Pain: an expedition to indeterminate territory, Sanne Bloemink, Uitgeverij Pluim, 284 pages, 24.99 euros.
Lawyer and essayist Sanne Bloemink (1973) is 36 years old and the mother of three young children when ‘a lightning bolt hits the right half of my body’ during a kickboxing class in New York.
The resulting chronic pain disrupts her life: she suffers physically, psychologically and socially. The MRI scan shows a ‘home-and-garden hernia’, but this does not necessarily explain the pain. She undergoes a laundry list of different treatments and receives a multitude of advice. In the meantime, Bloemink not only sifts through professional literature on (back) pain, but also explores philosophy, literature and art. This resulted in an excellently written, fascinating book: Pain: an expedition into indeterminate territory.
In 1939, the French pain specialist René Leriche regarded health as ‘the silence of the organs’ and pain as a continuous noise. In his book Song of Our Scars: The Untold Story of Pain (2022), physician-researcher Haider Warraich considers chronic pain as the ‘leprosy of our time’. Some Dutch rehabilitation clinics are still based on the ideas of John Sarno, ‘the rockstar of the back pain world’, according to whom all back pain is caused by unprocessed emotions. The newest approach (enactivism) is an expanded version of the biopsychosocial model.
Readers may be a bit overwhelmed by this information from all possible angles, but as an ‘expert by experience’ Bloemink finds out what is relevant. An index with page references would certainly not have been out of place. Despite the sad story, she writes respectfully about many practitioners. Her sincerity commands appreciation. ‘The last thing I want is for others to think I’m sad. (…) But a little more compassion would certainly make a difference.’