Wednesday, 27 June 2012

pain, injury and perspective

recently, I've been reflecting on a few things, it's not as if I don't have a fair amount of time on my hands (or hand). I'm lucky enough to have some great friends in San Diego and they have been wonderful in helping me out in the past week. People have taken me shopping, chopped up vegetables for me (try that with one arm in a sling and the other on a crutch), bought me beer, helped me modify my crutches and, in one case, come over when some coats fell on my bed and i got stuck (yes, really, I have turned into Mr Burns).  One thing these friends always ask me is "how's the pain?"

to me this seems like an odd question: pain has never been an issue, it's not that i enjoy pain, far from it.  I think i have a slightly faulty ability to perceive pain. Maybe it's something to do with nerve damage, or maybe i was born this way but last Thursday I walked home on a broken pelvis, I've climbed the pyrenees with broken ribs (and a backpack, at night) and i once broke my cheekbone and survived  a week on asprin and lollipops before someone thought to x ray me. I don't think i'm hard, or tough because i'm really not. anyone who's seen me trying to get into an ice bath will affirm this. I think what's at stake here is the difference between Pain and injury. 

I can still remember playing prep school rugby, tough little 13 year old that i was i had probably sustained some crippling affliction, i imagine a bigger boy had stood on my toe. My coach was stood over me and my teammates gathered around (on reflection it may have been more severe than a toe standing, or a it may have been a very big boy) my coach took a look at me and said "well Stout, pain or injury?" and for the first time i appreciated the distinction. Pain is a feeling, injury is a state and, as Thom Yorke reminds us "just 'cos you feel it doesn't mean it's true". Feelings are important, I'm not one for giving it the old HTFU and ignoring them  (that's why it says STFU on my jersey) but in the case of physical sensations, they can be ignored. Pain, is something you can deal with. you acknowledge it, you see it and then you put it in the place where it doesn't bother you. I used to get scared in crits, really scared, until i learned to do the same thing with fear, i play my little video of the impending stack, then i put that video in the corner and get on with what i'm doing. I don't know how but somehow i learned to habitually do the same thing with pain. It's not always cool, I've picked up cast iron pans and not realised until i get them to the sink that i am burning my hand. Injury is different, your body tells you if it is injured and it tells you to stop, if you can be dispassionate about the pain and focus on the injury you know when you can and can't do something. i knew last Thursday that there was something more than road rash and bruising, you can block out pain but injury won't go away, nor should it. 

When you find yourself in jured, you find yourself in hospital. I was talking to my friend John Behrens (who got hurt far, far worse than i did, and needs your help) about this today. We both got to spend some time in a trauma ward. I'd estimate that 30% of the people who came into that ward left it with the covers pulled over their faces. It's sad, but it's true. I saw a young girl die less than a yard away from me last year, seeing things like that changes your perspective on pain, injury and life. Yes i'm upset, today was the longest road race at TOAD, it was a yellow highlighter day, a big race and i spent today in the library, this doesn't make me happy. But i find it hard to summon up the suicidal moping that you see amongst some injured athletes because ultimately i walked away, with all my limbs, with my face intact and alive. I know bike racing is fun and i know it's important but it's not tantamount to life and we have to think first and foremost about how lucky we are before we moan about the minor inconveniences. If i'd been born in parts of Africa i would have most likely died one year after diagnosis so every day of the last 6 years has been given to e by accident of birth. And i should be grateful.    

Bike racing wise i am replanning my season, i might end up at green mountain, or even racing cyclocross (without a hangover) but this all depends on the doctor's decision tomorrow. I will be sure to update, good or bad news it could always be worse and moaning will never make it better. 

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