“Is Your Pain a 7 or a 10?”

My brother-in-law Vincent is now off on a short hospital stay due to an infection. Decades of morbid obesity compromised the circulation to his legs. He’s thus susceptible to chronic infections and sores that require IV antibiotics and other interventions. The hospital nursing staff has been quite kind. Vincent is having a good stay, made more enjoyable by friendly banter with the kind and appealing nurses who are providing most of his care.

At some point in the evening, one of these nurses asked Vincent: “Is your pain a 7 or a 10?” Vincent responded with embarrassment, looking to my wife for an answer. He remembers all of the nurse’s names, but he does not know whether ten is greater than seven. He cannot process numerical information that way. Like many men and women living with intellectual disabilities, he requires different strategies for pain assessment. This is a well-known challenge, with many potential solutions.

This wasn’t a big problem, but it wasn’t unimportant, either. Vincent’s leg was hurting, and he wanted some pain reliever for it. And this mundane encounter underscored a broader difficulty. Doctors and nurses must come up to speed regarding people who live with intellectual and developmental disabilities, not to mention people who live with communications disorders and related difficulties. These issues are a part of life in 2016 America. We can do better.

Grand theft: Diet Pepsi

Grand theft: Diet Pepsi

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is the Helen Ross Professor at the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago.