breaking through the pain barrier

Christmas holidays are the perfect time to dip into a good book, whether you’re lazing by the pool, lying on a sandy beach or fighting off the mosquitoes on a camping trip. These days, many time-poor readers are looking for more in a book than just light-hearted entertainment. They long for inspiring stories of courageous people who’ve faced immense challenges but have struggled through them and survived, or sometimes, succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.

For these readers, biographies are the perfect Christmas gift because they’re both entertaining and full of lessons that help us navigate through life’s ups and downs. If you’re searching for a compelling biography this Christmas, Breaking through the pain barrier. The extraordinary life of Dr Michael J. Cousins fits the bill.

Described as ‘gripping’, an ‘adventure of the human spirit’ and ‘enthralling’ by readers, the biography of Dr Michael Cousins, a North Shore local, reveals how he had to beg, borrow and steal to cobble together the funds to build Royal North Shore Hospital’s pain centre. For 25 years obstacles littered his path, but he succeeded against all odds, leading the pain centre to international acclaim.

Breaking through the pain barrier explores what made Australia’s father of pain medicine tick and what set him ticking. It portrays his dreams, trials and tribulations, Eureka moments and moral choices.

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Breaking Through the Pain Barrier is the fascinating journey and breakthroughs of a compassionate and driven doctor dedicated to reducing patient pain.’ Tara Moss, Bestselling Author & Painaustralia Champion.

‘Breaking Through the Pain Barrier is a worthy tribute to Professor Michael Cousins. It’s an engaging book, showing the reader the clinician, researcher and Prof Cousins’ family life as well. It offers hope to patients too, that pain can be better managed through access to holistic pain clinics and services.’ Sophie Scott, Journalist, Broadcaster, Author and Pain Champion.

‘A meticulous, inspiring study of one extraordinary life. Gabriella Kelly-Davies’ compelling and passionate account shows how medicine can be transformed by the power of one individual. This work of integrity and compassion offers us some much-needed hope.’ Lee Kofman, Author of ‘Imperfect’ and ‘The Writer Laid Bare’.

Breaking through the Pain Barrier is an eminently readable history of pain management through the eyes and work of its foremost Australian advocate, Dr Michael Cousins. The vision and devotion of this scientist and clinician is nothing less than astounding. The author has nailed the account of his life’s work and many successes while framing them with personal anecdotes that endear Dr Cousins to all of us, especially those who’ve suffered chronic pain themselves. Annemieke.

Breaking through the Pain Barrier is a brilliant book about an amazing doctor and a true gentleman. My GP is reading it and recommending it to his colleagues. Elaine.

About Dr Michael J. Cousins AO

breaking through the pain barrier

Dr Michael Cousins has lived on Sydney’s North Shore all his life. As a boy, he went to Shore School, and he studied medicine at Sydney University. On Cracker Night in 1964 as a junior doctor, Michael treated two little boys whose bonfire had run rampant, leaving them with life-threatening burns.

He kept a forty-eight-hour vigil by the boys’ bedsides, fighting to save their lives. Thankfully, the boys survived, but Michael couldn’t control their agonising pain because pain medicine was poorly understood, and there were few options for managing severe pain back then.

Haunted by the children’s suffering, he resolved to learn more about pain and its management. At the end of that weekend, Michael Cousins made a decision that would define his future and profoundly influence the field of pain medicine—he dedicated his life to reducing suffering by improving the treatment of pain.

The following year, he started training at Royal North Shore Hospital to become an anaesthetist. Three years later, he headed to McGill University in Montreal, then Stanford University in California to study epidural pain relief with the early pioneers of pain medicine.

In 1990, Michael set up Royal North Shore Hospital’s pain clinic and research centre. The centre quickly gained international prominence under his leadership and in 2014 the hospital named it ‘The Michael J. Cousins Pain Management and Research Centre’ in his honour.

For 50 years, Michael’s quest dominated his life, driving his research, treatment of patients, reform agenda and political advocacy. During that time, he led the pain world as president of the International Association for the Study of Pain in Washington DC, and he established the field of pain medicine in Australia.

Michael convinced governments around the world to view access to pain management as a universal human right. He also won acceptance of chronic pain as a chronic condition in its own right rather than as a symptom of an underlying illness, improving access to specialist pain management services for the 3.4 million Australians—that’s 1 in 5 of us— who live with chronic pain.

About Gabriella Kelly-Davies

breaking through the pain barrier

Kirribilli biographer Gabriella Kelly-Davies wrote Breaking through the pain barrier as part of her doctoral submission at Sydney University where she is studying the art and craft of biography. Her dissertation, Choices, Choices, Choices, explores the countless choices she made while writing the book, what biographers and biography scholars say about these choices, and why she made each one.

To get in touch with Gabriella email:, call 0408 256 381 or visit:

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