Pain is Relative

People feel pain differently.  Over the past three days, I thought about this as I sat in a chair in Mt. Sinai hospital on the Upper East Side.  My mother underwent a two-hour surgery and recovered from the eighth floor overlooking 5th Ave.  I am thankful she got the window bed,  I had a great view to think.

With all the advanced technology that a hospital uses, when it comes to a patient’s pain, they stick to basics.  I learned that every patient feels pain differently, even after the same surgical procedure.  They believe that a patient’s threshold for pain varies based on culture, sex, history and other various reasons.

Each morning, the nurse came in gauge how much pain my mother felt.  The method followed a “pain rating scale,” a universal chart with six faces less detailed than Gchat emoticons.  The chart made me laugh; it seemed ridiculous.  Based on my mother’s facial expression, the nurses managed the dose of her meds.  A chart with six faces, which a kindergartner could draw, determined the dosage of her morphine drip, whether she would get one or two Percocet and if she needed a Valium that day.

Pain is hard to see from the outside.  Hospitals believe that facial expressions are able to portray the level of pain a person feels, but even they are using an archaic method.  I guess it’s the best they can do.  What this method does show, is that there isn’t a way to know how much pain a person is expected to feel after a specific operation.  The hospital is aware that pain is relative to each patient.  All they can do is track the patient’s facial expressions a few times a day to get a feel for how much pain is really there.

Emotional pain is dealt with differently.  It is not as simple as a chart with six faces ranging from “no hurt” to “hurts worst.”  Still, both types of pain are connected in a sense that both are relative to the patient.  The same cause will affect each patient differently.

I wish I realized this a year ago.

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