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  • Writer's pictureCharlie Barclay

Pain: Adjust The Cause

Updated: Apr 20, 2023

A year from now you will have dealt with some pain. Will it be for chasing good things? Or will it be from trying to play it safe and avoid hard things?

"Pain. Adjust the cause."

That’s the simple slogan on a sign that hung on the wall of a gym I used to workout at a looooooooong time ago.

It’s a pretty simple sentiment, isn’t it? I must have walked past that thing a hundred times (maybe only twice; I can’t remember how faithful I was to exercise at the time!). It wasn’t until years later that I felt the full impact of that short sentence. Basically, that little poster was reminding me that although I may be tempted to stop working out because it was hard, tiring, or I would be sore the next day, the other option wasn’t any better. In fact, it’s worse. I could stop working out and my arms, legs, and back may not hurt from lifting next week. Give it some time, though. Give me a few months, years, or even decades of a sedentary life, and I’m going to hurt. Sure, it may not be from lifting or running on a treadmill. It will be from inactivity, underuse, and general “out of shapeness”. I should not be making the same grunting sound a guy at the gym made when working out just to get off of my couch!

Here is a sobering thought.

We will not escape pain. We are going to experience hurt in our lives.

Sometimes it will be physical; other times we will hurt emotionally and spiritually. The bad news is that no matter how much we try (and man do we try!) to insulate ourselves from pain we won’t make it out without scars in this life. Now after that real pick-me-up thought, how about some good news?: We can adjust the cause!

Bottom line. There is good pain and bad pain in our life. For example, like I mentioned earlier, if I work out, I’m going to be sore and tired. Good pain. If I don’t exercise at all and just sit on a couch eating candy and watching TV my body is going to hurt. Bad pain.

I want to recognize right here that there is pain in some of our lives that we have had no control over. Some may be very minor, and others very serious and life altering. First, I’m sorry for any of those things you have had to endure and in no way want to make light of them or pretend those things don’t hurt. Secondly, I want you to know that any scars you may have, maybe from poor choices you have made or things that have happened to you, they do not have to define you. You do not have to be a victim to those things over and over again.

How about this, I’ll give you a real example from my own life of good and bad pain. Years ago I was working in a warehouse loading and unloading trucks. One day I was standing by a conveyor belt that extended into the back of trucks to make loading smaller items more efficient. I was talking to someone standing on the other side of the conveyor. That’s it. Standing. Talking. I wasn’t jumping, dancing, or acting out a scene from a 80’s king-fu movie.

Out of nowhere one of the lenses on my glasses popped out. For no reason! I immediately stopped the belt from running so I could find it. I could not find it anywhere. I looked all over the place for way longer than it should have taken to find. (In my defense I WAS looking with only one good eye!) I eventually turned the line back on so I wouldn’t keep everyone else waiting. That’s when it hit me. What if my lens had fallen on the conveyor belt and traveled farther away than I had looked? I was now on a mission. I was going to find that lens. I walked the entire length of the belt… nothing. Standing there at the end of the belt I was at wits end. “Where in the world cou….wait a second! Do you think it would fit in the little space where the belt goes into the gear box at the end of the line? It doesn’t seem like there is enough clearance for it to fit but I can’t be sure from this angle. Maybe if I lean over and look. Let me just place my arm on this belt and check.”

Now, if you have been tracking with my story so far, you may remember that I had turned the conveyor belt back on a few minutes ago. I’m sure if you were there you would have yelled at me to turn the line off before I lean on it to look into the gear box, but you weren’t, were you? Nope. You let me down on this one! So back to the story.

I lean over as close as I can to the gearbox to see if there is enough clearance for the lens. There was. And as it turns out, for my fingers as well! When I put my arm down it sucked my hand into the box. It was now jammed into a VERY small space while the conveyor belt continued to move. I felt a burning sensation (to say the least) and I noticed my ring finger getting pulled into the box. I immediately feared that if my ring got in there in would crush it and my finger would be gone. I grabbed my wrist with the other hand and pulled as hard as I could.

It worked. It came out. I had suffered severe friction burns but I could still count to ten!

This would be an example of, what I will call, bad pain. It didn’t need to happen. I wasn’t paying attention. I was so focused on fixing one thing that I put another at risk. I acted impulsively out of frustration and impatience. One other motivator for me was that I didn’t want to inconvenience other people by stopping the line for a minute.

How many times have we suffered because we care what others think?

That’s something we will explore deeper in another blog post.

Part 2. The Healing.

Do you know what a “lost time injury” is? I do now. It is an injury that happens at work that causes a person to miss work or be unable to perform their normal job functions. Many places will have a “scoreboard”, if you will, of how many days the company has gone without a lost time accident or injury. Another fun fact about lost time injuries: Companies don’t like them. The one I was working for thought that jamming your hand into a conveyor belt gear box and subsequently burning most of the skin off two of your fingers didn’t constitute a lost time injury.

My fingers were wrapped in gauze, splinted, and covered in something that looked like a stocking cap for each finger. I was not sent home or to the doctor. I finished the day there and appreciated the ibuprofen they gave me. (We really need to invent a sarcasm font so that’s it’s obvious) I was given instructions on how to change my bandages and apply medicine at home.

After I few days (maybe a week) of screaming and crying one manly tear down my cheek each time I would change bandages, I decided I might get a second opinion on my injury. I went to see a doctor, and they could not believe that I had been cleaning, applying medicine, and bandaging my fingers myself. I assumed it was because of my superior skills. It was not. I was informed that one of the worst things that could be done to my fingers was to splint them. She said that the fingers would scar and I would lose the ability to bend them or at least in a greatly reduced manner. I was referred to an Occupational Therapist that was going to torture me. I mean assist me in restoring function.

Upon my first visit, my fingers were unwrapped and placed in a very small hot tub designed for hands. This is going to be soothing I thought to myself. As I plunged my hand into the water, I soon realized I thought wrong. It burned. Bad. My therapist smiled compassionately and told me it would get better. She was right. After a few minutes, it felt pretty good. She told me that we were going to start working on movement and had me make a fist. I did the best I could. I was super proud of how much I moved my fingers. I thought this is really helping already. Looking to her for her approval and expecting a “Well done.” I noticed a bit of a frown as she said, “No, you need to make a fist. Like this.” She put her hands in the water and squeezed my hand into a completely closed fist.


I came off of my seat and grunted LOUDLY. I said to her, “You don’t make many friends at work do you?” She apologized but said, "If you want to be able to move your fingers, we have to get them moving now." While she was saying this, she was placing my hand on a towel on the table and gently patting it dry.

I was about to learn one of the hardest truths about pain.

Sometimes, not only is pain good. It’s actually necessary for growth. Or in this particular instance, healing. It was not an easy, or particularly pleasant lesson.

The therapist looked at me and asked, “Have you heard of debriding?”

I had not.

She winced. She actually winced! This should have been a red flag to me. My brain should have said, “RUN!” It did not. Dumb, stunned silence. She raised her head slowly as she had been looking at her instruments and said, “Oooh, you’re really not going to like me now.”

Wait. What? What kind of warning is that?! I was really nervous now.

She grabbed my hand and with a pair of tweezers grabbed some of the dead white skin around the wound and clipped it with a little pair of scissors.

It didn’t hurt at all.

She explained that all of that skin (she likened it to the skin you may see around your nails when you get out of the shower) would turn to scar tissue if it wasn’t removed. I thought, "No problem. This was easy street compared to the fist making exercise I just endured."

Then she pulled out her pièce de résistance: A nail file type of thing. An emery board, only more course.

Have you ever sanded old hardwood floors? I imagine this is about the same grit. I asked, “What are doing with that?” I think I asked that. I say I think because she said nothing. Just grabbed my fingers and proceeded to sand them. You read that right. She sanded the area all around my burns. Sanded. The edges of the wound. Sanded them. Sanded.

In case you aren’t cringing in sympathy for me. Take a minute, get a nail file and rub it on your healthy knuckle aggressively for 3-5 minutes and then come back.

I had to do this several times a week for several weeks.

I take that back. I chose to. I did have an option. I could have not gone, not endured the pain, and learned to live with whatever consequences that may come. I could have gotten used to giving a permanent “peace sign”. I could be the go-to guy if someone needed two fingers held up.

Fact of the matter is, I absolutely had a choice. I chose the pain with the hope of maintaining normal use of my fingers.

Did it hurt? YES!

Would I want to do it again? NO!

Would I do it again in a similar situation? A THOUSAND TIMES YES!

Why? Because it was “good pain”. The pain that comes from doing the hard thing with the hope of growth or healing. The pain of undoing bad decisions that have impacted my life. The pain of not knowing how long I would have to endure it and if it would pay off in the end.

You may not know the pain of jamming your hand into conveyor belt gearbox, but I’m sure you know your own fair share of pain.

The temptation when we are hurt is to try and avoid pain. For instance, going to the gym. Work out. Get sore. Quit. Wait 6 months. Repeat. Let’s be honest though, this fear of pain affects all of us in real ways.

We end up avoiding good things in our life because they may be hard or hurt, thinking that somehow it’s possible to make it through life without scars! We are going to experience pain.

Adjust the cause.

I hurt my fingers being careless. Bad pain.

My fingers hurt in therapy. That was good pain. If I hadn’t endured that I would still have experienced pain. The pain of not being able to move my fingers. I had to choose which pain I was willing to endure.

I want to encourage you to go out there and endure some pain! There are some things in your life that will hurt but will make you better, stronger, healthier! There are conversations left unspoken, businesses not started, relationships stunted, all because we think if we avoid pain, it will go away! Not true. It just kicks the can down the road and ensures that we experience bad pain.

Get out there take a risk. Undo some of the pain caused by poor decisions. Refuse to remain a victim of the pain in your life. You may have been tripped up in life and have a couple bloody knees. You can lay there and bleed on the road complaining that you were tripped, or you can get up, keep on running, yelling, “You can’t stop me!” That’s metaphorical, by the way. Don’t yell that while you’re running - you will be arrested.

The truth is, either way, it’s going to hurt. But only one way is going to get you where you want to go.

Get up. Keep moving. Deal with the good pain of doing the right thing.

A year from now you will have dealt with some pain. Will it be for chasing good things? Or will it be from trying to play it safe and avoid hard things?

You will have some pain.

Adjust the cause.


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