On May 7th, the Department of Family Medicine in collaboration with the St. James’ Literary Society hosted the Dr. Hirsh Rosenfeld Distinguished Public Lecture in Family Medicine, inviting Dr. Mark Ware, Associate Professor at the Department of Family Medicine and Director of the interdisciplinary Alan Edwards Pain Management Unit, to speak about The Challenge of Pain. He examined the scientific basis of pain, explored the range of strategies available to manage pain and discussed the gaps in our knowledge of pain and its implications. The event was an overwhelming success with very positive feedback and over 150 participants attending both in-person and online.


Dr. Ware explained that our working model of pain as a diagnostic symptom is built on the Cartesian concept (and evolutionary preserved critical function) of pain as a signal of pathology. However when pain becomes chronic (i.e. longer than three months) it loses it ‘warning’ value and can be hard to interpret or describe. His talk therefore focused on the importance of communication, using literary, artistic and scientific references.


He introduced the McGill Pain Questionnaire which was first developed in 1971 by the late Ron Melzack and was published in Pain in 1975. A shorter version was developed in 1984 and revised in 2009. Its stated purpose was “To provide quantitative measures of clinical pain that would capture its sensory, affective and other qualitative components, and allow statistical analysis of data collected during clinical research and practice.” Today, the McGill Pain Questionnaire has been used extensively by healthcare professionals world-wide since it was published and has been adapted for use in many languages.


Dr. Ware then examined pain through patients’ eyes using artistic expressions to convey the profound impact, positive and negative, that pain has on our cultural and social lives. As an example, he presented a “Waves of grief” artwork (image on the left) by Newton Martin, one of the winners of the 2023 Canadian Pain Society “People with Lived Experience” Art Award. According to the artist, the waves of varying colour signifies the emotional weight associated with our unsettling or anxious experiences. The sun adds hope to the picture because through the trashing and beating of the waves the sun never ceases to shine. Dr. Ware notes that when we take a step back and picture our lives from a different angle, the collage of our collective experiences becomes less of a mess and more of a masterpiece. In time, our experiences transform from being a barrier into being fuel for personal narrative and character.


Dr. Ware also presented this second artwork (image on the left) titled “Invisible isolation” by Aislinn L, another winner of the 2023 Canadian Pain Society “People with Lived Experience” Art Award. The artist expresses that, for individuals suffering from chronic pain, daily life is completely altered; we push ourselves to break free, but often feel trapped in a crowd of seclusion. Indeed, Dr. Ware explained the psychosocial burden of pain and that the patient with chronic pain is at risk of considerable stigmatization and marginalization.


Between the lenses of art and science, Dr. Ware explored the world of pain, the importance of communication, and the need to strive for a better understanding of this important and challenging symptom that all too often becomes a disease in its own right.


If you missed the event, click here to view the recording on our YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fO-SK0ffj8s


Here are some highlights from the evening (photos by Joni Dufour):