My Aching Back
I don’t know how to share this without sounding like I am bragging. Maybe I am bragging -- but not about my ability. I am proud that I learned a skill not usually taught to MDs. A while ago, a long-held interest in massage led me to learn more bodywork; then I worked with a DO, a doctor of osteopathy. I would feel someone’s back and say to my DO colleague, “Mike, I think she’s out here.” Mike would feel and grudgingly reply, “Pretty good hands for an MD.” He would then do osteopathic manipulation therapy (OMT), and the person would feel better -- immediately! I thought, “You get to fix people? I want to fix people!”
Back in the 1980s, I was not a family physician but an engineering manager who had been experiencing occasional back pain for several years. Then one summer I overdid it windsurfing, and for the next two and a half months I was bent over in sheer, excruciating pain that I now recognize was a muscle spasm that would not remit.
His wife left him that morning. That’s what he told the police officer who arrived on the scene after his large truck plowed into the back of my little red car. “I wasn’t paying attention. I was speeding up as I hit her.”
Ahead of us, an elderly woman had disobeyed her doctor’s orders not to drive while on pain medication. She decided to make a left turn by cutting off multiple lanes of traffic. My brakes held as all my weight went into them. I had less than a second to be thankful for missing her.
As I was loaded onto the ambulance, my neck and lower back were already in pain. And my knee--my beautifully ACL-reconstructed right knee, scrupulously brought back to strength over months of rehabilitation--had slammed into the dashboard of my car. It was throbbing.
Back troubles run in my family. Ma had three back surgeries, while Dad suffered from spinal stenosis. And now, at age seventy-two, back problems have become a part of my life.
Back pain is as common as rain. It's one of the most frequent concerns that patients bring to me as a family physician.