NPR recently had an eye-opening article called Words Matter When Talking About Pain With Your Doctor. The premise was that because we all experience pain differently, telling your doctor “I feel like I’m at a 6 out of 10” or so is too subjective to give the doctor any real information.
Let’s say that three people suffer from chronic pain and are talking with their doctor. One person has never had a pain this bad and so they say they are at a 9 out of 10. Another is in intense pain but thinks that a 9 or 10 probably means they’re missing a body part and so they choose a lower number. A third person is in just as much pain as the other two but has had an experience like this before and knows it could be worse so they also choose another number. How does a doctor make sense of these numbers? An incorrect prescription may fail to treat the pain or even a person needing to go into opiate rehab after becoming addicted.
The article prescribed a few solutions, generally focusing on being descriptive instead of using numbers. Some suggestions:
- Use metaphor to describe what the pain is like.
- Describe when you experienced pain in your day and what you were doing when you experienced it.
- Talk about how the pain affected your day.
- Share your personal and family history.
Learn to talk with your doctor in ways that make sure that s/he is understanding your pain in as coherent a manner as possible. This will allow them to choose the best prescription for you.
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