We’ve all heard it. How bad is the pain, on a scale of 1 to 10?
But how exactly do you answer the question when you’ve had more than your fair share of pain? How can anyone know what my 10 is compared to someone else’s?
It seems to me that the more exposure one has to severe pain, the more severe that person’s 10 will be. For instance, if the worst pain Johnny ever felt was a sprained ankle, then Johnny may say that his sprained ankle is a 10. With all the pain I have experienced, a sprained ankle may feel like a 5 to me.
If I say my pain is a 5 to someone who is unfamiliar with the amount of pain I have experienced, I wonder if it may be taken less seriously. It seems like a double-edged sword because saying a very high number may give the impression that one is exaggerating, especially when pain is chronic.
To make it worse, sometimes “with 10 being the worst pain you’ve ever felt” is added; other times it is “with 10 being the worst pain you could imagine” that is added. That could lead to two very different answers for the same person. On the second scale, with all the pain I’ve been through and my imagination, I wince at the thought of what a 10 could be.
In order to clarify my answer, I often follow with a comparison to something most can relate to. For instance, I may add that the pain hurts as much as a sprained ankle.
Being in pain all the time also makes it difficult to tell how much something really hurts. I couldn’t even feel a second degree burn I got last week.
My husband had put dinner in the oven and I was sitting in the kitchen when the timer went off. I figured the least I could do was pull dinner out of the oven, since I was sitting right next to it. Knowing how clumsy I’ve been lately and my tendency to burn myself, I put an oven mitt on each hand and proceeded to take the food out of the oven. Well leave it to me to manage to burn myself even with two oven mitts on!
Luckily, I did feel the pain while my skin was being burned and pulled my arm out.
I could tell by looking at it that it was going to leave a scar (I have extensive experience accidentally burning myself, although this is the first time I managed to do it with two oven mitts on), but within seconds, I no longer noticed any pain, even touching it. It is only a second degree burn, so it should have hurt. It blistered up and looks awful, which is the only reason I even remember it happened.
Maybe it did hurt, but because I am so used to constant pain, I haven’t noticed it.
I get bruises all the time because I am constantly bumping into stuff, and like the burn, I notice a little pain the moment it happens, but it subsides immediately. I usually forget what caused the bruise by the time it shows up because I don’t notice the pain. It seems bruises hurt less than the aches and pains I experience daily. Sometimes they will feel tender when I apply pressure to the bruises, but not as much as my fibro tender points.
Another problem with the pain scale is that 10 is such a small number. It hardly seems large enough to represent the spectrum of pain I have experienced. There is a large gap between numbers for me.
I am currently keeping track of the level of pain I experience daily, among other symptoms, to see if new medications are helping and to keep track of what affects my symptoms. I often find myself using numbers such as 4.5 because I will have a day that is clearly much worse than what I would consider a 4, but not nearly as bad as what I would consider a 5.
It also seems to me that our own pain scales may change as time goes on and we experience and get used to more pain. I remember when I was a kid, I hated paper cuts; I thought they were the worst. Now I would take a paper cut any day over my usual pain. I am sure I would have rated a paper cut much higher on the pain scale when I was a kid than I would today.
How do you feel about the pain scale?