Gallows Humor And A Better Pain Chart

Sometimes we parents develop a gallows type humor, especially when dealing with the amount of body fluids and other stuff we do dealing with chronic illness.

On one of the first ER visits we EVER made (I always, always avoided the ER, but our rheumy insisted that certain issues warranted labs RIGHT then, even at midnight on a Saturday) we had an incident. An EMT was working triage, and running and IV on my kid, since we were going to get a lot done that evening, and they wanted to avoid multiple pokes. You would think an EMT would be good at it. Nope.

Three tries later, and me trying to call in another nurse to get the job done resulted in a victorious “I got it!” from Mr. EMT… only for me to turn around just in time to see my kids vein blow, splatter blood all over the the wall, including a few specks on my face. My kid was fine, but I had to be, ahem, revived. Another nurse ran the IV while Mr. EMT got to attend to ME with smelling salts and ice for the bump on my head after I hit the deck. Funny, right?

My kid still laughs when he tells that story. “OH, you should have seen the LOOK on her face when she was going down!” (kind of like this dog, below)

fainting dog


I guess parents aren’t the only ones who develop gallows humor.

So now that you have a frame of reference, lets talk about those nifty little pain charts they have in the doctor’s office, hospital or clinic. There are a bunch of different ones, just to complicate things, but the one you see the most in pediatric establishments is known as the Wong-Baker Faces Pain Rating Scale. It looks like this:



Granted, when we started using this scale my kids were older (late elementary school) but they always thought it was a bit dorky. At age 9, my older son informed me that he understood pain on a scale from one to ten, and those faces NEVER looked like his. EVER.

Alrighty then.

So you can imagine our giggles of delight when we stumbled upon Hyperbole and a Half’s take on Wong Baker.

According to her, face 0 is more like “ha ha, I’m not wearing any pants, face 3 means “I got gypped. There are no cookie dough chunks in this ice cream,” and face 5 is “you hurt my feelings and made me cry.” (see her funnier  and complete descriptions here)

I showed that to the kid, and he was like, UH YEAH!  That’s more like it!

We thought that was really funny. Until we saw her take on the REAL pain chart (you can purchase one here)- or what it should be…

betterpain chart

Now that my friends, had us snorting and laughing ’til our sides hurt… especially the last part about having ebola, or pinkeye.

On that same visit I mentioned earlier, my son ended up being admitted for possible liver failure. (but the admitting ER doc was worried about his funky skin rash) Kind of brought the ebola vs pinkeye debate home. Now THIS was a pain chart we could get behind.

That’s what I mean about gallows humor. We probably wouldn’t have found this nearly as funny five years ago, but that’s what chronic illness does- sometimes the reality of it is so ridiculous if you don’t laugh, you WILL cry.

We decide to laugh (although others may think its inappropriate at the time) at the fainting spells, the blown veins, the which- is- more -important, rash or failing liver thing… because we have been living in “the gallows” for a while, and it keeps us sane. I could fill a book with some of the stories (oh wait, I did!  You can find it here) and we would rather laugh than cry when we can.

What “unfunny” chronic illness stories do YOU laugh about now?  We would love to hear from you!


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  1. That pain chart is hilarious!

    • We have stumbled across the pain chart a few times over the last couple years, and its always just as funny as the first time. That’s why I wanted to share it with you all! The first time we saw it, I swear I nearly wet my pants laughing so hard!

  2. Oh, I unfortunately recognize a few of those pain-filled faces! They are hilariously overstated in the second one, but that’s what makes it so fun!
    Liz @ A Nut in a Nutshell recently posted…Personalized Holiday Gift Ideas #PCholidayMy Profile

  3. I really love the new chart!

  4. on situations like that, laughing is the best option haha though in our trip is not really funny specially if all the nurses are making it hard for you haha
    Mommy Pehpot recently posted…Barbie Live! The MusicalMy Profile

    • Oh, it doesn’t seem funny at all when you are in the middle of it! (although my kid was amused watching me hit the deck for something that was happening to him) After the fact, it becomes much more amusing. I’m never going to live that one down. He’ll probably include it in my eulogy.

  5. I will always remember when my young nephew cut his finger on the edge of a table when he dropped a bowling ball on it. It was a pretty decent cut but nothing that an ER visit warranted. However, while I was cleaning it, his brother who was a year younger fainted while watching us and hit his head and passed out. We had to call the paramedics for him and he ended up hospitalized for a day. Once we realized he would be totally fine, the adults all got a good laugh over the situation.
    Pam recently posted…Cottonelle More is Better This Holiday Season ~ Plus Giveaway!My Profile

    • Isn’t that always the way things work? Someone’s cut finger results in hospitalization for someone else??? Sounds like we could be related, because that is the kind of stuff that happens in OUR family! Thanks for sharing your story!

  6. Luckily no chronic illnesses here luckily. I am going to print that chart to use with my youngest – the first one.
    Jennifer Williams recently posted…Enjoy a Glass of Wine with VinoVintiMy Profile

  7. Too funny– we were just in the clinic yesterday and I was explaining the faces to my 4 and 2 year old. They looked so confused at the faces too. Ya gotta laugh at the gore… it’s too scary otherwise. Right?
    Jessica recently posted…Chocolate Making PartyMy Profile

    • Exactly!!! ITs amazing what we tolerate now, I never thought I could before. The faces still crack us up, we were in clinic today and they were supposed to fill out forms using the faces. My kids were making their own descriptions for them, bored being there for 3+ hours…(moving from smiley face to crying face) I’m ready for ice cream! What? Wait, This isn’t baskin robbins? No one told me there would be a blood draw, I would rather be eating ice cream. Clinic took so long that basking robbins is now closed! What can I say, we are easily entertained.

  8. I think the faces would confuse me cause I can make all sorts regardless of how I feel sometimes. The numbers chart always works best for me. OMG! I would have freaked out surely if I was in your situation. I have very low tolerance for pain and so chose a c-section so I wouldn’t have to feel anything. I’m that much of a wimp!

    • I think I could have actually handled it better if it had been done to me instead of my kid, and I was also unfortunate enough to look at the WORST possible moment. Its a “story” for us now though!

  9. Our three year old is crazy and rambunctious and if she’s as accident prone as her daddy was when he was a kid, I can see us having to use a pain chart like that one in the future!
    Shanna recently posted…Happy Starts with ALPO: A Focus Group with Our PoochMy Profile

    • Thanks for stopping by! Hopefully you won’t need to, but if you do, you know where to find it! Even with regular day to day stuff with younger kids who DONT suffer from chronic illness, the chart can be helpful. With older kids, its a just an invitation to be snarky- I think that’s why we love the “better pain chart” so much.

  10. OMG! I don’t think seeing your kids vein pop would be funny! I would have fainted just like you, then possibly punched the EMT guy as he revived me for hurting my child! I agree with you laughing through the pain is the only way to survive!
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  11. This is the hardest I’ve laughed all day. THANK YOU! I love, love, love this chart. My mom who suffers from chronic back pain would get a kick out if this!
    Trisha recently posted…@Playskool Showcam 2-in-1 Digital Camera and Projector #Review #HolidayGiftGuide2013My Profile

  12. My kids love the pain charts, they use them to demonstrate my parenting abilities for the day, good Mom or bad Mom. Haven’t seen the newest one you pictured at the bottom. They are going to pee their pants laughing when they see that one!
    Karen recently posted…Scrooge Slashed My TiresMy Profile

    • Yes- I know exactly what you mean…we found the other chart so much funnier than we should have. Be sure to visit the Hyperbole and a Half page, lots of good stuff there, and I LOVE her descriptions for the “regular” pain chart… I mean, how can you go wrong with “I never knew that about giraffes?”

  13. Savannah miller says:

    I love that you guys find humor 🙂 My family is the same we try to find humor instead of focusing on the bad. This will most likely sound crazy to most, but maybe you will giggle. My dads friend lived with us and was basically a 2nd dad to me. He just had a lot of health issues so my dad being his best buddy took it upon himself to make sure he was taking care of. He always was in the doc. for something his last surgery he had to have part of his foot removed.
    So my dad came to the post surgery and asked the nurse how his walking would be. The nurse said that he would most likely wobble for a bit. My dads face lit up, yes I know weird. He then asked “So he will kinda hop around?” The nurse got a weird look on her face and said yes I guess that is one way to look at it. The next day my dad came in all excited with a job application he couldn’t wait to give it to his friend….. It was for IHOP! We all giggled and the nurse was furious that my dad could make such a joke lol…

    • I think it all depends on the person- It doesn’t bother me that my son can laugh about it, and I much prefer laughter to tears! If your dad’s friend thought it was funny too, and it broke the tension, well, then that speaks for itself! Sometimes the nurses can be serious, but if it didn’t hurt your friends feelings, no harm no foul in my book! (and makes for a fun story later)

  14. I love those charts! I’ve never seen those before, so brilliant.
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  15. I love the new chart! I’ve seen the old chart more than I would like but number 12 just cracks me up!
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    • I know, right? I mean it has to be ebola…. or pinkeye. lol. That seems to be the gist of things in the ER. My kid was in there for liver failure and they were like, hey, look at this weird skin rash… kind of like ebola or pinkeye?

  16. Never understood the number system. I am always like number 10 number 10!!! Never thought about the faces. Haha
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  17. An explosively blown vein! Oh, my gosh. I would have hit the deck too. You and your family are doing an amazing job of living in the gallows with such a positive outlook.

    I’m not sure if it quite qualifies, but my grandmother was diagnosed last year with early stage dementia. She lives in a retirement community and has been on the assisted living waiting list since this summer. Last week she left the water running in her tub and walked away. She flooded the bathrooms in both of the apartments below hers. My mother is understandably upset. In trying to lighten the mood I pointed out that she’s probably just trying to get herself moved up on that waiting list.

  18. I love the chart – I was a teacher & used charts for everything 🙂 This is hilarious!
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  19. Love the comparison charts! Great job on the blog!

  20. when i was having my son the doctor told me to push when I was not suppose to, o actually that was not the doctor it was some other nurse, my husband flip out , my husband ask are you the doctor she responded no, he said go get the doc, that lady ran out that room so fast lol it was funny of how she looked, but any way the doctor came said push when i suppose to and wala my bundle of joy
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  21. Trying to explain the 1-10 scale to my daughter was not easy so we are now using the faces. I’m keeping the hyperbole and a half version though. I couldn’t help but laugh that with all you’ve been through, you fainted at a blown vein. Pea and I refuse to be down all the time. She cracks me up all the time just by saying my “Arthur’s itis” is acting up.
    Herchel S recently posted…Good old fashioned sibling envyMy Profile

    • I don’t think it was just the blown vein, but more that it was such an “explosively” blown vein- with the warm red flecks that hit my face… not good. I’m admittedly squeamish. When I saw the splatter on the wall, I almost went down again. G thought that was hilarious- “um- don’t mind me, the actual ER patient, go ahead and take care of my MOM.” lol.


  1. […] may be just a cold, but he literally slept through his rheumatology exam. The gallows humor surfaced for me and my big guy as we watched the doctor run him through all the range of motion […]

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