Have you ever noticed that when you talk to a doctor they ask you if you are experiencing numbness? You and I think of numbness as the funny feeling your mouth gets when you get that Novocain shot or better yet when you are leaning on your arm and it goes to sleep. Right? Well, not to a doctor. They call numbness in the medical field “paresthesia.” Paresthesia is any abnormal sensation in the body. Yes, it can include those feelings, and you know there is a ‘but’ coming. They also include any sensations like touching frozen metal, tingling, and/or stinging, among a few. Now, why do the doctors not ask you the better question of … “Now, dear patient, what sensations are you feeling?” Then you can have fun trying to describe what it is you feel. Be creative, not redundant, like writing those papers in school. Try not to use the word ‘pain’ or ‘numb’. I have found that those doctors will listen to you more. Also, you can confuse your nerves and help them think differently.
Confuse your nerves, you ask? Now, you really have proof that I am bonkers. My reasoning on training the nerves to think differently is that your brain is receiving signals probably faster than your computer receives its internet signal. Follow me here. My ideas are not based in medical ‘facts’, or at least I don’t think so, but they make total sense to me. When the brain learns that all sensations are painful, it gets so many constant signals of pain that “pain” is all it wants to relay. Our brain can be just like us, picking the easiest and the most repetitive route. By you consciously thinking in new words, you slowly teach your brain to adjust. Take tingling for example. Tingling is a form of numbness (paresthesia) that can turn into pain, if you experience it often. If you use that word more often, your brain will differentiate between pain and tingling. Now, I am not saying that the tingling we feel is not painful, but it is still tingling, not a burn or a stubbed toe. Soon you will receive different signals to that tingling part of your body. Your brain now will accept that you might not really be in discomfort, just irritated because of the sensation.
They say that women forget the pain of child birth. Some women say they never have, but really they might be remembering the fear that all women experience during those 20 or so hours. A woman may only have 2 or three kids, but it is not a pain she feels every day or week. Her body has at least 9 months to forget what happened, so it is not telling her this is a misery she will have every day, all day. I burned my hand a few years back; no way will I tell anyone that was not pain. It will be a pain I remember and my body will remember until the conclusion of my life. So, when a doctor asks me to give them a level of pain (1 to 10), I tell them that I really can’t compare what I am feeling in my back and buttocks to the burn or slamming of a car door on my hand. Those were pains that came and went, but a chronic pain is one that I am faced with daily. A migraine is something that you experience often, but still not daily. So, when asked about a level for a migraine, I can then give them a number, but that is the ‘at an instant’ number. Chronic pain is a constant, so it is not fair to ask us to give it a number. As a patient I always stress that complaint when talking about my back. I tell them not to expect a number lower than 7, and that number will be determined by how many days I have been dealing with it. So be creative and honest with your doctor; do comparisons that she/he will understand.
Some who are reading this will think I am full of ‘it’, but I challenge you to try and drop ‘pain’ and ‘numb’ from your vocabulary. It won’t change your brain’s thinking overnight, but it will make you more aware of your body and accept that not all we feel is pain, but constant reactions from all the irritations our nerves (which are being hugged, pinched and pushed upon) feel. Start by writing down new words (bruised, burning, stinging, funny bone, prickly, hot and so on). Start with 10 new words and then you can work on the exact symptom you are experiencing. Have different words for “pain” and different words for “numbness.” Have fun with it; try to think of obscure words or phrases. Example: when talking to the doctor about that noise that most Tarlov’ers have in their ears, I described it as ‘aliens sending me signals’. The doctor said that was the best description she had heard and knew exactly what I was trying to relay to her.
Another reason to not use “pain” is because a lot of doctors tend to think we are begging for drugs. If the doctor understands what we are observing in our own bodies, they can better prescribe a medicine that can address that symptom. Let’s face it, sometimes we do know more about what is happening to us than a doctor. Thus, going into their office armed with as much as we can, including journals, will help us help them. Remember you are paying the doctor for a service, even if you have subsidized medical care, someone besides that doctor is paying his fee. It is OK and better for you if you have questions when you walk in, even if you do not have a diagnosis. Do better than I did. If you feel that the doctor is blowing you off, halt them in their tracks. It is OK to say “I feel like you are not understanding me”. I hope this encourages you to ‘expand’ your vocabulary a little and helps you feel empowered to train your brain.