Wesleyan student will explore pain management around the world

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MIDDLETOWN – In April 2019, Middlesex County and Wesleyan University EMT student Livia Cox recalled responding to a medical call where she encountered an unconscious, pale-faced patient.

She stares at a bottle of pills across the room, and although the man is dead, she still begins chest compressions “with every joule of energy and every compassionate bone in me,” she says.

Cox had met this patient before. They discussed at length his comorbid chronic physical and mental pain and substance addiction. A former soldier, he has frequent episodes of PTSD. He was prescribed opioids to relieve his joint pain, but to better relieve his insomnia.


“On the dark, winding road back to the station, I thought about how I would document his death: ‘death by overdose’. But I don’t think that tells the whole story; opioids weren’t not the only causative agent,” she says. “I think about how, as a society, we honor those who died in battle, but don’t care for those who didn’t.

“And I think about how I, as an EMT, am complicit in that – providing transportation, preventing death, but perpetuating a system that fails to address or address the root cause of disease” , she added.

As the recipient of a 2022 Thomas J. Watson FellowshipCox will spend a year exploring the cultural and political valences of pain and the cultural and societal responses to it.

By visiting hospitals, pain clinics, medication consumption rooms and treatment centers; Learning from doulas, herbal experts, and traditional healing practices, Cox hopes to answer these questions and better understand how pain is managed, fought, accepted, celebrated, and ignored.

His proposed project, titled “Pain, Policy, and the Person” will take him around the world to Belgium, Bolivia, Canada, Kenya, Peru, Switzerland, Togo and Vietnam.

The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship is a one-year grant for independent and purposeful exploration outside the United States, awarded to college graduates. It comes with a $36,000 allowance.

Ultimately, Cox hopes to apply to medical school and continue her work with the Middletown Harm Reduction Initiativewhich she co-founded while a student at Wesleyan.

“At 21, I play multiple roles in a flawed healthcare system, unable to reconcile what I’m going through with what I envision,” she wrote in her Watson Project proposal. “But, at 31, with degrees in medicine and public health, I want to create policies that will make a difference.”

Editor’s note: This story is reproduced with permission from The Wesleyan connection.

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