Fighting Pain Finding Joy
How to overcome mental, spiritual, emotional or physical pain and find joy
March 24, 2002 - My day of pain
Come with me to a day that probably has no meaning for you. It is 3:04pm on Sunday March 24 2002 and we are driving along I25, in Colorado, about 7 miles from the border with New Mexico. We are in my Red 1997 Suburban along with my wife Ann. In the middle row are 10-year-old Elizabeth, 1-year-old Matthew and 19-year-old Andrew. In the rear row are 15-year-old Amy and 2-month-old Emily.
Amy is lying in the far back with her legs around Emily's car seat. Andrew is behind Ann, reading me a book. Elizabeth is behind me. Ann is asleep in the front seat, with the seat reclined and Matthew and Emily are both asleep in their car seats. Elizabeth and Matthew had just swapped spots to fix the perennial fight over leg space. What happens next will change everyone’s life permanently and in completely different ways.
It began at 3:05pm
At 3:05pm, the car will do something it had done many times during our trip from Dallas, Texas to Rexburg, Idaho and back. I intended to talk with the dealership about it, after we were home. The front left brake would bind on, pulling the car to the left. This time it would be catastrophic.
At 3:04pm, it is sunny, the traffic is light and we are still about 700 miles from home. Sitting quietly, minding its own business on the left shoulder, .25 miles from mile marker 6, is a snow pole. It is failing to fulfill its purpose in life. It should be standing proudly, showing where the road is, when there is several feet of snow. For some reason, it is lying on the ground sticking out about a foot into the tarmac on the left side of the road line. No one really knows why; if it could speak, it could tell of a car that wandered off the road and attacked it, leaving it where it now lay. It may have no memory concerning why it was where it lay.
What hit me?
Even had it been sentient, it could not have known that, in a few seconds, it would play the starring role in turning the lives of all my family members completely upside down, causing everyone huge pain and setting us off on a path very different to the one we were currently on.
On the roof of the car are our suitcases. Everything was fastened down with a tarpaulin type of sheet, with clasps holding it to the roof rack. I was unaware the extra height had shifted the center of balance dangerously close to failure.
We have just settled down from the seat-moving maneuver and Elizabeth has her knees in the back of my seat and is watching for the border. She keeps pushing against my back and I ask her to stop doing so.
In a few seconds, the brake will bind on again and the snow pole is going to cause untold problems for me and for my family. We are on cruise control, doing 70mph in what I learned later is a 65mph zone. The silver pickup truck in front of me is doing 65mph, so I pull out into the left lane to overtake.
I am trying to work out in my head whether we can actually make it back home today, so I can go to work the following day. I am also listening to Andrew read to me, to make sure I can stay awake through some of the most boring terrain on the journey.
Everything is coming together, second by second, foot by foot, for a catastrophe
Traveling just behind us is a doctor and his wife and about 100 yards ahead, traveling in the opposite direction are two ambulances full of most of the paramedics for a hundred miles. They had been scuba diving in the mountains of New Mexico. With them was the Medical Examiner for the county.
Up until 3:05pm, we had had a wonderful vacation with our children, culminating in having our recently adopted children sealed to us in a ceremony at the Salt Lake City, Utah LDS temple.
We are just behind the truck, when the brakes bind, pulling the steering to the left and the front left tire hits the snow pole. Somehow, the pole bounces under the car, banging on the bottom. At the same time as I am pulling the car back onto the road, the pole somehow exits the right side of the car and stops long enough to rip a two-foot long hole in the outer side of the front right tire.
Just five more seconds
We are five seconds from disaster, as the front right side of the car rears up like a frightened animal. I manage to bring the car back down to the ground. By now, the tire has explosively deflated. The luggage, and the center of balance problem, would now to play their part in the tragedy. The car veered to the right with the front right corner at a dangerous angle. The straps holding the luggage on the roof took this opportunity to snap, causing the car to continue sinking to the right, as the suitcases came off the roof.
Up until this moment, all of us in the car are sharing the same experience, all in a different way. Ann is still asleep. Andrew is reading. Matthew is dozing. Elizabeth is poking me in the back with her knees and watching the mile-marker numbers count down to one. Amy is lying in the back seat, reading a romance novel set in Hawaii and Emily is asleep in her car seat. The only one aware that a catastrophe may be about to occur is me, as I fight to regain control of the car. Had I succeeded, we would have pulled to the edge of the road, changed the tire and been on away again within 30 or 40 minutes laughing about the disaster we had just avoided.
This scenario was not about to happen, as it took only a second for the center of gravity of the car to move to the point of no return and the car is pulled onto its right side. The forward motion forces it back onto its wheels and then over a further four times, before coming to rest back on its wheels. We roll up the embankment on the left side and roll back onto the right hand lane of I25.
Time slowed down
Life slowed down as the world spins round in front of me and I black out for a few seconds. When I became aware of my surroundings again, we are stationery and the alarm indicating the engine was off, but the keys were in the ignition is sounding. I turn the engine off and drop the keys to the floor.
For a few seconds, I cannot work out what had happened and then… Matthew is screaming. Ann is sitting up and bleeding badly from her head. The front roof console is broken and hanging down, above her head. The door window and the windscreen are both cracked.
I looked at Ann and ask, “What happened?”
“Burst tire.” She replied.
My left arm is in pain and I turn to my left to see what is wrong. At the same time, the county coroner appears at my window and asks if I was O.k. The door window is broken and my arm is hanging out. It is broken and the upper arm is hanging the wrong way. When I look out the window, my left hand is pointing at a body lying on the ground, next to the rear door. Even though someone has covered the body, I know it is Elizabeth. I can see her read hair. Andrew and Amy are also missing from the back of the car, having been thrown out and are lying some 150 yards away, surrounded by people.
Different points of view
There are many different points of view about the effect of those 5 seconds. The paramedics had to deal with the emotional and mental pain from chasing Andrew and Amy as they bounced, at high-speed, along the highway. Once they caught up, the medics began to do their jobs. Had they not been there, I cannot see how Andrew or Amy could have survived. The doctor ran up to Amy and began dealing with the fact that her lungs had collapsed. His wife got Matthew out and calmed him down.
The driver of the truck we were overtaking saw I had lost control and accelerated out of the way and then reversed back to help.
These people have all had to deal with the pain of being involved in what they saw happening that day. I have no idea how they have handled their pain over the years since, but I am confident it had some effect.
Those of us in the car suffered directly from the crash, but all in completely different ways. Our injuries were completely different. The list is long and horrible including broken necks, backs, arms, hands, pelvis', hips, feet, jaws, skulls, elbows, lungs, spleens etc., etc. Some of us suffered all of them, some just a few, one suffered none. I was left disabled and in chronic constant pain.
Pain is not just physical, it can affect us mentally, spiritually and emotionally as well. The pain and injuries the snow pole caused my family and I, still bother us today.
What I have learned since
In the time since 3/24/2002, I have learned how to fight the pain and find joy. My book Fighting Pain Finding Joy shows how I have dealt with the accident and its after effects. Reading and hearing how others have survived similar experiences has helped us, now it is our turn to help others.
I know you cannot have suffered what I have gone through, but I believe my experiences can help you handle your problems.
Click on the link to go to the download page and get an e-book of Fighting Pain Finding Joy. The hard copy version is available at Amazon.com
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Fighting Pain Finding Joy
Who nose when the train will move
Happiness isn't in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. (Franklin D. Roosevelt)
Talking of decisions, reminds me of something I didn't think through. The first few times, nothing happened. The last time, I regretted doing so.
I have no idea whether the British Railway companies still use the train carriages I used to travel home from the City of London in the 1970's. Let me give you a quick description of the layout. Each carriage was divided into separate sub carriages, which had two six-seater bench seats and a door on each side. Once you'd chosen the sub carriage, you had to stay there until the next station.
I lived 35 miles from the City of London and 20 miles from the end of the line. The train started full and, by the time we reached my station, I was frequently alone in the carriage.
Sometimes, I’d be tired and fall asleep, but always managed to wake before my station. If I didn't, I’d get off at the next station and wait for a train headed in the opposite direction. This was no fun, but I had no choice, home was in the other direction. This day must have been a tiring one, because I only woke up when the train came to a rather sudden stop. I was alone in the carriage, with no idea where I was. I wasn’t used to this level of lack of control, I wasn’t yet aware of how clever I am, but I had all of my humility. Unfortunately, it was of no use this day.
I pulled the door window down, looked down the train to see what was going on. I was in a carriage near the back and could see, off in the distance, the engine. We were stationery nearly a half mile outside of a station. I’d no idea why we'd stopped or where we were. Every few minutes, I’d open one of the windows and peer out. Being alone meant I’d no one to talk to. Without the station platform, it was too far to jump to the tracks, not that I wanted to. I may have been a young relatively fit man, but the idea of hiking to the station didn't appeal to me, and it was illegal.
I kept on looking to relieve the boredom. Technology has come a long way in the last 40 years. In 1974, there were no cell phones, no personal computers, no laptops or anything even remotely like them. The bank I worked for ran their whole business on a 196k computer, with several banks of 5mb hard disks each the size of a washing machine. My phone has 3.2 million times the disk space on a disk 0.5 square inches. I’d taken no books with me to read on the train that day, so I was stuck.
The last time I opened the window, turned out to have quite devastating consequences for me. The train jerked forward and I was thrown a few inches back. The window came slamming up, connecting with the bottom of my nose. I fell backwards onto one of the seats, where I lay, crying from the discomfort. The compartment was empty, so there was no one to commiserate me. Nor were there any other males there to mock or deride me. I was 18 at the time, and although this wasn’t my first broken bone, up to that time it was the most painful. I don’t believe that, even had there been numerous beautiful girls present, I’d have been unable to avoid crying. I’d previously broken my nose when playing soccer. The goalkeeper kicked the ball straight at my face. The ball bounced back over his head and into the goal. That was nowhere near as painful as the train hitting me, and at least I scored a goal.
A few minutes later, the train began moving and pulled into what turned out to be the final station on the line. I got off and holding on to my battered and bruised nose, staggered onto the platform where there was a train heading back toward London. I know I want you to find joy in any pain you're suffering, but please stop laughing at my calamity.
By the time I eventually got home, it didn’t hurt as much. I doubt I’d have gotten any sympathy anyway, as my parents were both in the medical profession and things had to be hanging off to get any sympathy.
As with most of my stories, there was no joy in the experience. This time, I didn't have a girl looking after me. The joy comes from the retelling of the story. Everyone laughs when I tell them what happened and I always join in the laughter. I learned to always lean on the train window in the future. I wasn’t a victim of anything other than bad luck and being somewhere there was a gremlin looking for mischief.
A small poor decision can have catastrophic results and we may pay for them a lot longer than I suffered with my broken nose, which hurt for two weeks. My foster son, Darius, and his biological, physician father are an example of someone doing something he may have done before with no consequences. He did it one more time and, this time, the consequences were heartbreaking. Dad figuratively drove off the mountain road completely when he made a terrible choice and shook his two-month-old son for crying. I know he had a momentary lapse of judgment. He didn’t intend to shake Darius so violently, he gave his son shaken baby syndrome. Darius was left with a huge lump on his skull and permanent, severe brain damage. Being a doctor meant dad knew the result, yet he did it, leaving his son effectively brain dead. His choice cost him a lot, as the police rightly held him responsible for his stupid choice. He lost his freedom and his career. His wife lost her son, her husband, her sense of security and possibly everything she had.
His mother was still feeding him and I had to make several visits to the CPS office to collect expressed milk to feed him with, until we weaned him over to formula. This made for some carefully phrased requests, when I arrived at the office. The receptionists, especially those who knew me, gave me some odd looks when I told them I was there to collect some breast milk. Naturally, I’d spent some time on the journey to the office trying to come up with new and embarrassing ways to phrase my requirement. This is another example of a situation I wish I’d had a video camera turned on. The looks on the women’s faces was priceless, except for the one who knew I was coming, who burst into laughter.
We learned an important lesson with Darius, regarding how to help when life is too much. I was in the car, outside of a store waiting for Ann to come out. Darius was in his car seat behind me. He'd dropped his blankie and was crying, so I reached over and threw the blankie towards him. It fell over his head and he immediately stopped crying. I got out of the car and opened the back door, to remove the blankie from over his head. He immediately began crying again. Intrigued. I put the blanket back over his head and he stopped crying. With the blanket over his head, no stimuli were reaching his brain and this was calming him down. We have used this knowledge a number of times in the years since. It can be better to remove a child from the situation, than to leave them in it, when they’re obviously over stimulated. Taking them out for a few minutes and allowing them to catch their breath, gives them the opportunity to regain control.
Darius came to us because he needed a lot of attention. Unfortunately, we were unable to do anything for him, beyond giving him tender loving care and covering his eyes when the stimulation of every day life became too much for him. He was one of our foster children we have no idea what happened to. He didn't stay with us for long and moved to a critical care medical home, where he could get the constant care he needed. Shaken baby syndrome is one of those spur of the moment, lose your temper issues with long-term consequences.
When teaching our children, we explain there are always consequences to our actions. Some of them can be catastrophic as both Darius and his parents found. His father was jailed for child abuse. His mother had to have sacrificed a lot to get her husband through medical school and now it all was lost from one moment of anger. They both lost their son, who we have to believe they loved.
The consequence of my stupidity with the train window was only to hurt to myself. No one else got hurt. 20 years later, though, it saved me from a speeding ticket. I broke my nose a third time, when I nearly stepped in front of a bus and left a nose track down the windows. I was lucky only to break my nose. In a 3 year period ending in 2015, 23 people were killed in the same area I snotted up the bus.
The broken septum, the cartilage in the middle off the nose, was giving me sleep apnea. I’d had surgery to straighten the septum, so I could breathe properly. The doctors had packed my nose with hundreds of feet of bandage and stuck a metal guard on the outside. I had two black eyes as well. The cop took one look at me, completely changed his attitude, and simply told me to be more careful. I think if the train hadn't hit my nose. I could have received an expensive speeding ticket.
On a side note, the amount of packing a doctor can get up a nose, is truly amazing. When he began to pull the bandages out, he kept doing so for quite a few minutes. I felt like I was watching a magician and remember wondering how much more there could possibility be up there and secondly, when was he going to stop, because what he was doing hurt. Unfortunately, once he had finished on one nostril, he repeated the exercise on the other one. I can’t speak for you, but from personal experience, I have to admit I appear to have an empty head.