Several years ago, I had to get fluid drained from my knee. (Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be one of those “old people talk about their ailments” stories.) Anyway, I’d never had this done, but the doctor assured me it was routine and would make me feel better. He prefaced it with the typical line, “You might feel a slight bit of discomfort,” which is apparently the phrase taught in Bedside Manner 101.

Then he pulled out a hypo with a long, huge needle that looked like something used to vaccinate a horse. I slid back on the exam table a bit. “Whoa. That’s gonna cause a slight bit of discomfort?” I was waiting for him to give me a piece of wood to bite down on like those cowboys on Yellowstone when they get branded. “I wish you doctors would get rid of that discomfort phrase and just be honest. Tell me it’s going to hurt like hell.”

He shrugged. “Okay. It’s going to hurt like hell.”

It did. But at least I was prepared.

Another common discomfort phrase used by nurses or people who take a blood draw is “little stick” just before you get jabbed. So you assume the needle used won’t cause much pain. Hey, it’s small, how bad can it be?

And then you get the “little stick” and yowl. (Yes, men are wimps when it comes to medical procedures. If we had to give birth instead of women, humans would have been extinct long ago.)

And I often hear this before getting any injection: “There’s usually not a reaction with this shot.” For whatever reason, “usually” means “always” when I’m the patient. Sometimes I get a choice, arm or backside. In the past when I chose the latter, I often ended up with one-half of my backside sore and walked funny for a few hours, so I now choose the arm every time.

This definition of “discomfort” doesn’t only apply to doctors and nurses, as you can get this at the pharmacy as well. Case in point, the colonoscopy prep liquid. For those who have not gone through the lovely experience of having your intestines basically sandblasted with a fire hose, you have to drink two bottles of “prep” before you have the procedure the next day. I’d heard the stuff tasted awful, but figured it was no big deal. (At least there were no needles involved.) And I relaxed when the cheerful young lady at the pharmacy offered me a choice. “They say this tastes much better than it used to. It even comes in flavors! Would you like banana or mixed berry?” Ah, no bad medicine taste. I took one of each.

The day of reckoning arrived, and I grabbed the chilled bottle of banana from the fridge, assuming this would be like a trip to the local ice cream joint for a milkshake. When I poured the very thick stuff into a glass, it looked like bathtub caulk. As I took my first sip through a straw, I wondered if bathtub caulk might actually taste better. It had the flavor of a banana … if you ate the peel. The mixed berry was even worse. The bottle should have a warning label. “You are about to drink the most God-awful liquid you’ve ever tasted. Try not to throw up.”

Again, honesty from the pharmacy gal would have prepared me for this experience.

So please, medical professionals, ditch that discomfort word, let us know when things will actually hurt or taste awful, and just be honest about what we’re going to experience. 

Look at it this way: If you tell us something is really going to hurt and then it doesn’t, we’ll feel like we dodged a bullet. And it will make us guys feel we’re tougher than we really are.

Randy Tatano is the author of more than 20 novels, writing political thrillers under the pen name Nick Harlow, and romantic comedies as Nic Tatano. He spent 30 years working in television news as a local affiliate reporter and network field producer.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to

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