February 11, 2015

'Healing is an active process not a passive event'

On World Day of the Sick 2015, Rebecca McCabe rsm shares about her ministry as a physiotherapist.


I know Joan pretty well (story used with permission). In fact she is one of the people I work with. Joan is 55. She and husband Denis have three children. Joan works part time as a hairdresser and is in pain pretty much all the time. The doctors can’t do any more for her. She has had surgery to correct two protruding discs in her back. She has had to give up tennis and reduce her time in the garden. She finds some relief from medication but is concerned that this relief comes at some cost to her balance and her capacity to think.
She said to me the other day:
“Chronic pain is like throwing a stone into a lake. The stone is the pain and the ripples affect every part of your life”.

In my role as a physiotherapist, I work with many people like Joan.

Chronic pain has been described as the hidden epidemic. The statistics are quite alarming; one in five people suffers from chronic pain. Behind the numbers is something often harder to see - the impact of pain on the person. Billions of dollars each year are spent on strong pain killers but unfortunately these medications are not the answer that we had all hoped for. For people living with chronic pain, by definition, there is no ready cure. Are there ways in addition to medication by which these people can reduce their pain effectively? It is the question that motivates me as a physiotherapist, a pain specialist and a Sister of Mercy.

I have learnt from my experiences over the last 20 years that healing is an active process not a passive event. It is not just what I do to or for a person that matters; it is what I might help them do for themselves. I see myself as a catalyst for self –healing.

I came to physiotherapy because I saw it as a way by which I could combine my love of biological sciences and my desire to ease peoples’ suffering. I had personal experiences of the challenges of injury and its overwhelming effects.

As a teenager, I was ranked among the top ten swimmers in the world. However, a last minute injury prevented me from joining my teammates at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and forced me to give up swimming prematurely. I found myself not only in pain from two torn shoulder tendons but forced to cope with the overwhelming disappointment of missing out on what I had been training for as long as I could remember.
Looking back, I believe that, as difficult as it was, this was when I experienced God’s tenderness, God’s mercy, most profoundly. This has never left me.

In my ministry life, I am immersed in the chronic pain of others. I am fortunate to do what I love and love what I do. I get the opportunity to work with some very brave people.

I am looking at my noticeboard as I write this: a letter from Steven is pinned on it. Steven is a 23 year old man whom I have known for many years. He became a paraplegic through a sporting accident. His letter says in part:
“The first response to pain is fear – to withdraw. Courage is not the absence of fear. It is a miracle fibre within you – a little voice that says I will get up and try tomorrow.”

It is people like Steven who inspire me to continue to share in the healing ministry of Jesus.

Rebecca McCabe rsm is a member of the Sisters of Mercy Parramatta. She is a physiotherapist specialising in chronic pain, a clinical researcher at University Sydney and Greenwich Hospital and co-authored of two recently published books: "The Pain Book: Finding Hope When it Hurts" and "The Spinal Cord Injury Pain Book”.

Messages to: Rebecca McCabe rsm

'The Pain Book: Finding Hope When It Hurts' by Philip Siddall, Rebecca McCabe & Robin Murray, Hammond Press (2013) Kindle Edition
The Spinal Cord Injury Pain Book
by Philip Siddall, Rebecca McCabe & Robin Murray, Hammond Press (2014)

An interesting recent article

Training the brain to beat pain

Informative and practical website
ACI Pain Management Network
Interview with Sr Rebecca
'Holy Water' (04:03

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