4 Problems With The Pain Scale

My life has been filled with a lot of pain and many different types of pain. In the past 7 years, I have not had a single day without pain- not one. I have good days and bad days, but even the good days are filled with pain. Aside from the pain itself, the pain scale is one of the banes of my existence.

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1. It Doesn’t Work For Chronic Pain

Not only is it a pretty terrible scale for measuring pain in the average person, but it is even less effective for people with chronic pain.

I’ve had a lot of people when talking about pain, make the comment “but you’re used to it.” This isn’t exactly true. My pain is actually worse and more unbearable than it has ever been before. Pain doesn’t hurt any less because you are used to it. What you really get used to is living with it. You get used to pretending you don’t have pain, using coping methods such as distraction, and hiding the pain.

If I had the average response to dislocating a joint that the average person did I would be crying, distorting my face, and screaming far too often to navigate this world. So I’ve learned to breathe through it and even smile. Only people very close to me can even tell that something is happening- and often they can’t even tell. Developing this coping mechanism is so necessary for living with chronic pain and such a problem at the doctor’s office.

I have had at least a dozen kidney stones. The pain of a kidney stone is slightly worse than my average Ehler’s Danlos pain, but not enough that I can easily shed my coping mechanism of hiding my pain. One night I began to pee blood and couldn’t keep fluids down so I went to the ER. I told them I had a kidney stone- I know full well what they feel like by now. The nurse told me I couldn’t have a kidney stone, “Even giant footballer men roll into the fetal position from kidney stones.” They did a scan and, of course, I had a large kidney stone. I eventually got treatment, but first was told I wasn’t in enough pain. It was infuriating and it has happened more than once.

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It has gotten to the point where I almost feel like I have to try and visibly show the pain I feel inside, but it is still so difficult.

2. It Isn’t Standardized

Another problem is the scale means something different to everyone. I’ve been told 10/10 is the worst pain I’ve ever felt and also told that 10/10 is the worst pain I can imagine. These are far different measurements! For the same pain, I would rate it as a 8 on the first scale and a 3 on the second (I can imagine some horrific pain).

3. We Can Only Compare Pain- Not Imagine It

Generally, we can only rate our pain based on comparisons to other pain we have actually felt. That is the best way to understand someone’s pain. However, many people are at the extremes- they have either had a fairly pain free life or have experienced immense pain. Two people’s 7/10 may be wildly different. The scale does not work as a stand-alone tool without considering the pain patients have felt in the past.

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4. The Scale Is Used Against Patients

Another problem with the pain scale is that it is commonly used by nurses and doctors against the patient. If you answer too high on the pain scale and they can’t see the cause of your pain, they will assume you are lying to get drugs. If you answer an 8 and then check messages on your phone (even though distraction is one of the best solutions to pain) they will assume you are lying. If you answer too low they won’t take you seriously. Instead of using the scale to help treat patients it is often used to hurt patients.

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So if the pain scale is the problem what is the answer? Medical professionals need to listen to their patients when they describe their pain and take a look at their medical history. The pain scale needs to be taken with a grain of salt when used and needs to be standardized. Medical professionals need to make up their minds. What is a 10/10? Decide and then stick to it!

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8 Ways Alternative Medicine Hurts Those of Us With Chronic Illnesses

Since the moment I first got sick the suggestions people gave me were unreal. The suggestions began with “just needing to pray harder” and gradually made their way to biofeedback, grounding, crystals, supplements, and more. I honestly am not sure which was worse, but I do know that suggestions and trying alternative medicine have only made a hard life with chronic illness harder.

1. The Patient Gets Blamed When a Treatment Doesn’t Work

When a doctor gives me a medication and it doesn’t work I don’t get blamed for the failure. However, when I try an alternate medicine I nearly always do get blamed for the failure. When it was biofeedback, I wasn’t trying hard enough or practicing enough. When it was acupuncture, I wasn’t trying to relax hard enough. Even with supplements, I just hadn’t waited long enough for the benefits (no matter how long I waited).

It is hard enough to be blamed for a treatment not working when you are trying your best. It is even worse when this attitude gets perpetuated beyond your treatment and into the rest of your life. Sometimes when I tell people the conditions I have I get the response “Well are you trying _____” (Insert any alternative medical treatment). Sometimes it is implied and sometimes it is explicit but the underlying question is always there- why aren’t you trying everything you can? The reality is that people with chronic illnesses don’t owe it to anyone to try treatments not verified by science. The attitude that we aren’t trying hard enough when we don’t try whatever alternative treatment is hurting people. It has kept me from getting the support I need from my friends and family- I was never trying hard enough to get better so in their eyes I didn’t deserve their support.

2. Alternative Medicine Is Dangerous

There are many reasons using treatments only verified by science is so important. One reason is safety of a treatment is verified. The treatments benefits must outway the risks for it to go to market. However, alternative medicine doesn’t need to go through the same thorough screening. People with pre-existing conditions can be the most endangered by this lack of safety.

For example, supplements often aren’t what they say they are. This can cause medications interactions and other problems- especially in people who already aren’t healthy. Chiropracty and acupuncture have their own dangers too. Chiropracty has been linked to strokes and acupuncture to puncturing organs.

I often hear “But it is natural so it is safe” or “I don’t want to put all those drugs in my body- I prefer natural treatment.” What so many people fail to realize is that natural does not mean safe. So many natural things in this world are dangerous- berries, mushrooms, and poison ivy for start. The thing is so many of the medications on the market come from nature and have been improved upon so they are safer and more effective. One example is aspirin, which initially comes from willow bark. There are dangers from the completely natural willow bark and aspirin the same. The difference is aspirin has been tested and put into the safe, same dose in every bottle with dosing specifications included. The risks are assessed and addressed whereas natural products usually only claim they are natural and the public assumes that means safe and doesn’t question the risks of the treatment further.

3. Costs

Alternative medicine profits off people with chronic illnesses. I’m not going to try and argue that “big pharma” doesn’t profit off us being sick as well. However, when we pay for medication we are paying for something that has been proven to be effective at least some of the time. With good insurance, these treatments are likely to be at least partially covered. With alternative med people pay, and they pay big, for something that has not been proven to help with their condition- or any condition at all.

People with chronic illnesses already have to deal with crippling medical debt and are just desperate enough to try anything- any crazy alternative medicine no matter how small the chance there it has of actually helping them. People know this and they benefit off of it. They take advantage of the desperate.

4. It Assumes Laymen Know More Than Doctors

There is a reason we should only trust medical professionals to treat medical conditions. The human body is infinitely complex and so many things can go wrong. Doctors and pharmacists spend a large chunk of their lives in school learning how to treat patients better and minimize risks. But alternative medicine professionals? Anyone can become one. They don’t have to know much about the human body or even anything about the condition they claim they can help with.

5. Patients End up Constantly Chasing Hope All The Time

Having a hope certainly isn’t a bad thing. Having false hope in a treatment that will cost you hundreds, if not thousands, and let you down is a bad thing. A lot of people with incurable, chronic illnesses, if not all, go through a time similar to the bargaining stage of grief. They try anything- no matter how slim of a chance it has of working. Alternative medicine con men know this and they take advantage of it. They promise cures to our chronic conditions. They are in the business of selling false hope.

False hope hurts. Putting 50+ hours into biofeedback that claimed to cure (or hugely improve) my POTS and getting so little out of it. I was crushed by letting myself hope I could get better and then continuing to be sick no matter how hard I tried. The biofeedback technician blamed me; I blamed me. Even worse, my loved ones bought the false claims the biofeedback technician made. And when I wasn’t cured? They blamed me too. It was one of the darkest times of my life. The disappointment consumed me.

6. It Claims To Fix You, Not To Manage Symptoms

Trumped up claims of efficacy are a hallmark of alternative medicine. All the medications from a true doctor I took only claimed to possibly manage the symptoms of my conditions. However, alternative medicine practitioners claimed that they could cure my incurable illness or basically make all the symptoms disappear.

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My conditions are incurable. Cutting out gluten, doing biofeedback nonstop, becoming vegan, yoga, walking, crystals, needles, etc. is not going to make an incurable illness curable. If the cure was truly found actual scientists and medical professionals would be all over it. Alternative medicine conmen making these outlandish claims produces false hope, keeps people from learning to live with their conditions, and makes conditions harder to understand. That leads me to our next point.

7. Pseudo-experts Make Understanding Conditions Harder

Education on conditions is important to people being supportive. When alternative medicine conmen enter the conversation they dilute the available information with false claims rather than facts. This makes the condition more difficult to understand for the patient, medical professionals, and loved ones. Pseudoscience, therefore, makes the lives of patients much more difficult.

For example, I have had doctors tell me that my conditions would be cured by cutting out inflammatory foods. This diet has no evidence to back it up but somehow made it into my doctor’s education on my conditions. Getting suggestions that indicate a fundamental misunderstanding of my condition (that it is incurable) is frustrating and disheartening.

For other examples, you only have to look as far as support groups. There is so much pseudoscience and misinformation that many patients don’t even understand the basics of their condition.

8. Alternative Medicine Simply Does Not Work

There have been many studies into alternative medicine and the results are conclusive- alternative medicine simply does not work. There is a common joke in the science community: What do you call alternative medicine that works? Real medicine.

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So before you consider the next random treatment suggested to you- check it out first. Is there any good evidence that it helps people with your condition? Is it worth the money, the false hope, the risk, or the blame you will likely receive when it fails?

To The Park Ranger Who Questioned My Disability

I love camping. It one of my favorite things to do and I wasn’t about to let my stupid flesh prison keep me from doing it. So I organized a camping trip with 6 friends.

We went to Saddlehorn Campground, just a little bit out from Grandjunction, CO. I chose it because it had cemented paths and disability spots. It was absolutely beautiful as well.

We got there Friday late afternoon. Within 5 minutes getting there a man rode up on his bike.

“Why are you parked in a disability spot,” he accusatorily asked me (my official placard hanging in the window).

In immense pain from the 4-hour drive, I responded: “because I’m f**king disabled.”

He stood around and dumbly added, “but I’ve seen all y’all walking around.”

At this point I wasn’t alone in my anger, my friends chimed in. “Go away” “mind your own business” they yelled while I yelled, “just because I can walk tiny distances doesn’t mean I’m not disabled!”

He angrily, and obviously not convinced, jumped on his bike and rode off. I tried to not let it bother me, but it did. I was already gnawing at me when the park ranger came to our campsite.

“I need to see whatever proves you are disabled.” Obviously, my new friend had tattled on me. While she was saying this my disability placard hung visibly from the rearview mirror of the car.

My partner stood up and ushered her to look at the placard- literally right beside her. She walked away huffily as well. No apology for her hugely inappropriate behavior. Nothing.

I chose Saddlehorn for its disability friendly campsites and was harassed instead of finally easily able to enjoy camping. However, apparently, you have to be visibly disabled to not be harassed by other campers and staff.

Newsflash Saddlehorn: not all disabilities are visible. Not everyone who needs those spaces uses a wheelchair 100% of the time. Disability placards exist and aren’t easy to get without an actual condition that you need it for!

Lessons In Resentment

Accepting help is a hard skill to master. In my life, that skill has been made less attainable by a certain type of person. They always volunteer to help me- I do not ask. But then they get in over their heads and instead of talking to me about it, they start to resent me. That resentment grows and grows to the point where they become abusive, suddenly kick me out of their lives, or turn me into a villain in their heads.

Recently, I was offered a place to live rent-free by two friends until I could receive disability or be able to work again. They offered. I did not ask in any way, shape, or form. I asked over and over again if it was still okay and over and over again was told that it was. I worried about being a burden and communicated this. I worried they wouldn’t talk to me if there was a problem.

However, over time they became less kind. Eventually, when I asked to be treated with kindness, everything blew up. I was called names, told I was using them, told they were actually trying to make me cry, and promised I would be kicked out if I kept acting how I was acting (asking to be treated with kindness). I was thoroughly confused until I heard, months after I moved out- from other people, that they were upset about money.

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All they needed to do is say something. But when things go unsaid? Resentment poisons relationships. It grows and grows until everyone has been hurt. Communication and honesty are the antidotes, but it is so hard to find people who realize this. All I had ever done was try to communicate when things were bothering me- if they had done the same it wouldn’t have ended in such an ugly way.

Instead of treating me like a human being and talking to me they got in over their heads and then hurt me. In the end, their “help” hurt me more. I would have rather struggled to pay rent than to be treated that way. I would have rather never had them in my life at all.

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I don’t share this story because it is a fun thing to reminisce. I share it because there is a clear lesson here I hope others can learn from.

Caretakers & Helpers

For those who volunteer to help someone- if you get in over your head SAY SO. Know your limits of what you can give. You aren’t being brave or saintly for pushing past these. All that exceeding those limits does is lead to resentment, and like I’ve said, resentment hurts everyone involved. If you take care of yourself you can better help others better as well.

People With Chronic Illness

For those being helped, hesitate taking help from people you don’t trust to communicate with you even if it is a difficult conversation. Even if you are receiving help, you deserve to be treated kindly. Don’t fall into the trap in thinking that you owe it to people who are helping you to be purposefully hurt, abused, degraded, humiliated, or mistreated in any form.

You are not a burden or responsibility to be put up with, but a human who should be treated as such. Anyone who loses sight of this doesn’t deserve to be in your life.