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Book and Media Reviews
May 12, 2010

The Language of Pain: Finding Words, Compassion, and Relief

JAMA. 2010;303(18):1866. doi:10.1001/jama.2010.600

Although language can capture a wide range of human experiences, it simply fails when it comes to pain. This shrewd observation forms the basis for David Biro's new book, The Language of Pain: Finding Words, Compassion, and Relief. Pain is not only an academic interest to Brio but a personal journey. After finishing his medical residency, Biro was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder and underwent bone marrow transplantation for treatment (an experience detailed in his earlier work, One Hundred Days: My Unexpected Journey From Doctor to Patient). In addition to his medical training, Biro holds a PhD in English literature. Despite considerable command of language, he experienced what other patients experience—an inability to express pain in words. Biro writes that pain “literally strangled my vocal cords.” He cites Edvard Munch's painting, The Scream, when describing his agony: “Silenced, I felt just like Munch's sufferer: wanting to scream as loudly as I could but unable to make a sound.”

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