Oh, My Aching ...

On my long walk today—there were also 150 pushups and some weights later—I saw many an inadequately equipped Portlander engaged in the grim but neighborly task of clearing his sidewalk of snow. (Is there a single proper snow shovel in all of Multnomah County?) Also, many simply wanted to drive again, and were working to loose their car from the grip of the record-breaking December onslaught.

As far as snow falling now, that's all over. It's 37, headed well into the 40s tomorrow. It's raining. Situation normal 'round here. But, man, all that icy, sloppy stuff left behind….

So we shovel. I made eye contact with one guy on NE Halsey, and somehow he knew and I knew: "It's the back, that's where you feel it," I said. He smiled. Wait, no, he grimaced (funny how those two displays can so easily be confused). "God," he said. "The back. It's murder on the back."

My back has been feeling it. In the 46 years in which I have occupied this body, it has given me excellent service. I daresay it is a well-built machine. American-made, too, damn straight. And yet for maybe half that time, there's always been the back. And by always I don't mean constantly; I mean that the threat never goes away entirely. Two, maybe three months pass with no back issues at all. Then I'm leaned over the sink just so, brushing my teeth, and like lightning striking, my lower back about halfway between the spine and my right hip seizes up in an electric, devastating spasm, nearly taking me to the floor.

I wince, curse, shake head, rinse toothpaste from mouth, proceed to wall. I crouch a bit and push the small of my back snug again the wall with my shoulders also against the wall (that's the tricky part). I then slowly straighten my legs, rising, sliding up the wall, all the while keeping the small of my back against the wall, and my shoulders still against the wall as well (that's the even trickier part).

I do this for a while and things settle down. Before long—a few hours or maybe a day and a half later—I've forgotten about my back trouble so completely that I'll do something stupid like casually pick up a heavy box without bending my knees. Or shovel snow for a half-hour. And bing-zap-pow, I'm back against the wall.

Eventually, though, the world returns to a deeper state of normalcy and my back stops shrieking at me. All's cool for several weeks. And you know what seems to help in this process? Oddly enough, cycling. The more I ride, the better my back feels. You look at a triathlete in the aero position and you think that ought to be against the Geneva Conventions. But it doesn't bother my back. It's some kind of weird therapy, even. My neck, however, that's a different story. Literally: look for the neck entry at a future date. And then there's my shoulder problem. And my Achilles thing. And the occasional knee woe.

They all come and go, ebb and flow, the aches and pains. I don't know that I suffer any more of them than sedentary folk; I know of plenty of couch potatoes who turn to chiropractors or surgeons to keep them in the game (such as it may be). My issues of the ol' corpus, they never stop me, or even threaten to derail me. Knock on wood. But in winding my way six months to Coeur d'Alene, no doubt they'll all make an appearance and exercise their influence.

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