My Bad Back [A Love Letter]

[I'm participating in the SheLoves synchroblog by writing a love letter to my body.]

Right now it's not too awful - just a knot in my right shoulder-blade, a limited range of motion when I turn my head, and a twinge in my lumbar. Last week it was in crisis. After an early morning dip in Lake Michigan, excruciating spasms radiated from the middle of my back all the way, it seemed, to my very spirit. The only thing I can compare it to is labor - back labor, the worst kind.

I was on vacation, and stupidly hadn't brought anything stronger than ibuprofen, so it was off to urgent care. The waiting room was packed with tourists whose afflictions had interrupted their travels: the girl with sun poisoning, the man with a sinus infection, the panicky woman in the corner with her fist digging into her back and tears streaming down her cheeks. I quickly became the object of pity and relative relief - at least they weren't as bad off as I was.

Gary (I know from the nurse's roll call) spoke to me. "It's your back, isn't it?" he said. I nodded and felt another round of tears spring up. "I was a pilot, and have had back pain for years. I know you don't want to do it here, but you have to try it. Lie down on the floor and put your feet up on the chair. It will help."

It did. I was dry-eyed and calm when they finally called my name, though the effort it took to peel myself off the floor was incredible. I left the clinic twenty minutes later with four prescriptions: two heavy painkillers, a muscle relaxant, and steroids. I chose not to fulfill the steroid prescription because it would have meant a twenty-day hiatus on nursing.

I've learned that the combination of heavy painkillers and muscle relaxants is invaluable. It gives me real relief, but most importantly, it stops the terrible cycle of spasms in which my reactions to the pain fuel further spasms. It is incredibly effective, if not as holistic as the chiropractic adjustments and physical therapy I've tried in the past. (The other thing that helps is massage, but more as a means of prevention. When I'm that far gone it's like giving a thimble of water to a thirsty man.)

These are some of the ways I've thrown my back out: carrying a large speaker, lifting a canoe, delivering babies (two for two in that regard), picking up Juliette, sweeping the floor, riding a bike, working at a desk, and by a plethora of unknown causes. Oh, and swimming, though I still for the life of me can't figure out why.

I've had x-rays and an MRI. It's nothing serious, thankfully. There are explanations - some curvature, some degeneration. I have always described it like this: I have a bad back.

It only just dawned on me what a profoundly negative statement that is.

It's shaming language, really. Bad dog, the master says to the puppy who soils the rug.

I do feel an incredible amount of anger toward my back. It's frustrating to have lost so much time and money addressing its pain. It's no wonder that I speak harshly of it. But it's such a significant part of me - literally, my core - and I have reduced it to such a small, hard word.

So. A word to my body:

Forgive me. You cause me pain, but instead of extending compassion to you, I've berated you. If I celebrate your victories with pride, I must tend your weaknesses with care. Thank you for teaching me empathy for those who live with pain. (I promise I will stop threatening to give up the pricey monthly massages - you clearly need them.)

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