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Molly Pieri's picture

On human pain...

I recently took my state exams to become a PA state registered EMT, and during this process, I was reminded of our class discussion on pain... One of the things they teach us in preparation for this test is patient assessment, part of which are the "QRS" questions. We are taught to inquire about the Quality of a patient's pain (What does the pain feel like, can you describe it for me?"), the Radiation of the pain ("Does the pain spread or move any where?") and the Severity of the pain ("On a scale of one to ten, ten being the worst pain ever and one being no pain at all, what would your rate your pain right now?").
Now, the first two I can understand. Human bodies are all build along pretty much the same lines so similar illnesses/injuries are likely to produce the same sensations (although it's important to t note that doe don't always.) But the last question seems to be far too subjective to be at all useful in anything apart from a strictly relative sense.
Certainly, reassessing severity of pain to trend and individual patient's changing condition is one of the key sues of this term, but it is also used in other, broader manners. Any patient with a severity of pain a seven or higher is considered a high priority patent, and the procedures dictating their care change as a result of this designation. The fact that such a subjective measure can be taken and applied to all patient care just doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me-- especially if pain is supposed to be a singular and subjective experience...
And yet, the system works. Furthermore, even though we claim that pain is a subjective experience (what is painful to one person doesn't even phase another...), that doesn't stop us from empathizing with individuals who are in pain.... so I suppose my question with regards to this issue is, what exactly is the shared component of this "subjective" experience?


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