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I meet a man with a big smile

j.howiejj.howie Brentwood, Ca., USAPosts: 1,730
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:48 AM in Chronic Pain
I was on vacation on the Oregon coast in my r.v. at a r.v. park right on the ocean.
When a guy pulled into the park. And got out of his rig. And immediately I could see that he was concealing great pain. But with a big smile on his face. We meet and I saw the way he limped, couldn't move his neck, a back brace, and standing rigid.
We introduced ourselves and I said "not you too" and told him of my back problems. Briefly of course. I've learned not to say too much. I asked what happened. He said he was in a motorcycle accident and shouldn't be alive. He said he broke his leg, witch was held together with pins and broke his neck 3 crushed vertebrae fused, and had 2 bulging lumbar disks.
To look at this man was hard to do the way he held himself, walked, stood, and lack of movement in his neck.
You could see the pain. But not in his face. And not in his eyes. Just a big broad smile that made me feel envious.
Over the next few days I saw this guy several times. Each time I saw him. I greeted him with "how are you doin'" He always said GREAT, or couldn't be better, or some other reply to let you know he was loving life. And enjoying his day.
Every day since then I've thought of that man. And wished I could be like him. And have been making a strong effort to do just that.
It is strange how two different people with similar injuries can look at life in such different ways.
I'll never forget that man! :?

Click my name to see my Medical history
You get what you get, not what you deserve......I stole that from Susan (rip)
Today is yours to embrace........ for tomorrow, who knows what might be starring you in the face!


  • If he's an Oregonian, he must be just thankful for where he lives! We do have just about the most beautiful state there is (in my opinion). Also, if he came as close to death as he says, he knows that there is much to be thankful for, even with the pain. As someone's byline here says, "Pain is inevitable, Suffering is optional"

    3 level spinal fusion, L3/4, L4/5, L5/S1, November 2008. Stiff, but I can walk.
  • A lovely story Jim, thank you for sharing. I was just thinking the same thing that Linda wrote; when faced with losing something as precious as your life, you appreciate it more, no matter what it brings with it. Kind of goes along with the last line of your sig - Embrace today, as you don't know what you'll face tomorrow.

    I'm glad that you had a good trip, and rest. You definitely needed and deserved this time!!
    APROUD CANADIANveteranButNOTa doctor, my thoughts are my own
  • Jim,

    Thanks for sharing this story, it was inspirational and hopefully I've learned something about how I present myself to others.

    As for you being like that man, I think you are. My impression of you is someone who doesn't spend time worrying about your pain but caring for others here in the forum who are hurting. :)

    Linda--I'm an Oregonian by birth and a Montanan by marriage, so I've got the best of two beautiful states! :D

    2009 Foraminotomy C6-72010 PLIF L4-S1Multi RFA's, cervical inj, lumbar injLaminectomy L3-4 and fusion w/internal fixation T10-L4 July 17Fusion C2-C5 yet to be scheduled
  • What a great story, I should be doing the same thing. The doctor's can't believe that I'm walking after such a bad break in my back. I guess at first I was very thank-full but after 2 years of pain, You wonder about things like that. Pain really takes over you, it's consuming.

    I need to get back to where I was thankfull, it would be much less stressfull and I would enjoy a lot more things..

    Thanks for sharing,

  • Great story to share Jim.

    As a nurse, at one point during my working years, I worked on a Ventilator unit at a Respiratory Hospital. On one side of the ward I could have a patient with a negative approach to his life and on the other, one with a positive attitude. No doubt you know whose struggle was easier. Taught me a lesson about life, therefore my byline mentioned by Linda.

    Best wishes,


    P.S. My adopted state, Maine, is quite beautiful as well! Someday would love to visit Oregon and Montana.
  • Reading your post at 6:00am made me smile. To be quite honest, that man sounds like he has a similar approach to things as I do. I didn't almost die due to my back, but did in relation to other medical problems before my back became severe. It really does make you thanful to just be alive. I was an athlete prior to all this. One thing I learned is to handle losing with grace. I think this helped me with the many things I've "lost" due to pain. People sometimes don't believe what I struggle with because of my great big smile :D plastered on my face. The people that know me well have learned how good I am at "hiding" my pain. My smile is my wall. It keeps people out of the horrifying life I live inside my painful body. I am a vain 23 year old, I admit that, so I also do things like focusing on "heel-toe-heel-toe" when walking to hide my semi-limp and painful walk. I make a daily effort not to show the pain I live with on the inside but also to not let that pain kill who *I* am. It helps that I have a high pain tolerance. I find it's easier to face the world with a smile than a frown, it brings much better energy around you. Knowing quite a bit about energy, I am careful as to what energy I present to the world. I can't tell you how many times I've wanted to complain when someone asks me how I am, but instead, I just flash my characteristic smile and say, "I'm faaantastic!" It's true in a sense though. I am fantastic in someways, while in others, I'm anything but fantastic. But, I choose what I put out to the world. It's a conscious choice every time. I notice when I'm smiling, more people interact with me, I even get compliments, and people who may have been frowning will smile at me too. It's funny how much a simple, genuine smile can bring. I have MANY things to be grateful for, despite my pain and all its limitations. I have many things I'm grateful for that occured in my "old" life, such as all the sports I was able to do, and all the jobs I had. In my "new" life, my life after pain set in, I still have so many things to be grateful for. I have good people in my life for the first time. I have unconditional support for the first time. I have my AMAZING boyfriend and his super-sweet 5yo daughter, who is forever telling her daddy and me that we need to get married so we can be a "real" family. Talk about melting our hearts! She gives me hugs and kisses. Another thing to be grateful for. I am also thankful for my disgusting family because they taught me everything I DIDN'T want to be. And having a family like mine only served to make me more appreciative of having my boyfriend and his family in my life. I have MANY, MANY, MANY things to be grateful for.

    BUT, and this is a big fat BUT, I still live in severe pain. A positive psychology teacher I once had used to talk to me after class. At this time, I was still going through the loss of my "old self" in an extreme way. He told me something that has stuck with me for years, and changed my life. He said, "Give yourself permission to be human." Simple, yet oh-so-powerful words. I didn't before but I have ever since he said that. I "allow" myself to have days where all the pain, frustration, and limitations become too much. I allow myself to cry when nothing helps the pain or whenever I feel the need. I give myself credit for all the things I can still do, while acknowledging all the things I want to do but can't. I try hard not to beat myself up when it all becomes too much or when I can't do something I want/need to do.

    One of the hardest parts of being a CP'er is the psychological toll it takes on us. It's ok. The Oregon man, I'd bet a million, has had days where it just all becomes too much, or the pain becomes too out of control. But, he still faces the world bravely. I acknowledge those times but I don't get stuck in them. One of my favorite words is REGROUP. I give myself permission to be human, permission to feel all of the negative feelings associated with pain, but then I regroup. I remember who I am. :B I am the same compassionate, intelligent, brave, and determined woman that I was before pain. I just have to remind myself of this more often now. It's OK to have days where you just plain give up. But then a new day comes and we regroup. Each night before bed, I say 5 things I'm grateful for. It helps to keep me from diving too deep into the depths of this evil pain beast. I will NOT let this beat me. I'm too good and capable to let this beat me. Again, that's not saying I don't have days that it does beat me but in the long-run, this will NOT beat me. Be kind to yourself. Give yourself permission to be human. Then regroup. >:D<

    Much love and understanding,

  • I too have ran into someone in much worse shape when I have been down and out and feeling sorry for myself. We have a little boy in a wheelchair that cruises down the sidewalk by my work here twice a day. That little guy will never enjoy a lot of things that I have already experienced, very sad. Jim, you are that person! Maybe you don't always feel you are, but your posts and e-mails are always kind and caring. You DO make people feel better so give yourself credit. Considering some of the stuff people in pain deal with, I think kindness may be easier for some, harder for others. I believe you are on the upper end of that spectrum from my perspective :)
  • Firstly thanks for the post Jim. Very inspiring and made me smile on the inside.

    Wow Lisa I hardly know what to say .....RESPECT :)

    My "real" troubles only started a year ago. I also was very active. three horses to look after and eventing two of them, I never stopped. I have to say before finding this site I was very low and fearful. I would not do things for fear of the penalty I would recieve the next day. I'm a glass half full kinda gal but this really got to me.

    Joining to forum has made me realise what a fraud I am and made me "sharpen up". Since kicking myself up the arse things have changed. Everyone keeps telling me how well I look. I'm out and about (still taking it steady) and starting to be more positive about my situation.

    I'm almost embaressed to admit I was feeling so sorry for myself when there are people on this site who are in far more pain and discomfort than me (not just physical).

    You all gave the the positive KICK I needed to sort myself out.

    Thank you all :D
  • Love this story....I try very hard to count my blessings and not my curses. This reminds me to do so because I can be an inspiration to others.

    I am thankful for all I do have. I try not to think of what I can't do but what I can do. I'm not always good at it. I have my moments....and those, my husband shares and sympathizes with me and I feel validated so that I can keep a strong face to the public.

    This is just a good story because how you interacted with him also is a great lesson.
  • j.howiejj.howie Brentwood, Ca., USAPosts: 1,730
    Every one of you has just added to my great experience with this guy. And it's people like you that are the reason I can't leave this site!
    Lisa, we're alot alike and I really am glad for your response.
    Marion, and all of the rest of you. I got something good and positive out of each and every post. Thank you all for being you. And thank you all for being here for me. I should mark this page and read the whole thing daily!
    Click my name to see my Medical history
    You get what you get, not what you deserve......I stole that from Susan (rip)
    Today is yours to embrace........ for tomorrow, who knows what might be starring you in the face!
  • For starting this very positive post. I think oftentimes we get so trapped in our own pity parties (sometimes totally justified) that we forget about the bright spots in life. My two elderly aunts kept in contact with me (even though they live on the other side of the country) through all my troubles with my back. I just saw them last month and they asked to see my scars. I showed them. After I came back home, I got a letter from my Aunt Ethel saying she was amazed how I could laugh, joke, and smile all the time, even though I had been through that horrible pain. Well, believe me, she's been through an awful lot of trauma in her life, and she still enjoys a good joke from time to time herself. I told her "that which does not kills us makes us stronger" and we're a couple of tough old broads!! Simple truth is, I can choose to be totally miserable every day when I get up, or I can choose to grab hold of the day and squeeze every ounce of joy out of it that I can. I think most of us prefer the joy!

    3 level spinal fusion, L3/4, L4/5, L5/S1, November 2008. Stiff, but I can walk.
  • for reminding us that we can wallow in our misery or try to face life head-on with a positive attitude and hopefully help others. Call me "kooky", but since I've been a regular on this site I would definitely put you in the second group :)

    There are examples of people who, during their own trials and tribulations, still think of others first, don't complain constantly about their pains, etc. This is an admirable trait.

    Jim, have you ever thought that maybe you have been like the "man with the big smile" that others have had the pleasure to meet? If not, then you should!

    Take care,

  • Wow...I am still reading but all I can say is that you ALL are inspirations!!!!!
  • j.howiejj.howie Brentwood, Ca., USAPosts: 1,730
    We can choose! And too much of the time I get stuck in my own "pity party" not so much on the forums. ( I try to use the forums to concentrate on the positive) And to help others and escape my own private hell. I need to do as you say try to squeeze some joy out of the bad days. They can really control me sometimes. And I just let the misery breed more misery instead of trying to squeeze some joy. Which breeds happiness. I learn something every time I get on this site. I don't even like computers. And this site was one big contributing factor in me buying one!
    Good luck, Jim :D
    Click my name to see my Medical history
    You get what you get, not what you deserve......I stole that from Susan (rip)
    Today is yours to embrace........ for tomorrow, who knows what might be starring you in the face!
  • I think you did a lot to share some joy with us all by sharing this story. Thanks again for the inspiring tale.
    3 level spinal fusion, L3/4, L4/5, L5/S1, November 2008. Stiff, but I can walk.
  • Jim,

    Like the others, thanks for sharing such a wonderful "unplanned" new spiney meeting! As I read it I literally had goose pimples all over! Like Lisa, I grew up and succeeded in my goals and career in spite of my 'ex' family! High fives Lisa!

    I know and understand that smile so well Jim. When I was 17, I got stung by a bee (I sat on it - was in basic training), within a few minutes my chest and throat started getting excruciatingly tight, and I was having a LOT of problems breathing. The Drill Sargent saw me and freaked - scooped me up and rushed me to the hospital. I don't remember a lot from there, but found out they had to 'restart' me 3 times! Changed me a bit there on perspective.

    When I was 26 was helping a friend inspect and airplane he wanted to buy. I found some corrosion, stuck my finger in and wasps came out. I ran like hell and thought "whew, no stings, good!" My friend came up, and screamed that my lips were turning blue! The stupid wasp got me on my finger! Called for an ambulance, but fortunately 2 shots of Epi brought me around. Scared the wits out of me....fast forward ..

    In April of 2002 (39 and a half) I collapsed in my kitchen - ambulance called.. Off to the hospital, and they found I had a huge tumor that was tearing away and too "strangulating". Emergent surgery was proposed. I asked what would happen if I refused surgery, answer very blunt from the surgeon: "I give you less than 8 hours before you are septic and die, that's how long!" When I awoke from that surgery, the pain was immense. I had been cut hip to hip, across all those muscles. They found my tumor had a tumor of its own! Pathology, clear.

    People on here have asked me why I have a sense of humor many times with all I have going on. Okay, well Jim, there is why I understand my (Ooops his) smile! Thanks for the refresher for my brain! So glad to see he found the "why can I smile or crack a joke today" smile!! :D :))) :> 8>

    PCTF C4 - T2, Laminectomies C5, C6 & C7. Severe Palsy left arm/hand.
  • Welcome back from your trip.
    I saw your post one day then lost it before I could even read it. Now I have found it again and am so happy I did.
    Thank you for sharing with us. This should inspire us all.
    Sometimes when the pain is so very bad we forget that things could be worse. I have lived through something that was a lot worse than my pain. So living with this pain is a piece of cake!!
    Happy you are back Jim. You have been missed.

    Best to you and Patti :H
    Patsy W
  • Thanks for sharing that about that man and all he's been through and always mailing. I need to get out more. I would love to travel a bit. That gentleman sounds like a great role model that we should pattern ourselves after. Take care. Charry
    DDD of lumbar spine with sciatica to left hip,leg and foot. L4-L5 posterior disc bulge with prominent facets, L5-S1 prominent facets with a posterior osteocartilaginous bar. Mild bilateral foraminal narrowing c-spine c4-c7 RN
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