The Prince of Pain
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late researcher and humanist John Liebeskind taught the world that
there's nothing wrong with admitting it hurts
Illustrations by Jonathon Rosen
a Tuesday morning, just months before he was diagnosed with throat
cancer, and before surgeons removed his voice box -- an organ that
he used more often and better than most men -- John Liebeskind was
on his usual 6 a.m. walk around Rancho Park golf course, across
the street from the 20th Century Fox lot. He was striding along
Pico Boulevard, when a car swept to the curb as if to cut him off.
He stopped. The car door swung open. And there inside, Liebeskind
could see his wife, Julia, and son, Ben.
me, professor," said Julia, "but only members of the National Science
Academy allowed inside."
in. You've been voted into the National Academy!" Julia exclaimed.
National Academy of Sciences. The country's most prestigious scientific
society, an elite club whose members include Einstein, Pauling,
Salk, Feynman and UCLA's Elizabeth Newfeld. Knowing he was on the
short list for election to the academy, Liebeskind had joked, "I
don't know how much pride you can take in being a member of an organization
where the average age is deceased."
overwhelming honor, which comes suddenly and is forever yours, was
bound to rest a bit uneasily on Leibeskind's shoulders; he redefined
"self-effacing" while establishing himself as one of the world's
most highly regarded pioneers in the field of pain. Before his death
from cancer at the age of 62 in September, Liebeskind, a research
psychologist, was an outspoken expert -- and critic -- on pain and
its treatment. In the late '80s and early '90s, his laboratory at
UCLA produced a remarkable series of experiments demonstrating that
animals recovering from surgery suffer significant immune suppression.
In particular, when rats with lung cancer are in pain, their tumors
grow, but when they are given pain killers, the animals' immune
systems rally to contain the growth. The studies helped explain,
among other things, why undermedicated patients rehabilitating from
surgery are so highly prone to infection.