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What is the measure of pain asks Rutland columnist Allan Grey?




A visit to an orthopaedic consultant with the lovely lady a while back, left Rutland columnist Allan Grey contemplating pain, and the measurement thereof.

Many people suffer from all manner of pain, and in the lovely lady’s case, a fall a couple of years back has left her with an arthritic right foot which is increasingly painful to walk on.

Following a myriad of prods and pokes and scans, the consultant explained what was most likely causing the pain, and what treatments might be deployed to mitigate the pain, starting with an X-ray guided cortisone injection. He then asked that we keep a pain diary, measuring and comparing the perceived pain before and after the treatment on a scale of one to 10, thrice daily for a couple of weeks. Simple!

Happy midwife in front of a young family with a newborn baby. Photo: istock
Happy midwife in front of a young family with a newborn baby. Photo: istock

Well as I’m sure you are aware, measuring pain on any objective scale is anything but simple, and one person’s pain is another person’s pleasure, but we won’t go there. An exemplar of differing perceptions, or at least projections of pain is that of the footballer, writhing on the ground, trying to convince the referee of their agonising pain having simulated being fouled in the opposition penalty area, and the rugby player who tries to convince the team doctor that his agonising pain and obvious state of concussion, having been flattened by a 23 stone Samoan prop forward, is really nothing to be concerned about.

And so my research began, finding that much work has gone into understanding pain thresholds and tolerances, the many factors that affect the perception of pain, and in particular how, amongst other things, gender affects both. Contrary to the popular mythology, propagated mainly by women it has to be said, research by a very smart guy called Dr Roger Fillingim concluded that there is greater tolerance of pain among men than among women, but he would say that, wouldn’t he?

However, I was reading a particularly interesting story in my regular copy of the British Journal of Midwifery, which suggests this is not always the case. A mother, starting her labour in a hospital delivery room, was told by the attending midwife of a new device that the hospital was trialling, a very clever development of wireless, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation technology, allowing the mother’s pain of childbirth to be shared with the father. The midwife asked if the couple would like to use the new device, albeit it had not yet been fully approved by the British Nursing and Midwifery Council.

Allan Grey
Allan Grey

The couple agreed and as the delivery developed the midwife started the pain transfer from the mother to the husband, 10 per cent, 20 per cent, 30 per cent, he felt nothing. Over the next five hours of a quite difficult labour the pain transfer continued, through 80 per cent, 90 per cent eventually right up to 100 per cent pain transfer, and still the husband felt nothing. At last a beautiful 8lb baby boy was safely delivered and they were both happiness personified, eventually going home, only to find the Amazon Prime delivery guy laying dead on the drive. (Please note that pre-covid it could have been the milkman!)

For me, anecdotally, I think you’ll agree this proves the popular mythology rather than the research, and anyone who can give birth with a smile on their face has a much higher pain threshold then me. I would therefore like to offer you an alternative scale, the greyscale of pain, with increasing levels of pain perception by gender.

Woman: Anything my wimp of a husband calls pain.

Man: No biggie, I’ll probably cope.

Woman: Can’t feel a thing, why do you ask?

Man: No, it feels like I’ve been run over by a small woman in a large Range Rover.

Woman: Probably just a kick, they’ve been quite active lately.

Man: Worse than that, a small nuclear device just detonated inside my head.

Woman: Mmmm, not sure what’s going on here, I can feel something.

Man: Feels like I’m being mauled by the Rutland panther, how the hell did it find me?

Woman: Where do we keep the TENS machine?

Man: It’s worse than I thought, I’m actually dying, I need intravenous morphine, now!

Woman: Gosh, this does feel a little painful, I think my waters have broken, time to go.

Man: Oh God, I’ve never felt pain like this, amputation is the only answer.

Woman: Perhaps a little gas and air might help.

Man: I can see the Grim Reaper, scythe in hand, he’s coming, please help me!

Woman: I’m giving birth to 8lb twins, how beautiful is that?

Man: It feels like I’m giving birth to 8lb twins, I knew it, it’s flu.

Or as Einstein probably said: “It’s all relative.”



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