|Gargoyle, Notre Dame de Paris|
I'm told that diverticulitis is quite painful, and every new caregiver I encountered asked me with great concern whether I was taking pain medication or whether I wanted some.
After seeing my CT scan, one of the doctors in the surgical team went to find me on my gurney in the ER, expecting that a patient with such a acute condition would be in great distress.
He found me leaning back on my pillows reading a book. Yeah, I was uncomfortable. Yeah, it was painful. But when he asked me the "on a scale of one to ten" I had a hard time answering. Four? Six? Five?
So what is pain, and how do we perceive it?
Medical researchers studying pain have created several measuring tools. One rates pain on a numerical scale starting with 0 as having no effect on everyday activities of life, and 10 as so severe and disabling one is unable to conduct everyday activities of life.
|Wong-Baker faces pain scale|
Some tools ask you to describe the quality of the pain before rating it. Is it sharp, dull, piercing, aching? Does it shoot, cramp, throb, stab, or gnaw?
|Street art, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY|
It's an inexact science, to be sure. Almost every health care professional who asked me to rate my pain also confided that they didn't like the "one-to-ten" scale pain rating tool.
Personally, I think the context of pain is important in rating the level of severity and distress. If you skin your knee, it's painful, but you know why you hurt. It's a trauma and a break in the skin - of course it's going to hurt. If you swab it with Bactine, it's really going to sting, but you don't worry that it's going to kill you.
|This isn't me. This is the New York Trapeze School on the Santa Monica Pier.|
The cramping in my abdomen when my son was born was far more intense than the cramping in my gut this month from diverticulitis. Yet I was not distressed in the slightest by the pangs of childbirth - I knew what was going on. And while I was apprehensive and wondered just how intense it would get, I never feared for my well-being.
Three days after childbirth, my breasts became hugely engorged with milk, and that was a pain that totally eclipsed that of delivery. My boobs were grossly, ridiculously distended. It seemed so unfair. This wasn't supposed to happen after I'd done my job so well! If I were to rate that pain, surely indignation would have weighted the numbers.
|Detail, Watts Tower, Los Angeles|
By the same token, a bout five years ago with hemorrhoids stands out in my memory as a horrendous pain - but probably more for the embarrassment than for the actual pain. And isn't there something about hurting in a place you can't look at that increases the relative agony?
|Column at the medieval basilica of Vezelay|
So when my care providers asked me to rate the pain of diverticulitis, I had to rate it as "moderate." Not as bad as hemorrhoids or an abscessed tooth. And when they asked me if I wanted some medication for it, I had to say - No, I didn't need it. Not this time around.
It's pretty weird to think that the first major health crisis in my life comes in secondary, pain-wise, to a bad toothache.
What lessons have you learned in dealing with pain?