painscale.jpgFrom the what doesn’t kill you department, I had to laugh only because the descriptions from the Schmidt Sting Pain Index are so wonderfully rich. It made me consider creating a personal pain scale and how I would index those pains I’ve felt. After a bit of reflection I realized some of the worst pains weren’t physical at all.

Like comedy writers, a group of people getting together to describe their pain in a colorful way would be such therapy wouldn’t it? There are so many varieties and causes of pain and yet they are all also so familiar. And we all know that humor is an essential part of pain management, don’t we? Despite that I hesitated sharing it briefly because we aren’t used to talking about our pain. In fact pain in my family was something you learned to disguise and if you showed it you were weak. Well, in an effort to overcome my own training here is my personal scale, low to high, for pains that have stuck indelibly to my mind. (As they say, it’s all in your head):

1.0 Dental work: a dull mildly throbbing pain that blurs vision and sneaks up in intensity after the medication has worn off. Like biting down on your tongue and drawing blood after chewing ice.
2.0 Ear surgery: a stinging spinning pain that prevents standing or lying down. Imagine being slapped on the side of the head with an industrial rotary sander.
2.5 Being dumped: a quick, sharp kick to the chest that makes difficult to swallow and creates an internal implosion. Like being thrown from a horse down a steep dirt embankment (and yes, that happened. I thought I broke my neck because I couldn’t breathe. Being rejected is similar).
3.0 Getting beat up: Strikingly similar to 2.0 on the Schmidt Sting Pain Index only instead of revolving door, I would suggest several flights of cement stairs. Crunchy and intense are good adjectives.
4.0 Going through divorce: an extended burning yet bittersweet pain that affirms what you thought you already knew but just couldn’t put your finger on. Often requires extended self abuse and excessive consumption of alcohol. Similar to a prophylactic appendectomy.
4.5 Putting a pet to sleep: Surreal, sharp and manically freakish pain. Like watching an open wound being cauterized with a hot poker over an open flame or resetting a compound fracture with a brick. Makes you wish you could pass out.
5.0 Watching a loved one die: Brutal and numbing. Like being stretched, drawn and quartered for hours after being whipped, you just want it to end quickly, but are too tough to plead.

How about pains you’ve felt? I’m sure childbirth has a good description. And getting shot. Or breaking glass in a car accident. I’m not making light of pain, it’s an unavoidable part of being human. The trick is to maintain compassion while examining it from different angles (like Dr. Nuland does in his award-winning book How We Die), which tends to make it easier to share, and in turn, makes it easier to bear.

And before we part, I’ll share a joke told by Harry Shearer today about the kerfluffle over Houdini’s painful death. “What will they find there? … Geraldo Rivera!” owww.

UPDATE: Just in case you’re shy of showing your soft side, I just came across the press release for the National Tour to Encourage People to Let It Out funded by, no kidding, the Kimberly-Clark (aka Kleenex) folks. Here’s an unintentionally amusing quote from the study, “Nearly two-thirds (63%) of Americans believe New Yorkers let it out the most. However, just 38 percent of New Yorkers say they let it out in the last week, compared with half of Los Angeles residents and 44 percent of those from Chicago and Washington, D.C.” (Here is study itself, Letting It Out in America: The Social Landscape for Expressing Emotions (PDF; 76 KB)) So, when was the last time you let it out?

UPDATE 2: Pain Detection and the Privacy of Subjective Experience Source: American Journal of Law & Medicine. “I suggest that while the use of neuroimaging to detect pain implicates significant privacy concerns, our interests in keeping pain private are likely to be weaker than our interests in keeping private certain other subjective experiences that permit more intrusive inferences about our thoughts and character.”