Rate Your Pain

Someone once told me there is no limit to pain, just when you think you’ve experienced as much as you can endure more pain can be added. I actually don’t hold this to be true because I believe your brain begins to outsmart the pain by numbing the senses, but I can attest that pain certainly places limits on us.

When I endured the tablesaw kickback which amputated 3 fingers and my thumb I can assure you the pain was immediate and very excruciating. My injury occurred at 6:05 pm and I went into surgery at 10 pm. 4 hours with absolutely no pain meds. I remember when the Doctor first assessed the damage of my hand by taking a pin and poking my thumb. My thumb was nearly severed except for the skin on the inside of the palm. I couldn’t believe it, I could feel the needle poke and it hurt! Then he poked my middle finger and it stretched the pain even further and my finger-tip, though barely attached, began to bleed. If I was to try and explain the pain with a food analogy … hitting your fingernail with a hammer would be like eating carrots, whereas smashing your hand would be like chewing on habanero peppers.

When I was at the hospital the Doctor asked me to rate my pain on a scale of 1 to 10 and somehow I came up with a rating of 5. My wife was astonished, but I reasoned it was just one hand. I suppose I figured both hands would give me a 10 rating.

My surgery took six hours so I required a tube for breathing. I don’t remember the tube, but I remember the pain in my throat from the tube. I remember how dry my throat was and how much my throat hurt and found myself repeatedly swallowing my uvula which only made things worse. I remember my hand throbbing with every heartbeat as the blood flowed through my re-attached finger and thumb. When you add the discomfort to the pain the experience was not to be envied.

After my surgery I was on morphine, but not near enough and I fear that my poor pain assessment lead to a longer pain marathon than was required. It seemed like the morphine only worked for the first hour and a half then I was suffering until the next dose. I remember the second night I told my nurse if I fall asleep please wake me up at 2 am and give me my next dosage. I woke up at 4:30 am in extreme pain. I called to my nurse “Did you give me my morphine?” Her reply, “No, I didn’t want to wake you.” I couldn’t believe it and I spent the rest of the day fighting the pain and trying to “catch up” on my meds.

Now I was being brutally honest and I explained how much it hurt and the nurse said “Are you expecting to have no pain?” I said “No, but a 4 or 5 would be nice … I’m sitting here at 9.5 to 10 all day!” There seemed to be no end in site and I found that if I walked around the ward I could transfer my pain to energy. I suppose there may be a study on kinesthetic pain transference somewhere, but this seemed to work somehow for me. There were times my fast walk was nearly a run on the ward. I was doing so with my pole and intravenous drip and of course the hospital gown. One of the nurses took me aside and said she may get in trouble with the other nurses on the ward, but when I was “walking” my gown was flying open behind me and I was giving a bit of a show. It really wasn’t the intent, but somehow my service improved 😉

After 5 days in the hospital my Doctor wanted to discharge me, but my pain was still excruciating. He wanted me to go on 50 mg of Demerol every 4 hours. I refused since earlier in the process I had taken that dosage and it didn’t touch the pain. I said if he’d double the dose I would try it. After a brief conversation with the pharmacist he agreed. Two and a half hours in I was ready to start my laps again, but after the nurse refused any more pain meds I reasoned that I had already gone 4 hours with next to no pain meds and I could endure anything for an hour and a half. Shortly after my second dose at the 4 hour mark my pain finally subsided. I was awestruck, was this “feeling of silence” what it was supposed to be like? Could I really be pain free? After 5 days I finally had relief! I was ecstatic and showed my approval by falling asleep within minutes. To my amazement I woke up 2 hours later and still had no pain. I was overjoyed!

There is a very special sensory relationship between your brain and the sense of touch and intricacies of movement in your hands. I can’t tell you why pain is so crippling sometimes and absent other times, but as you are all aware pain is an indication that all is not well with our bodies. It causes us to slow down and take note of what might be causing the pain and to endeavor to find relief. I have been very fortunate. My pain was like an RRSP with an extremely heavy front-load, thankfully after the first couple of weeks the pain subsided. I still have stiffness in my hand, but most of my pain is limited to the knuckle of my middle finger. My hope is that people who hear my safety message won’t be asked to rate their pain on a scale of 1 to 10.

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