Opinion: The plight of suburban lepers


Commentary by Amy Sorrells 

Comfortably numb.

That’s the way we prefer to live in America, and for the most part, we can. If something breaks, we replace it. If we can’t afford something, we finance it. If we flub up, we fake it. If our kids fail, we bail them out. And if we have pain, we take a pill.

Recently, I slipped on a wet floor and got a freakishly big bump on my knee. It didn’t hurt, but the size prompted me to go to the doctor. He said I was fine and handed me a prescription for Percocet, a combination of acetaminophen and oxycodone.


For a bump on my knee.

I was mortified. As a nurse, I am too familiar with the heroin crisis in Indiana and that often it starts with oxycodone. I’ve seen newborns suffer and even die from horrific withdrawal. I’ve talked to a social worker in the needle exchange program who says her clients range from wealthy housewives to people on welfare and everything in between. Experts say nary a cul-de-sac is spared from the epidemic.

While it’s easy to blame practitioners for over-prescribing and look to legislators to fix it, I suggest the problem goes much deeper.

We do not know how to cope with pain.

That’s a problem, because life is full of it.

Dr. Paul Brand spent years researching and treating leprosy — curable with antibiotics — in India. He describes the experience in a fascinating book called “The Gift of Pain.” In it he writes, “Most of the gross deformities and dreaded symptoms of leprosy had the same cruel source: damaged nerves.” A leper’s inability to feel pain results in injuries, which result in necrotizing tissue loss.

We’re becoming a society of emotional lepers, and our kids are, too, as evidenced by the skyrocketing incidents of anxiety, depression, suicide and overdoses in our suburbs.

The heroin epidemic is complicated and there’s no quick fix. But for starters, we’d be wise to consider the gift of allowing ourselves, and especially our kids, to experience and learn from pain.


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