In last month’s column, I regaled with the tale of my family’s vacation trip on a not-so-tiny ship, but left the story of what followed for this month’s entry: Basking in post-cruise glow, I played basketball that Sunday morning—the closest I get to religious ritual. Between games, I noticed tightness in my lower back and tried to loosen it with a standing toe touch.
It was something of a one-way trip, as on the way up, my back went into spasm. That might sound dynamic, but it resulted in me, collapsed on the ground in pain, screaming profanities and unable to move. A few minutes later, it seemed to have passed, and I cautiously played a few more games before getting in the car and driving home.
By the time I arrived, getting out of the car had become more difficult—my back had tightened up again and I looked forward to getting inside, taking a hot shower, and lying down for a while. Those things didn’t help, however; after a few hours, I was feeling pain anytime I tried to stand upright, and soon after that, my only available means of movement was a slow, pathetic crawl.
As I lay on the floor with a heating pad, helpless as an overturned turtle, my faithful dog stood watch nearby, occasionally licking my face in concern. It was only later that I realized she’d been taking advantage of my lack of mobility to drink from the toilet bowl freely and without consequence.
Later, she was involved in another surreal moment, which began with her bringing a battered and apparently lifeless possum from the backyard, through the dog door, and onto our back porch. She’d gotten possums before, but this was the first time she’d brought one within the confines of the porch—perhaps it was intended as the dog equivalent of a get-well gift.
From past experience with possums, I knew how convincing their death act can be (you can all but hear them wailing “La morte!”). I also knew the porch door needed to be propped open; otherwise, when the possum woke from its near-comatose state, we’d be stuck with a mobile marsupial, unable to find its way out. “Someone’s got to open that door,” I said—an attempt to rally the troops that was quickly met with outright refusals from my wife and children.
We watched through glass for 10 minutes, me unable, them unwilling, as the possum slowly roused itself. Finally, faced with the prospect of a permanent possum resident, and amid a chorus of screaming voices (including her own), my wife dashed out and propped the door before quickly retreating. To everyone’s relief, the possum withdrew into the darkness, but not without leaving behind a variety of bodily fluids and a stench that registered as just short of “skunk.”
Unable to travel to a doctor, I called and was given a prescription for a muscle relaxant, which my wife, still pulsing with adrenaline, drove to fill. I took a pill around 10 p.m., thinking I’d at least be able to get some sleep. I later woke in pain, saw that it was only 1 a.m., and realized that 1) I had to get to a hospital, and that 2) I needed help getting there.
When the EMTs arrived, I asked them to lay the stretcher next to me. I’d roll onto it—very slowly and carefully—and off we’d go, right? Funny thing about modern stretchers, though—with all the equipment loaded below the surface, the lowest they get is about six inches off the ground; in my delicate state, my plan wouldn’t work. Instead, they hoisted me up onto the stretcher, introducing me to a whole new world of pain, and I rode to the hospital with my teeth chattering uncontrollably, tremors running through most of the muscles in my body.
About five years ago, a similar hospital-destined back spasm occurred during a meeting with a heater and furnace sales representative who’d insisted on explaining the details of his proposal to me and my wife together, in person (which is a nice way of letting you know you’re in for the hard sell). An hour and ten minutes into a promised hour-long meeting, I had excused myself to the back porch to make a phone call, then found myself unable to get back inside.
I’ll always remember the startled face of the sales rep as I looked up and said from the ground with gritted teeth, “We’ll let you know if we decide to proceed.” The back pain was almost worth it to get rid of the guy.
I have little memory of my recovery from that incident, perhaps due to the potency and effectiveness of the drugs I was administered. This time, the emergency room staff gave me a Valium pill, a shot of morphine, and later, a Dilaudid chaser. My diagnosis was simple but severe muscle tightness. I spent most of the next two days at home, on the heating pad.
On the third day, I rose again. Not as dramatically as Jesus, perhaps, but close.
I watched a lot of TV that week, while regularly—and carefully—stretching to restore range of motion. My doctor had warned me about the addictive nature of the prescribed Oxycodone, but not the addictive nature of the TV show Impractical Jokers, a hidden-camera comedy created by four guys who went to my high school in Staten Island. One of the four, like me, has a finance degree from St. John’s University, which leads one to question what they’re teaching at the old alma mater these days.
Some men—including some of the guys on the above-mentioned show—like to sit with one leg crossed over the other perpendicularly, which had always struck me as both physically uncomfortable and unappealingly metrosexual. Now, I see it as an aggressive demonstration of muscular elasticity, the flexibility equivalent of tensing one’s biceps for display.
When I was a kid, “spaz” or “spastic” was an unkind term for someone who was clumsy or awkward. It turns out that “spastic” literally means “relating to or affected by muscle spasm.” So, thankful that my childhood friends probably aren’t reading this, I must admit to officially being spastic.
But hopefully not for long. I’ll try to keep up with the stretching, so if, in the coming weeks, you notice someone who seems extraordinarily limber, maybe that’ll be me. On the other hand, maybe I’ll be hobbling around Hamilton, stubbornly choosing to take it as a compliment when people say, “Man, that guy is tight.”
Peter Dabbene’s website is www.peterdabbene.com. His poem “F You” will be published at diodepoetry.com on Oct. 3. His latest book, “The End of Spamming the Spammers” (with Dieter P. Bieny) is available at Amazon.