Pain Control in the Hospital: Communicating Your Pain
The hospital is probably the last place you want to visit especially when you live with chronic pain. But some illnesses and injuries require treatment at the hospital. Maybe you will be lucky enough to have your own regular doctor care for you in the hospital, however you are more likely to encounter many new faces that do not know you and do not know what you are experiencing. In the event that you find yourself in the hospital, here are few tips to help your stay be more comfortable.
In the first line of questioning as you are being admitted to the hospital, you will probably be asked the infamous 0 to 10 question: “On a scale of 0 to 10, what level is your pain?” Most of you have heard the pain scale question before, but do you really know how to answer it. What does a “10” pain mean to you? What does a “10” pain mean to the doctor or nurse asking the question? Each number can mean different things to each individual. In order to help you use the pain scale more effectively, our own Karen Richards has given us a very good explanation about each number on the pain scale so that you can communicate your pain level more effectively. Unfortunately, most health professionals do not really explain or understand the pain scale well. So, you might want to print out a copy of Karen’s version of the pain scale to take with you to the hospital. Better yet, make two copies, one for you and one for them.
One question you are not likely to hear is: Are you suffering? People assume that pain and suffering are the same experience, but that is not true. Even though you could be lying in bed in the hospital with very little pain, you can still be suffering with feelings of depression, helplessness and hopelessness. Medications do not necessarily relieve the suffering sometimes. Maybe you can use some counseling from the clergy? Maybe you could use a warm blanket or a pet visitation?
Your nurse may not know that you are lying there suffering even though she/he just asked you the “0 to 10” question about pain. Learn more about the difference between pain and suffering so that you can express all of your feelings. Then, you are more likely to be comforted properly and thoroughly. Talk about your suffering, not just your pain, with your caregivers. Suffering in silence does not help anyone. Silence does not help you and does not help the people trying to help you.
When it comes to receiving good pain control in the hospital, some questions you may want to ask your self are: What would I be able to do if my pain was under better control? Would I be able to sleep better? Would be able to walk further down the hallway with the physical therapist? Could I just get out of bed if my pain level was lower?
By setting a specific activity goal, you will be better able to make your wishes known to the hospital staff about why you want better pain control. If you and your caregivers have specific functional goals in mind, then pain assessment and pain treatment can be done more effectively. The 0 to 10 numbers on the pain scale will have more meaning if these same numbers are also linked to your activity goals. At what number to you need to be at in order to sleep? At what number do you need to be at in order to get out of bed or walk down the hallway? Everyone needs to know what your goals are in order to determine if the pain treatment is working. Clearly defining your goals and expectations will improve their ability to comfort you during your stay in the hospital. Besides, studies have shown the quicker you get moving, the sooner you can get out of the hospital. Going home is the ultimate goal indeed.
Believe it or not, most health professionals really do want to help you. In the hospital, you will encounter people who do not know you and do not know what you are experiencing. That lack of information can hinder their ability to control your pain. With more questions asked and answered, the more likely you and your health care team will be able to find solutions for your pain and suffering. Try to use the pain scale effectively and help them understand what your number means. Try to let them know when you are suffering and help them find ways to ease your suffering, not just your pain. And finally, set some goals for yourself during your stay. When both you and they are working towards the same goal, you will be more likely to achieve that goal quickly and with better pain control. In the unfortunate event that you do need to stay in the hospital, keep these strategies in mind to help improve the quality of your experience.
Christina Lasich, M.D., wrote about chronic pain and osteoarthritis for HealthCentral. She is physiatrist in Grass Valley, California. She specializes in pain management and spine rehabilitation.