6:30 AM

I’m awake. How bad is it today? I don’t feel anything–well, except for the constant “background radiation” ache, which never goes away. I have had that for 25 years, since I was 20. It’d be nice if that was as bad as it got today.

I’m going to have to get up. Only when I get up will I know how bad it is.


Okay, it’s about a 7. That’s not so bad. Yesterday it was 9, maybe 9.5. At 7, I can walk. Thank God I can walk today. Remember that time I had to teach class sitting down? My students knew I was sick, but they had no idea what was wrong with me. Maybe I should have cancelled class that day.

I need to get a cane. Old men, 30 years older than me, walk with canes. It would be humiliating for me to walk down the street with a cane, but I’m way past caring. So I have a cane at 45. Big deal. I’ll put a snake head on my cane, like that episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The Ovidians. Yeah, I’ll be an Ovidian.

7:30 AM

What’s the traffic like? [*checks phone*] The freeway is jammed. Should I drive the long way to work?

No. There are fewer turns if I take the freeway. Turns hurt. A lot.

But the freeway is stop-and-go. Pressing the brake pedal is painful. What if I get a flash and my foot freezes? I could have an accident. I might not hit the brake in time, and plow into the car in front of me. I could total my car. Worse, I could hurt somebody. So it’s a choice between hurting myself, or potentially hurting someone else.

So. Freeway, or the long way?

Long way. It will hurt more, but there’s less chance of an accident. No innocent person needs to lose a limb on this freeway this morning because I’m in pain.

I need to call the doctor. Get my appointment moved up.

9:45 AM

There’s a meeting in the conference room in 15 minutes. Those conference room chairs are murder. I’d better get that one on the side of the table, which has arms. A couple of the conference room chairs don’t have arms. I won’t be able to pull myself up out of them. I’ll have to stand up, putting all the pressure on my back. That will cause a flash. I can’t do that in front of a client. I’d probably collapse anyway.

Even the chairs with arms are problematic. I’m so tender right now, a movement of a quarter of an inch makes the difference between 5 pain and 9.5 pain. That movement would be imperceptible to anyone looking at me. What happens if I’m sitting in a chair, perfectly still, and suddenly scream in pain for no reason at all?

I need to get to the meeting early, before anyone else gets there, so I can be sure to get one of the chairs with arms.


This chair is terribly painful. But it’s less bad than the others.

I need to call the doctor. Get my appointment moved up.

3:45 PM

I’ve been sitting in this office chair for a long time. It doesn’t hurt right now. But if I move a muscle, the pain will be so bad it will be like getting cut in half with a shotgun blast.

I’m doomed. Every moment I stay in this chair, it’s like building up TNT for an even bigger explosion once I try to get out of it. If I get up out of this chair, I trigger the explosion. I am so tired of the pain. So tired of it. 20 years of pain, 25 years. Nothing has helped. No drug, no exercise, no stretch, nothing.

The last time my back did not hurt, George H.W. Bush was President.

The last time my back did not hurt, the biggest star on TV was Bill Cosby, whom no one knew was a sick rapist.

The last time my back did not hurt, people thought the biggest threat to world peace was the Soviets. The last time my back did not hurt, Saddam Hussein was our ally. The last time my back did not hurt, The Simpsons was not even on the air yet. Think about that. Every single episode of The Simpsons from the beginning of time until the present day was conceived, written, produced, broadcast and rerun multiple times while my back hurt.

The other day a family member said, “You should get a Leap chair for your office! That would solve everything!” A couple of months ago she asked me, “How old is your mattress? You need a new mattress. You’d feel much better!”

If this was as easy as buying a new chair, or a new mattress, do you think I would have suffered 25 years of this torture? If it was that easy? Do you really think, if the answer was that easy, I wouldn’t have gone for it long before now? If all I had to do to cure my back was to buy a new chair?

Do you know how many chairs I’ve been through? I junked another one last month. It cost the company I work for over $1000. They’re getting annoyed with me, all the chairs I’ve gone through. Just sit in the damn chair. One chair is as good as another.

The thing is, they’re right. It doesn’t matter what chair I sit in. My back will still hurt.

Have you tried acupuncture? Well-meaning people say things like this. “My aunt Mabel had problems with her back, and she tried Feng-Shui and meditating with crystals and Master Ping’s ancient Chinese secret, and now she’s an Olympic gymnast who can touch her toes to her forehead backwards!”

Yeah, thanks for the suggestion. I knew about Master Ping in 1996, when I went to his Geocities website and he was selling his VHS tapes for $19.95. Master Ping is full of shit. There may be something to acupuncture, but it’s basically a pain reliever by another name. No pain reliever I’ve ever used can make a dent in this pain. I don’t have much faith in acupuncture.

I’m going to have to get out of this chair, because I have to go to the bathroom. Even undoing my zipper is going to cause a flash of at least 8.5.

I hope no one can hear me scream.

7:15 PM

Home again. Laying on the bed. The ache is very dull, down to about a 4.5, the lowest it’s been all day. Sweet relief.

I need to call the doctor. Move up my appointment.

I have to make dinner soon. How am I going to get up off the bed? I guess I have to haul myself up, then stand there and wait for “the clutch”–the flash of pain that seizes my entire body every time I get into a standing position. Earlier today, when I got out of the chair in my office, “the clutch” flashed to 9.5 and I broke out sweating. Maybe I’ll be lucky and it’ll only flare to 7 or so when I stand up.

Okay. We have to do this. Ready? One…two…three!

OW!!!! OWWWW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

That was about an 8.5. Can I walk? Well, yes, if I hang on to the furniture. I can grab that corner of the dresser as I pass by. And the doorway. The 15 feet across the living room will be painful, but then there are kitchen counters I can grab.

What am I going to make for dinner?

Anything I have to stir is too painful. Scrape with spatulas, forget it. Microwave, forget it. Can’t reach up that high, that’ll kill me. Pasta? Sure, but emptying the pot once the pasta is done will be a killer, because it’s full of water and will be heavy. I have to carry the pan from the stove over to the sink. That’ll make my back flash to about an 8.5, but it will be short. One brief yelp of pain and I can do it. I can handle that.

Every time I yelp, scream or wince, my husband looks at me with puppy dog eyes. “Oh, babe. I’m so sorry.”

“It’s okay,” I say. “I’m going to call the doctor. Move up my appointment.”

10:45 PM

Laying in bed. This is awesome. Pain is about a 3.5. If the pain in my back never got above a 3.5, I would die fabulously happy.

I called the doctor, moved up my appointment.

What is he going to say? More exercises? Physical therapy? That didn’t work last time. “Well, it’s a long road to recovery.” It’s been 25 years. “There are no guarantees.” You’re telling me? I knew that when you were in medical school. Tell me something I don’t know.

Eventually I will probably have to undergo surgery. There could be hope. JFK, who had the same problems I do, had back surgery, and he went on to be President. If I’m lucky, the surgery will work, and for six months I’ll be pain-free. But the pain will come back. I know it will. Six months after the surgery and after $85,000 in medical bills, I’ll still walk into a conference room and think, “Look at that chair. How am I going to get out of that chair?”

And people will still say, “Have you tried acupuncture?” And I will want to kill them.


I moved up my appointment.

The doctor diagnosed me with a congenital defect that is apparently the cause of all, or at least most, of my back problems. He showed it to me on the X-ray. There it was, glowing in ghostly white, the blazing nugget that has made my life agony for 25 years.

It was not a bed. Not a chair. Not anything Master Ping has ever heard of. It was something growing inside me since the day I was born.

There is a potential road to recovery, but it’s very long and arduous. I don’t have a choice, because I can’t live like this any longer.

All images in this article are believed to be in the public domain, with the exception of the Simpsons image, whose use I believe is permissible as fair use.