Dr. John J Bonica is proclaimed the founding father of pain medicine. Long before and well into his career in medicine, however, he lived a secretive double life as a circus performer and professional wrestler. As a performer and athlete, few knew that he was a physician because his image as a vicious mongrel would be jeopardized. And in his physician life, few knew about his extracurricular endeavors because he feared being seen as a brute with no brains. What an ironic state of partial existence to experience where he couldn't be all of what he was anywhere except in his own mind.
Perhaps his mind was a sufficiently vast field afterall. Because the duality of his life would eventually lead to his greatest achievements in medicine. In one life, he would inflict pain to cause surrender. In another, he would focus on wiping it away.
From his years in the ring, Dr Bonica would eventually throb all over and go on to become the patient of his own practices of pain management. Dozens of surgeries, joint replacements, and nerve injections would elapse. Yet he would continue his descent into immobility and pain.
Despite being an eventual victim of his dual lifestyle, it is clear that his was a unique and worthy life. Furthermore, the empathy gained from understanding what another is going through is an unbelievable boon to a physician's ability to care for a patient. Dr Bonica provides us a shining example of how a person's individuality can enhance their drive within medicine and lead them question commonly held, yet potentially wrong, beliefs. How a person can become an innovator. For Dr Bonica, it was pain. His pain and that of his patients. He understood because it was personal.
In medicine today, we continue to hide many aspects of our 'other' lives in an effort to present a certain image. And in doing so, we lose something critical to being a doctor: our humanity. Dr. Bonica's story is a testament to the value added from living a multi-facted life, and we should all learn to embrace it instead of shirking away from or hiding what makes us unique.
Check out this TEDtalk about Dr. Bonica by Latif Nasser for an amazing story: