Why I wrote “Breaking through the pain barrier”
Ahead of National Pain Week Painaustralia launched my biography of a trailblazing Australian pain medicine pioneer, “Breaking through the pain barrier. The extraordinary life of Dr Michael J. Cousins.”
You might ask what inspired me to write this book. Here’s my story.
The room swirled as my eyes fluttered open. I could feel something tight around my neck. It felt like a vice, making it difficult to swallow. The antiseptic smell was familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it. Struggling to focus my eyes, I heard a voice I knew well—it was Ben, a resident medical officer at Townsville General Hospital, where I worked as a physiotherapist.
‘How do you feel?’ Ben said, shining a bright torch into my eyes.
‘Where am I?’
‘You’re in emergency, an ambulance brought you here.
Ben told me some thugs had pushed me off my bicycle from their speeding car. The force of impact was so strong it propelled me into the air, and I landed on my head before rolling headfirst down the road.
That day, my 24th birthday, heralded the onset of a life of daily migraines.
Fast forward a few decades and I despaired of ever being free of pain and nausea. I consulted an endless round of medical specialists and health professionals, but none of them helped much. I finally ended up at the Michael J. Cousins Pain Management and Research Centre at Royal North Shore Hospital.
What followed was over a decade of Professor Michael Cousins trying every possible treatment to manage my migraines. I sensed his determination in the way he persevered, even when my migraines didn’t respond to treatment. When we finally had a small breakthrough, I felt as if he had given me my life back.
It was Michael’s perseverance combined with his compassion that inspired me to write his biography. I also wanted to show how an individual with vision, determination and courage can move mountains to improve the human condition despite the seemingly insurmountable obstacles and personal sacrifices.
One day Michael told me about his daily battles to access funding for pain research and treatment programs. He also spoke of the professional and political inertia that stopped pain management from receiving the priority it urgently required. Many people in Michael’s position would have given up, but he struggled on, believing that access to pain management was a fundamental human right.
In the 1670s Sir Isaac Newton wrote in a letter to his friend Robert Hooke, ‘If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.’ While writing the biography I often thought about this statement. I thought that by examining the life of a giant like Michael Cousins, people who were searching for their own way of making a difference in the world might be inspired to forge ahead despite the personal sacrifices, setbacks and crushing disappointments.
I hope that Breaking through the pain barrier will inspire everyone who longs to bring about change. I hope it will push governments to provide more funding for pain management services and help reduce the stigma and social isolation of chronic pain. I also hope it will intrigue those curious about reaching the heights of human endeavour.
There are many books written about climbers of the tallest peaks, but there is also much to learn from studying those who have climbed mountains of inertia and changed societal and cultural responses to how our own bodies are treated by fellow human beings.
Michael Cousins’ biography shows how one person with vision, compassion, indefatigable energy and an almost superhuman determination can move mountains to improve the human condition.
If you would like to attend the online book launch event at 10am on Sunday 25 July please rsvp by July 17 to www.painaustralia.org.au/events. A zoom link will be provided upon RSVP.
Breaking through the Pain Barrier is available from Breaking Through the Pain Barrier | Hawkeye Books