Saturday, January 02, 2016

What a Pain

Barb Polan
Barb's Recovery
Posted 13th December 2013

Once again, Amy ( has set me off on a riff … about empathy this time. See this for details:

You know the pain scale in some doctors’ offices - the ones that have a ruler with zero to 10?  Zero means “no pain,” and 10 means “the worst pain possible.” Zero shows a smiling face, while 10 is writhing in pain. My guess is that the goal of having the scale is to quantify pain, as though that’s possible. Give it a number and it’s scientific, right? Or is it to minimize the patient’s pain really – to communicate that it’s bearable? For example, a woman with appendicitis looks at the scale and thinks, “this really isn’t so bad – not like childbirth.”

What does quantification do? Even if it’s quantified, the number is still subjective, an evaluation by the patient. But is my 10 the same as your 10? There’s no way of telling.

One’s ego says, “Of course my pain is worse than yours: I have a very high threshold for pain, so my 10 must be far worse than yours.”

And how do the numbers work? Are they additive? They’re numbers, after all, and adding numbers is easy. If a patient with a gallstone claims a 10, and I have an arthritic sacro-iliac joint (3), a muscle spasm in my neck (3) and an arthritic knee (4) – which I do – am I in as much pain as the guy with the gallstones?

That one I know the answer to: nope.

Suppose we use the same pain scale for emotional, instead of physical, pain.

Having a stroke blew apart my happy, perfect world. At the time, the initial (for 3 years, anyway) result was 10 on the pain scale – no debate. Some of the losses have settled down so that the pain has backed off to about 4. Some mornings I wake up at 7; poor Tom. At other times I’m at 2. It is certainly no longer an unrelenting 10.

There are particular things that give me some relief (in no particular order): meditating; being with my children; doing something successfully for the first time; writing a perfect paragraph; solving the embezzlement question in my novel.

And others that exacerbate the pain: being misunderstood; making a mistake that makes me feel stupid; disappointing Tom; failing to do something physical I thought would be doable, especially something easy, like putting on  a sweater.

 Of course, even when I was at 10 emotionally, I knew it didn’t approach the 10 a parent feels at the death of a child. Even at my worst, I can see that others are in more emotional pain than I.

And being in such pain has made me more sensitive to others’ pain, more empathetic.

See the original article:

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