What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

Wednesday night at approximately 6:05 p.m., I voluntarily stood in the Norwich Police Department’s garage, at attention, as an officer let loose a sudden burst of pepper spray, directly hitting me in the face. Following my performance, a second volunteer was also sprayed.

People keep asking me, Why in the hell did you get pepper sprayed? As part of a police demonstration? A lasting moment of stupidity? To prove something to myself? To have a tale to tell or because I didn’t want to look cowardly for backing out? Maybe I wanted something to write about for the paper?

I had a few passing moments of anxiety here and there, but honestly I just wasn’t very concerned about it. I guess I did if for all those reasons and not for any particular one. It was nice to have a looming challenge and I knew it wasn’t really a life or death affair. I was just curious and there seemed to be a chance for some self growth – the things you’ll discover about yourself when you’re in a helpless, pain-laced and panicked state.

The effects are still lasting by the end of the weekend. They included dry, blood shot eyes for three days, swollen facial features for at least 24 hours and both Thursday and Friday morning, I was unable to open my eyes when I awoke. There are a wide range of responses and you don’t know how one will react to the substance until you’re sprayed. On the opposite side of that spectrum, for example: Officers told me that a weekend earlier they had arrested a man, pepper sprayed him, and he was so messed up on drugs and alcohol that the next day when he woke up in the cell, he didn’t remember it. My response was not typical and thanks to Murphy’s law, I had a more sensitive reaction to the spray than most.

Officer Jeremy Burdick is the PD’s specialist in pepper spray, and he himself has been sprayed three times in the course of training. He said in a typical response, a person is capable of opening their eyes after about 20 to 30 minutes, where I went over an hour before I could keep them open for any length of time.

The spray, oleoresin capsicum, is from a pepper and burns at 5.2 SHU (Scoville Heat Unit), one of the strongest and the newest brands.

It’s pretty hard for one to describe such an experience. Initially it burned immediately and my eyes impulsively pulled shut, beyond my control. I remained angry for about 30 seconds before my body burned through its initial shock and after that, all you want is relief. The pain is so very intense that breathing, at least for me, became very labored. Each breath was like inhaling broken glass and you reflexively stop yourself from breathing as the pain hits your throat. You have to focus enough to just simply accept that the pain won’t kill you and it won’t be going away anytime soon. It was one of the most painful experiences of my life, mostly because of the duration of the effects which crept near the hour mark for me.

I would not do it again but am glad I did it once ... in retrospect at least. If I had to go back and live it over again, that might be a different story.

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