“Once you see a pattern, you can’t un-see it.  Trust me.  I’ve tried.  But when the same truth keeps repeating itself, it’s hard to pretend that it’s just a coincidence.”

– Brene Brown from The Gifts of Imperfection

All my life, I have been ashamed to admit I have a very low pain tolerance.  I’ve tried muscling through, denying it, resisiting it, making fun of myself, letting others make fun of me and laughing with them – nothing works.

I still get queasy at the sight of blood and have been known to faint over what others label “something small.”

Last week,  I cut my finger while cooking.  It wasn’t a big cut but it was deep and I couldn’t get it to stop bleeding so I went to an urgent care facility to have it evaluated.

What follows are some details of this story along with some mistakes, and the lessons I  learned afterwards. I’m hoping that if you struggle with this sort of thing, the lessons I learned  may be helpful to you if you ever find yourself in a similar position.

I drove myself to the urgent care, calling my kids and two close friends while en route to let them know what happened and left messages for them, asking them to send my finger good vibes.

Mistake:  Do not drive yourself to the urgent care.  Take someone with you.

Lesson Learned:  Do your best to get a hold of someone you trust when you need urgent care, rather than driving yourself.

By the time I got to the urgent care, my finger wasn’t throbbing as much though it was still bleeding heavily.  So, I asked myself “What would you do if this was one of the kids?” which is my own standard of care that I apply to myself when I have concerns.  Just by asking myself this question, I knew that having it looked at was the only thing that made sense, so I gently escorted myself inside.

Lesson Learned:   It’s a good practice to apply the same standard to yourself that you would apply to someone you love when deciding whether you need urgent care.  Ask yourself, “What would you do if this happened to someone you love?” when deciding if you need medical attention.

The doctor looked at it and said that because it was so deep, I’d need a couple stitches.  He explained that he’d give me a shot in my finger to numb it, that it may burn a little bit, and then he’d stitch it.  “No big deal” – he said.

I then said to him:  “I have a very low pain tolerance and I’m the worst patient in the world!”

Mistake:  Do not kid about being the worst patient in the world.

Lesson Learned:  Let the doctor know you  have a low pain tolerance in a direct straight forward manner and that you want the maximum amount of pain medication to make the procedure tolerable.

We then proceeded to joke about my low pain tolerance and share some laughs together, along with some chit chat about a recent trip he took to Taiwan to see his family.

Mistake:  Chit chatting and laughing with a healthcare provider in a self deprecating way is inappropriate  when you’re scared of a procedure.

Lesson Learned:  Be honest about your needs for pain management.  Let the doctor know that if the pain gets to be too much, you are going to tell him to stop the procedure and give you more pain medication before he begins the procedure. (Thanks to my friend Linda, a professional caregiver, for telling me this was an option as I never knew I could do this.)

The result of my series of errors was a horrendous but life changing experience.  This was one of the most painful procedures I’ve ever had and I later learned from the nurse that there are more nerves in the tip of your finger than anywhere else in your body.  Ohhhhh, how I wish I knew that ahead of time as perhaps I would have been more assertive about my needs for pain management.

I share this with you, dear reader, because I know I’m not the only one who has a low pain tolerance.  I’m also not the only one who has tried to hide that fact or been ashamed of it.

What I have learned is that having a low pain tolerance is nothing to be ashamed of nor is it a character flaw.

After all, what is a low pain tolerance anyway?  It’s comparing how you deal with pain with how “they” (and who are the “they’s” of the world by the way?) deal with pain.  Comparisons never work when we’re talking about human behavior in my opinion as we’re all so very different.

Brene Brown also says, “Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.”

If you have a low pain tolerance, I invite you to lovingly  acknowledge this without shame or guilt  first to yourself.  If you’re anything like me, that step in and of itself may be very healing for you.   Should you find yourself in need of medical attention, it will be easier for you to communicate your needs clearly without apologizing or joking about it.  That way, it is more likely that the professionals involved will support you in getting your healthcare needs met with less pain.

2 Responses to “What To Do When You Have A Low Pain Tolerance”

  1. AshleyP Says:

    Thanks for writing this article. People make fun of me b/c i have a low pain tolerance. I used to try to just suck it up and not get upset when i get hurt, but it’s very hard. For instance, when my ear gets clogged due to allergies and a doctor has to scrape it out, to me it feels like they are trying to punch through my ear into my brain! But no one believes me, even my doctor should have learned by now. It all seemed to start when i got MRSA, and they had to give me a numbing shot in my finger and lance it open. after that , i had to have things lanced 2 more times, and ever since my pain tolerance has been destroyed! I recently learned that some people just don’t produce the pain relieving hormones that others do, so i know it’s not a mental thing, it’s actually a medical issue!

  2. Char Says:

    Hi Ashley:

    I know that feeling of people making fun of us for having a low pain tolerance. For myself, when I’ve been going through a tough situation and someone I love is laughing at my low pain tolerance because they’ve seen it so many times – in that moment, it’s hard to remember that they love me because it appears that they are laughing at my pain.

    Even if I end up laughing about what happened later, in that moment of low tolerance it is not one bit funny. It is @$#@% painful!

    Though my family and friends laugh at me, I have learned from many painful experiences that I can stay on my own side. I get it. Pain is real and whether anyone else validates it or not, I can validate it for myself by saying things to myself like “oooh, it hurts soooo much. i know it’s so painful darlin. i’m right here with you.” – and that makes it easier for me in the moment.

    It reminds me of when my mom used to kiss my boo-boo’s on my knees as I’d get scraped up on my bike a lot. It helped and she taught me how to do that for myself.

    It is surprising in some ways (and sadly pretty typical) for health professionals to tune out of their patients pain. Maybe that’s what they feel is needed to cope with stressful situations. I don’t really know. I also know it’s unfair to generalize about behavior of medical professionals in general. I believe there are many health professionals who are attune to their patients need and are working hard to get better at that.

    Wishing you all the best Ashley.


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