A Recent Back-Out-of-Whack Episode

Spinal column

Americans of the Baby Boomer generation learned very little about how to grow old gracefully, or paid attention to what was in store for us as our bodies began reminding us it was our turn to Be Older.

I’m one of the Boomer Generation’s Fortunate Few who’s been sailing through his 60s
without any major (or even minor) physical ailments or crises, but last month brought a big ol’ Wake Up Call in the You’d-Better-Stop-Pretending-You’re-Still-in-Your-40s Department.

Probably because all my life I’ve had terrible posture, I would occasionally – every every five to seven years? – “throw out” my back as a result of doing some bizarre or careless thing. (Helping a friend move a heavy, unwieldy sofa backwards down a set of stairs, for example.) In the good ol’ days of my youth, it would take a day or two or three for my back to heal itself and for me to function normally (pain-free) again. Although I do remember the temporary bouts of back pain caused by these episodes, I don’t think I ever missed a day of work because of them.

Well, sometime in late July, I wrenched my back yet again. I’m fairly sure it happened on a morning after several consecutive days of sitting at my home computer way too long peering down into The Rabbit Hole (otherwise known as The Internet my computer screen). When I finally interrupted my hypnotic trance to go outside to water my parched vegetables, I must have contorted my aching back when I bent down and reached behind a bush to turn on the water spigot.

Bam! Out went the back. The pain was sufficiently intense and persistent for me to abruptly cancel a much-anticipated trip to the mountain cabin later that morning – even though I had already packed the truck for my trip!

In addition to spending many tedious hours lying on a heating pad, what helped relieve some of the pain initially was something my also-plagued-with-back-problems friend Ted had told me about several months ago, the “Thera Cane.” Having recently purchased one for myself, this remarkable (and reasonably priced) back-poking, muscle-massaging device soon became my New Best Friend.

A few days and several heating-pad sessions and hundreds of back-poking machinations later, my sister Gayle (a retired nurse), suggested I immediately begin taking Ibuprofin. (As usual, taking medicine of any kind hadn’t occurred to my medicine-avoiding self.) When the Ibuprofin didn’t take care of the problem after a few days and things seemed, in fact, to be getting worse, my friend and neighbor Charles, a massage therapist, kindly brought over to my house his portable massage table and helped me up onto it. Charles’s ministrations along with the Ibuprofit helped quell the chronic pain in my back enough to get me through the trip to Oregon in early August that Gayle and I made to attend my niece’s wedding.

The week after returning from Oregon, however, I promptly managed to screw up my almost-healed back again, this time by bending over a little too quickly to load some dirty clothes into the washing machine located under my kitchen counter. (Again, this happened after spending too many consecutive hours on several consecutive days sitting in front of The Rabbit Hole.)

Finding myself back to square one, I hauled out the heating pad and the Thera Cane again and convinced myself I was feeling better enough to risk a belated trip to the mountain cabin. Wrong. By the time I extricated myself from my truck after the two-hour drive, I could barely hobble inside. My cabin-visiting friend Randall offered to take me to the emergency room of the local hospital if I didn’t feel better the following morning. When I felt worse that next morning rather than any better, I gingerly climbed into his exasperatingly low-roofed car and off we went.

A few hours later, I skeptically took my first dose of Tramadol, the pain-blocking medication the merciful emergency room doctor had prescribed for me. A half-hour later, and much to my amazement and delight, zero pain!

Well, until the medication wore off, anyway. I obtained enough of those magic pills to get me back to Atlanta without suffering, followed by another spell of lying down a lot each day on a heating pad, prodding my poor spine with the Thera Cane, and minimizing my sitting (as sitting was so painful).

With a much-anticipated (and already paid-for!) trip to Ireland looming in the not-too-distant future, and concerned that my back wasn’t healing, Charles recommended I seek the help of a chiropractor, and he graciously drove me to my first appointment on August 17th.

And that’s where 2016’s Saga of the Bad Back finally began winding down. I immediately felt better after my first visit to the Atlanta Chiropractic & Wellness Center – located (thank goodness) less than two miles from my house. (Another useful feature of the wonderful  neighborhood I’m lucky enough to be living in.)

Six chiropractic treaments later, I can report that not only can I sit, stand, walk, and sleep normally, but I’ve already been able to once again drive up to and back from the mountain cabin with minimal discomfort. I’ll be getting one more chiropractic treatment before the Ireland trip, and, unless I’m careless on the boat my friends and I will be steering for a week down that country’s Shannon River, I should be fine. (For insurance, I’m taking along with me on my trip what’s left of the Tramadol.)

Lessons Learned

  • Things that used to clear up/heal quickly when one is young, or youngish, take longer to clear up/heal when you’re older. Sometimes a lot longer than is convenient.
  • Your backbone is your friend. Treat it carelessly, or meet with some bad luck, and your entire routine can be suddenly, radically, and unpleasantly altered for an exasperatingly indeterminate amount of time. Even the simplest things, or, worse, the things you take completely for granted that you would be able to do under almost any circumstances, you may have to do completely without for a while. Things as simple as reading a book, for Pete’s sake, or playing a game of Scrabble, or sitting at a computer, or climbing in and out of a vehicle. (Strange as it might sound, I felt lucky I owned a motor scooter as well as a pickup truck – riding the scooter was uncomfortable when it wasn’t impossible,  but it sure beat climbing into and out of a truck.)
  • Being laid up with a bad back when you’re retired, as I am, may be boring or annoying, but it’s certainly easier to cope with pain when you’re a retiree than it would be if you still workedfull-time. I feel so lucky that this episode happened recently instead of, say, five years ago.
  • What people (well, Amercans, anyway) say about feeling isolated and abandoned when they can no longer drive? Well, it’s true! I enjoy spending time at home, but I certainly didn’t enjoy spending as much time at home as I spent there during August!
  • When you aren’t hurting, even previously boring chores can seem like positive pleasures. Who knew that going to the grocery store – being able to go there, or anywhere – could be so much fun? Apart from the unexpected joys of getting out of the house, even climbing out of bed, pain free, to brush your teeth can suddenly become an exhilarating experience.
  • Be glad we live in a time that includes pain-killing pharmaceuticals. Yes, there are dangers for some people under some circumstances to abusing prescribed drugs, but, man, am I ever grateful that such potions exist and that they work so well. It was so nice to have a few breaks from hurting before the cause of the hurting (whatever it was) got dealt with.
  • No matter how skeptical you may be of chiropractors, don’t be like Cal and wait way too long to seek one out if everything else you’ve tried isn’t working! (One of the many, many ways I’m more fortunate than many Americans is that I can afford medical insurance, and that I happen to have a policy that covers the cost of chiropractic treatment (except for a $15 per visit co-pay). And that miracle-working bottle of Tramadol? It cost me less than $2 because of my medical insurance. Everyone (especially if you live in the United States) is not so lucky. Political aside here: When it comes to being a hostage to pain, luck shouldn’t have anything to do with it. My current favorite political slogans are “Universal Health Insurance Now!” and “Get Those Capitalists Far Away from Health Care!”
  • The Bad Back Saga has magnified my gratitude for the wonderful friends I have. All of them who heard about my predicament made much-appreciated sympathetic noises, several friends offered their help in various ways, and Charles extended himself numerous times and in numerous ways to help me get to the other side of this whole thing. (Bless his heart, Charles made time for us to play several diverting games of Scrabble, even when I had to play standing up.)
  • As with any visitation of pain or with any illness, coping with a whacked-out back was an “interesting” rehearsal for what it must be like to be a Really Old Person. It was certainly good practice for the time that’s coming for all of us when we will need to ask for help more often than we’d like – and to accept some of those offers. My ailing back also served as a reminder to be helpful myself to ailing friends, most of whom, like me, are used to living independently and are loathe to depend upon the kindnesses of others.
  • As I have mentioned before on this blog, one of life’s great unacknowledged miracles is the astonishing fact that (for most of us) humans are such flexible, mobile creatures! We can (most of us) walk, we can sit, we can twist and turn, we can dance, attend tai chi classes if we want, even – if we’ve a mind to – crawl around on our bellies like reptiles. This episode certainly reminded me of how oblivious I usually am of this amazing feature of being human.
  • The activities I am used to doing frequently because I have always loved doing them – reading, gardening, spending time with friends, traveling – I am currently enjoying even more than I already did, as I’ve been unexpectedly and dramatically reminded not to take these activities and opportunities – as well as “mere” mobility – for granted. I will surely forget this insight – probably sooner than I know. But I’ve certainly been keenly aware recently how wonderful it is that I am usually fit enough to do the things I love whenever I want to. For a while at least, my modest pleasures are seeming even more pleasurable than were previously.

Dear Readers, mind your posture! And enjoy whatever good or fair-to-middling health you currently or usually enjoy, and enjoy whatever activities that health allows you to do, and pursue with gusto whatever interests you enjoy pursuing, for ye may not be perpetually healthy and spry!

11 thoughts on “A Recent Back-Out-of-Whack Episode

  1. I swear by my regular chiropractic visits, my massage therapist and cupping sessions as preventative and relief. My body is something I also have been hit with as I get up in the years as having to take special care. Increase exercise is part of my goal. Thanks for your reality check on this concern.

  2. Long time chiro fan here. A Parisian chiro finally figure out I should stop doing push ups as it was causing or exacerbating my shoulder pain (the latter, as it turns out). Glad you got some help! And drugs! Once had tooth pain while in Mexico and only an opioid (spell?) helped. Got an injection at the emergency room and a prescription too.

  3. Very well-written meditation or relection on health. You are so right about the joy of modest pleasures or even of things that are normally chores and how we appreciate them when we can’t participate. And did I even think to ask if I could do a round of grocery shopping for you?

  4. Glad the back is better. Did it affect your legs, i.e. sciatic nerve? Did you consider having an MRI look at it? Aren’t pain drugs wonderful? See you soon. Royce >

    • Yeah, the pain did spread down my leg a bit toward the end of All That, but I’m back in the saddle again and ready for Ireland! And, yep, those pain-blockers are amazing! (Will be taking a stash with me on our trip, Just In Case.)

    • Oh, Roger, that was just one of many similar episodes, and only that one involved helping you. (I’ve helped a lot of people move in my time – something I’ve given up forever!) That sofa-moving for you was just the most recent back-related hoo-hah I could remember. And it was mild compared to what happened to me this summer!

  5. Count thyself fortunate! You just happen to have a sister who is a retired RN. You just happen to have a good friend who happens to be a massage therapist. The RNs in my family live away – one in Savannah, one in Macon, and are both still working. One of them I have consulted by phone in the past, to get her take on something about my mother or me, but it isn’t as if she can just hop over and help me.

    Anyway – you know my sympathies are with you. When one’s back hurts, one hurts all over. I hope it is all healed now.


    • Yep, I think I’m good to go, finally. Had my next-to-last chiropractic treatment this afternoon; will get one more before the Ireland trip, just for good measure (it’s a long plane ride to Ireland!). And you’re right, I’m a lucky fella, and not just in terms of when I fall ill (which is, in another great stroke of good luck, very seldom). Thanks for reading the blogpost.

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