Talking about pain isn’t easy, but it’s even harder when the phrases used mean different things to the patient and the medical staff trying to help them.
I've experienced plenty of misunderstandings when trying to discuss my pain and medical conditions with doctors and physiotherapists – and seen it happening to many others too.
My first memory of total bewilderment when it came to communicating about pain was when I was 10. I was shown a piece of paper with the numbers 10 -1 down the left hand side, and 1 - 10 down the middle. She pointed to the top of the page and said "this is no pain" and pointed to the bottom and said "This is the most pain you can imagine." And asked which number my pain was. I sat there is shy silence unable to work out whether 10 was high or low - it was at the top AND the bottom! I chose 3. What I meant was "not screaming, but bad." But we had misunderstood - so the nurse said 'That's quite good then' and walked away.
I didn't correct her because I was 10. And I didn't want to complain. Or be told I was attention seeking or making it up.
And today, as a confident young woman, I still run into trouble when talking about pain. It has taken a lot of time, effort and error for me to learn that what phrases mean to me isn't necessarily what they mean to someone else. Often on facebook I see comments from patients really upset at something a doctor has said and part of me wants to shout at the doctor for saying such a stupid thing - because I know how it feels. But part of me wants to shout at the patient that they’ve misunderstood!
When a doctor says “I'd like to refer you for psychological help” did they mean they think you are mad - or are they trying to say they recognise how tough things are because of your pain and want to support you?
It’s a recipe for disaster.
So I turned to my stickmen and, in association with Pain UK, created the leaflet “Pain: Common misunderstandings between patients and medical staff”. The end result is a simple, straight talking, A4 double sided leaflet which puts opposing meanings of commonly used phrases into one place and will hopefully give everyone who reads it a better chance of communicating effectively about pain.
£0.10 per leaflet sold through www.stickmancommunications.co.uk will be donated to Pain UK (registered charity in England and Wales, no 1145561) to support their vital work, supporting small charities dealing with pain-causing conditions, and working to make treating and managing long term pain a priority for government and the NHS.
Chris Huges, Trustee for Pain UK says “Pain is rarely talked about and we are always seeking ways of helping people explain and discuss their pain. Hannah's approach is simple but effective, and manages to be very accessible with out being patronising or confrontational, while spelling out the difficulty of discussing pain from both sides of the fence.”
The leaflet will be launched on Friday 16th May, but is available for advance order now from www.stickmancommunications.co.uk.