The First and Last Day of School

posted in: Stage 4, Stage 4: Step 4

“It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old.  They grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.”

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

“It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old. They stop pursing dreams when they are crushed by relentless anxiety…

Gabriel Garcia Marquez modified by David Hanscom


Life just beats us up—pain or no pain. Eventually many if not most of us gravitate towards a survival mode. Instead of living life with creativity and vigor, we’re just trying to get to Friday and recover over the weekend.

Chronic pain greatly magnifies this process. Instead of aiming for Friday, you are trying to just get through the day. As you become more anxious and frustrated, it becomes more difficult to engage in positive experiences with your family and friends. Good food, wine, and hobbies gradually disappear. In almost all cases, people suffering from chronic pain become increasingly isolated.




The major problem with this sequence is that an inordinate percent of your nervous system is focused on your pain, so you will feel it more. The reason that goal setting becomes such an important part of the DOC project is that it causes your thoughts to be somewhere else besides your pain. Goal setting is not positive thinking. Positive thinking is just another way of suppressing negative thinking and particularly in the context of chronic pain it is a disaster.

I was reminded about a poem I wrote in 2003 while attending a surgical training session sponsored by one of our instrumentation companies.  It was a remarkable weekend that altered my surgical approach to spinal deformity. Most of the three-day course was spent working on cadavers. I wrote this poem:

The First and Last Day of School
Bright faces
Walking into class
Eagerly chattering
Excited to learn
On tables
Scattered about the classroom
Who are you?
Lying on the table
An athlete, grandmother
Homemaker, laborer
Loving spouse
Did you make it?
Did you live your dream?
Was your smile still there?

Whoever you were
You were generous
Giving yourself
To be my teacher
On your last day of




Remember the time of your life where your dreams were running free. Spend some time with it and re-connect with that energy. Reminisce with your partner. You have only one shot at this life. Give it your best shot!!