I don’t blame you for being in pain. It’s a nasty wound you have.

When we rolled you back to the OR, bracing against every bump, I was there. When they cleaned out the microbial debris, I was there. When they layered in wet gauze to siphon out any fluid, I was there.

So when I come around the next day to change your dressing, I don’t blame you for demanding pain medicine beforehand. I’m relieved that you seem willing to work with me. That the many whispered warnings and notes from your current doctors and nurses seem to be wrong.

So I ask the nurse to give you an as-needed “extra” dose of pain medicine and I tell you I’ll be back in half an hour. But when I return, eager to build on our relationship, you tell me that you didn’t get the pain medicine.

I’m still eager but now confused. I peek around door and ask the nurse, who, with a bemused smile and tired eyes, confirms that, yes, she gave you the extra dose.

I’m less confused and now wary. “But ma’am,” I tell you, “she did give it to you. And it’s been half an hour, so let’s change your dressing before it starts to wear off.”

“Are you calling me a liar?” you demand. “I’m in pain,” you bristle.

Now my sympathetics kick in, and I am anything but sympathetic. “No, ma’am,” I say, unexpectedly matching your tone. “The nurse told me she did, and it’s recorded in the computer.”

Then, as I try to calm down, you deliver the coup de grace.

“Fine, fine,” you say dismissively. “I got it. But it wasn’t enough. Do you think two milligrams is enough? This hurts. You don’t understand. I need more.”

And there it was. The utter, unashamed lie. I had met you with open arms, so your admission hits me like a closed fist. My tone turns distant and cool. In all our further interactions, I fear being played for a fool.

You are in pain, yes. And the pain makes you mean. I don’t blame you for that. I blame you for making me mean.

Initially published in “Pulse”