Listen to the pain

Paul Smith
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I was once a staunch advocate of manning up and getting things done. You’re shovelling snow and your back hurts a bit? Ignore the pain and dig in — like Buddy Wasisname in “The Yammy.”

Remember how the brothers were flying at supersonic speed up Gambo Pond on a souped-up snowmobile; powered by a Corvette engine, I believe. The machine hit a rock in the open water at the mouth of Triton Brook, and flew high in the air before splashing down.

The narrator, who abandoned the speeding sled only to be sucked into its aerodynamic vortex, hit the rock a split second later. He describes the event so eloquently I shall not paraphrase.

“I came to an abrupt halt on the rock. To be more precise, the rock brought up in me fork. Now there is a bundle of nerves what goes from the fork to the brain about so big around as your forearm, and every nerve fibre in there was screaming PAIN! I put it out of me mind. Tough, eh. Tough.”

He then proceeded to rescue his brother at the bottom of the pond.

That is hardcore toughness by anyone’s outdoor adventure book.

Nowadays, I’m beginning to question whether this macho push through the hurt attitude is necessarily very wise. In fact, I’ve learned that in some extreme circumstances, it can get you killed.

Pain indicates that something is going wrong and you should really take time to listen. Your body is sending you a message in its most fundamental language. You could be having a heart attack.

I recently watched a TV series on climbing Mount Everest. I think I mentioned it last week in the context of cold feet. There was one guy in particular who was extremely strong-willed, almost as tough as Buddy Wasisname, although I doubt he could turn over a V8 with a pull cord.

The climber was Tim Medvetz, a motorcycle salesman and custom Harley builder from Los Angeles. Tim is a big man by mountain climbing standards, well over six feet and in ample excess of 200 pounds. The best climbers tend to be more compact in frame, like the Sherpas of Eastern Nepal.

Tim also sustained serious injuries from a previous motorcycle accident that left him with a bunch of metal pins and screws holding him together. With two strikes solidly against him, summiting the world’s tallest mountain would not be easy.

Against all odds, Tim Medvetz made it to Camp 4, the last before the summit, slept a couple of hours, and left his tent well before daylight to tackle the biggest challenge of his life.

Climbers leave Camp 4 with an 18-hour supply of oxygen, so that’s how long they have to make it to the top and back. If they run out of oxygen and can’t make it back to camp under their own steam, they will die on the mountain. Fatalities happen on Everest every year — not so much from falls; rather climbers just drop from sheer exhaustion, pushing themselves beyond their limits. Tim slowly made his way towards the top of the world, but he fell behind schedule. The organizers below were watching him through telescopes and warned him that he might have to turn back.

Most people that perish on Everest die on the way back down. That’s because they man up and push themselves beyond their true capabilities to make it to the top. The adrenalin is flowing and they push through the pain to view the world from the highest peak on Earth. Then reality sets in as they climb back down. They have 18 hours allotted for the round trip and their bodies are failing from exertion, altitude and exposure to the cold. When the oxygen runs out they could quite likely die on the spot and not get to celebrate their victory over the mountain with friends and family.

Tim was hurting and it was obvious. The hours of climbing in thin air were taking their toll. He ran out of time and was ordered by Russell Brice, the team leader, to turn around. He still had well over 200 feet to go to the summit, and in Russell’s estimation, he would not have enough gas in the tank to get back down. In his manned-up state of mind, Tim wanted no part of giving up.

They argued and threats were made about the Sherpas leaving him alone. You might think 200 feet isn’t much, but it involved some serious climbing, close to an hour’s worth, and at Tim’s pace he would run out of oxygen well above Camp 4 and would likely die. And it’s possible that others would die trying to save him.

Luckily, Tim came to his senses and headed down, barely making it safely back to camp before collapsing from exhaustion. He lived to fight another day. The following year he came back and summited Everest.

Manning up would have killed Tim, if others hadn’t intervened and talked sense into him.

I don’t have any personal manning-up stories quite as dramatic as this one, although I did manage to permanently damage my left knee. About 15 years ago, I twisted and hurt my knee playing tennis.

It was on a Monday and I was scheduled the following Saturday to chase Gord and Randy Stone over the hills and marshes of the grand old Cape Shore.

We would be hunting ducks and ptarmigan, and I had been really looking forward to the trip. I knew Gord and Randy to be hardcore walkers and wondered if my knee would hold up.

You guessed it: I manned up and went anyway, despite the fact that I could still feel a twinge in that knee.

Like climbers on Everest, I made the summit, that is, I got back in the country about

15 kilometres from the road. But my knee acted up severely on the way out. It got so bad I could barely walk, but I manned up and made it to the truck.

I should have called in a helicopter to fly me out, or better still waited for another weekend to make the trip, giving my knee a couple of weeks to heal up completely. I’m still feeling the effects of pushing my knee beyond its limits and in retrospect the fee for the chopper would have been a bargain. After a long day on snowshoes, I feel the injury returning to haunt me.

“Man up now, you fool,” it speaks to me in the language of pain. I’ve learned to listen.

Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay, fishes and

wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted at

Geographic location: Triton Brook, Mount Everest, Los Angeles Russell

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