J.G. asks from Minneapolis, MN on May 30, 2011
The Issue of Physical Pain and Being a Woman. Input?
I'm in a great deal of physical pain at the moment and I expressed some frustration over the fact that I feel as though people (doctors, family members) tend to be a bit patronizing when I express that I'm in pain.
My husband said that he thinks I have a low pain tolerance and while I wasn't surprised by his comment, I was kind of hurt and irritated.
I've been through some fairly painful stuff. I've managed to basically cut the top off my finger, not cry, bandage it up myself and go for help. I've had an eye condition that is described in medical literature as "excruciatingly painful" and yes, I did cry but not a lot. I tried to be as stoic as possible. I've gone through IVF (twice) with 12+ weeks of injections into my hip 2-3x's a day. I've gone through labor, didn't cry or scream or make a big scene. Well, ok, I screamed once when I went from a 2-3 station to fully dilated in ONE contraction. It was more like a roar. I have a severe migraine syndrome that a migraine expert called one of the most painful types of syndromes--and I manage without it majorly impacting my life.
So, you might understand why his comment upset me. I'm not a whiner I don't like attention and I certainly am not attempting to get any sympathy or ego gratification or anything from expressing how severely uncomfortable I am. Yet, even with all of that there is this perception that I'm sensitive to pain. I don't know why that bothers me so much, except that I've fought really hard to not be perceived that way even through some super tough stuff.
But, now I'm in severe pain and I'm going to the doctor tomorrow to try to figure out what's going on. The problem is that I've had this pain on and off for the last two years and I've been dismissed time and time again. It seems that if you're too stoic, people don't believe you're in as much pain as you actually are. If you're not stoic enough people tend to think you're being dramatic--unless they can find a reason for your pain...then suddenly they say "Ah HA! Yes, that would hurt!"
And honestly I'm a little afraid that I'm going to be dismissed again or that maybe there isn't something wrong and it's all in my head, or that the pain I'm feeling is normal and I'm just not tough enough to deal with it.
I wonder if any of you ever feel the way I do about expressing pain? What is your experience as a woman when you feel pain--do you feel dismissed or are people comforting? How do you deal with pain? Do you think or know you have a low pain tolerance? If so, are you comfortable with that? Have you ever experienced pain that was dismissed or couldn't be identified and how did that feel to you?
I'm interested in hearing your stories.
So What Happened?™
Thank you so much for sharing your stories and input. I was feeling very nervous about going into my appointment but I used your support and encouragement and advice and I was very blunt about the pain and what I hoped to accomplish and the doctor really listened and is going to do some exploratory surgery THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW to see if she can confirm and possibly address what is going on. It feels so good to be taken seriously and my husband apologized for being dismissive--the doctor stressed that her tentative diagnosis is something that is extremely painful and causes many women to suffer severely.
I do feel guilty almost for having so many medical challenges recently and so I tend to try to stuff my feelings about pain and discomfort instead of communicating so it either comes out frantic "OH MY GOD! I CAN'T DEAL WITH THIS!" when it gets overwhelming or my husband will ask me what's wrong if I seem to be quiet and I'll say "I'm just hurting pretty badly" and both times he is surprised by my reaction since I don't seem to be in pain and I don't look physically injured so he maybe thinks its more of an excuse than an actual complaint.
Wish me luck! I pray this surgery will bring some relief.
R.K. answers from Appleton on May 31, 2011
E.B. answers from Duluth on May 31, 2011
If you have migranes & areable to function, I can honestly say that you have a high pain tolerance. They are no laughing matter & anyone who has them will agree.
You situation sounds a little similar to mine. For about 5 years I would have recurring abdomial pain. At first look it always seemed like appendicitis. However i never presented with fever (well not one high enough for the doctors to take serious). I hav always had afairly low temp & when I have a tempo of 99 Degrees that is minor to most people but for me, that is an indicator that something is wrong. I also never presented with nausea or the other systems, just pain. So everytime I went in to see someone they were baffled. At one point I even had a CT but no inflatmaiton was found (mind you by this time the pain was lessoning & i was starting to feel better).
I was to the point where I was starting to doubt my self as well. Well this last summer I started feelign sick & went home early. By midnight I was throwign up constantly. By 6 am, rather than starting to feel better I was so misserable that my husband inisisted on going in to the emergency room. My only symptom at that time was nausea, complete & total non stop nausea. Doctors were confused. I was given anti nausea meds & then the pain started. But still no fever (other than 99 degrees). off to the CT I go & they discover appendicitis. They all told me that noone had ever come in pesenting like I was. Turns out that over the years my appendix was flaring up but since I was not vomiting nor had a huge fever noone thought it was appedicitis, & noone looked until the appendix was no longer inflamed so it was no longer visible on the CT or ultrasound.
So lesson is, listen to your body, the doctors are not all knowing and you know your body better than they ever will. If you are feeling pain, there is pain and a reason. I would often get the eye roll from the husband when I mentioned my stomach pain (until one day he had a kidney stone & undertood what real abdominal pain feels like, then he became sympathetic). If your doctor does not belive you & tries to push your pain away as drama, find another doctor.
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S.L. answers from Boise on May 31, 2011
I was a missionary in Brazil and we walked and walked and walked. Big surprise, my feet started to hurt. I did the best I could, but after months, I could hardly walk anymore. I naturally tried to compensate, which only messed up my ankles, then my calves, then my knees, then my thighs, then my hips---you get the idea. I finally decided it was time to go home when I threw out my back, too. I was a MESS.
But when I got back to the States and had a podiatrist look at me, she couldn't find anything wrong at all. I went to several different doctors. I went to therapists, etc. And no one could find out what made me hurt so bad that I could hardly walk.
Finally, I just gave up and went back to college. But I could hardly walk across campus without breaking into tears. And I'm pretty tough! (years later, I was reprimanded by the anesthesiologist for being too stoic through my c-section, because he couldn't tell if he needed to do anything for me). I went to one last podiatrist, who happened to be a member of my church. He alone understood what it meant that they sent me home early. He knew that was not a decision taken lightly. But still, he couldn't find anything wrong. I started sobbing right there. Poor guy! He promised me that he would figure it out.
And he did.
Pain tolerance and pain threshold are very different things, IMO. I have a very low pain threshold now, because I have fibromyalgia. Sometimes even a light touch hurts me. But I have a very high pain tolerance, since I never have a pain-free day. I put up with it.
I have had an experience with doctors, both my own and my kids', that I think is applicable to your situation, although it's a different topic. I am not one of those moms who takes their kids to the doctor all the time. I studied biology in college, and I know a whole lot about disease and immune response and treating injuries. So when I DO show up at the doctor's office with a concern, you'd better believe I'm very worried! I've had doctors talk to me patronizingly, immediately assuming that I'm a paranoid mom whose kid just has the sniffles or a scrape. And when you think about it, the see more of the paranoid kind than my kind of mom every day, even if it's just because they come in more often! It's hard to convince them that I'm not like those other moms who freak about everything.
I've had to work hard to change their minds about me, and I've learned through trial and error how to do that. I learned not to be shy. Doctors only know what you tell them. I've learned to use big words, dusting off my college anatomy vocabulary. The moment they sense that you know what you're talking about, that you've done some research, etc., the entire tone of the visit changes.
That might help you in your visit. If you've done some research into what could be going on with you, let the doctor know.
Tell your doctor what you said here in this post. Tell him you're not a woos. That you've cut off your finger and didn't cry, but this pain is just killing you. Tell him that it's really affecting your life, and you've just GOT to figure out what is going on!
For me, pain meds work wonderfully! I had 3 c-sections, and Tylenol worked just fine. But Tylenol does nothing for my fibromyalgia pain. Do you find that to be true of your pain? That is another thing your doctor should listen to.
Be firm, don't hold back. Tell the doctor everyhting! When I was young, I held doctors in such respect that I didn't realize they're just like you and me. They're not mind-readers. You have to TELL them every little thing.
I hope your doctor is one who will really listen. If not, ask around for one who will. I actually asked about that here on this site and found a really great doctor, who almost took TOO much interest in my life (you should have seen the look on his face when I told him my abusive husband had been removed from our home by the police! He looked like my best friend on my graduation day, grinnin' from ear to ear. The point is that he listened and remembered all about my stupid husband, and gave me the tools to deal with him)
And one final word for you. Fibromyalgia pain is not "real," in the sense that there is nothing wrong. It's basically just hyper active nerves that are screaming OUCH for no reason. But whether the pain is caused by actual tissue damage (like a cut) or if it's this sort of "phantom" pain like fibromyalgia, IT'S REAL. It has all the effects of real pain. So even if there's nothing physically wrong with you that is causing your pain, even if it IS "in your head," you deserve to be treated with respect and not dismissed. You deserve a physician who will figure out what is going on and figure out how to help you.
I have gone on and on and on! Wow! I'm sorry or that, but your post hits awfully close to home for me. I hope your visit goes well. Be strong, speak up, be heard.
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L.A. answers from Austin on May 31, 2011
One of my very best friends has been suffering terrible pains now for over 2 months. I know she is in pain. She never has complained like this about anything.
Her doctors have been telling her they cannot find anything.. here is the kicker. She has to pay out of pocket for her health care. She has been racking up $1000's for tests to find out what the deal is. Everybody keeps telling her there is nothing wrong. Her beloved husband who is the most amazing man, finally told her maybe she is just imagining it..
This last week she called and told me after falling apart with her gyno, she performed a different test and my dear friend has found out she has cancer.
I am sure she is going to be fine. All we want is for them to help her find a way for the pain to be under control. The doctor is sending her to different specialist, one is for pain management.
All along I have been telling my friend I know she is in pain and to not quit searching for the answer. I have to admit, I never imagined it was something this serious, but I like her am just glad to have an answer and know she will have professionals on her side.
Always push and push till you find an answer. You are your own best advocate.
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H.V. answers from Cleveland on May 31, 2011
Ah pain, I think I know it too well haha.
All my life people have been surprised how things don't hurt me. I guess I have a pretty high threshold for pain, but who really knows. Everyone experiences pain differently.
Thankfully my husband knows me as well as he does. If he hears me complain about any kind of pain, he right away, makes sure I'm ok. Not in a freaky, over protective way haha.
He has said himself before that if he hears me complain about pain he knows something serious is going on. He has seen me break ribs, go through 2 natural labors, heard stories of my past...
Last year I chopped off the tip of my finger, kinda shaved the tip of my bone off. All I said was "aw $%*&$" My husband was staring at me like I was nuts as I cleaned & bandaged it then kept cooking.
I have a tattoo in between my breasts, on my sternum, that I got with a friend. She cried the whole time. I fell asleep haha
I never really thought "man I have a high threshold for pain" It only really occurred to me after other people pointed it out.
And yes, I think most people think women are weak compared to men. Which is, really, ignorant if you ask me :)
NO way are men stronger when it comes to pain lol
I think it's hard to find a good doctor that is willing to keep looking when the signs point to nothing.
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B.R. answers from Des Moines on May 31, 2011
A friend of mine just went through a situation where she was having intense pain, but the doctors couldn't find anything wrong with her. She was in and out of dr. appts. for several months, and they finally found (at Mayo, as a last resort) that she had stressed and pulled some muscles and all she needed was some physical therapy. She had exploratory surgery, invasive procedures, many second opinions -- and they all found nothing. She had to insist that there was something wrong. Although they did keep giving her vicodin :/ My point is -- you might have to be insistent that people believe you, but you'll find the cause!
Also, it's proven that women have higher pain tolerances than men. Let your husband know that you need support!! Sometimes they just have a hard time realizing when you need help because they're not used to us complaining!
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L.C. answers from Washington DC on May 31, 2011
I have had pain so bad that it doubles me over only to have the bone and neurology doctors tell me that it's all in my head. I wake up every day with hip pain - I'm sure it's sciatica related, but since they can't find anything, it must be imagined pain. I can't roll over in bed without being woken up by the pain -- but it's all in my head. Whatever! I take my Advil in the morning and just get through the day. It's certainly not going to stop me.
I have had cramps so bad that I've wanted to hurl, but I work through them. I have an extremely high tolerance for pain, so much so that when I went to my regular doc for strep and told him that the pain was a 10, he immediately put me on a super powerful antibiotic... He knows that I don't complain unless it really hurts.
It's like this: If it hurts, try to get them to find out why. If they can't, either put up with it or find someone else who will help you. I have given up for now -- when the pain gets unmanageable, then I'll get the ball rolling again.
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A.C. answers from Columbus on May 31, 2011
I think when you get to your appointment, you should be blunt. Tell your doctor that you know he/she thinks that you have a low pain tolerance, but that in fact you do not feel that you do, and that you need to have him/her take you very seriously on this current issue. Just because the pain has been intermittent, and they haven't found a cause yet doesn't mean it's not seriously painful and that you don't deserve to have this further investigated.
And if you feel dismissed again, tell him/her that you thank them for their time but that you are going to be looking for a new doctor who is not patronizing about your discomfort and will seriously look for the cause and to try to alleviate the problem.
Don't be afraid to speak up for yourself to the doctor. Just because they have medical knowledge doesn't mean that they know YOUR body better than you do. You don't have to be mean, but you can be straightforward and blunt about it (I've found that focusing on my anger helps me get up enough guts to do it, when needed).
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M.A. answers from Orlando on May 31, 2011
Have you tried acupuncture? It's great!
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