The practice of medicine today is probably one of the most important, frustrating, and confusing professions in the world. For example, I ended up in the cardiac unit at my local hospital through a series of events recently. It wasn’t my first time in that hospital or unit, for that matter. Still, no matter how often someone deals with a medical group or issue, some aspects of the current experience can bring out the “Seriously, doc?” reaction.
In this case, I held my tongue as a well-meaning RN named Matthew poked the nerve. He was going through the ever-growing list of questions, diagnostic and just plain nosy, asked of patients today. My interaction with the medical community over the previous two days had me primed and ready.
First, I spent a very uncomfortable night on the last Sunday in January trying to avoid going to the Emergency Room. After two similar instances in years past, I was certain this was not an ER situation. Accordingly, I waited until Monday morning and went to my primary care doctor. After checking me from top to bottom, he sent me to, you guessed it, the ER.
For the next twenty-six uncomfortable hours, I was confined to the ER. During that period, my condition was “monitored,” I underwent several scans, multiple blood draws, and various tests. I also spent a lot of time twiddling my thumbs while waiting for a room. So, I was not in a great mood when I was finally rolled into a room with a real bed, a bathroom, and a window.
Matthew started down his list of questions, and I managed to answer him relatively cordially and coherently. Then he reached the question that drives me up the wall whenever asked, “On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the worst pain you’ve ever experienced, what is your pain level at this time?”
Whenever I am asked that question, I want to scream, “Seriously, doc!?” Of course, Matthew was a nurse and had to ask the question. Still, what were the medical powers thinking when they came up with it?
All of us experience pain in different ways. I’ve known folks who would say their pain was a 10 while someone else would say a similar injury was a 2 or 3. For example, I once experienced an injury during a rugby match that rendered me almost immediately unconscious. It was, at the time, the worst pain I’d ever experienced, and that is saying something. It was my ten from then on until it wasn’t.
Twenty years later, to the month I had the pleasure of suffering pain that almost made the fact I passed out two decades earlier embarrassing. This pain occurred during a medical procedure instead of an athletic contest. That is why it was a med tech who noticed my distress. Shutting everything down in the middle of the procedure, he came out of his lead-lined control area to check on me.
When he asked how I was doing, I replied through clenched teeth, “On a scale of 1-10, this is a 15. How much longer.” He replied, “thirteen minutes,” and I told him to finish it without resorting to profanity. That may sound braggadocious and hyperbolic, but it is true. Only the slow onset of the agony and the importance of the procedure kept me from calling it quits. He finished the exam, and I had a new level 10. If you think I’m bragging or masochistic, hold your horses.
As a former police officer, amateur athlete, life skills coach, and student of the human condition, I’ve known people who worked through pain that would have incapacitated others.
I’ve also seen people suffer and survive injuries or pain levels that could have easily led to unconsciousness or something more severe. Likewise, I’ve seen some of those same people seemingly come to their knees with an injury many would tape up and move on.
Within limits, pain is subjective. My five might be your ten. My ten might leave you writhing on the ground, and in both cases, our emotional states might dictate our response to some degree. That may be one reason we have the prescription painkiller problem today. We no longer expect people to “tough it out.” Instead, people expect their pain to be eliminated immediately, if not sooner. Doctors played into that for years, and we are reaping the rewards of that behavior.
Is it any wonder I sometimes want to shout, “Seriously, doc!” when they start, “On a scale of one to ten…………?”