When you’re in pain, you can easily find yourself in hypersensitive mode. That’s how straws break camels’ backs. Kind of.

Maybe you’re a person who waits a little too long to call a plumber or you thought your toothache would go away but it’s gotten worse. When you pick up the phone to call for help, you’re admitting you can’t continue on your own. You need help. It’s possible that when you pick up the phone, you call the wrong person, not just the wrong number but the wrong organization, the wrong doctor’s office or you don’t remember who you are supposed to call. Have you ever been in so much tooth pain you asked which endocrinologist you were referred to? You really meant “endodontist” but you reached a point, you didn’t care who could help you as long as the problem was fixed. Your brain was foggy but clear enough to know the other person should know what you meant. If you never reached that point, consider yourself lucky.

When I am in pain, I try to remember I am not the only one on the planet in pain right now. How many people have kidney stones, arthritis, back pain, knee pain, migraines, labor pains and so on.

Unless there’s an open wound or someone’s facial expression tells you, you don’t necessarily know if someone is in pain.

In pain and in between looking for Orajel, which I am not sure if I would recommend, a softer tooth brush and a mouthwash for sensitive mouths, I wondered this week how many people are in pain. How would you even gauge that. It’s not something that can always be measured and chronic pain itself is a whole different category.

I did a quick search and found in 2015–2018, 10.7% of U.S. adults used one or more prescription pain medications in the past 30 days. (Hales CM, Martin CB, Gu Q. Prevalence of prescription pain medication use among adults: United States, 2015–2018. NCHS Data Brief, no 369. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2020.)

In the course of your day or your week, there’s a good chance you’re going to encounter someone in pain.

If you’re a receptionist, the person who answers someone's call for help, what you say can bring a person to sad tears or allow them to breathe a sigh of comforting relief. You don’t have to know what to say or how to help, but you do have to care – about the patient as if they are the only patient in the world – in that moment.

Maybe you work in a call center and you’re timed how long you can be on the phone with someone. How fast can you solve a problem? Speed is good. Concern is better even if it’s not really real.

I did a search on empathy and customer service. I didn’t realize until today that there’s such a thing as “customer service empathy.” When I told someone this, he said isn't that what customer service is -- empathy? Good point. 

Answering the phone should be viewed as a chance to be someone’s day in a small or big way.

When you have an awful exchange on the phone and no one can help, it makes you all the more appreciative when you do find someone who can make your world a better place. You might even cry tears of joy.

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