Published by the Boston Globe

Alison Novak came to know pain at a young age. In fact, she’s hard-pressed to remember a time when she wasn’t hurting.

Doctors dismissed her complaints, finding nothing wrong, so she learned early how to carry on in spite of her achy joints, and she learned, also, that people wouldn’t believe her. Today, strangers berate her for parking in handicapped spaces, seeing no disability in the slender, put-together woman emerging from the car.

Despite appearances, Novak says she is almost always in pain — and chronic pain is an illness in its own right. In Novak’s case, her perpetual soreness results from a genetic disorder. But for many others, lifelong pain starts with a commonplace event. It was a kidney stone for Frank Holden of New Hampshire, an injured knee for Katie Olmstead of Northampton.

For Novak, Holden, and Olmstead — and millions of others — pain confines like a glass box, an invisible constraint. Whether its source is arthritis, injury, disk problems, or the aftermath of surgery, pain has no objective measurement. No blood test, no scan can reveal how bad it is. The patient stands as sole witness.

Read the Full Article