There is Always Hope

At the time of article submission, it has become difficult to talk about anything other than the coronavirus. There seems to be a climate of worldwide concern, if not fear. Countermeasures, closures and bans are being announced by the hour. It is with this backdrop of uncertainty that I offer some words of hope related to my own branch of health expertise, and perhaps indirectly, for the worldwide health concern at large.

The silver lining about problems like back pain is there is always another option. There is always reason for hope. I often describe these options as steps on a staircase or rungs on a ladder. When option A doesn’t work, you go to option B, and so on.

By the time most people have come to see me they’re already on the third or fourth rung of the ladder. The first step involves doing nothing and hoping the pain goes away. Sometimes this works. In medical jargon we call this “natural history”. It’s a testament to our body’s impressive ability to heal itself. The second step usually calls for over-the-counter pain killers, which I discussed in the last two instalments. The third step focuses around some kind of personal effort to rest, stretch or exercise. All the while the individual maintains the hope that this will do the trick. Somewhere between the first three steps many will also resort to heat, ice or their favourite muscle rub.

Next, running out of some patience but still hopeful, people appear in my office: Step four. Step four really encompasses any sort of conservative treatment. Generally, this means any treatment outside surgery, but I think of it specifically as chiropractic, physiotherapy, massage, acupuncture or the like. Most people respond well with conservative treatment but not all. Some lose hope. In these situations I like to remember the words of a pioneering heart surgeon, Dr. Russell Nelson, who said, “Sometimes all we can do is comfort. We don’t ever want to destroy hope. The doctor’s job is to cure sometimes, to relieve suffering frequently, but always to comfort”.

When conservative treatments have been attempted or don’t offer reasonable hope for relief, the discussion moves to the fifth step. What comprises the fifth step is different for every condition, however, most require a visit to the family doctor. For example, it may be the appropriate time for an x-ray, a cortisone injection or a prescribed medication. There is still reason for hope.

Finally, approaching the last few rungs of the ladder, we arrive at surgery. Last year around this time, after I proceeded through the first five steps, I underwent arthroscopic surgery for my left knee. The results have been nothing short of terrific. My hope was realized.

Lastly, I acknowledge those for whom surgery did not help or was not an option. These are the people who often lose hope. For them it becomes a matter of coping, not curing. But I still believe there is a final rung on that ladder of hope. It just may not be realized until our time here is up. Keep stepping; there is always hope.