When you experience a true health care emergency, you want to feel confident that your health care providers hear what you are saying about your pain, assess your level of pain appropriately and make decisions to alleviate your pain in a timely and effective manner.
There are common barriers to communicating your pain. These include difficulties communicating the nature and severity of pain, biases in the health community regarding the aged and chronically ill and undertreatment of women’s pain.
Not speaking the same language:
This can mean a number of things. It can be as basic as poor communication with hospital personnel during a crisis due to language barriers or debilitating pain that restricts communication. It can also include crossed signals regarding how severe pain really is or an inability to describe the exact nature of the location of the pain. Patients should be honest about how much pain they are feeling. If you are asked to rate your pain in between one and ten and you are feeling pain, always say five or more. Patients should not try to be stoic or heroic about pain levels.
Furthermore, if you feel that you have been assessed inappropriately during an emergency room triage (which rank patients’ conditions from needing urgent treatment to those who can wait), ask to be reassessed. Assertively.
Girl, What You Talking About? How Women’s Pain is Undertreated
Women’s pain is notoriously undertreated in emergency rooms.
“Nationwide, men wait an average of 49 minutes before receiving an analgesic for acute abdominal pain. Women wait an average of 65 minutes for the same thing.” (Joe Fassler, Atlantic Monthly, October 2015)
Women are often conditioned not to make a scene, to follow the rules of systems and to be polite. But this behavior often means that they and their pain can be overlooked in emergency pain situations. Women need to advocate for themselves. More importantly, their companions who have brought them to the emergency room need to advocate on their behalf by saying things like, “She is really in pain like I have never seen before” or “I have never seen her like this” or “She is really in trouble.”
Two recent articles about undertreatment of women’s pain in emergency rooms can be found here:
Age and Condition:
Unfortunately, the aged and those who suffer from chronic health conditions are often the recipients of kind words, but treatment that borders on medical neglect. Doctors and nurses tend to discount “frequent flyers” at their institutions and can possibly ignore a serious incident. Again, their companions needs to advocate on their behalf and ensure that staff understands that “this time feels different”.
Appropriate timely treatment for pain requires effective two-way communication between patients and emergency room personnel.