Review by Judith Godden.
This book is dedicated to the one in five people who suffer chronic pain. Gabriella Kelly-Davies is one of them and she wrote it as a tribute to Dr Michael Cousins.
Now retired, Cousins played a significant role in establishing the speciality of pain medicine in Australia.
The many achievements
One of his many achievements is setting up the Faculty of Pain Medicine at the University of Sydney’s Royal North Shore Hospital campus. In 2014, it was renamed The Michael J. Cousins Pain Management and Research Centre.
An anaesthetist, Cousins’ attempts to alleviate pain initially focussed on methods such as epidural anaesthesia. He soon linked up with the new International Association for the Study of Pain which insisted that pain relief needed a multi-disciplinary focus.
Kelly-Davies describes Cousins’ struggles to obtain funding and support for treating pain as a discrete medical issue. Numerous factors helped in his success: his huge workload and dedication; superb communication skills; and his wife Michelle who dedicated herself to furthering his career while caring for the family.
Cousins’ leadership skills were particularly evident in 2010 when he chaired the National Pain Summit, which resulted in the ground-breaking National Pain Strategy.
Kelly-Davies wrote Breaking through the Pain Barrier as part of her postgraduate study at the University of Sydney (disclosure: I was an associate supervisor).
The book was funded by a grant from the Pain Management Research Institute at Royal North Shore Hospital where Cousins played a lading role.
Kelly-Davies’ extensive use of oral history, notably from Cousins himself, close colleagues and greatful former patients, shapes the biography.
A book for those interested in pain management
It is a book written for the general reader and will interest anyone wanting to know about the developent of pain medicine in Australia and/or medical biography.
It mainly covers the period from the mid-1960s to Cousins’ retirement in 2016. Sadly, the funding did not provide for an index, but it is logically structured and well-written so it is relatively easy to find topics.
This book review appeared in the Medical History Newsletter, the news bulletin of the Australian and New Zealand Society of the History of Medicine.
And now a word from the author on how Breaking Through the Pain Barrier: The extraordinary life of Dr Michael J. Cousins will interest scholars and researchers:
Breaking through the pain barrier will captivate several types of readers. As the story of an innovator and pioneer it will appeal to anyone interested in a good yarn about an inspiring individual.
It will also intrigue those who are curious about reaching the heights of human endeavour and are searching for role models to guide them on their journey.
Michael Cousins’ biography shows these readers how an individual with vision, determination and courage can move mountains to improve the human condition despite the personal toll, roadblocks and crushing disappointments along the way.
There are plenty of books about climbers of the tallest mountains on earth, but there is also much to learn from studying social activists and medical reformers who have climbed mountains of inertia and changed societal and cultural norms.
As the biography of a trailblazing pain medicine pioneer who helped shape contemporary pain management, Breaking through the pain barrier will appeal to anyone interested in the history and practice of pain medicine. The book should certainly feature in the library of GPs, hospitals, medical schools and pain clinics worldwide.
People living with chronic pain will be inspired by the stories of Michael Cousins’ patients. By reading their stories, the one in five people around the world who live with chronic pain will see how Michael Cousins helped his patients reduce the impact of pain in their life. He gave them hope and restored their dignity after years of being stigmatised by chronic pain.
Breaking through the pain barrier’s readers say the book is easy to read, gripping, motivating and inspiring. I hope you will enjoy the same experience when you read it.
Meet Gabriella Kelly-Davies on her Hawkeye author page here.
You can also learn more about this extraordinary author via her website.