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No, giving birth can’t be measured in ‘del’ or said to be ‘equal to breaking 20 bones’

A number of different graphics shared on Facebook in South Africa have the same bewildering message. 

“A human body can bear only up to 45 “DEL” (unit) of pain,” it reads. “A mother feels up to 57 DEL of pain while giving birth which is equal to 20 bones getting fractured.”

First, the logic is off. If women in labour endure more pain than the “human body can bear”, it would mean women were superhuman – or that they always die in childbirth, as fact-checking site Fact from Fiction helpfully points out.

Old unit of pain was the ‘dol’ – there’s no ‘del’

Second, a unit of measuring pain is the “dol”.

“‘Dol’ is the term used to denote the unit of painfulness, and has a value of approximately one-tenth the intensity of the maximal pain,” a 1948 paper on the study of pain reported. 

The paper records a pain intensity of 10.5 dols as “the most intense pain which can be experienced”. So, the readings of “45” and “57” in the post are definitely not on the dol scale. 

Africa Check couldn’t find any evidence of “del” as a unit to measure pain, nor have other fact-checkers

‘Pain is subjective’

Africa Check asked the World Federation of Societies of Anesthesiologists about the claim. 

Annabel Higgins, the federation’s advocacy and communications officer, shared a response from Dr Charles Rouger Goucke, chair of its pain management committee.

There’s no objective way of measuring pain, which is a subjective experience. Consequently, comparing different types and degrees of pain between different patients is not easy,” he said. 

“What hurts me may not hurt you and vice versa! Pain can be graded using scales 0 (no pain) to 10 (worst pain possible). How could anyone realistically measure the pain caused by a person having 20 broken bones? Labour pain, gallstones and kidney stones are all noted as causing severe pain. But the actual severity is very personal.”

In other words, while childbirth without medication is extremely painful, the degree of that pain can’t be said to “equal” anything – because we each have our own experience of pain.

Gouke also dismissed “del” as the unit of measurement for pain, terming it an “urban myth” that had been “kept alive on the internet”.

The federation also supplied a 10-point scale of subjective pain, used to clinically gauge patients’ self-reported pain. - Grace Gichuhi


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