One of the things about being a chronic pain patient that I find the most frustrating is being asked: ” On a scale of 1 – 10, what would you rate your pain?” You want me to what now? I *live* in chronic pain. You expect me to categorize it in a convenient little number for the electronic medical record system (EMS)?! As if chronic health conditions were that simple! HA!
Another chronic illness blogger who writes I Tripped Over a Stone (check out her blog), suggested that I write a piece about the pain scale and dialogue to use when being asked to rank pain. She thought my dialogue for working with health professionals about pain was a sound one, so I’m going to share it with you, in the hope that it may help.
(Skip to the end if you only want the script)
We as patients have to change the way we think and approach medical professionals. There is significant mistrust between patients and healthcare folks, to the point, it’s palpable in many encounters. And can be downright hostile at times. I have found that beating my fists against the proverbial wall with them does no good, and only reinforces their bias and mistrust. They are scared of us, and to cover it up they gaslight and judge. They feel cornered because we are a potential lawsuit waiting to happen. Someone somewhere traumatized these people, either by imparting heavy bias (medical school) or from personal experience. Some of them are cynical and jaded, and others flat out spooked.
Now that we’ve humanized healthcare workers again, we can come from a place of compassion and work on building that bridge of trust. Yes, it’s a burden we’d prefer not to have (We are the sick ones after all!), it takes patience and work. And we will have to deal with folks who are willfully ignorant and judgemental about our health, professionals, friends, family, random people… it’s part of our life as chronically ill folks. But these people are human too, and are suseptible to fears and mistrust.
So about the pain scale! Here’s what I usually say when asked to rank my pain on the very non-chronic pain friendly scale.
“This is a tough one! I live with chronic pain between a 4-7, which is a challenge but I usually manage. However, the pain that brought me in today is an 8, which brings my overall pain level up significantly and I am not able to do normal daily tasks or rest.”
Some of them will insist on a number, give them what you feel is “closest to”, but keep advocating for yourself. Then write the hospital, doctor’s office, electronic medical records companies, for a better way for chronic pain patients to express their pain.
2 thoughts on “The Dreaded Pain Scale”
Great attitude about our healthcare workers. They are in a tough spot as well. I like your approach and hopefully, this will help others communicate fairly and civilly. ~Kim
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