The language of pain.

  • Audio

About this work


An investigation into how pain has been expressed through history and literature by Professor Joanna Bourke. Rita Charon from the US has endeavoured to improve patient care by actively listening to the language used by patients to describe their pain (narrative medicine). Reading is key; literacy is important in understanding the patient experience. Dr Lucy Bending is a specialist in literary expressions of pain. Some writings of Virginia Woolf are read. Dr Simon Hayes comments that music can effectively communicate pain (a clip from the famous shower sequence in the movie 'Psycho' is played back). Other examples are covered from classical music eg. Christ's crucifiction and the comparison of pain with suffering associated with their religion. In 1909 Salversen was introduced as a cure for syphilis. Prior to this, tertiary syphillis was often characterised by patients with extreme and sometimes demonic hallucinations. Ibsen's controversial play 'Ghosts' is drawn upon also. Despite the availability of anaesthetics many soldiers endured pain by choice - accounts range from the American Civil War even to the First World War. Ana Carden-Coyne from Manchester University comments on this phenomenon and explores the problem of faking pain. An interview with Frank Rowntree on pain (sourced from Wellcome Library) is included. Dr Joanna Zakrzewska treats trigeminal neuralgia which causes chronic pain - it is hard to treat and in one instance cited in the programme caused suicide. Another clip from the Wellcome Library by Dr Cicely Saunders, founder of the hospice movement, talks about chronic pain in the terminally ill. Pain doctors accept that chronic pain can be alleviated but not cured. Dr Deborah Padfield has created 'pain' cards which express the different experiences. Surprisingly narrative medicine is not considered mainstream.



Physical description

1 audio disc (58 min.) ; 12 cm.

Copyright note

BBC Radio 4.


Broadcast on 02 May, 2015.

Creator/production credits

Produced by Isabel Sutton. A Just Radio production for BBC Radio 4
Presented by Joanna Bourke.



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