It’s Not as Bad as You Think

Posted by on May 10, 2003

I am a wimp and a whiner. (Pause for effect). No, I’m not the self-deprecating type, and I don’t have a self esteem problem. Let me explain.

This week, there has been a plethora of media coverage about Aron Ralston, the hiker who was forced to cut off his own arm with a dull pocketknife after it became pinned by a 1/2 ton boulder. This young man lay in a Utah canyon for five agonizing days, unable to budge the giant rock that formed his prison. Having eaten the last of his food 3 days into his ordeal, Ralston made the decision to sacrifice his own arm to save his life. He pulled from his pocket a cheap pocketknife and began to cut – or at least he tried to. The knife was so dull that, on this first attempt, it would not even cut the skin. Frustrated, Aron continued to try to budge or chip away the boulder, but to no avail. Finally, on the fifth day, he decided to amputate his arm by whatever means.

This is where the story gets truly awful. Aron described the process of hacking on his arm until he finally began to cut through the skin, muscle tissue, and finally reaching bone. The knife would not cut the bones in his arm, so he proceeded to twist his arm until the two bones broke, first the radius then the ulna. And as if that was not enough trauma for one day, Ralston then rapelled some 60 feet to the bottom of the canyon, and hiked six miles along the canyon bed until he encountered two other hikers.

This man, just three years younger than me, willingly went through the hell of amputating one of his own limbs without so much as a nearby first aid kit. He made the decision that losing an arm was better than losing his life, so he swallowed hard and he did what he had to do. Bravery is a funny thing – you never really know what you’ll do in a crisis situation until you get into one. But let me tell you, cutting off your own arm – that takes guts. I stand in awe of you, Aron Ralston.

So back to my original point: I am a wimp and a whiner. Just a few weeks ago, I took a half-day off of work and spent the afternoon in bed because of a headache. I complain when my Starbucks coffee doesn’t taste fresh. I come home and tell my wife that I had a bad day when a coworker called in sick and I had to take up the slack. Several years ago, a workplace accident left me with a 1/2 inch gash in the middle of my right palm, and immediately went to the ER for stitches – and didn’t return to work for three days. Aron Ralston cut off his own arm, then rapelled down a canyon and went for a long hike. Suddenly, my ‘bad days’ don’t seem so bad anymore. The worst day I have ever had doesn’t come close to what this young man had to do.

So what can I learn from his experience? Well, first and most importantly, never go hiking alone. But also, I just need to remember that things are never as bad as I believe them to be.

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