Back talk

One of my grandfather’s favorite expressions, blurted whenever anything caused dismay, disbelief or aggravation, was: “Oh, my aching back!”

Growing up, I heard him say that approximately one million times. I always suspected the phrase was used in lieu of cursing, his way of keeping it clean around the kids.

Then I reached middle age, and found out why “Oh, my aching back!” applied so well to all forms of heartbreak. Nothing’s more aggravating than a backache. (Well, maybe a toothache. But, “Oh, my aching tooth!” doesn’t have the same ring to it.)

We ask a lot of our backs. Sitting and standing and bending over and lifting heavy objects all put a strain on them. Our backs keep us upright, provide a nice flat area for reclining, and give other people a safe place behind which they can talk trash about us.

Our backs shoulder the load without complaint, most of the time. All they ask in return is a good night’s sleep, a regular scrubbing, the occasional massage and please remember to lift with your legs.

Once in a while, though, our backs turn on us. They ache. They seize up. They spasm. They remind us that they’re the largest area of our bodies (with the possible exception of the potbelly) and when they hurt, they’re taking us down with them.

I was reminded of all this recently when I “threw my back out.” I apparently threw it a long way, so far that I had to ask for help searching for it. We finally found it out in the yard.

For a few days, I was a victim of irregular muscle spasms that made me gasp and squeal like a startled piglet. I walked as stiffly as the Tin Man in an oil-free Oz. I couldn’t turn my head, which made backing up the car more interesting than usual, and downright exciting for a few scampering pedestrians.

How did I hurt myself? I have no idea. Believe me, I spent many hours wondering about it. Nothing else to do while I sat around immobile, popping ibuprofen tablets like they were Tic-Tacs.

I hadn’t overexerted myself, because that is against my religion, and I couldn’t remember any sudden moves or tricky bending that might’ve caused my back to seize. I finally settled on a particularly vigorous sneeze, and blamed that for my plight.

However it happened, the injury settled into the muscles around my shoulder blades, which caused me to keep my neck angled to starboard or risk another breathtaking spasm. This can cause a person to walk in circles.

The strange posture also resulted in a related pain in the neck that had absolutely nothing to do with my wife saying, repeatedly, “Why don’t you go see a doctor?”

Of course, I didn’t go see a doctor. I don’t see a doctor unless major body parts are actually falling off and dragging along behind me on the ground. I took some painkillers and sat quietly for a few days until those wacky muscle spasms settled down and the pain went away on its own.

I’m fine now, and I expect my back to do its many jobs perfectly well in the foreseeable future, so long as I don’t do anything strenuous, such as sneezing. Or cursing.

My grandfather would be proud.

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