Two hands both pointing to "10" on a pain scale

The Difference Pain Validation Makes

I recently had my third surgery for endometriosis. But it was my first with an excision specialist, and one who works with a research hospital that has an actual "center for endometriosis care." My point being, I didn't have to justify myself.

But this post isn't about the skill or bedside manner of the surgeon. (He was great. More on that later.) It's about how one nurse casually validated my endo pain.

Finding unexpected kindness

As I lay there in my pre-surgery gown and cozy socks from home, a lovely woman came in to introduce herself. (I don't remember her name or her title, but I plan to find out and write her a thank you card.) She let me know that another nurse was shadowing her to learn more about the procedure.

At some point, the nurse in charge asked me what my level of pain was. I'm feeling pretty good, I said; my period had ended about a week earlier. I'm a two or three, I told her. (Side note: I'm hardly ever a zero. But even at a surgery for endometriosis, I felt like I needed to help someone else feel better about my pain.)

Then she followed up with: And what number do you usually let it get to before you take pain medicine? An eight or nine, I told her. "That's what I figured," she said, in a way that let me know she'd heard that before.

It's not what she said, it's why she said it

She didn't want me to be in any pain, especially after surgery. So I should let her or another nurse know right away if what they give me pre or post-op isn't enough. After she talked to me, she took the nurse aside — like she did when she explained why they got certain vitals from me.

This isn't a direct quote, but she said something like this:

People who come in for endometriosis surgery have been in pain for so long that they usually don't ask for medication until they're at a really high level of pain. So you need to urge them, and let them know it's OK, to ask for it a lot sooner. 

She was using this as a teachable moment for the other nurse. That meant she'd heard this many times before — that people with endo live with ongoing, untreated pain — and it was something to take into account for with each procedure. And she said it in such a matter-of-fact way.

How validation put me at ease

I have a whole spiel for doctors about when and why I take pain meds. I let them know I only take certain prescription drugs when it's an emergency: I can't get out of bed or walk, etc. And there's usually always some pushback.

But this nurse talked to me, and about me, with such compassion. To put it simply, I was like: OMG, she knows I'm not making this up! 

Maybe it was the vulnerability that comes with surgery. But a feeling of calm washed over me in this moment. I knew that she "got it." Sadly, that's not something I experience very often when it comes to my endo care.

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