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Posted: July 16, 2004

Spiritual Caregiving

Chronic Pain Relief Requires a ?Change of Heart? ? List These D's on Your Refrigerator

Eighteen years ago, Erv Hinds was a traditional anesthesiologist with an open-heart surgery team. Today, he's gone from putting people to sleep with drugs to trying to wake them up with what he calls patient-centered pain treatment.

In his practice at the Albuquerque Pain Center in New Mexico, pain at every level is taken seriously. "Patients need to develop a vertical relationship -- to nature or Jesus or Buddha or God," says Hinds, "or something that gets them out of entrenchment, outside of themselves."

The journey that brought him to this point began when an X-ray revealed that he needed a heart valve replacement. "I didn't know what to do," Hinds says.

He prayed with his Presbyterian pastor and did research in the University of New Mexico library. There he found a journal article about a surgeon in France named Carpentier who was repairing valves instead of replacing them, something not done in America.

"Carpentier had done most of his work with African immigrants, and his hospital was not some state-of-the-art affair, yet I decided to go. The cardiologists I worked with thought I was nuts," says Hinds, but he followed his intuition. "I needed a change of heart, on all levels."

After the five-hour operation, Hinds was put in a ward with nine people, mostly Africans. No one spoke English, and the patients' relatives were sleeping under the beds. One of them massaged him. When he was pale, they got steak for him and fed him tiny bits, as if he were a bird.

"We all cared for each other," says Hinds. "We all had heartfelt problems and we spoke the same language. I began to wonder about our own hospitals, where we put patients inside four bare walls with a TV. There is no interaction, no community. That is essential to healing."

Hinds now begins by awakening his pain patients from what he calls "the dragged-down D?s:"

  • Everyone in chronic pain experiences some degree of Depression.
  • This is accompanied by Deactivation, where the patient doesn't move and doesn't want to move.
  • Patients become Dependent, because others perform tasks for them.
  • All this results in Dragged-down relationships -- they lose friendships and close relationships because they feel lousy.

They may see many doctors, frantically seeking a cure. To relieve the pain, many look for a quick fix with drugs. One of the saddest aspects of pain is dormant spirituality -- the person's spirit dims as he loses interest in prayer, nature, and the state of his soul.

Hinds has each patient make a list of the D's. Every day, the patient must address one or more of the D-words and write in a diary exactly what he is doing to change. The patient may start going to a health club, get their own food from the refrigerator instead of being served, or attend to their spirituality. Some patients do all of the above.

"How can we talk about pain and not deal with heartache?" Hinds asks. "Heartache is injury to the spirit, which is often manifested on a physical plane. People literally feel an ache in the heart. Maybe someone's back injury has led to a deterioration and loss of intimate relationships.

"This is not New Age stuff. Who you are psychologically affects your threshold of pain. It affects the dorsal horn of the spinal cord, which is a chemical soup. That soup can be manipulated. If you are depressed, in a bad relationship, lacking sleep, or spiritually disconnected, you are more prone to feeling pain. If you practice meditation, hypnosis, prayer, if you have a sense of hope for the future, if you have good relationships, you are less prone to feeling pain. This is demonstrable. The chemicals in the dorsal horn of the spinal cord can be measured."

Hinds has written a book called A Life Larger Than Pain: A Spiritually-based Path from Entrenchment to Renewal (Health Press).

This article originally appeared in Spirituality & Health magazine, For subscriptions call 1-800-876-8202 or see Editor Stephen Kiesling and his staff contribute weekly columns, features and articles published every Friday as "Spiritual Caregiving" at Contact staff directly via email at

© 2004 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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