I’ve been waging a mental argument with myself all week. Should I write about my strained back, or not?
I’ve other things I could muse about in less than 1,000 words: the glorious time I’ve had with family (there’s been a wedding); the fun of taking care of an eight and 10 year old for a few days (my nieces are visiting); culture shock upon returning to Toronto (I was east for three peaceful weeks, now I’m back in traffic). Summer, so fantastic this year, who could tire of reading about it?
But I keep coming back to my back. It’s winning the argument as it takes up space in my head, consuming most of my waking thoughts. I cannot move without wincing. Everything I do must be contemplated in the framework of whether my back can handle it or not.
The muscle strain I suffered more than a week ago is nearly better and so I’m more inclined to write about it with some humour. I couldn’t have done that three days ago when the mere act of picking a cherry tomato caused a new spasm and sent me back to bed for the better part of an afternoon.
I write knowing many people can relate. Back pain is a universal subject. Statistics Canada reports that four out of five Canadians will experience some sort of back strain or injury in their lifetimes. The cause of the pain can be spine or muscle related and can last for days, months and even years.
I’ve known so many people who’ve suffered much worse back pain than me (my nieces, sister, father, brother, sister-in-law, coworkers, friends), I doubt I will bore readers by writing about it. I may, however, bring back bad memories and I apologize for that.
I think about those fellow sufferers with compassion, for they have excruciating experiences to relate about their relationship with their backs. My niece once had to call an ambulance in London, England while lying flat on her back (and alone) in her apartment.
A co-worker, who suffered from sciatica, spent weeks standing up at her desk, her computer perched on a wooden trestle. She could not sit down without yelling, and would wait until the rest of us left the office for the day before heading to her car. She did not, she told us, want to be heard screaming expletives as she crunched herself into the driver seat.
Pondering one’s back while in a state of pain and drug-induced pain relief, causes one to think strange thoughts. Like how many related words rhyme with back. The aforementioned ack, but also whack, smack, tack, rack, hack. All very painful words, at least in the context of a back injury.
I’ve also been thinking about how necessary one’s back is – you need it to bend, you need it to stand up straight. You can’t walk properly when it isn’t working. You can’t reach things in high shelves or crouch down for the low ones. You can’t water the flowers, move chairs, carry shopping bags or load the dishwasher.
Well, you can do these things. But you’ll pay for it later.
No wonder we slip the word ‘back’ into phrases that strengthen relationships – ‘I’ve got your back’; ‘I’ll be right back’; ‘ right back at ya!’; ‘Back me up.’ There’s a comfort in those words when they ring true.
My back is not ringing true for me these days, but I’ve really only myself to blame. I did something to it – lifted something heavy the wrong way, although I can’t for the life of me figure out what.
I’ve been flat on my back four times in my life, and in each of the first three experiences, I could trace the cause.
My back problems originated, I think, when I fell off a horse. That was back when I was young, just 24, and was much more nimble than I am now. I was riding a horse that reared up after being spooked. I flew off, landing squarely on my rear end, which cannot be a good thing for one’s back.
I managed to climb back on the horse, only being half way through the trail ride. When it was all over, though, I promptly went to bed.
The second time I put my back out I was foolishly trying to lift a kayak all by myself. It was early in the morning, the lake was flat calm and I wanted to paddle. No one else was even awake.
I lifted the end of the kayak, my back went into a spasm and I promptly fainted from the pain. I went to bed after that episode, too.
The third time I strained my back I was simply shoveling snow. Nothing uncommon about hurting one’s back that way.
Four back spasms in 25 years is not such a bad record. Each time, I felt like my normal self within a week. I live in hope that my back will heal itself once again. I keep telling myself that if my back behaves, I will start doing more exercises to strengthen those so important core muscles. I’m sure my body will appreciate that.
But until that happens, I’m going back to bed.
Lynda MacGibbon is a transplanted Maritimer living in Toronto. Her column is published weekly in the Moncton Times & Transcript newspaper. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @lyndamacgibbon.