Pain is Relative

As I stared longingly at a motorized scooter at the grocery store yesterday, the nice boy straightening up the carts asked if I needed help. “Yes, yes I do. More than you could imagine.”

He and the funny look on his face went back to his mess of carts and I hobbled away, thinking about how much my stupid back hurt and simultaneously, how very fortunate I am to have a simple backache.

Last Tuesday, I hurt myself doing something decidedly non-athletic. In my usual morning rush to still be late for everything, I picked up my lunch box, throwing my back out in the process. At this point in the story, some might suggest that I pack smaller lunches, but I would tell some that they can mind their own business as it was less the heft of the container and more how I had hefted it.

In my twenties, I was diagnosed with what I like to think of as “extremely mild, hardly noticeable” osteoarthritis and have had a few episodes of mild back discomfort since then. Each time, my chiropractor friend gets me back on track with a couple of minor adjustments and it’s as if nothing was ever wrong. This time around has been a little different though – it’s been much more painful and a couple of adjustments hasn’t solved the problem yet.

My first experience with pain not easily eliminated with over-the-counter pain meds has been educational. And by that, I mean my family has asked me to temporarily find another place to live. But the point is that being relatively pain-free until now has afforded me the opportunity to walk around taking all kinds of things for granted…

  • Being able to put on my own shoes without weeping.
  • Tossing my kids on my back for a Mommy-Choo-Choo ride to the bathroom before tucking them in without having to say “I can’t carry you tonight sweetie, mommy’s back still hurts.”
  • Following everyone around, picking up after them, and only experiencing annoyance rather than annoyance and pain.
  • The small amount of effort it takes to do anything when you’re pain free versus the colossal amount of effort it takes to do anything when your back is messed up. (i.e. taking a shower and needing a nap to recover).
  • Dropping something on the floor and being able to pick it up without using profanity.

This new experience of pain is also allowing me to see with new eyes items that have apparently been here the whole time. Flip-down pull handles right inside your car door. When did those get there?! They’re just so convenient! Railings on steps, wheelchair ramps, and benches in stores and shopping centers never registered before. Now I’m overcome with appreciation as I sit down on one of those glorious benches next to one of my brothers and sisters in lower back pain.

While motorized shopping carts may have more appeal to me than they once did, I am far from needing wheels to fulfill my grocery list. Lots of people have pain every day that is much more severe than my temporary little backache, this I know. But pain is relative and despite how much worse it can always be, I am still looking at physical pain in a very different way. I’ve used this new perspective to develop a pain rating scale that is probably as unreliable as it is invalid.

A Pain Rating Scale for the Modern Woman

1 – No Pain – All is right with the world. You have to do everything as scheduled and there is nothing to whine about even a little, but of course you’re welcome to try anyway.

2 – A Hint of Pain – It’s like coffee brewed with a dash of cinnamon. It’s how you feel regularly but with a spicy undertone that makes you think, “What is that? Cinnamon?”

3 – Mild Pain – A small amount of pain that is definitely present but mostly stays just outside of your immediate awareness. Like that new paint chip on the side of your car. If you look really closely you’ll notice it and be vaguely irritated but from a distance, the paint job still looks pretty good.

4 – Moderate Pain – At this point, your pain can no longer be ignored but it’s also not trying to ruin your life. It’s similar to how you might feel using the toilet two days after doing a bunch of squats, in that there will likely be moments you want to shout, “THE POWER OF CHRIST COMPELS YOU!” but you won’t actually do it. You’ll just think it loudly.

5 – Severe Pain – In this level of pain, if you were to see a speck on your brand-new expensive shoe, there is no earthly way you could get all the way down there to determine if it is a stain or just a fuzz and honestly you wouldn’t care one way or the other. Those offensive phrases from level 4 are no longer just loud thoughts in your mind.

6 – ExtremePain – You’re freely using handrails in public restrooms with no regard for silly things like sanitation and communicable disease. In fact, you’d lay on the floor of a gas station restroom if you thought it would bring you some relief. This amount of pain can make you question many of your previously held values.

7 – Worst Pain Possible – The pain is so blinding you don’t even feel like going to T.J. Maxx. Your family is scared and frankly doesn’t know what to do to help you. Seek emergency medical treatment for this level of pain at once.

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