20 May 2012

The Pain Cave

This weekend at National Guard training I took a journey into the pain cave. Pain is part of the human experience. We will all deal with it during our journeys. Sometimes it is physical, sometimes it is emotional. Pain can result from forces beyond our control and most often it is a direct result from the choices we make on a daily basis. In our culture of comfort and convenience pain is often overlooked and something to avoid at all costs. Why is it we learn more from our pain/failures/defeats than our successes? I think the answer is found when we choose to rise above and overcome our situation. It is empowering to face the antagonist face to face and pass the test with additional wisdom and strength.

I am interested in what I can learn from my pain. How can I embrace the suffering? What lessons are learned from adversity? When will I get through it? These questions assist me in understanding what I am experiencing. Often these same questions are asked during an ultra. The reward comes when I finish and gain perspective on the battle I endured.

So after the existential intro and philosophical wax, let me get real. Pain can really suck and yesterday I drank from the fire hose. My opponent: Oleoresin Capsicum AKA OC Spray. Here's a similar video of what I went through (the meltdown increases intensity at 3:30).

As an even keel gent I don't get too high or too low from my experiences. I wasn't nervous or anxious watching my fellow comrades get sprayed and seeing their response to the stressor. Knowing my physiology I knew I'd be in for a treat. If you've ever seen me eat Mexican food you can confirm the steady flow of sweat beads that run down my brow with even the most moderate amount of spice. Now take a look at where OC stands on the Scoville Scale. The odds were stacked against me...heavily. So I channeled my inner Rocky and called out the Heat.

I toed the line and got sprayed. It's not a confidence booster when the first thing you hear from the crowd is, "Ohh, he got a lot, direct hit!" It was obvious to see when others hit the wall. The OC would enter the eyes and BOOM! the fireworks would start. Mine began almost immediately when I opened my eyes. Some likened the feeling to pouring the hottest hot sauce in your eyes. Others to the pleasant feeling of hot lava gently boiling on your eyeballs.

My task was to get sprayed and then work through the 5 challenge stations with a full on OC exposure within 90 seconds. The OC hits the skin and eyes with an inflammatory response. Redness, swelling, pain, heat, and loss of function are the cardinal signs. I was blinded from the beginning. Sprayees are instructed to speedily strobe their eyes open and shut to activate the tear ducts and clear the OC. All I wanted to do was clamp my eyes shut as tight as I could. When I would attempt to open them it hurt worse. My eyes became super sensitive to the sunlight and as they swelled inside the sockets it was excruciating to flutter the eyelids even for a millisecond. Sprayees are instructed to avoid touching the face with the hands. All I wanted to do was rake my face. This would lead to cross contamination and additional soothing side effects.

Further discussion described the sensation as burning sand grinding in your eyes or the calming thought of placing poisoned tip needles in your pin cushion like eyes. I staggered to the first station where I started unleashing knee drives to the opponents padded midsection. Then I was handed a baton and instructed to protect my head in a defensive posture as I lurched along to the second station. Here I alternated baton jabs to attackers in front and behind me. Stumbling to station 3 I used the baton to block pugil stick swings. Inconsistently swaying into station 4 I had to drop my padded Sargeant with an arm bar takedown. The final 5th test was to identify a Sharpie's color by its colored cap.

The marathon was complete and the ultra was just beginning. Now began the decontamination period. Wash the face with soapy water. Rinse. Flush with clean water. Repeat. Repeat. Rpeat. Stand in front of fan to dry out the eyes and remaining OC. Try to regain full onobstructed vision...the next 12 hours. I forgot to mention that when I was sprayed gravity did its inevitable job. The OC trickled down my cheeks and entered my mouth. Now my lips burned and I started coughing fire. A few times I almost puked. Other decon tips included taking an "L shaped shower" so any residual OC would not go down on your unmentionables (insert colorful stories involving both genders here). During my shower I reactivated the residual OC on my face. Now my face and ears burned. Hurts so good! Spray protocol advises the user to saturate target from ear to ear across the browline. Checkmate!

So I overcame adversity. I ventured deep into the pain cave. And what was my grandiose epiphany? Goggles are GRRRREEAT! With that said I earned my OC Certification and never have to repeat that again in my military career. I wish I had video/pictures of my experience; they're out there somewhere. Give me a shout if you find them. Stellar.


  1. Wow. I had no idea that was part of National Guard training! Damn.

    Funny, today I was running on some roads in the Indian Peaks (solo) with a can of bear spray in my hand, wondering what it would feel like and how it would impact a bear or lion. I don't know, but I hope it works if the need arises :\

  2. You should become a writer.