His little head lay cradled in my lap. Our eyes stayed locked, both of us struggling to see each other through the tears. He begged me not to let them touch him and I sobbed that I was sorry, pleading with him to look at me and me alone. He let out a moan and for just a moment, I thought of pushing the doctor away, of grabbing my child and making a run for the door. It’s a thought that has crossed my mind often over the years of hospital visits and tests. In cases like this, I just want to pick him up and run away with him, to hide him where no one can poke at him. I quickly glanced up to see if it was over yet and I realized they hadn’t even put the needle in yet. His painful cry was so real to him, yet in that moment, I realized it was fear more than pain that was causing his tears.
When he was a baby, I took his cues, like changes in his facial expression and behaviour, and used those to make my own decisions about his level of pain. How much noise he made was often the determining factor as to how much it really hurt.
I have sat beside him while eight needles went into his arm at once and heard not much more than a tiny peep from him and yet I have held him while he flailed his arms and legs and begged me to help him when no doctor had touched him yet.
As a mother, it often feels like a guessing game.
At times, it can be a struggle differentiating between the two. Not wanting to make him feel alone in his pain, I try not to question it but how do you know for sure? I can pull out a thermometer to check for a fever or I can look in his throat to see if it’s red and swollen. To measure pain, it's a little trickier, but there are pain measurement tools most parents may not know about.
The It Doesn’t Have to Hurt initiative is helping to make sure parents know about these tools. It can be frustrating to try and figure out what’s going on when our kids don’t have the words to tell us, but the neat thing about this program is that it can help us become more aware of some of the research that’s out there concerning pediatric pain.
After years of going back and forth between different hospitals, we've been given tips and tools to help our son deal with painful procedures. Everything from dipping his soother in a sugar/water mix when he was a baby to holding him during the procedure.
Outside of those tried-and-true tips and tools, there are now more resources available to help us know if it's minor or major pain. One example is the Faces Pain Scale. This is an excellent tool that I know will become very useful in our home (and yours too!). To get an idea of the type of pain level your kid is dealing with, ask him to point to the image of a face that shows how much he or she hurts in the moment. Each image corresponds to a number on a 0-10 scale. Older children (aged 8 and up) can just use numbers (0 to 10 or 0 to 100) to tell you how much pain they have.
In moments when a child is terrified and panicking, this tool could help calm him down and focus on what he’s actually feeling. It could also help him feel more understood and help parents to determine what the next steps should be.
Before heading out to an appointment that will include tests and procedures, the best thing you can do is to be prepared. We talk about what the procedure might feel like and we talk about how he might feel during the procedure. And now you can bring along the Faces Pain Scale. Truth be told, when I do these things, I’m preparing myself as much as I’m preparing him.
When my son cries, I cry. I would do anything to make the pain go away. I would gladly take all the needles and go through all the tests and procedures if it meant he didn’t have to feel the pain. Unfortunately, all these medical pokes and prods are something he has to face, but it doesn’t have to be alone. When pain measurement is combined with good pain management for vaccinations and needles, pain can be easier for our kids to deal with (and us too!).
I will be by his side every step of the way and thanks to initiatives like It Doesn’t Have to Hurt, hopefully I can help him learn the words to describe what he’s feeling and in turn, help him learn how to manage his pain.