The painful truth of reality

By Bruce Stambaugh

The scene seemed a little surreal if not downright incongruous. If it didn’t hurt so much, I might have been laughing. You can if you want.

Even though it was still early April, outside it was like summer, warm, sunny, and balmy. But I wasn’t able to enjoy it.

Instead, I was forced to remain inside. I sat in my favorite overstuffed chair, television remote control by my side, heating pad on my back, and chunk of ice on my left foot. As my friend Steve would say, “Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.”

Don’t get me wrong. I am not seeking sympathy for my ills, mostly because I probably wouldn’t deserve any. A little common sense might have prevented my mostly self-inflicted problems. But man that I am, I was either too stubborn or too proud or both to pay attention to the messages my body was sending me.

Maybe that was the real issue. The signals were just too simple to heed. Or perhaps I subconsciously heard them and tried to deny the obvious. My 20th century Baby Boomer brain was trapped inside my 21st century grandfatherly body.

Because I didn’t listen or didn’t believe what my body was telling me, I kept my usual pace when I shouldn’t have. I just wasn’t careful. I shoveled too much snow. I lifted too many heavy items too many times. I strayed from my exercise routine.

Finally, the consequences of my actions caught up to me. And there I sat warming my back, while freezing my foot, and surfing the channels like I was on a safari.

If there was an upside to this conundrum, it was that I had no choice but to come to terms with my physical situation. I realized that I simply had to accept the fact that I am aging, and that I must take better care of myself if I ever wanted to someday achieve my dream of driving the staff at the local nursing home absolutely crazy.

I recalled a conversation from Mitch Albom’s book “Have a Little Faith.” When quizzing his elderly rabbi about his advanced age, the rabbi wisely replied, “It’s not being old that is the problem. It’s getting old.”

I couldn’t agree more. If I want to get old, that is older than I am now, I have to take better care of myself daily. I also have to accept life’s realities and parcel out any physical work I do.

I have to look in the mirror and tell myself everyday that I need to get real if I want to enjoy whatever number of days I have left. I hope they are many, but there are no guarantees.
I don’t want to sound morbid about this. I just want to be honest with myself and with where I am at this point in my life.

Sitting there in the chair I also realized that it could be a whole lot worse. My situation pales in comparison to individuals and peoples in the world who suffer unimaginable hardships far beyond my temporary inconveniences.

Unlike my icy hot circumstance, no amount of rehab or exercise could rescue them from their agonizing plights. They could not extricate themselves from the inflictive pain of their illnesses or poverty or servitude. I could.

If I didn’t want to continue the folly of warming my back and icing my foot simultaneously, I had an easy out. I simply needed to slow down and listen to my body.

There is only one traffic cop that can make that happen. That’s me.

Bad back

I wonder if there has ever been a poem
written about a bad back.
You know. The kind of chronic
back problem that causes enough
pain to prevent you from doing
the simplest of chores, like bending
over to pick up anything off the floor
or putting on your socks or pulling open
a sliding glass door, standard, everyday
stuff that we all take for granted.

Any of those movements or even
no movement for that matter causes
excruciating pain, the kind that is sharp,
stinging, unpredictably shooting down
your legs, first the left, numbing your
little toe while needles prickle your calf.
You adjust, then the right leg gets
the same treatment, and you adjust again,
walk like an old man, though you’re a long
way from collecting Social Security.

As I think further about it, anyone
with such severe pain likely couldn’t
sit long enough to write, print or type
such a poem. Logic would dictate that
such persistent pain would make him
delusional. Besides, even if he did,
the poor fellow would be considered too
wimpy, too self-engrossed, too brash
exuding too much self-pity to dare
write, much less publish such a ditty.

Has there ever been a poem
written about a bad back?
Probably not.

Bruce Stambaugh
March 24, 2010