How painful is painful?

I had the most terrible stomachache last night. I guess the milk in the cereal I ate for merienda did it for me. I was practically cringing in the toilet seat with all the emotional affect appropriate for pain. It felt as if a ball of spikes was rolling down my abdomen. And in the middle of it all I thought about how patients in hospitals must feel.

If I were to rate my pain last night, I would have rated it an eight out of ten. But then I realized, what significance does that number have? Nurses and medical practitioners alike have been repeatedly taught to use a pain scale when assessing the pain of a client, to at least allow a measurement of a very subjective experience. Of course there is nothing wrong with using it, lest a technology be developed which will allow health care people to experience a patient's pain. However, I wonder if people in the health field really do get the gravity of how much pain a patient feels when he rates his pain a 7, or 8 or a 9. Do we, (myself included) even get the slightest idea of how it is to be in their state of pain? Or does the number just become another objective cue to write in the patient's chart to measure the effectivity of analgesics and interventions? How much do we, as human beings, even brush upon their excrucuiating experience?

I remember an incident told to us by a certain lecturer (who I cannot remember) to remind us to be responsible and 'human' nurses. It was about a patient who died because of nurses, who failed, or grossly ignored the patient's complaints of pain.

The nurse on duty made her rounds when Patient Y told her that her stomach was aching. I believe the nurse told her to rest and lie down until it eventually resolves. After several minutes Patient Y went to the station, IV stand in tow, asking the nurses for analgesia, since the pain was almost unbearable. The nurses with their head nurse in the gang, put on a laugh fest telling Patient Y to just go back in her room. After several more minutes, the patient went back again to the station, only to receive a null response. As Patient Y was again returning to her room, she fainted, knocked her head on the floor, and died almost immediately.

It is almost inhuman to be apathetic to someone in his weakest, most tormented state. But to do it, and even enjoin people to laugh at him or her is to be without a soul. As JK Rowling has put it, Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people’s minds, imagine themselves into other people’s places. I hope those nurses get to even touch how it feels like to be in such immmense pain, and be able to laugh at their situation.

I know the pain I experienced last night is incomparable to the pain experienced by cancer or chronically ill patients. I would not have been prescribed morphine, like most of them require. I think it is almost funny that my experience last night has equated to relearning how to be empathetic to the pain of others. It may be just abdominal cramping, which continues to have its aftershocks right now, but I remembered how it is to be vulnerable and be tormented by pain.

Sometimes it is easy to forget how pain is, until you feel it again. I think however, that keeping in touch with our sense of humanity, even without being in pain, would allow us to break the bubble of indifference towards how others feel. And crossing that boundary shall enable us, humans and health care professionals, to effectively help others alleviate their suffering.


Anonymous said...

I seem to have a brilliant idea to solve both the problems of apathetic nurses and the lack of a better pain measurement procedure: tell the patient to punch the nurse in the abdomen as hard as their pain commands. The nurse will definitely feel the pain for herself. This will give her a first-hand basis for pain assessment and a solid reason to be sympathetic. Crude but effective.