Most people are familiar with the pain scale. It is a subjective way of measuring one’s pain level at a given moment. There is no medical device or medical test that can objectively measure one’s pain level and so health care providers rely on the patients’ own report. The pain scale asks patients to rate their pain level somewhere between 0 (no pain at all) to 10 (the worst pain you can imagine). But it is not unusual for patients to feel frustrated when asked to rate their pain level on this scale. Patients sometimes report numbers higher than 10 on a scale that has a maximum level of 10. Why is that?
It turns out that pain is often anxiety provoking and sometimes down-right scary. Even most health specialists, when faced with high levels of pain, wonder if the pain will ever go away and if they will ever be all right again. The fear of staying in that much pain, the fear of body parts being damaged or at least loss of function at that part can begin to feel so real and so threatening. So when asked by health care providers what their number on the pain scale is, patients are reporting their fear number as well as their actual pain number, and that leaves little wonder as to why a maximum of 10 is not enough to capture what their true experience is.
There is no magical way to foresee what exact message pain has. While translating the exact message of pain can be tricky, pain should be taken seriously because it is always the body’s way of saying something to us. It is perhaps most helpful to trust that once medical work ups have been done and a “no threat” bill of health has been issued by the treating physician, then the fear level be tested separately from the pain level. The fear level often stems from catastrophic thoughts, images of being disabled, seriously harmed. While being on the lookout and perhaps a bit pessimistic can sometimes save future disasters, but often such thoughts prove to be debilitating. At times like this a bit of reality check can save a lot and be very useful.
Ask yourself questions like:
- Am I fearful of my pain because it resembles the pain of a relative or friend which ended up being disastrous?
- Are my treating physicians concerned that the higher my pain the more damage I am receiving which will lead to further disability?
- As difficult it is to deal with it, am I actually going to die from this pain?
- Can I just concentrate on this hour and not think of how I am going to live the rest of my life?
So, what is your fear number?
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