Measuring the pain.

Some things are easy to measure, aren’t they?  Remember our school days where we learnt to measure distances, angles and times.   How often in our daily lives do we measure out amounts for cooking or making items?

After a while measuring simple things become second nature don’t they?

But how do you measure pain?  There is no magical tape measure or ruler, protractor or compass that we can lay out and measure how much something is hurting.  In some ways it would be wonderful if we could apply an appliance and say that on the relative pain scale we have reached a reading of ‘X’ wouldn’t it?

Just recently I was on the way to my nephew’s wedding where I was to take the photographs for him, and I started to get a deep pain in my left lower back.  After arriving at the church and taking the first general pre-wedding shots, the pain was getting worse and worse.

Then I started with nausea and vomiting.  It got so bad that I asked my brother and my wife to call the ambulance.  My wife, Sue, got really worried then because she knows my deep reluctance to visit doctors or hospitals and for me to ask to go to hospital, she knew something was really hurting me.

The ambulance was called and my daughter did a magnificent job as bridesmaid and photographer while my wife came with me to hospital.

I arrived in the emergency department and was placed on the bed and a doctor and nurse started the checkups.

The first questions naturally were about where did it hurt, how long ago did it start and the symptoms.  Then I was asked how much it hurt.  On a scale of 1 to 10 – how bad was the pain. 

Then I realised that I didn’t have a pain meter on me and how subjective pain is!  I knew it was really hurting – so much that I was still vomiting from the pain – so I said about a 9!

After a line was put into my hand and blood taken for testing etc., the nurse came in to give me the pain relief.  And what a relief it was!  As the morphine started to take effect, the muscle spasms in my left kidney area started to ease and in what seemed a short time, the difference was unbelievable.

After a few hours waiting and follow-up, the doctor told me that they had found blood and small clots in my urine and that they believed that I had suffered a kidney stone.  He also said that my renal function was impaired and did I know about it?  I told him that I did and that it was being monitored by a specialist.

Now what has all this got to do with bipolar disorder?

The kidney stone nothing!  But the problem of how we measure the pain everything!

You see someone in obvious pain and discomfort and perhaps doubled over or holding an injured limb and when they say to you they hurt.  People tend to believe them when they say that on a scale of 1 to 10 the pain level is about an 8 or 9.

But when you or I, when we are going through a rough patch tell people that we aren’t too good.  They look at us differently.

How do you measure mental pain?  Every day when I look at filling in my mood chart for my psychiatrist I have to make an assessment of how I have been for the day and sometimes it is hard because I really don’t know.

I know that I have been in pain and that my feelings have been low and that I often just want it all to end.  I want to get it all over and no longer have to put up with the mess I feel my life has been at times.  I feel the pain of my mistakes as a father and husband and just want to make some amends for the past – but the past is gone.

I think of the times that I haven’t been able to make it various meetings because I just couldn’t bear to be around people and have the strain of smiling and being pleasant when it hurt just to be alive.  And then the pain of the looks that we all get from time to time from people that say – “Can’t see anything wrong with Graham (substitute your name) – he looks alright to me – think he’s just lazy.”

Or the other pain of being labelled “the loony side of the family!”  Even by some family members!

How can you measure these on a definitive scale when all these things are so subjective and personal. 

I know that there have been times when I wonder if anyone really does believe me when I tell them, I want to die.  When I break down in tears because I just want it all to stop and get out of this recurring nightmare of ok/not ok and everything in between. Even during sessions with my psychiatrist I sometimes wonder if he believes me, or is it a touch of paranoia.

Lately I have been tempted to cut myself just to feel some physical pain that I can measure.  I have run some knives over my arms feeling the physical touch against my skin and wondering if I have the courage to take the next step.

Then the moment passes and I go back to putting the knife away and then ask myself the question again.

How do I measure the Pain!!!

Graham Brown

26 October 2005

 

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