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Saturday, December 5, 2020

Communicating Pain

If I could make a wish and be able to have Janey freely and easily talk about one subject only, that subject would be pain.  I wish so much she could tell us when she is in pain, and where the pain is, and how bad it is.  Not being able to do so almost cost her her life, when her appendix burst, but pain far less critical to know about than that still is something I would very much like to be able to have her tell me about.

Yesterday, Janey said "Do you want a band-aid?  Do your legs hurt?"  That was about as clear as her pain talk gets---in her trademark Jeopardy style form of a question talking.  She has her period, something that has only happened a few times without medication bringing it on, and I was able to figure out that was most likely cramps she was feeling.  I'm glad she could tell me that much, but there was so much more I wished to talk to her about---to ask her how bad the cramps were, to see if the Motrin we gave her helped, to ask if anything else hurt.  Today she was just cranky all day, and we were pretty sure she was feeling cramps again, and gave her Motrin again, but we could have been way off.  Maybe she was just bored, or upset about something else.

I try to imagine how it would be to not be able to describe pain, or understand why I was feeling it.  I think especially about headaches.  I get those a lot, and I wonder if Janey does too.  I wonder if a lot of the days she's just off, just upset, her head is hurting, and she doesn't know how to tell us that.  If I ask her, she generally just repeats when I've said---I say "Does your head hurt?" and she says back "Does your head hurt!"  I wonder how often she's had a stubbed toe or a stomachache or a sore throat and we had no clue.  I think she thinks we know what she is thinking, and I so hope she doesn't think we just ignore the pain she's feeling.

Of course we have tried AAC apps to communicate about pain.  And like most everything else with them, we've had very little success.  Either she pushes them away, or she chooses the middle button of each screen every time.  Or she picks a word she likes the sound of and picks it over and over, mainly "Grampa".  She knows how to get to that word on every app we've tried, and that shows us she can manipulate the screens when she wants to, but she doesn't want to, or at least she isn't able to do it consistently.  

I work hard on giving Janey the words she needs to describe pain, but I worry about putting words in her mouth.  Yesterday I kept saying "You have cramps", but of course, I don't know for sure she did.  I'm working too on taking her temperature by mouth, to have another way to judge illness. We had a forehead thermometer, but I never trusted it to be accurate. She will now hold the thermometer under her mouth for a minute or so.  I also check her oxygen with a little home meter now and then, just to get her used to medical checks.

I read the other day about a teen with autism who had COVID, whose parents weren't allowed to stay in the hospital with him.  That is the nightmare to me---that sometime Janey will be not with Tony or me, will be sick, and will be unable to explain what is wrong or understand what is happening.  That's the kind of thing that keeps me up nights.  I've seen the mixed bag that is medical care for those like Janey. There are those that are great at helping her and listening to us, like her current pediatrician or the surgical team at Mass General.  And there are those who were not, like her old pediatrician or the ER at Mass General.  In this pandemic time, I hope you are all well, but most especially your loved ones with autism.  The world, even the medical world, doesn't always understand that not everyone can speak up and say what hurts.

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