We must all die. But that I can save him from days of torture, that is what I feel as my great and ever new privilege. Pain is a more terrible lord of mankind than even death itself.
(Albert Schweitzer, 1931)
This is the way, in 1931, that Albert Schweitzer, the great humanitarian, physician, and Nobel Laureate, described the nature of pain and the obligation of the physician to relieve it. Today, proper pain management remains one of the most important and pressing social issues. Acute and chronic pain continues to afflict millions annually, with a significant percentage of it still inadequately relieved.
For me, the idea of relieving pain and suffering came from witnessing many of my family members suffer and die from cancer. Later on, during my practice of medicine in Europe and the United States, I saw an alarming number of unnecessary patient suffering, frequently caused by fear of physicians and patients alike to treat adequately. Occasionally, the complexity of the health care system made relief inaccessible for suffering individuals. Many – too many – times, patients were offered solutions deemed permanent, but lacking the correct pain diagnosis, and when they returned in pain, were branded as “drug seekers.”