So I went to see my doctor (actually my nurse practitioner) yesterday because I’ve been having some stuff that might feel like arthritis and I’ve had a really, really, really sore throat.
I don’t wait long, the nurse calls me in, first stop the scale – yay! 40 pounds by their measure!
Onto the exam room. The nurse verifies my name and birthdate, and why I’m there. She asks me about my pain – where does it hurt? Well, I think to myself, it doesn’t really hurt. “Hurt” is not the right word to describe what I feel. “Ache” is a better word. My ankle and my knee and my hip ache. But she doesn’t ask how much it aches, she asks how much it hurts.
And then, because I’ve been having this internal conversation and have evidently been a little slow on the uptake, she shows me this handy “pain level” chart with smiley faces on it. Now I know they have to do this. I once served as a lay person on an Institutional Review Board, a group of medical and non-medical folks who review the protocols and consent forms for new drugs and devices and procedures. So I know that those things have to be written so that a person with an eighth-grade level education can understand it.
But smiley faces? Really?
I point to the smiley faces that is more of a wavy line that a curve and describe my pain as a 7.5.
But then I go inside my head again. My pain doesn’t look like a circle with two dots for eyes and a wavy line for a grimacing mouth. Then again, my pain does not look like Edvard Munch’s The Scream. Nor does my pain feel like what St. Teresa felt as the cherubim stabbed her into ecstasy in Bernini’s sculpture at the lovely little Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome. Put that on your chart.
My pain is not absent as it would be in a lovely Fragonard painting; there is no peace in my body that mimics a classic Dutch landscape.
If the nurse had asked, “Which painting in the great repertoire of Western art most evokes the ache you feel in your ankle, knee, and hip?” I would have been happy to ponder that and answer. “Why, thank you, Nurse Shelly. My ache is best represented by Rembrandt’s self-portrait of 1669. He’s not wincing, but there are shadows around the eyes and a set-ness to the mouth that evoke some ongoing pain and sleep-interrupted nights.” And then Nurse Shelly and I might get into a conversation about the evolving nature of Rembrandt’s self-portraits. But we don’t. She notes in my chart that I pointed to the wavy-line mouth smiley face, then tells me the nurse practitioner will be right in.
My only consolation in all of this is that my nurse practioner asked if the symptoms in my leg started at the same time as my sore throat because the two might be related, except she didn’t say “at the same time.” She used the word “concurrently.” I was so happy, and answered her right away, because my little brain did not need to imagine synonyms or paintings that would better describe it all.
Of course, they still don’t know what’s wrong with me….
ps: If you are my mother reading this, it’s probably just a virus and nothing serious, so please don’t worry