Back to Back, or Why I’m Especially Thankful Today

SEVEN WEEKS AGO today, I woke up for the first time in months without feeling as if my left leg were being crushed by a vise grip.

You wanna talk thankfulness? Today’s the day to do it, right?

Well, I’m crazy grateful for science, and medicine, and higher education, and simple human compassion, all of which combined to relieve a suffering I had never before experienced and would wish only on the worst of people.


This was me, three-and-a-half years ago.

A third injection after the two described in the link served to reduce the inflammation in my spine enough to eliminate the sciatica in my left leg. Life returned to normal. Eventually I began working out again, and even dug into a couch-to-5K to get back to running. I gutted my way to three miles every other day, finished a few 5Ks, and got my strength back thanks to the 7-Minute Workout.

This past spring, I started to notice a twinge in my left leg when I ran. It was mild enough to tolerate — which is to say, I opted for the middle-aged route of willful ignorance.

But the pain got worse. Months later, I can recall the run that compelled me to throw in the towel, to acknowledge that I hurt too much to keep going. Back to the GP I went. Back to physical therapy I went. Back to the MRI facility I went, to learn that the same problematic disc was again herniated. Back to the pain doc I went, to endure two more rounds of epidural injections in my spine. They were as delightful as the needlework I underwent in 2015, but were far, far less efficacious. I even tried acupuncture, and I’m a Western medicine kind of fella.

The pain continued to worsen.


If you’ve never suffered from chronic pain, I envy you, and hope you appreciate your good fortune. The tissue of the L5-S1 disc had again breached its rightful place between two vertebrae and was touching the sciatic nerve on the left side, radiating blazing hurt from the top of my hamstring to mid-calf. Constantly. With no relief.

The mental bandwidth expended to deal with such pain is enormous. I found myself forgetful and clumsy, two traits previously foreign to me, and emotionally shattered. The hurt was all-consuming. It was all I could think of.

Finally, finally, FINALLY, after all options had failed, the medical system sent me to a surgeon. He cut into only about 30 percent of patients who came to him, he told me.

And your herniation, he told me, is twice as big as the ones I usually see.

Two-and-a-half weeks later, a nurse slid a needle into the top of my left hand and wheeled me into an operating room. Someone dropped a mask over my mouth and told me they were just trying to get the fit right, and of course within five seconds I was out.

During the hour I was under anesthesia, the team cut a two-inch incision at the base of my spine. They entered my back, swept aside the curtain of muscle, and rummaged around to the spinal column. One of them snipped off the problematic piece of disc that was playing footsie with the nerve. One of them sewed up the incision.

Six hours after arriving at the hospital, I awoke in the recovery room. Outpatient back surgery — is it any wonder I’m grateful?

In the seven-plus weeks since my procedure, I have reveled in my relief. Friends and colleagues tell me I look utterly different. Dragging a leg behind me when I walked and forcing a significant portion of my brain to process constant pain apparently rendered me pale, drawn, and haggard. I’m brighter and sharper, they say, and that’s just how I feel.

As recently as half a century ago, the science that relieved my suffering didn’t exist. When I consider the thousands of years of humanity that had to endure unspeakable pain, I am humbled. And then there are the countless sufferers of hurt far worse than mine was, without the relatively easy fix that was available to me. Thousands of years from now, the surgery that healed me will be seen as barbaric. Yet it worked. It worked.

For everything that helped my doctors and nurses to reach the point they did, where they could do something to free my soul of the debilitating, punishing effects of endless pain, I am grateful.

I hope you are as thankful, but for less serious reasons.

May you have much to be grateful for.

Happy Thanksgiving. | DL

Running to Stand Still, or Why I Thrilled to Be Outside in 20-Degree Weather This Morning

NEVER IN MY LIFE did I imagine that I would ever turn into one of those people who get antsy when they haven’t run for a few days.

But last winter, not long into the new year, recognizing that my sloth wasn’t doing me any favors, I downloaded a couch-to-5K app and began training. A back injury a few years prior had forced me to give up running, but time and a few well-placed spinal injections of steroids had me feeling better. It was time to try again.

I followed the couch-to-5K program rigorously, and two months after starting, I was running three miles. Over the spring and summer and autumn and into the current winter, I tried to get out every other day; I haven’t gotten there yet, but it’s been frequent enough for me to enjoy the benefits.

Up until yesterday, 2018 was brutally, dangerously cold in Greater Philadelphia (as you may have heard). I ran New Year’s Eve and then had to skip nine straight days.

And I found myself — yep — one of those people who get antsy when they haven’t run for a few days.

Finally, this morning, came enough warmth — well, more like “warmth”; it was about 20 when I got up — to lace ’em up and hit the road. It was glorious. My legs felt fine and my wind was great. It wasn’t until I got home that I noticed a hint of achiness in my quads, the result, I suspect, of nine days of inactivity.

They’re still a touch sore, six hours later. But it’s a soreness that hurts so good. | DL

Lumbar Liquidators, or How Back Pain Is Not Something to Mess With

IF YOU WANT to get an idea of what it feels like for a whale to get harpooned, I suggest you herniate a disc in your lower back so severely that an anesthesiologist has to insert a needle into your spine and inject a dose of steroids in hopes of reducing the inflammation. Twice in the last month I’ve undergone such a procedure, and in each case my mind flashed immediately to Melville.

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The Elusive But Vital Pursuit of Balance, Part 571

TDsweatsTHINGS WERE proceeding smoothly, until suddenly they weren’t. Everything blew up.

Work exploded, as the calendar moved into my department’s busiest time of the year and we took on a major new project on top of our usual other duties.

Home exploded, as the girls added play rehearsal and spring sports to their already lengthy litany of activities, as I tacked t-ball coaching to my bulletin board of commitments, and as J. and I delved further into the planning stages of a big-time renovation initiative.

And I exploded, as months of wintertime consumption and hibernation had me feeling heavy and dull, my clothes uncomfortable and my body looking decidedly middle-aged.

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Why New Year’s Resolutions Are Crap Without This One Important Thing

YOU FINISH your list yet?

If not, you don’t have much time. It is the 31st, after all. If you don’t figure out how to be a better you in the next 15 hours or so, you’ll have to spend the next year as the current, subpar you.

Then again, if you’re like me, you can make it easy by recycling past years’ resolutions. My annual late-December self-reflection tends to yield the same goals: Continue reading

Why My Body Is Thanking Me for Getting So Damn Sick a Couple of Weeks Ago

IF THERE is any advantage to losing a week in December to an illness that knocks you on your ass, it is that you are forced to slow down and take everything easy. You simply lack the capacity to do anything else.

I’m still playing catch-up on sleep, and because my strep-ravaged throat made swallowing a new adventure in pain, I haven’t eaten much over the last couple of weeks. As a result, I have lacked the energy to over-exert myself, as well as overindulge. Last night I drank all of two beers, the most I’d consumed in a fortnight. It’s hard to envision wanting to have more than that at any point in the near future. Continue reading

A *Guaranteed* Way to Lose Weight This Holiday Season

soupEVERYONE KNOWS how difficult it is to maintain healthy habits over the holidays. Parties abound, and overindulgence is practically expected. We tell ourselves that things will change in January, that we’ll right the ship and get to the gym and all that, so we may as well get our calories’ worth in December.

Well, what if I told you I had a sure-fire way to lose weight during the holiday season? With no fancy diets, no expensive workout equipment, no tracking of foods?

Today, friends, is your lucky day.

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