I'd heard of chronic pain before. It was people with sore knees who couldn't walk long distances. And it only happened to people after a nasty accident or in old age. There were drugs for it. Of course there were. It was an inconvenience. But nothing to really worry about.
In recent years though, I'd had a couple of episodes of poor health that suggested to me that suffering may not be so manageable. They were nothing too serious. In 2010, I had a dodgy stomach for about six weeks, which was almost funny really. After visiting Morocco two years ago, I got this really unpleasant feeling of having something caught in my esophagus. That lasted about a month. Make no mistake about it: these were not life changing experiences. But they did make me think a little differently. In both cases, I had the feeling that the Doctor didn't really know what was wrong with me.
I also recoiled when another friend told me about this acute and inexplicable back pain that left her incapacitated for about six weeks.
Then, while looking around for another topic to make a podcast about, my friend John told me about a guy he had met at a party in London.I know what John is like at parties. He's especially interested in people he hasn't met before. Specifically, he finds out what their passion is, and then proceeds to harness it through insightful questioning, until he's thoroughly enlightened. He has a good time.
At this particular party, John had talked to another Dermot. That one, unlike this one, was a facial pain specialist. Their conversation had left a real impression on John. More than usual. And he suggested I track Dermot down for an interview. So I did.
Pearse and I went to his surgery in Dublin and interviewed him for about an hour and a half. I had done a little research beforehand, but the depth of his knowledge was intimidating. Through the course of our conversation though, it became obvious that Dermot had a particular interest in a condition called Trigeminal Neuralgia. Without going into it here, let's just call it "Hell On Earth", or maybe "Hell in your Face."
Dermot helped us get in touch with TN sufferer Avril Hitchens, whose story underpins the episode. It's not exactly easy listening, but I think there's a lot to be learned from it. Our aim was to strike a balance between Avril's personal story and Dermot's medical expertise. The sum of the parts is a harrowing account of one person's experience with chronic pain, and how pain itself, in general terms, is still quite mysterious. At the end of the day, people with chronic pain seem to be the real authority on what works, and what doesn't.
On this episode, we had a total of three interviewees, as well as our own two voices. So there was a lot more weaving involved than Addiction. From a production standpoint, Pearse demonstrated a real getting to grips with things. Let's just say if he wasn't involved, this whole project would be limited to me watching YouTube about how to turn on a microphone.
The same John who started the ball rolling was also the one who put us in touch with Niamh Purcell, who's illustrations, such as above, are truly excellent.
October 7 is International Trigeminal Neuralgia Awareness day and, in conjunction with Sarah Heavey and everyone at TN Ireland, we are looking to spread the word as much as jpossible. Look out for buildings around the country being lit up in the colour teal. And, of course, please listen in - Intinn: The Worst Pain