“How Can You Rate Your Pain on a Scale of 0 to 10, if You Don’t Remember What Zero Feels Like?”

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[Image shows three spoons laying on a laptop keyboard. Overlaid is a clip art of a piece of torn notebook paper with a red paper clip. On the paper is a clipart purple awareness ribbon and a quote that reads “How Can You Rate Your Pain on a Scale of 0 to 10 if You Don’t Remember What 0 Feels Like”.]

When you are in a hospital they often come in and ask you, “How would you rate your pain on a scale of 0 to 10?” and if you are used to chronic pain, you know the struggle.

Depends on where.. and the time.. and what you were doing. My knees may be a 5, my stomach may be a 4, my head might be only a one or two. But I am constantly in pain. Not enough that I will demand pain meds. Unless my pain has me in tears, I often will take something light or just deal with it. So when they come in and ask me “Are you in any pain?” I tend to take that to mean, “Are you in any pain that you aren’t used to.”

And of course my pain scale is different from most. The pain scale they use at most hospitals start at 0 with no pain, then 1-3 with mild pain, 4-6 with moderate to severe pain, 7-9 with very severe and then 10 with worst pain possible. Living with chronic pain though has dulled my senses a bit to pain. Hence why I can sit and get a tattoo, or tolerate most pain without a whimper until a 8-10.

Most of the time my pain is mild to moderate. I live at a constant 3-5. Mild being that the pain is nagging or throbbing but I can push through and do what I need to or want to do with help. My cane provides relief from my knees that would push that 5 to a 6 or 7. Other times the pain becomes more moderate and interferes significantly with my day to day activities and hobbies. I can still push through, but if I do I will regret it.

When my pain reaches a 7, it becomes disabling to me, I need to sit down, I might curl up in a ball. Anything higher than that and I may not be able to verbally respond or I may become hysterical from the pain depending on the type of pain.

But what is my 1-10 scale, would likely be a 1-14 pain scale for someone who doesn’t deal with pain on a regular basis. What is my 10 might be a 14 for someone else. I could be experiencing a 9 on my pain scale, and still be conscious and able to respond. I walked around with a dislocated hip for a week before going to a rheumatologist and getting it fixed. He was surprised I hadn’t been unable to walk or in a great amount of pain, but due to my high pain tolerance, I had no idea until he mentioned it and then I was like, “Oh yeah, that has been hurting.”

The other thing is that with multiple chronic illnesses, my pain is wide spread. So as I mentioned before I could have different levels of pain at different locations. I once read a thing about how chronic illnesses are like a house being on fire. You often focus on the biggest fire or the the most troubling fire and forget about the smaller fires. So I often forget about some of the pain when other pains arrive. When I got kidney stones that pain took over and I forgot all about the other pain, or when I woke up from my port surgery with no pain control, but on a regular basis I juggle between joint pains, stomach pains, sore throat, and gut pain.

This is why it is hard sometimes when doctors walk in and want to know where my pain is. Unless they want a 600 word explanation, it is much easier just to say “I’m fine.” if I can tolerate it.

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