In dealing with clients who suffer from chronic pain, there is very little I can do as an attorney to ease their physical symptoms. I have no medical training, nor a license to provide physical therapy. While I have never been burdened with a chronic illness of my own, I have witnessed friends and family struggle with terminal disease, and I have had the opportunity to study the medical records of hundreds of patients with chronic pain. From this background, I recognize that no one can ever fully understand an individual's experience with chronic pain, as each sufferer's experience is unique. How then, should one treat people with chronic pain?
First, actively listen. Look for signs of pain or distress such as foot tapping, hand wringing, and grimacing. Ask how they are doing. Many individuals with chronic pain will readily describe their situation to an open ear, and appreciate a chance to share their painful experiences. Others will hide their pain due to a lack of understanding in others. They may have developed coping mechanisms that conceal their real level of pain, so that they can manage normal social routines. Do not assume there is no pain even if they say they are fine.
Second, treat them with dignity and respect. An individual in pain should not to be dismissed as weak or lazy. Respect that they are trying their best. Understand that they have physical limitations. Being able to perform a physical action once does not mean they can do it again. Even talking can be a taxing experience for some patients.
Lastly, have patience and empathy. Chronic pain is often associated with psychological impairments such as depression. People with chronic pain may exhibit less emotion, or more emotion. Even if you find it difficult to understand where they are coming from, remember that their pain is real, and they are always suffering. No one ever wants to suffer but they have no choice. The worst thing to do to an individual in chronic pain is abandon them.