At the beginning of National Pain Week, the peak national advocacy body Painaustralia launched the biography of the trailblazing Royal North Shore Hospital pain medicine pioneer Dr Michael J. Cousins AO. Mosman resident Gabriella Kelly-Davies, who many of you will know from her biography-writing business Share Your Life Story, wrote the award-winning book from a very personal perspective.
“Michael Cousins gave me my life back in 2005 after a cycling accident two decades earlier left me with crippling daily migraines,” Gabriella says. “In Breaking Through the Pain Barrier, my story and the stories of some of Dr Cousins’ patients are woven into the narrative to show how his progressive treatment approaches improved our lives.”
Many of Dr Cousins’ patients live in Mosman and one, the swimming coach Charmian Frend, was born with a degenerative disc disease. Over the years, Charm endured ten back operations, but they didn’t ease her suffering, and she was left with agonising back pain that stopped her in her tracks.
Charm says on the day of her initial assessment at Royal North Shore Hospital, she was impressed with how the pain clinic’s team developed an integrated plan of action for her. For years, she had been trying to get her specialists to talk to her GP, physio and care group team, but to no avail. She appreciated how Michael Cousins, the physio and psychologist discussed her condition as a team and developed a management plan based on her individual needs.
After doing a three-week pain management program at the pain clinic, Charm is more confident about her day-to-day functioning. The program helped her understand why her body was doing what it was doing. It helped her realise if she paced her activities; she could do more than previously. Charm maintains she is more socially active now and less withdrawn. After doing the program, she stopped grieving for the things the pain prevented her from doing.
“Michael Cousins and the team gave me the certainty I could cope with my pain,” Charm says. “I’m not as crippled as I thought I was. I thought I was useless. I now have the assurance that I can put myself out there a bit. I can be of use to someone.”
Breaking Through the Pain Barrier: The Extraordinary Life of Dr Michael J. Cousins explores the way historic events and larger forces shaped Dr Cousins and how he in turn shaped international pain research, treatment, education and policy. It also highlights the personality traits that enabled Dr Cousins to overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges and accept countless personal sacrifices in pursuit of his quest. One Saturday night in 1964 when he was a resident medical officer at St George Hospital in southern Sydney, Dr Cousins saw two critically burned boys limp up the hospital’s driveway. He kept a vigil by their bedsides for the next 48 hours, saving their lives, but struggling to reduce their suffering because few pain treatments existed back then. That weekend, Dr Cousins dedicated his life to reducing suffering by improving the treatment of pain.
For several decades, Michael Cousins led the pain world. Through nearly 50 years of research, he advanced pain treatments such as epidural analgesia and spinal cord stimulation to relieve lower back pain. He designed Australia’s National Pain Strategy that several countries replicated, and he was the driving force behind the creation of Painaustralia, which developed and is implementing the National Pain Strategy’s action plan.
A passionate advocate for people living with chronic pain, Michael Cousins tirelessly crusaded to destigmatise the condition. Through his relentless advocacy he also persuaded governments and organisations internationally to accept access to pain management as a fundamental human right.
Breaking Through the Pain Barrier has led to several accolades. In late 2019 Gabriella won a scholarship from the Faber Academy to study Writing True Stories under Australia’s top life story writing teacher, Patti Miller. She followed this up by twice being long listed and then ultimately shortlisted for the Hawkeye Publishing Manuscript Development Prize.
In March this year Hawkeye Publishing announced Gabriella’s manuscript placed third in the prestigious prize and Hawkeye offered her a publishing contract. Biographers International Organization also awarded Gabriella a Chip Bishop Fellowship.
So how did this Mosman local become such a talented writer?
“In high school I founded and ran the school magazine and at uni I wrote articles for the student newspapers. From an early age my dad took me to the local library every week to borrow biographies of musicians, writers, artists and scientists. I love getting to know fascinating and inspiring people through their life stories–what it’s like to be them living their life; their motivations, experiences, relationships, passions, struggles and attitudes; and the lessons they learned through overcoming life’s many challenges,” says Gabriella.
Gabriella has turned this passion into a career, founding Share Your Life Story – a writing business that helps people tell their life stories and turn them into a book. She is also the President of Life Stories Australia Association, the representative body for life story professionals.
In her business, Gabriella interviews clients, writes their stories and publishes a gorgeous coffee-table book. “I dreamed of launching Share Your Life Story for many years while working in a busy senior communications role in the city,” Gabriella says. “At night and on weekends I wrote memoirs and biographies for fun, but I was determined to turn my hobby into a profession once I retired. And now that’s what I’m doing, and I feel privileged to be living my dream. I’ve written 35 memoirs, life stories, family histories and biographies for my clients, helping them to share their memories and stories with their families, friends and future generations. I also run free memoir writing groups in Mosman and am inspired by the stories the members write about their lives.”