Back Out

It has taken me a full forty minutes to get to my computer. And by this I don’t mean that I had to do the dishes or put my son to bed first – I mean it’s taken me nearly three quarters of an hour to move the six feet or so from my bed to this chair. Why? I have done what I am genetically prone to do every couple of years of my adulthood it seems: I have thrown out my back.

While there’s never really a good time to throw out one’s back, this space and time seems almost a better window than most. I’ve just stocked my larder, washed most of the laundry and picked up more antibiotics for my house-bound hen (yes, Molly is back on house rest as it seems I am too). My son is finally old enough to follow somewhat detailed instructions and in so doing help me with things he himself hasn’t had to deal with as yet. Nothing’s that difficult really – but two years ago, maybe even one year ago, I couldn’t have sent him out to the coop after dark to water the hens and shut them in. He would have been too afraid. Tonite he not only did that, but he got us our supper and then helped clean up too. He’s proved himself to be a wonderful partner here on our tiny homestead. Honestly, if he were not here, I might be in trouble. I’m relieved not to be alone.

I was slightly disappointed that my rescuers weren’t familiar with the reference to the bathroom scene in Peter Seller’s film ‘The Party’ when I tried to describe the sadly comic events that transpired in the porta potty where I collapsed. My mother, on the other hand, was in fits of tearful laughter as I retold the story. Now that’s more like it. Cuz really, it was hilarious. And pathetic. I suppose if you’re going to throw your back out, it may as well be entertaining.

Elihu and I had gone to the winter raptor show, held on a farm that sits on the wide expanse of rolling pastureland just to the east of the Hudson River. We’d just seen the release of a snowy owl and had visited many injured and rehabbed birds throughout the morning. Elihu was in his own pure heaven. I had just gotten us our tickets for the afternoon raptor show when I finally managed a moment away to get in line for the bathroom. I had a hunch I’d find a clean porta potty. Birders, naturey and outdoorsy folks strike me as considerate humans. I was happy to find my hunch correct. Peeing was uneventful, and there was ample paper too. No problem so far, but then – in a split second the cotter pin that held the toilet paper suddenly popped off, sending the heavy rolls of paper thudding onto the floor. Eeeks. I gotta get those off the floor – quick. I mean, considering how tidy this stall is, it’s the least I can do, right? So I bend down to pick up the paper and BOING!!! I collapse. Ok. I know how this works. I’m done for, so I may as well try getting the rolls up and on dry land. Oh. Close the seat first. Ugg. Ok. Gloves, yes, use your gloves to set the paper on. Where? Not a lot of real estate here. The corner. Ok, paper saved. Now what? Pants. Not quite all the way on yet. Crap. How can I do this in a squatting position? Oh man. Ok. Pull, twist, shimmy. Ok. Button done, that’s off the list. Now what? At least I can make a grab for the cotter pin while I’m down here on the floor. I see it, I reach…. TWANG!!! Shit. Oh man, really?

I considered briefly trying to keep my dignity intact, telling myself to muscle through this. But the strange thing about having one’s lower back ‘go out’ is that often other muscles seem unable to step in and take over. In fact – I find that I’m weaker than ever before in these post-trauma windows. It feels as if I haven’t used my body in months. Literally, it is impossible to stand. Really. And so I make up my mind – as I honestly haven’t any choice about it – and reach up for the latch. The door opens, and I literally spill out onto the muddy ground on all fours. As all modesty goes out the window when you’re in labor, it also heads for the hills when you’re in this kind of discomfort. Thankfully, the same considerate folks who’ve left me a clean porta potty are the same considerate folks who come rushing to my aid as I crouched there, helpless.

The kind people I met helped me up and into a folding chair. And so for a time I sat there, only a few feet from the door of the porta potty from which I’d recently emerged. I heard a few folks within earshot referring to the ‘lady who threw out her back’ as they pointed in my direction. Later a few of us joked that I might set up a card table in front of my chair and make myself into a proper booth. Maybe folks could even have their photos taken with me. Might help to pass the time waiting in line.

I sat for a while til an earthy sort of man eating sunflower seeds from the large pockets of his woolen coat came up and asked if I needed anything. That was kind of him. Course there’d already been a good amount of kindness expressed towards me in the time I’d been sitting there. A pair of older ladies and I had had a good chuckle about it all, and as they turned to leave, one had asked if she might pray for me. I’d thought she meant later – perhaps at day’s end she might remember me in her petition of nightly prayers. But no, she meant right then and there. So I humbly accepted. She leaned in, laid her hand on my shoulder and offered up a vigorous prayer in a surprising sotto voce. Now this man came asking if I had a hat, or if I was too cold, or if I needed him to get my car. Did I need anything at all? You know, sometimes you just gotta call it as it is. No point pretending you’ve got it all under control when you don’t. I told him that actually, yes, I might like having my car. It was not too far, and would be easy to find as it had a green flower on the antenna. And so I gave him my keys. I turned in my seat to watch him go, but turned too far. I winced in pain and allowed myself another tear. As I cried, I realized that my tear might as well have been for gratitude as it was for pain. How grateful I was. How lucky, how blessed, how grateful. I concentrated on breathing and relaxing. Not too long after the man had gone, he had returned and was now skillfully backing up within inches of where I sat. He and two of his friends helped share my weight as I got into the driver’s seat ever so carefully.

The next hour I was treated quite regally. And Elihu, too. We befriended a family who owns raptors and does shows throughout the area. They were so kind as to take him and sit him right up front in the tent with the bird shows. He wouldn’t have seen anything had he been just a few rows back. He ended up spending a good long time there in the tent as I sat in my car, enjoying warm air and the company of new friends. The gal whose birds were in the tent show offered to do some Reiki on me, and another woman who also does healing came to join in. Again, I was humbled by the generosity and help of people I hardly knew. Yet in that we were all joined by a love of birds and nature, it wasn’t entirely surprising. I continued to meet people in the next few hours and enjoyed several conversations in which I ended up taking notes, so that I might later seek out certain books, homeopathic remedies and other bits of useful information that might help me with my back issues. (I googled mind/body reasons for lower back issues as soon as I got home and the first thing that appeared was ‘worries about money’. I suppose I didn’t need to search for that one, huh.)

On the ride home Elihu had to learn how to pump gas. At first the gasoline sprayed out all over him and he cried – so I tried to come to his aid, but couldn’t make it. There I crouched, at the pump, getting a bit meaner and bitchier than I should have, when a man in an ancient car with a ladder on top drove up and asked if I needed help. I guess he kinda thought I might need him to call someone for me, because he looked a bit taken aback when I asked if he could help me into my car. I introduced myself and thanked him. Truly, I couldn’t have gotten back in – not at least in the next thirty minutes – without his help. We drove the scenic and hilly roads back to Saratoga, which felt a bit like arriving in Manhattan after all that countryside.

Soon we were back in Greenfield. It’s quite true that I don’t get out much, and so our day away from home gave me new eyes of appreciation as we approached our tiny corner of the big world. I longed for comfort, but dreaded how I would ever get out of the car and actually into my house. I remembered that my mom had some sort of prescription pain reliever, so before we went home I stopped in at mom and dad’s, where Elihu ran in to get me a pill. It was my hope to take it now so as to mask the pain I’d face trying to get up the stairs to my house. Finally, pain pills now on board, I drove us home and pulled the car in to the very bottom step. It was not easy, but I made it.

Only a week ago I’d bought a walker at a thrift shop, thinking how it might help dad get to the mailbox this spring. He had been inside all winter, and walking was becoming insanely tedious for him. I knew he had to get up and out, and so I snagged the collapsible walker for five dollars. Little did I know that it would come to my own rescue. As dear Elihu couldn’t find where I’d stashed it in the garage, I called a neighbor to help. Within minutes she was popping the cold metal frame into shape. Even with the aid of a walker it was tough getting around. After a while I was able to lean against the sink in order to finish the dishes there. We ate, cleaned up again, then began to get ready for bed.

I’m almost done. Almost. I might have been able to call it a day at that – but for one final event. In spite of my having added a dozen or so gallons of kerosene to our tank over the past week, we have tonite finally run out of heating oil for the season. Thankfully, it’s not super cold. Just medium kinda cold. So with the dawning awareness that the heat had not come on in the the hour since we’d come home and had turned it back on – we realized we’d need the portable electric heater. And we’d need to share a room. So we are tonite pretty much as we were one year ago – huddled together in my bedroom, waiting out a cold, March night. I myself can find no position which gives relief, and moving even an inch is a huge affair, so here I sit, typing, postponing the inevitable. But I’m done, my story is told, so I need to go and figure out how this sleep thing is gonna work.

Back out indeed!

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