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Friday, 20 September, 2002, 23:01 GMT 00:01 UK
Using art to show pain levels
One of the photos in the exhibition
'Red Hot Wire' - Deborah Padfield with Linda Sinfield
Doctors often find it very difficult to gauge the pain a patient is experiencing.

Everyone's pain threshold is different and unlike injuries, no machines or diagnosis can pinpoint levels.

But a team at the Input pain unit at St Thomas' Hospital has come up with an innovative idea to allow patients to show what they are feeling - through art.

Artist Deborah Padfield and pain consultant Dr Charles Pither worked with a group of 10 patients to help them create a visual image of their chronic pain.

Understanding

The aim of the photographs is to bridge the gap between private pain and a medical and public understanding.

Artist Deborah Padfield, who was herself disabled through chronic pain, said many people like herself find it hard to vocalise the pain they experience.


Could photographs act as a tool for patients to communicate and their doctors to "understand" their experience?

Deborah Padfield

"Pain is invisible, extraordinarily difficult to share and consequently very isolating.

"The cry repeated over and over again by chronic pain sufferers is that they have not been believed, that they feel isolated, and cannot get people to understand what it is like.

A photograph in the exhibition
'Ants on Hand' - Deborah Padfield with Robert Lomax

"Having gained so much through photography myself, I wondered if a similar process of making a tangible visible object representative of their pain could be helpful or interesting for other people.

"I hoped that if we could find a method of co-creating images where patients were very much in control of that process it would go some way towards putting them in control of how their pain was seen and understood, rather than always being told what pain was appropriate.

Dialogue

"I also wanted to see whether the photographs themselves could act as a springboard for a more equal dialogue between patient and doctor, and help balance that difficult relationship.

"Could photographs act as a tool for patients to communicate and their doctors to "understand" their experience?"

One of the photographs in the exhibition
'Cement Jacket' - Deborah Padfield with David May

Dr Pither said the results of the project had been "fascinating" and had provided a unique insight into perceptions of pain.

"From the medical perspective the results are fascinating.

"The images created are a long way from being helpful diagnostically; they are just too diverse and individualistic.

"Besides the biomedical construct of diagnosis is of marginal relevance in many chronic pain syndromes.

A photograph in the exhibition
'Clock face' - Deborah Padfield with John Paites

"They do however allow the sufferer to tell me something that I have seldom got from solely listening to a narrative.

"This is a sense of their pain in relation to their selfdom - the pain as lived experience."

The pictures are on display at the Royal College of Physicians at 11 St Andrew's Place, Regent's Park, London, and can viewed on Sunday as part of open house day across the city.

See also:

12 Aug 02 | Health
19 Jun 02 | Health
26 Jul 02 | Health
20 Aug 02 | N Ireland
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