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A Letter From The Publisher: Jun. 11, 1984

3 minute read

Senior Correspondent Ruth Mehrtens Calvin, who has long specialized in reporting for TIME on behavior, amassed a collection of complaints by patients about pain and its treatment. “About the time the pile got to be a foot high,” she recalls, “I came across an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine called ‘The Quality of Mercy,’ which showed growing medical concern about this problem.” At that point she suggested that TIME do a major story on pain.

The idea struck a responsive chord among TIME’S editors in New York City, particularly Associate Editor Claudia Wallis, our Medicine writer. She had been interested in the subject ever since 1978, when she experienced the anguish of surgery for a fractured kneecap. The result is this week’s cover story, which was written by Wallis and contributed to by Reporter-Researcher Mary Carpenter.

A key investigator of the pain phenomenon was San Francisco Correspondent Dick Thompson. Says he: “One of the strange things about pain is the mind’s refusal to keep old distress in focus. In my younger days, a truck hit my car and I spent nine months in an itchy body cast, but I no longer have painful, or even unpleasant, memories of the event.” Thompson, in reporting the cover story, was especially impressed by Seattle Anesthesiologist John Bonica, an immigrant and former circus strongman who went on to become a pioneer in the field of pain alleviation.

“I could listen to him for hours,” says Thompson, “which I did, over sushi in a Seattle restaurant and salmon at his home. You could make a corny, but true, film about his life. Unfortunately, jaded moviegoers wouldn’t believe it.”

Galvin, who interviewed dozens of specialists on pain, says, “The subject was even more absorbing than I could have imagined. When I began interviewing Dr. Kathleen Foley, president of the American Pain Society, I asked her what she looks for in a research fellow. She answered with one word:

brains. Pain, one of the most complicated sensations processed by the central nervous system, is now getting the attention of many remarkable brains like Dr. Foley’s.”

Galvin found that people with chronic pain either focus their lives on it, or consider it a monster to outwit and a goad to greater achievement. Says she: “President Kennedy, whose New Hampshire primary campaign I covered for TIME, was one of the latter. My husband, who has arthritis, is another. If ever I am confronted with chronic pain, I will try to remember these profiles in courage.”

John A. Meyers

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