In October of 2010, a month before moving to Salies, I threw my back out. I was at a ranch outside of Palma de Mallorca attending a workshop. Every morning, one of the participants would direct yoga exercises. Every time I assumed the flat-on-my-back-legs-stretched-out position, the thought that this was not good for my particular lumbar region would flash through my mind and I would ignore it. Two days before the end of the workshop, the participant that was giving the yoga had to leave and I offered to direct Chi Kung (or Qui Gong) instead. I had been doing these particular exercises almost every day for the last eight years and felt confident that I could teach them. One of the more difficult exercises consists of bending your knees, grabbing the tip of your shoes with both hands and then straightening your legs without letting go of your shoes. One maintains this stretch for a few seconds and then returns to standing position. It was an exercise that some of the people in the Chi Kung group couldn’t do, so I was proud to be able to do it with ease and grace. As I demonstrated the moves, my mind gloated thinking how impressed they would be at my flexibility. I went down, grabbed the tip of my shoes, stretched my knees and pulled up. Then, as I began raising my upper body again thinking of the admiration I was causing, WHAM!!! I was on the floor as if someone had just harakiri-ed me from behind. To make a long story short, an hour later two men marched in, strapped me to a stretcher, carried me down the two flights of stairs, placed me in an ambulance (stretcher and ambulance were both firsts in my life) and sped me to a hospital in the center of Mallorca. Once there, the pain was so obviously excruciating that they immediately administered morphine (another first) that, far from taking me to seventh heaven, produced an onslaught of uncontrollable nausea before it knocked me out.
Even though, thank goodness the mind cannot reproduce the level of pain, the memory that is living proof of its intensity is still here today. I was in and out of drugged sleep most of the day and then, in the evening, I awoke. As long as I didn’t move even a fraction of a millimeter and didn’t breathe very deeply, I seemed to be all right. I realized I was hungry. The incident had taken place before breakfast and I had obviously slept through lunch, so when they brought in the supper tray, I was really looking forward to eating.
“I am going to raise your bed a bit so you can eat,” the nurse said putting the tray down.
“No!” I exclaimed as forcefully as I could without moving anything but my lips, “I’ll take it like this if you would be so kind as to help me.” I was completely flat on my back with my knees raised so it was going to be difficult to eat, but I had tried shifting my weight only slightly a while ago with excruciating results. The nurse ignored me and started to crank the bed up. I screamed. She stopped and looked at me.
“You can’t eat lying down; you might choke. You have to sit up just a bit,” she insisted.
“There’s no way I can sit up even a little bit; it’s too painful. I’ll eat in this position very carefully, it will be all right.”
“I’m sorry, that’s not possible” she was becoming annoyed; “either you sit up or you don’t eat.”
I could smell the soup, I could see the bread. I wheedled a few more times, but the nurse was adamant: no sitting, no soup! So I renounced eating and the food was whisked away. Now, anyone who knows me understands that for me to not eat, especially when I am hungry, is unheard of, so it is the memory of this choice that tells me exactly how intense the pain was.
Recovery was slow. After three days I left the hospital, hobbled as best I could to the taxi that took me to the airport and caught a flight to Madrid. A little over five weeks later and still wary of every move I made, I migrated to Salies.
That was eighteen months ago and my back had been fine since. I have done a lot of exercises to strengthen abdominal muscles, leg muscles and arm muscles; I walk up and down two flights of stairs at least five times a day; I have carted supermarket bags, pieces of furniture, bags of dog food weighing ten kilos, eight-kilo sacks of earth for my pots up those stairs. I was convinced that whatever had been wrong with my back had somehow fixed itself.
And then Sunday I went over to Kiwi-san’s house to use his vacuum cleaner for cleaning Madame Potiron (my car, lovingly called Madam Pumpkin because of her orange color and round shape). I had finished the left hand front side and was about to start on the back seat, when I discovered a never before seen compartment hidden under the front seat. I reached down with my left hand (the vacuum cleaner was in the right), pulled it open and felt the twinge.
“Oh, s___t!” I remember exclaiming before the spasm hit and sent me to the gravel driveway. By the time Kiwi-san ran out to see what I was making such a fuss about, I was halfway lying on the gravel saying over and over again the only two four-letter swear words I know in English. When he offered to help me up, I just said “No, leave me be… s___t, f___k, s___t, s___t, f___k…” Why it’s common to swear when one is in pain, I have no idea, but at that moment it was the only thing that felt like it would help. It wasn’t only the pain, which this time was much less than what I had experienced in Mallorca, but the disillusionment of finding that the lumbar region, even after all my efforts, was still unstable and prone to throw itself out with the simplest movement.
For three days now I have been hobbling around, bending my knees instead of leaning over, using a walking stick, going up and down stairs with extreme care, and generally being careful of every movement. The spasm is better (anti-inflammatories, osteopath and heat) but every joint in my body seems decided to follow the backbone into misery. My hips hurt when I walk, my elbows wake me up at night and are painful when I stretch them out, certain movements of my wrists can be unnerving, my left foot (the one with four toes) insists on suffering shooting pains off and on while I am walking and the arm on the same side gets cramps without a warning. My body is a disaster zone. I can’t sit too long, or stand too long, or walk too long or lie too long, so I spend the day shifting back and forth from one to the other. I have faith, though. It will get better. One day I will get up and notice that things are moving again, that pain has migrated or disappeared altogether. After all, so far I have nothing but admiration and gratitude for this body that has taken so much beating and yet every time has managed to pull through to the other side. The typing fingers, by the way, are doing great.