The Patient's Lament

October 1, 2002
Wayne Koberstein
Wayne Koberstein

Wayne Koberstein, a 25-year veteran of the publishing industry, is editor-in-chief of Pharmaceutical Executive magazine. In 14 years as PE's Editor, he has overseen the emergence of the magazine as the leading business and marketing publication for the global pharma industry. He has interviewed and profiled more than 150 top executives in pharmaceutical companies, as well as major regulatory and healthcare leaders, around the world. Wayne has also directed the launch of numerous supplements and other ancillary business for the publication.

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I was wondering whether I could take any more pain, when the moment slowed to a crawl. Pain wakened fear. Eternity lingered alongside. Mortality, grinning over my shoulder, blew a chill breath across the nape of my neck. "Dying would end the pain," I thought. "But I don't want to die like this."

I was wondering whether I could take any more pain, when the moment slowed to a crawl. Pain wakened fear. Eternity lingered alongside. Mortality, grinning over my shoulder, blew a chill breath across the nape of my neck. "Dying would end the pain," I thought. "But I don't want to die like this."

After a period of agony that might as well have contained the birth, life, and death of the universe, I lay trembling, my hair and clothes soaked in sweat. Someone asked me later where I would score the episode on a ten-point pain scale. "For me, it was a ten," I answered. "Nothing ever hurt worse."

Yet, as I said it, even before ending the sentence, I knew that some people's experience of ten must be much more extreme. It's just that you can't calibrate the scale by someone else's measure. Each person must suffer in solitude, in the isolation of a single body. No one has a proxy for pain.

Now that the episodes have grown chronic, they no longer make me afraid; I know they aren't going to kill me. But others must live with the knowledge that their pain leads only to more suffering and death.

O, where is the power that can defeat this enemy?

Besides the sufferer's inner sources of courage, spirit, or faith, modern medicine-and medicines-offer the only hope. When I, the patient, seek earthly salvation from symptoms or cause, pharmaceuticals most often furnish it. Be it pill, lozenge, I.V., or any other delivery form, physical substances work miracles like no spell or charm ever known. Saying I have faith in those wonders might be putting it a little strong. Reliance is a more fitting word, because it implies no deification. I merely rely on medicines as I would any high-performance product of technology. Unlike the healing spirits in other cultures or in our past, pharmaceuticals never demand worship, only respect, for their powers.

Alas, that leaves the patient with loads of general reassurance but little dedicated attention. Human beings do not heal by drugs alone. In the lurch of dire pain, I share this plea with all other sufferers: Look at me. Treat me. Care for me.

All patients want one-on-one attention and solutions. It's not that each person has no feeling for others. Rather than lacking compassion, I wish relief for everyone else as well. But because I suffer alone, as an individual-and others do as well-I must demand individual care.

Pharmaceutical companies have only begun to understand patients as a group. What can they do for a solitary patient? Besides, don't doctors serve the individual?

Answers to both questions defy simplicity. As a patient, I can only say that companies may do little now, but if they hope to do more, they must begin by listening to me-and all others like me. Hear my plea, my lament-the stark outpouring of just one person in pain.

In time, through careful listening, companies may learn enough to develop medicines that meet my needs so well that they seem designed especially for me. With such tools, a new generation of doctors could find it easier to see each patient as a unique person, rather than as representative of a population. Until that day, I share with all patients this human plaint: If you have nothing to give the individual, you have nothing to give the group.