Health: Spinal Tap Dance

March 2012

At 5280, there must be something in the water. As of this writing, we have no fewer than four staffers who are or have recently been hobbled by back injuries, and that’s not including our production manager, who’s out this week after undergoing spinal surgery.

Back woes are, of course, quite common. When I chronicled the herniated disc I suffered in 2008, I got more reader responses than I’ve gotten to almost anything I’ve written here. And unlike the responses I typically receive, these were universally empathetic, because these folks could literally feel my pain, and they shared my frustrating inability to conquer it.

Since that stooped-over summer, my back issues have yo-yoed. I’ve gone as long as eight months with no flare-ups, and I’ve even felt well enough, at times, to do things like play pickup basketball.

This, of course, was stupid. The human body, remarkable as it is, can't be trusted. It lulls you into believing everything’s just fine, but it omits the information that even a generally fit person should add another six-to-12 weeks after the pain subsides before you dive back into your abandoned regimen.

I fell for this long con, again and again, and now I’m paying for it. Prior to 2012, most of my relapse episodes have lasted no more than a few weeks; this one is at 10 weeks and counting. I’ve always been a night owl, heading to bed after midnight and getting by with no more than seven hours of sack time. Since this flare-up started, I’ve been sleeping—well, trying to sleep—10 to 12 hours per night, aided by prescription painkillers, muscle relaxers, and my trusty medical marijuana card.

The problem is, I can’t take any of these things during the day because they’d just make me even more of a blithering idiot than I usually am. Anyway, the drugs’ residual effects sometimes cause a dense fog to settle over my waking brain.

How dense? Well, a few Saturdays ago I hobbled out to my car and set about running some errands. About five minutes into the trip, my ’02 Volvo just died, and I rolled to a stop in the shadow of the Broncos’ stadium. I called for a tow and then spent about 45 minutes sitting, standing, hobbling, lying in my backseat, and leaning against a telephone pole—anything that might bring me a moment’s relief as I mentally calculated what my repair bill might be.

The tow truck arrived, hooked me up, and drove the Volvo and me to my mechanic, which was closed for the weekend. When my girlfriend drove over to take me home, the first thing she said was, “Did you run out of gas?”

Doh.

Obviously, this can’t last. I’m seeing a surgeon this week, even though I’ve actually felt better enough in the last several days to allow myself to believe that maybe I can avoid the knife. Whatever path my recovery takes from here, it will have to be more deliberate, methodical, and intelligent. Because what I’ve (hopefully) learned over these past four years is that once your spine reaches a certain level of trauma, there’s no turning back.