Pain scale

The doctors want to know: what’s your pain on a scale of one to ten?

So you try to calibrate your scale.

Nine and ten are unspeakable.

Seven and eight, numbers you might actually use if you felt like you were dying. Like the time you got mono and strep at the same time in college and your throat constricted enough to make it seem like you couldn’t breathe and sleep was elusive so you stayed up all night watching tv.

Five to six: hard to fake your way through. Hard to maintain a coherent conversation.

Three to four: now we’re down to the reasonable numbers. If you’re in a doctor’s office, sitting in a chair across from them and you say three or four you must be a reasonable person, who can manage life.

One to two: well that’s just the cost of daily living.


When I woke up from surgery a nurse asked me about my pain. I said it’s bad. What number? I dunno a five? She gave me meds. Thirty minutes later she asked again, how’s the pain now? A seven. So it’s worse? No, I think I lied before.

It was a few weeks later talking to my physical therapist when she said any number above a three is irrelevant. At a certain point we become unreliable narrators of our own pain.

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