or picking up a pen from the floor — would send my pain zooming from a zero to a gasping 10.

I was stunned by how little help most doctors were. As the Boston Globe’s “Health Sense” columnist, I figured I had the best address book in town, filled with the names of hundreds of eminent doctors. But a funny thing happens when you become a powerless patient, not an on-top-of-things journalist.

The medical system I encountered as a person with pain was shockingly different from the one I thought I knew. And it was almost completely unprepared to help. That’s because, I discovered, doctors get almost no education about pain in medical school.

So, naturally, I wrote about my experience in my “Health Sense” column for the Globe — and got a huge response from readers, which inspired me to write the book.

I approached the book like any other medical story: I read widely and talked to more than 200 scientists. I interviewed three agents and picked one. I wound up with two co-publishers because two were interested, and I figured that would double the marketing power. The lead publisher is Oxford University Press, and the other is an academic group, the International Association for the Study of Pain.

Now, I’m in the midst of publicity, a much more difficult and less rewarding task than writing a book!

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