If you’ve been there, you feel my pain
By Clyde Edgerton
If you’ve been “down in the back,” raise your hand.
If you didn’t raise your hand, you might find the following about as interesting as a pharmaceutical commercial.
But if you’ve been there, then as you read on you may nod your head in agreement here and there.
During our early January Arctic cold spell, I ventured under our house to turn off water to some outside pipes. At about six steps in through the low door that leads under the house — bending way over — I looked up and, whoops, felt a sharp pain in the middle of my lower back. A quiet voice said: “That was not good.” I finished with the pipes, got out from under the house and thought, Maybe it’s not too bad. I hauled in a load of wood for the fireplace, built a fire, messed around in the backyard, thinking: Something is wrong with my lower back. But it’ll be better in the morning.
Next morning, when I started to get out of bed, a sledgehammer hammered a spike into my lower back. A pain so severe that had it continued over a few seconds I’d been yelling constantly to the high heavens. “Stabbing pain” sort of gets at it, but I feel like I need a new word — not spasm, but: Stabazm!
I yelled, and fell back into bed. The universe had attacked. Oh my goodness.
Kristina, my wife, who’s had back problems off and on for a decade, said, “If you want to get up, you need to roll. Roll out of bed. Don’t just pull up. You’ve got to roll. And breathe.” After a long struggle and several more stabazms, each bringing a yell and sweat, I got up and slowly made my way — holding onto furniture — to the bathroom and then to the living room couch. Kristina helped me get propped up on my back with pillows under my knees, ice on my back and a laptop in lap for work. While helping me onto the couch, she said, “Roll. You’ve got to roll.” When I was later trying to get back up she again said, “Roll, honey, roll,” and the word roll got funny for some reason . . . to both of us. I started to laugh — but the laughing brought on — yikes! Stabazm!
“Please don’t make me laugh,” I whispered through clenched teeth.
Next I found that I could not cough without initiating a stabazm.
I remained inside the house, hobbling back and forth from bed to couch for one week. I would figure out yet another way to not move, and then: BAM, another you-know-what. After a week, I visited my doctor. She gave me a muscle-relaxer drug, an inflammation drug and said if it wasn’t better in another week to get an X-ray. It got a little better, but not much. I decided to wait two weeks to see if I really needed that X-ray. Inside the house I was using a cane that I was too proud to use outside the house. I finally started driving. A car entrance looked a little like . . . I don’t know — a turtle climbing onto a motorcycle?
At the beginning of the third week — two days ago as of this writing — I got that X-ray and then went to UNCW for a faculty meeting. I was somewhat better, no stabazms in three days. I was happy to be up and about — careful about every move. But I was five minutes late to the meeting, hobbling along carefully.
I met a student who said, “Hi.”
“Hi,” I said. I wondered if I was supposed to know him. He was smiling.
“Hi,” he said again.
I was a bit confused. I had pencil and pad in hand, ready to go into
Then he pointed . . . and said what he’d been saying all along: “Fly!”
“Oh. Thanks,” I said, grabbed at my pants, dropped the pencil, zipped up and then bent down to pick up the pencil.
Stabazm! I was unable to muffle a yell.
If you’ve been there, you know how it feels.
If you haven’t been there, then when it happens, and you have to get out of bed: Roll.
Clyde Edgerton is the author of 10 novels, a memoir and most recently, Papadaddy’s Book for New Fathers. He is the Thomas S. Kenan III Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at UNCW.