During a long interview with a broadcasting company who specializes in medical topics, I was able to give voice to my own struggles about dealing with pain day (and night). It was an afternoon where I was being asked to be honest about how I felt (physically and emotionally) about living with a specific medical problem that may never resolve itself. The interviewer posed questions that made me think hard about how I view my life where I now need to set some limitations on myself and activities I once enjoyed.
One of the highlights of the discussion was what I’ve personally found to be one of the most difficult aspects of this challenge; that is, I look healthy. Unless I tell someone I’m hurting, they don’t know (and even if I do…some don’t believe me). So I’ve learned to communicate what I feel like using very descriptive words with vivid mental pictures…then I’m better understood.
Since I have felt the frustration of not being understood when describing the pain I’m experiencing…I asked my co-author, Dr. Christopher Foetisch, to weigh in how patients can best communicate their pain levels when they talk with their doctors.
Is there a trustworthy gauge or guide that a person can accurately use to communicate her pain levels to others, to her physician in particular? Read below to better understand what a physician (compliments of Dr. Foetisch) silently thinks in answer to a patient’s description of her pain.
· When communicating pain scales, it’s important to be realistic. Exaggerated numbers do not impress physicians. In fact, doctors will be less inclined to believe patients are credible if they tend to exaggerate.
· For reference, the definition of “Level 10” pain is, “Pain so intense you will go unconscious shortly.” This type of pain occurs in those who have suffered a severe accident with multiple broken bones or injury such as a crushed hand or leg.
· Most people come to a physician’s office with a “Level 6” pain or less.
· Clues as to how much pain someone is in comes from nonverbals such pacing or rocking, difficulty thinking clearly or rationally, and difficulty speaking due to waves of pain or shortness of breath.
· If your pain is truly a “Level 7” or greater you should be in the Emergency Department and not in a doctor’s office.