On January 1, 2021 I fell down the stairs and injured my back. More accurately, I was fucking around with my dogs and did a somersault down the stairs and landed hard right at the top of one of my hip bones just to the right of my spine. HARD. Like, I’m lucky not to be paralyzed.
Besides hurting, the area was also physically numb and within several hours swelled, followed by sharp pain when I attempted to bend forward at the waist. It being New Year’s Day I went to the emergency room where they took X-Rays and a urine sample which thankfully came back negative for blood in the urine and for broken bones.
I had to take many days off work before I could bend forward enough to put on clothes, painfully. The numbness in the area and the swelling went down within a month…but never completely returned to normal.
Winter turned into spring and I thought that my life would return to normal when while cleaning out the car, bending forward at the waist, picking litter out of the back seats, I experienced my first re-injury. Again, I had to take a couple days off work before the pain and discomfort subsided enough and my range of motion returned enough to put on pants and socks and shoes.
This happened again while picking up something off the floor in the summer. By this time I knew that something was damaged in my lower back which now could not bear the weight of my upper body bent forward. I started to learn to always get down into a sumo squat or go down on one knee to pick up anything off the floor, which has its own side story.
In my thirties and forties I was active as a Roller Derby referee. During that time, I experienced some chronic pain in my right knee which sometimes kept me off-skates. I think this pain might had been initially caused by stress on the knee while walking my dogs during a time where we had a rescue that had less-than-ideal leash manners. I sought after treatment from an orthopedic doctor who performed an MRI which revealed a “perfectly healthy looking knee” and therefore could not recommend a course of treatment besides physical therapy. I added this PT to some other stretches and exercises that I have accumulated since my High School days at Cross-Country Running.
Following my third re-injury of my back, I told my primary physician about my pains at my annual physical in the late fall. I told him I had learned to lift up the ball of my right foot while bending at the knee to avoid the sharp pain and worsening pain of this “perfectly healthy knee”, and since my fall down the stairs, I am also learning not to bend forward at the waist. He recommended a chiropractor that was in the same building, but as my initial diagnosis had revealed no skeletal damage, I was dubious that “spinal manipulation” was a likely course of treatment. So he recommend more physical therapy exercises to do at home several times a week.
My second year of dealing with this injury was similar to my first. Being careful not to bend forward at the waist, periods of relative comfort and mobility, re-tweaking the injury, persistent and intermittent discomfort, ibuprofen, long hot showers, Tylenol, anxiety that I might be permanently disabled and my livelihood is in jeopardy if the condition continues to worsen and with that depression.
The latter part has gotten wrapped up with my generalized anxiety disorder which is often triggered by work-stress. I work in manufacturing and physical labor is part of the gig. I fortunately have an understanding boss and co-workers who have been taking on more of the more physical tasks that I used to be able to do. Even so, this loss of ability, often weighs heavily on my mind and makes me anxious and fearful of my future. Retirement is well over a decade away and the idea that my injury might result in loss of employment somehow, makes me anxious and depressed when my back in bothering me.
I have to stop myself and realize that many people with much more severe disability still lead productive lives. I realize that there are people with arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis and nervous damage from accidents and people with Opioid Addictions and that I am fortunate to only be experiencing the pain and loss of mobility I am experiencing and not anything more serious. I am, as I mentioned earlier, lucky not to be paralyzed.
More recently, I returned to another Orthopedic doctor, even though I could not find one who was a “lower back generalist,” if such a person exists. This one was a spine specialist, so naturally he first ordered an MRI of the spine. He thought there might be a pinched nerve in the L4 lumbar vertebrae and recommended an injection to reduce the inflammation.
After receiving the injection, I was hopeful that he was right and that the treatment was helping. But then I bend forward too much at work while unwiring something and the cycle of discomfort started over again. At my follow up meeting the doctor went over my MRI again and concluded that fortunately for me, I had a “perfectly healthy looking spine for my age,” and that I must have some soft tissue damage.
No shit, I thought, and he recommended … you guessed it, more physical therapy. I feel like that when an Ortho can’t find what to fix they “punt the ball” and it’s PT time. I must admit of course, that when I do my PT exercises regularly that I have lessening occurrences of back pain or knee pain and that if my back is feeling crabby, doing the stretches makes the pain lessen for a few hours. Sitting too long is uncomfortable, driving is uncomfortable.
But PT never seems to make to pain completely go away. I can’t risk doing things like pick up a few cases of pop and put them into the bottom of a cart. If I am cleaning up my room or switching laundry from the washer into the dryer it is easier and less risky just do get down onto the floor. The skin on my kneeling knee is rough and calloused.
I now regret moving into my townhome without our own fenced in yard because it’s tough to have to put on the leashes on the dogs and to pick up their poop, especially now that we have a new puppy. I now want a ranch house with a small fenced yard.
I look at everything through the lens of disability, even as mild as it is. We have thousands of vinyl records and heavy furniture and I would never be able to move it all on my own. I couldn’t install a new faucet and had to get my wife to install it. Sometimes I’m just always uncomfortable. I am not going back to Roller Derby refereeing.
I probably need to go back to therapy for my mind as well as my body so I guess that’s why I am daylogging about this finally: coming to terms with my life changing. It’s therapeutic to put it out on a screen and publish it. I know a lot of people who deal with chronic pain and disability and I’m sure as I get older I’ll know many more.
I remember that Bhagavan Das once wrote that, “Old age is coming. Illness is coming. Death is coming.” And that was before someone ran him over with their car multiple times in a parking lot. I wonder if he saw that one coming. I never saw falling down the stairs coming. But I’ve got to make that old AA flex, as corny at it may be: I’ve got to have the fortitude to do what I need to do, to be as active as much as I can so that my body doesn’t get any worse, while having that serenity to accept that there are things I won’t be able to do anymore. I’m going to have to be OK with giving stuff up and asking for help.