It’s a three on the pain scale. It is ALWAYS a three.

I hurt my foot yesterday tripping over Olddog. I’m not quite sure what happened to it, but its pretty uncomfy. I’d put the pain at a three on the hospital one to ten pain scale.

I always put pain at three.

Gallstones? That’s a three.

Ripped ligaments in my thumb? Also a three.

Dislocated shoulder? Three. Maybe three and a quarter.

A rusty nail through my foot, which broke inside when I pulled it out, because there is simply no way that I can walk around with a 2×4 attached? Three.

The first time I ever encountered this scale, I was in an emergency room here. I forget what I was there for, but it was probably something to do with tripping over a particularly dense chunk of air and needing to make sure I wasn’t legitimately broken. I know me, y’all, and I have complete confidence in my abilities as a tanglefoot.

Anyway, the nurse showed me the scale and told me to tell her what number my pain was at.

I asked her to define the numbers. She looked annoyed.

“One is no pain. Ten is the worst pain you can imagine.”

Of course my pain level was not a one. One is the level of nothing wrong, and no one shows up to the hospital when nothing’s wrong. I had no trouble with this concept. One equals fine. One equals a good day to maybe work in the garden and have a beer with friends. No one should ever be in a hospital feeling one about things.

Ten though? Wow. The worst pain….I can imagine. That’s a challenge that I accepted, and I got to imagining right away.

I asked the nurse if getting one’s hand caught in a paper shredder would be a ten. She said it might and asked if that was the worst thing I could imagine.

Nope. Not even close. What if you got your hand caught in a paper shredder, then forgot somehow, and used that hand to reach into a gallon jar of pickles to reach the very last one at the bottom? See? That’s way worse and I didn’t even need to think that hard about it.

She looked bored. She asked if that was a ten. I shrugged and said while it would definitely hurt a lot, there’s worse out there. There must be.

I realized that she was just looking for a number to write on my chart, and spared her all of the other scenarios of my “how much would this hurt and could it possibly be worse?” train of thought.

This is not a scale for pain level. This is a test of imagination, people. This is a test to see exactly how dark those little corners of your mind really are. Mine are dark, as it turns out. Really dark.

In the end, I learned three things.

One, the current system of sad faces and numbers cannot possibly be useful.

Two, no matter what happens physically and no matter how badly I hurt, it could always be so much worse because apparently, I am a twisted individual.

And three, the very act of thinking about how much worse it can be can actually make your pain seem less. You can drop at least a half point by imaging that in addition to whatever happened to you, that you also had to walk barefoot in the dark across a floor full of stray lego to get to the hospital.

On that note, my foot? Why, it feels better already. I may even call it a 2.98 today.


One thought on “It’s a three on the pain scale. It is ALWAYS a three.

  1. I like to give helpful examples: explain that a 1 is no pain and a 10 is pants-shitting agony, but a 7 — well a 7 is like that time your beighbor caught you in a compromising situation with a chicken and you ran but tripped and fell backwards on to a fence pipe whereupon you suffered a great deal of pain as two feet of rusty iron was introduced into parts of your anatomy where it was not particularly welcome.

    So you stood up and ran some more but had to keep reorienting’ yourself on account of one leg comin up a bit shorter than the other and while you were running your a’looking back to see if Mr. Mcgregor was following which is a bad idea because you wound up sailing smack dab into a pine tree and sitting down again.

    So you spent the next week laying in bed at home hoping’ and praying that no one wold notice the knot between your eyes and wondering iffin it’s possible to get tetanus through that particular southerly vector, or if it might be useful for certain other types of physical conditions.

    If you read that in Arlo Guthries voice from Alice’s Restaurant, I win.

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