Tuesday, October 30, 2007

More ER Asshattery

Another blog entry from my good friend Scalpel, this time attacking some woman with a migraine for claiming her pain is a 10, showing no obvious signs of distress, claiming allergies to drugs and also knowing what worked for her the last time she came to the ER (which can only mean one thing: DRUG SEEKER) and he contrasts that with an old woman who has broken her hip, but only reports level 5 pain, and posits this as evidence that the 1 to 10 scale is useless. While I would tend to agree that the 1 to 10 scale is problematic, particularly as it defines a 10 as the "worst pain you can imagine," the major problem with using pain rating scales is that they don't address the real reason patients have difficulty communicating their pain: physician ignorance, arrogance and the cold-blooded, hard-headed refusal by far too many physicians to acknowledge their patients' suffering and accept it as real. No pain rating system, especially not a subjective and counterintuitive one like the 1 to 10 scale, is ever going to change that mindset. Even if a 100 percent accurate dolorometer would be invented that precisely measured pain and there were guidelines in place requiring pain of "x" level or above be treated aggressively, there would still be enormous animus, hostility and dismissal by doctors like this and the technology would be questioned no matter how sound the science behind it. In either case, pain would still be a subjective experience, as a given amount of pain stimulus can effect the same person different ways at different times, depending on mood, energy level, psychological state and willingness to endure the a pain. What is a "9" one day can be a "7" the next. For an excellent and animus-free critique of the 1 to 10 scale, which I may elaborate on later, see here.

Now I am not picking on Scalpel. Despite his obviously nasty attitude towards his patients he is hardly the most extreme example of the kind of doctors we have to deal with, and at least he acknowledges in principle if not in practice (we have only his word for it) that pain management is necessary and desirable. In fact I'd say he's better than average in that regard, as the majority of doctors will not treat pain at all, let alone aggressively with strong narcotics. I have no idea what he is like in real life but judging from the venom he spews on his site and his proven lack of ethics (he violated my right to blog anonymously by revealing my real name on another blog in retaliation for posting something he didn't like, and has boasted of violating the HIPAA laws and medical ethics by blacklisting his patients), I doubt he is really as willing to treat pain as he claims.

In either case, I think it is important to point out the flaws in his reasoning, which sadly will not be obvious to many doctors but are blatantly obvious to anyone who has lived with severe pain for any length of time. I'd like to point out some of the myths in this piece using the excellent guidelines from the UMHS Pain Management Program and then add some observations of my own:

1) Myth: A patient’s pain perception can accurately be correlated with vital sign changes and evidence of injury.

Clearly, many doctors like Scalpel assume that if a patient's blood pressure or other tests are normal and they show no signs of injury, they couldn't possibly be in severe pain. I know from personal experience this is not the case, and my blood pressure level is more dependent on what position I'm in (standing, sitting or laying down) then my pain level, which doesn't effect it at all.

The transition to chronic pain is marked by changes in both physiological and psychological responses. Instead of trying to escape the painful situation, the patient is now trying to adapt to ongoing pain.
The neuroendocrine stress response is typically exhausted in chronic pain states, and catecholamine induced changes are now absent. Vegetative responses predominate, including sleep disorders, irritability, depression, and decreased motor activity. Patients often appear subdued, sleepy or sad in appearance.
In other words, chronic pain patients are less likely to show obvious signs of distress or show elevated blood pressure, cortisol or other stress-related changes even when they are in severe pain. They are physically and psychologically burned out.

2). Myth: Patients in pain readily express their pain to health care providers.

Some patients are very stoic or they avoid openly expressing their pain for fear of being accused of exaggerating it, which is very common. In fact while Scalpel is criticizing his migraineur for showing no pain one of his respondents is criticizing another patient for screaming. You just can't win. If many people are reporting their pain as a 10, perhaps it's because people with level 10 pain are more likely to go to the ER.

3). Myth: Patients experiencing chronic pain over-report pain because they are addicted to opioids.

He's clearly implying his migraine patient is doing this.

4). Myth: Older patients, and cognitively impaired patients do not perceive pain as intensely as other patients.

It is quite possible that old woman's pain really was a 5, or maybe she was in too much pain to understand the scale and what was being asked of her. If you suspect a patient is underreporting pain, perhaps further discussion is warranted.

5). Myth: If a patient is able to sleep, they must not be in very much pain.

This myth is surprisingly common, even though common sense should tell you how stupid it is. I doubt even the most jaded doctor can deny that there are a lot of people out there in severe pain. Do you really think we never sleep? No matter how much pain you are in, you will eventually fall asleep, as it is near impossible for a human being to stay awake forever. Severe pain does make sleep difficult and many people with pain suffer from chronic sleep deprivation, but falling sleep is not impossible, particularly after the administration of IV narcotics which are heavily sedating.

Another related common sense-defying myth is that people in severe pain can't eat, and if a person is observed in the ER munching the proverbial bag of Cheetohs, they can't possibly be a 10. This one is also obviously false, as if severe pain rendered you incapable of eating, most people with severe pain would die of starvation within a month or so. Torture victims would succumb even sooner. As UMHS points out:

It is very important to know and recognize the patient’s physiological, psychological, and emotional responses to pain when developing a pain management plan. Without addressing these important issues, it is often difficult to develop an adequate pain treatment plan.

Changes in vital signs do not occur with all patients who are experiencing severe pain. Do not rely on vital signs to determine the severity of a patient’s pain.

Patients with pain, even severe pain, can be distracted from thinking about their pain, and may even be able to sleep. Don’t trust that a patient isn’t having pain because he "looks comfortable." Always ask, and believe the patient’s assessment of his own pain.
Scalpel then goes on to propose yet another pain scale where he, in his godlike omniscience, gets to assign the number and rate the patient's pain because after all, he obviously knows better than his patient.

This has led me to create my own pain scale, one which uses very objective criteria and which has the advantage of firmly establishing an objective, empirical baseline in the doctor's mind from which he can better understand and rate his patient's pain as well as measure its impact on the patient's life. Unfortunately, this scale only works with male doctors.

To use my scale, first grasp the doctor firmly by the lapels. Now, while simultaneously releasing a loud "Ki-Ai!" Karate shout, bring your knee vigorously into your doctor's testicles. While the doctor is on the ground writhing in agony and trying to catch his breath, explain to him "That's what level 10 feels like." After giving him a minute or so to regain his composure, kick him in the shins, telling him "that's what level 7 feels like." Now spin him around and give him a firm boot in the ass, and say "that's level five." Follow this up with a couple of slaps in the mouth, which will rate a "3." When you are done establishing these objective pain-rating baselines, bend over and give him a gentle pat on the back and say "that's level one."

Now rate your own pain accordingly. If more patients would strive to educate their doctors in this manner, using objective, empirical criteria, I suspect the number of arrogant doctors willing to ever question a patient's pain again will diminish considerably.


Anonymous said...

I've thought about this myself. The problem is, we would be tossed in jail & then hear from a dr's most hated person,(besides a CPP0,a lawyer! Dr. Scalpel has friends because after I posted about the Texas Pain Summit & The ACS Texas Pain Initiative Act, he closed his site to anonymous posts. After opening an account, he somehow had my password changed! He now monitors comments!

Payne Hertz said...

This doesn't surprise me. He is obviously a malignant narcissist who loves to abuse and criticize people with pain, but doesn't have the guts to handle a dose of his own medicine. Blogger enables blog owners to both block anonymous posts as well as moderate posts, which he has no doubt done in response to your comments on his site, and mine on this blog. If you wish to post any of that info here, please feel free.

Anonymous said...

Last year, professionals from all fields of the medical community met in Texas to discuss why Texas continued to receive poor grades despite several safeguards placed into legislation to protect CPP's.The Texas Pain Summit was sponsored by the American Cancer Society, The Lance Armstrong Foundation & otthers. They discussed everything from law enfforcement restrictions on opiates to dr's, nurse's & pharmacist's ignorance of opiate prescribing laws & beliefs that opiates cause addiction in CP. I told Sclpel they needed look no farther than to ignorant dr's like himself. Afterwards, the ACS Texas
Pain Initiative Act was passed. Scalpel obviously violates this & admits doing! Texas is trying but they have to punish dr's like Scalpel or it will never work!

Anonymous said...

Here's the link to the Texas Pain Summit:http://www.aspi.wisc.edu/acstxpi/

Anonymous said...

Actually, the link is to the Pain Initiative but at the bottom of it is a link to the Summit itself.

Anonymous said...

you're a) crazy and b) an even more sorry excuse for a human being than scalpel is. you expect to be treated better when posts like this are what pass for pain advocacy? sick.

Payne Hertz said...

"you're a) crazy and b) an even more sorry excuse for a human being than scalpel is. you expect to be treated better when posts like this are what pass for pain advocacy? sick."

I expect to be treated better the moment we take pain management out of the hands of doctors like you. That's what I advocate.

Anonymous said...

I have actually been in a hospital and had a 'doctor' say to me " I think you should suffer so you will quit smoking and this will teach you a lesson" I had Pneumonia and every breath was agony! Scalpel sounds just like this 'good repignican 'doctor!