Recently, I was asked by a national television network to participate in a live debate on “positive thinking versus physiotherapy for back pain”. I thought it sounded sufficiently dubious to most likely reflect a prank call from one of my prank-calling mates. I responded in kind – “Thanks for calling – I would be thrilled. Of course I only do such gigs in the nude…” The caller clearly became uncomfortable. I buckled – “It is Jono, isn’t it?” It wasn’t. I had to clear up the whole nude thing – Spot fire number 1.
The caller then explained that they had just heard from some institute (isn’t EVERYONE an institute now?!?) that a new study, just published, showed that positive thinking fixed low back pain. Of course I was relieved because low back pain costs Western countries billions of dollars a year and, so far, the millions of dollars worth of research to fix it haven’t really got us that far, so now that we know positive thinking is the answer, all we have to tell our patients is to think positively. Spot fire number 2.
Of course I didn’t give credit to this discovery to the caller – she was clearly doing her job and, all things considered, doing it very politely and respectfully. Anyway, by the end of our chat, the plan had changed – they wanted JUST ME! Fancy that! So, the plan was hatched – I would come on for 3 minutes and tell people what pain is, what causes chronic back pain and what can be done to fix it. Although I thought this was a case of biting off more than one can chew, and then chewing like hell, I thought I would give it a go. I delayed our trip to Canberra. I awoke at Sparrow-fart o’clock. I got into the green room to wait and saw the segment pre-vertised: “Coming up after the break, three easy steps to fix chronic back pain”. Spot fire number 3.
Followed later by “Coming up next, a clinical neuroscientist claims back pain is all in your mind – I think that will offend a few viewers…” Spot fire number 4.
My plan was out the window – now I had to somehow, undo all this stuff. How does one, in 3 minutes, explain that, actually, there is a bucketload of good evidence to say that there are NO easy ways to fix chronic back pain, and, actually, all pain is produced by your brain and chronic back pain is no different, but, actually, you can fix back pain if you embark on what a long journey of discovery, training, patience and persistence. I didn’t really back myself from there, but I did my best – I tried to be engaging, understanding, accurate, hopeful, enthusiastic and encouraging. I fear I was none of those things.
The icing on the cake was that, during the segment, the graphics showed people getting their back manipulated, acupunctured etc etc. Spot fires 5 & 6 (still burning, possibly now out of control…..) I even looked BELOW the camera instead of into it when I tried to make the point that ‘You can’t slip a disc!!!’ Classic. A complete shocker.
I then drove to Canberra (3.5 hours) for an exhibition that was booked out, paid $44.00 for some dodgy sandwiches and a coffee that tasted like licorice and got stuck on the freeway for two hours behind an overturned truck. What I love about it all is that it was so bad, it was almost excellent. The world was sunny again on Monday morning when I received this:
“Straight after your interview I jumped on the net and looked you up….it seems that what you described is what I am in the middle of – a very frustrating and debilitating pain condition….It gets significantly worse when emotionally stressed or anxious…….you have given me hope…