50 Shades of Pain

Part 1: Introductions

In a way, I was not really surprised that I ended up in a long term, intense, and intimate relationship with pain. Given my unhealthy appetite for risk, I kind of expected it. However, I always thought we will meet in some exciting and exotic setting. Like this totally irresponsible 40th-birthday-week-long-quads-trip in Kyrgyzstan — back in July 2014.

Me, during a totally irresponsible week-long quads trip in Kyrgyzstan — back in July 2014
One minute I was riding a BMW motorcycle up a scenery mountain road, and what seemed like a minute later — I woke up in hospital
Pain is our trusted bodyguard. It’s a genius mechanism perfected by evolution, optimized for dumb creatures who are slaves to the most basic habits and desires, and don’t know what’s good for them
The injury itself doesn’t generate any pain. The nerve signals that are sent to the spine are NOT pain signals — they are merely objective sensory signals. It’s up to the brain to interpret these signals, and decide if it wants to generate the sensation of pain

Part 2: The relationship

Back to me. The beginning was intense, but promising. Pain did its part to help me. Quite effectively, I must say. For months I was limited in my ability to move, and had to lay down in order to allow my muscles, bones and tissues to recover. For weeks, I was terrified of sneezing — because the pain in the neck and the chest was so strong. But I couldn’t have recovered without that pain, and I was grateful for that.

The Good: Pain and me during the honeymoon period — intense, but helpful
The bad: Neuropathic pain — (often exotic) pain generated by injured nerves, regardless of signals from the peripherals
The ugly: Chronic pain messing with my brain
Presenting and vacationing while in chronic pain

Part 3: The insight

As you might imagine, it could be frustrating at times. But you will be surprised to read that it was not the pain that frustrated me the most. It was the lack of control, and poor coping tools that drove me nuts.

  1. I had good days and bad days, and good nights and bad nights. The difference between good vs bad was huge. On a bad day, I couldn’t function, and during a bad night I could hardly sleep. But what causes my pain to flare up or go down? How can I increase my chances for a good day or a good night? I had no idea.
  2. How am I doing overall — across pain, mood, sleep, and daily functioning? Is my overall condition stable? Getting worse? Getting better? How is it impacted by changes in medication or treatment?
  3. What coping techniques are working for me? Which are most effective for immediate relief?
I had to make decisions on medications, invasive treatments, and general lifestyle — while being completely in the dark

Part 4: My calling

It was at the low-point of my despair that I realized that it was my calling. For the past 10+ years, I have been working as a Product Manager at Google, and it seemed that there is a most worthy cause here that could benefit from my experience. The first and most important question is always the same — how big is the problem?

I went on and looked into pain forums, and interviewed pain experts. The story was the same everywhere
Credible data, logged in real time, is critical to evidence based medical treatment, and that is where Lab 39 comes in

Part 5: The bright future

That’s it. That’s where pain and I currently stand. I was considering putting here a romantic picture of the two of us walking into the sunset. But we are not there yet. There is definitely hope and excitement though, and a promising future. Lab39 built its first product, and is working with pain clinics and researchers in the US. I myself am using their product, and I look forward to reporting on data soon. My dream is to say one day that through my pain, I managed to help with the pain of millions.

The current state of affairs

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