The Language of Pain

When you tell a medical professional you are in pain, they normally ask you to describe it using two methods; “where is it between one and ten?”, “what kind of pain is it; sharp or dull?”. I do understand there has to be some kind of measure, and some form of description, but neither of these do pain – severe pain – justice.

Thinking about the pain I am in today, relatively low pain by my standards but still agony, there is a weight to each of my limbs as if they are stone, or waterlogged sponges. Moving them grinds my joints, and draws my body closer to the ground. The bones throughout my body feel as if they are burning hot metal, burning inside of me with every movement. My head feels as though there is an axe sticking out of it, like it’s been cleaved in half across the middle, the pain is so strong; it stays there forever, but also comes in waves so harsh I have to fight back vomit and hold onto something to stay upright. My skin hurts as though razors are being drawn across it, stinging, itching, aching. Any pressure on any part and you feel it on the point and the other side, as if it is clay you are pushing a finger through. The throbbing of knives throughout my womb and ovaries make me double over and clutch at my body, as if it will make a difference, as if it can stop those knives. The overall pain throughout my body stays, and I keep movement to a minimum, to try and keep the irritation of it as low as possible.

And this is just a brief summary. How would – how could – I mark that out of ten? A number does not do my existence justice, and for me there is no existence without pain so again, how could I rate it out of ten, when my seven will be the next persons twenty three? Because whilst it is not a competition or comparison between patients, there is still at the back of your mind wondering if you are ‘right’ with your answer, and uncertainty as to whether you will be believed. My migraines can easily reach a ten, with pain so bad I feel I am going to die from it, but because of misconceptions surrounding migraine and pain in general, this is not always easy to get across to anyone.

I don’t know what the solution is with better communication surrounding pain, other than more education for medical professionals, and more easily accessible pain information for members of the public. There are so many people dealing with chronic pain that, whilst everyone doesn’t need to be an expert, it would be beneficial for everyone if there was more understanding out there. With all the different ways to be in chronic pain, and all the people suffering with them, it would be fantastic if society as a whole was more empathetic towards this position. Yes, I’m a little bit of a “spread the love around” type person, but I really do think that a little bit more love for everyone, from everyone, could never be a bad thing.

Articulating being in pain is a really difficult thing to do. On top of the pain you end up doubting yourself, and wondering if you are doing yourself justice, then worrying you’re making too much of a fuss. This second point is possibly the most British factor of being chronically ill, and we really need to cut it out in all honesty. I’m more towards not being bothered if people think I’m being dramatic now, because I trust myself to know my body as well as I do, but it’s taken a decade of illness to get to that point. Next to mental health, chronic pain is probably the next thing on the list of things that aren’t taken seriously, and that’s a real bugbear of mine. I can’t MAKE someone take my pain seriously, or make them understand it, but if descriptions like the I gave above surrounding my pain levels today start to make things more widely understood, I think we should talk unfaltering about it at every opportunity.

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