Sunday, October 3, 2021

Back, Better

A couple weeks ago, I fucked up my back.

It happened, as ever, while exercising. I was at the very end of my workout, doing my final few squats, when something went terribly wrong. A tired leg slipped, my back tried to compensate, and everything went all to hell.

I should say that this kind of thing is not new. Back injuries are one of those things that seems to happen to me every couple of years. In 2019 I was training for a marathon when I got that twinge in the middle of my run. You know the one. The this-is-going-to-suck flash of pain that signals it's too late to stop what's coming, even if it's not clear how bad it will get.

Twelve hours later, the spasms kicked in. For the rest of the day I cycled through waves of what felt like charlie horses rippling across my back, and there was no way to know when they'd stop. I'd start to get comfortable, and ask my wife something simple like “Could I have another aspirin?” But instead it would come out as “Could I haaAAAAGGGHHHHH” as my back muscles tried to wrench themselves free from my spine.

Luckily, the spasms only lasted a day. I didn't feel great after that, but I could at least walk around. This time, although the pain wasn't nearly as bad, it turned out to be a lot more debilitating. For instance, when I lay down on the floor to stretch out my back, I realized I couldn't pull myself up. The muscles just wouldn't cooperate. 

"So this is how it all ends," I thought, lying helpless as my dog licked the top of my head. Preparing, no doubt, to eat the meat from my corpse once I'd finally expired. Suddenly those Life Alert commercials didn't seem so funny. (And the price for their services? Very reasonable! These are the things you learn while you're stuck on your back like a turtle.)

Standing up was not the least of my problems. As it turns out, your back is actually quite useful. Without it in service I couldn't lift my own shoes, let alone pick up a weight or go for a run. I couldn't even walk without being tilted forward at a 45-degree angle, like I was perpetually on the verge of a somersault.

The sight of myself in the mirror was also disturbing. Suddenly my hips were no longer level, and my belly button had migrated three inches left. If I tried to straighten myself out, I found that I couldn't. If I tried even harder, a back spasm would underscore the point my body was trying to make clear – if I wanted to heal, I had to be patient.

This left me with some time on my hands. I'm not much of a Pollyanna, but if there is a silver lining to injury it's that your habits will change whether you like it or not. When this happens, it's not unusual to ask yourself: Did I even like what I was doing before, or is there something I might want to change?

So over the last couple weeks I've started to wonder if there might be a better use of my time. Exercise is good, sure, but what if I spent those hours weeding, or mulching, or rebuilding our deck? What if I painted the house, or repaired our old fence, or finally replaced the water-logged laminate on our dining room floor?

I began lifting weights in our basement because during COVID I couldn't go to the gym. And yeah, having my own space for that stuff was actually pretty great. I didn't have to wait on any machines, or share any equipment. I could put on Star Trek and finally watch every episode of the original series. (Do you have any idea how many "Earth-like planet" episodes there actually were? Kirk fought Nazis, the mob, Ancient Romans, and Communists way more often than Klingons.)

But as much as I've enjoyed it, it's gotten pretty routine. Even a bit stale. Which might be why I started riding my bike so much this last month, which put a small bit of strain on my legs; which is maybe why they couldn't get through that last set of squats, and how I got here to begin with.

These are the dangers of boredom, I guess, and all the more reason to change some things up. So that the next time I'm stuck lying prone on the floor, it'll at least be on top of fresh laminate.

People Watching

On Wednesday, I went out to meet up with a friend and do some writing. We met at the Athenaeum, a historic building in Indianapolis designed...