Explaining My Pain Level

Prior to being diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis, expressing my pain level to nurses and doctors was easy. The chart that rates pain on a scale from one to ten, with ten being the worst, was in line with whatever injury I was being seen for. That changed once I began experiencing physical pain on a daily basis.

Sliding scale

Before becoming chronically ill, a good day didn’t include physical pain. Afterward, a good day meant experiencing a level three on the pain chart. As my condition progressed and being diagnosed with a few other chronic diseases, five became my new normal. Now the pain level that I consider normal is what I used to label as an eight. Over time I have learned to function with pain levels that used to bring me to tears.

A new scale?

The problem with learning to adapt to living with higher pain levels is that doctors and nurses have doubted or dismissed my pain because I don’t look like I am in as much pain as I claimed. I no longer cry when experiencing pain levels that used to turn me into a sobbing mess. This makes expressing my pain level difficult. There was a time when I felt that hospitals and doctor offices should have a separate pain chart for those who live with chronic pain. But later I realized that because our pain and symptoms often differ a separate chart would be of no use.

What would be helpful for patients like us is for more doctors and nurses to realize that many of us will react to pain differently than those who don’t live with daily pain. Someone who doesn’t live in pain would most likely cry if they broke their toe or tailbone. Not me, I have broken and dislocated bones and was able to remain calm. It wasn’t that I was used to that pain level or that it didn’t hurt; instead, it’s because I have learned to protect myself emotionally. Crying and getting upset or angry increases my stress level which causes other symptoms to flare. When experiencing reactionary pain, I am less able to share with medical professionals which area is really the source of my pain.

Is your average pain level what you used to consider as severe? How do you express your pain level to medical professionals? Have you ever had your pain dismissed or belittled because you weren’t screaming in agony?

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