A few days ago, when discussing recent symptoms with my IBD consultant, I found myself describing my abdominal pain as “not unbearable”. I also joked that “well at least I've not been hospitalized yet!”, as if that’s some sort of barometer for how good or bad things are. He asked me if I've missed any work in the past week or so due to feeling unwell and I said no, then felt deflated; as I knew that now meant he’d be thinking ‘well she can’t be that bad..’. I felt instantly that he would discount the rest of the conversation on those grounds. Whatever I said would now be disappointingly invalid as I’d been ‘well’ enough to attend work.
When relaying our conversation to a friend a few hours later, it lead me to think about how different these type of chats with my doctor are, now that I’m a relatively seasoned professional-patient. My tolerances for pain have definitely changed tenfold since my diagnosis all those years ago, and I’m certainly no longer squeamish at medical terms or photography like I used to be. I previously couldn't so much as watch an episode of Casualty without wincing, now I study pictures of my own colon with the same intensity and interest as I’d study a kitten’s wee adorable tiny face and whiskers.
I began to wonder if there should be a level I set myself in terms of what I should and shouldn't put up with. I suppose I already have one in my own head. An imagined line I can allow my body to cross before I am forced to take action. But what if I’m giving my body too many allowances? What if we all tolerate too much? And what of those who are the opposite and constantly bombard their doctors with every minuscule symptom? Are they wasting time that could be spent with a needier patient? It’s hard to gauge of course, because each patient is different. Everyone has a different pain threshold and everyone knows what they can and can’t handle.
I've fallen into a possibly dangerous habit of becoming more and more used to just sucking up the pain and trying to adapt to life around it. I compare particularly trying periods of pain to my condition pre-surgery, when I was unable to walk or even stand upright due to crippling agony. I remind myself that things aren't that bad so I really shouldn't complain. But what if I am tolerating something I don’t have to tolerate, or something that may well escalate into the same horror I experienced pre-op? I told my consultant about my faux-reassurances; “it’s not anywhere near what it was like before...” and he told me not to compare the two. He advised me that he is interested in treating my symptoms based on how I feel now. So I’m going to try to use my past experience to help educate myself on what might be happening in the present, not to berate myself for having allowed myself to give in to pain. Admitting you are in pain isn't a weakness, its showing the strength to begin to repair your body.