The Horrors of ACUTE Back Pain

tiger balm
ER doc said I might want to try Tiger Balm

On Monday, I asked my wife to drive me to the emergency room that’s close to where we live.

I had spent the weekend periodically emitting raucous groaning noises whenever I shifted my body in bed —  the slightest movement would cause massive pain, especially on the right side of my lower back, which spazzed out from time to time.

By Monday morning, I was unable to walk normally, and my unnatural gait was making the dog very nervous.

So we drove to the hospital; I hobbled into the ER on a cane.

They soon took x-rays, and after that ordeal (I had to be helped to lie on my side), they administered steroid injections and gave me some pills — but not the good stuff — to temporarily calm down the inflammation of the muscles in my back and hips.

Eventually I saw the ER doctor, who explained to me that I was suffering from something called lumbar radiculopathy. *

spine anatomy

The young doctor was very nice. I did not mention to him the asshole episode I had with some college friends up in Jersey where I decided on a drunken whim to slide down a frozen waterfall and almost busted my tailbone.

He explained to me that the canal inside my vertebrae, which contains my spinal cord, is gradually narrowing.

Due to the “aging process,” bone spurs were now pressing against the nerves that sprout out of the spine, causing the inflammation.

To protect the inflamed area, my body was tensing up the muscles around my lower spine (this is a normal defense strategy that the brain takes, if it can, when you get injured), which was causing these horrendous spasms.

But this tensing up of the muscles puts mucho stress on the inflamed nerve(s), which causes more pain signals to reach my brain, which responds by further tensing up the muscles around the area — a fiendish feedback loop of perpetual self torture.

The immediate solution was to fill the prescription medications once I got back home.

These include industrial strength ibuprofen and acetaminophen, prednisone, and tramadol (unfortunately he was only allowed by Florida law to prescribe a 3-day supply).

I also have to start physical therapy, lose a ton off weight, and see a neurosurgeon to confirm the diagnosis and assess if surgery is required to permanently fix this condition.  Since I don’t have supplementary Medicare insurance, I doubt I would go down this road anytime soon.

I was back home at 2PM.

gsd on couch
My sheppie hard at work

My 70lb German shep was happy to see me, and around 4:30 my wife took my driving license and went to the Winn-Dixie pharmacy and picked my meds.

The tramadol kicked in by 5:30, and finally the pain subsided.

Life was pleasant again, as an invitingly warmish breeze picked up in the relatively tranquil place where I live, and the ambiently calming tonalities of Robert Rich’s 1,000 Tears played on the Soundscapes channel on cable TV.

The truth is, I had been venturing into a morose, self-pitying place lately as a result of constant back pain, and was seriously considering getting my primary doctor to legitimize an application for one of these DMV signs so I could hang off the mirror of our 2010 Escape beater.

disabled permit

But I don’t really need this passport to convenience parking, given that I isolate indoors most of the time, like the closet eremite I am by nature, rarely venturing out except to walk poochie in sundry isolated lieux.

Severe back pain is no joking matter, especially since doctors these days are reluctant to write you up a pain killer scrip for oxy or trammies unless it looks like your goose is cooked, and even then they might not oblige.

The tramadol, as always — it’s my preferred Zen vibe drug of choice! — did the trick, and I was able to relax for the first time in days and chanced a brief romp with poochie in the back porch of the house.

I had mentioned to the ER doc that I’m thinking about getting into a medical marijuana program to further reduce the pain-induced stress, and he’s all for it.  So that’s one more thing I shall be looking into, despite the hassle of getting a FLA weed card.

pessoa

It’s been two years since I last did bongs, when my wife and I travelled to Tavira and some French-speaking Portuguese literary-type in a bar hooked me up with some noble Moroccan hash.

This was after we had a long chat about Fernando Pessoa, whose father once lived in town, and I asked where I could buy “du shit” in Tavira. I knew from prior research on Wiki that “‘possession of cannabis in Portugal is decriminalized in small amounts for personal use,” so felt safe asking, no worries style.

The dude responded by breaking off a small bit from a round of compressed kief that he had in his pocket, and said it was a gift for my wife and I to further appreciate the plaintive beauty of Fado music — which I had mentioned often wafted, during our month long stay in Tavira, late on weekends from some venue not far from our Airbnb rental. I bought him a Sagres as a way of saying thanks, and later that night did indeed smoking shit while enjoying the view from our rental flat.

tavira
Tavira at dawn with the Atlantic in the distance

I absolutely loved to chill on grass during my callow youth in college, a lifetime ago, when you could buy a bag of weed for 15 bucks at the dorm from some nerdy Long Island kid called Turtle, and mutter inanities like “would you care to partake?” or “this stuff is really blowing my mind, man.”  To think that I ever talked like this is seriously embarrassing to admit.

One more thing.

I had a COVID vaccine pre-scheduled the day after the ER visit.

But I blew it off on advice of the ER doctor.

He advised me that people with weakened immune systems (such as myself, due to Graves’ disease) need to consider carefully if they want to risk having a serious reaction to the COVID shot.

He said that, in my condition, subjecting myself to the COVID vaccine would be akin to pouring gasoline on a fire:  I could end up in the hospital for a week, or worse. The justification for taking this risk would of course be that I presumably would then be protected from getting COVID — providing I survived the injection aftermath.

What to do?

The decision was an easy one.

My immune system is fighting on two fronts right now:  Graves, and this lumbar thing.  It doesn’t need a third one.

Best I stay low until I get over this back thing, then get the shot when they have a super duper one shot variant killer that’s safe, available and plentiful.

So on Tuesday, I passed on my COVID shot appointment — even though I had been trying to get my shots through the Publix system that I’ve talked about in previous posts.

I will do so further down the road, of course, but for the moment I’m holding off on the COIVD shot — especially since I actually don’t have to be in the proximity of gen pop unless I want to.

So that’s the skinny on my back pain story of woe.

Old age is a mighty bitch, but most of us accept having to deal with making physical adjustments at this stage of our lives, and we get on with it without too many complaints.

The key is not to give in, and push to always keep moving forward — looking back with bitterness or regret is a waste of time, especially if you don’t have much left to kill.

* Later I was to read in my med chart the following official diagnosis: “No acute fracture or collapse. Mild multilevel degenerative disc disease with height loss and spurring. Alignment in the coronal plane is normal.” Guess I’m getting shorter by the hour.

Dealing with Failure

florida beach
The beach near my house in FLA. I hang out here a lot less than I used to, and come 2 or 3 times a week to exercise by walking a few miles up and down a mostly empty beach that’s a protected nature preserve

The observable fact is that things are improving.  That is the current datum.

Why is that?

I am not sure.  For 17 long years, things were going downhill.

I am an emigrant from Egypt and the UK.

I came to this country in the late 60s.

I lived in NYC, and worked in Fintech most of my career.

In 2001, I lost a great job due to the tech meltdown. So I moved to Florida.  Went to France for the summer, plenty of money in the bank still, thinking that when I got back I could take my pick and choose my next great career move.

Now during this time, a highly mysterious French programmer wrote a piece of software called “b2/cafelog ,” and a college kid called Matt noticed.  I didn’t, though.  I was too busy trying to find a job and feeling sorry for myself.

Hundreds (or maybe it was only 15, I can’t remember anymore) of resumés send-outs later, I still couldn’t find work.

Let’s see, I had worked as a programmer and systems analyst in Manhattan for over 25 years at some of the biggest financial companies in America, and I couldn’t get a job?

Why?

Was it 9-11, you know the Arab thing?

Bad luck?

Age?

All of the above?

So I wrote to a childhood friend who, at the time, had great tech job in the Gulf and his answer was basically I’m kind of busy right now. This is a guy who I once helped by pulling family strings to make things easier for him in terms of being drafted in the Egyptian army.  Send your res to Bayt.com, he said:  that was his response, instead of, say, introducing me to any one of his many contacts in Dubai who might have offered me work.

Understandably, I got a little miffed about that.  I learned that people have short memories.  I learned that loyalty is not a two way street. I learned that people don’t always remember down that road what you once did for them, that sometimes they prefer to forget it entirely.

But I still had money in the bank.

So I said, fuck it, I am going to walk the deserts, not like some of the geezer Birkenstock tourists I recently saw in Tavira, Portugal, but like a nomad, a sort of Bruce Chatwin, minus the gay thing, with a knapsack and notebook, travelling literally to remote deserts, and spending the little money I had saved from selling the Greenwich CT house on a sort of extended Leaving Las Vegas binge. I wrote a few stories, during this time; they got published in Mizna, until that pub stop liking me and I told them to go fuck themselves.

This worked for a while, but underneath it all I was worried as shit.  I was still in my 50s.  What was I going to do with the rest of my life?

This more than kept my up at night; it ate me alive with worry.

And I did become embittered.

Finally, from all the stress, I contracted Graves’ Disease.

It almost killed me.  This life-threatening autoimmune disorder resulted in my body attacking itself; unfortunately, I exhibited ever possible manifestation or symptom of Graves, from pretibial myxedema to bulging eyes to erratic mood swings to purples bruises on my faces and elbows.

Unable to deal with the nasty behavior that hyperthyroidism often engenders in its victims , my wife almost left me — we separated for a year, and commenced divorce proceedings.

Alone, depressed, jobless, I was no longer the handsome young man with a bright future that she fell in love with some twenty years earlier.  I had become the angry, resentful old Florida guy no one wanted around any more.

My life stopped having any meaning and my vacuous days seemed pointless.

I didn’t give up completely, though.

I still emailed strangers — or, rather, company bots — about getting something akin to my old “datum” job back, but I kept getting shot down, and finally no one even bothered answering my job applications any more. My wife even suggested at some point that I change my name — Americanize it, the way many immigrants to America used to in the past — and shave years off my birth date: in old school IBM punch card terms, to fold, spindle and mutilate my true identity into some fictitious heteronym; that is to say, to no longer be who I am; to become, in effect, a living lie, instead of a human being.

Finally, a friend took me aside, when I went up to DC, in a last-ditch attempt to get a consultant subcontracting gig.

He was someone whom I had hired in the old days, when I was a tech honcho at a billion dollar company based in Virginia.

He said:  do you mind if I be honest with you?  Even if you never speak to me again, I owe you this.

I said okay.

He took a deep breath and said your life is over in tech. You were at the top, once, but now you’re not a player any more. Face it: you’re never going to be hired in a tech position ever again, let alone be considered the IT visionary you once were. That was a long time ago, before all that went down happened. Tech is a young man’s game.  You warned me about that yourself, once.

So do yourself a favor, he said.

Look in the mirror.

Ageist as this sounds, would you then have hired you as you are now?

My conclusion was that I could either turn to something like becoming an airport limo driver, or giving up and turn into the guy who goes to the liquor store at 9am and is never seen in public except for the early morning, darting beer and whisky runs.

What do you do when your life is over, except commit suicide on the installment plan, or be the codger who packs shopping carts at the checkout line at the supermarket?

In 2016, a lot of people were like me.  The 2008 housing bubble had wiped them out financially. For some, it was the lack of construction work; for others, it was globalism that outsourced their well-paid union jobs; for white collar workers, many had simply gotten older and were no longer welcome in the offices where they once made other people rich.

And so, many of them voted for Donald Trump.

They needed to believe the con that he would make it all better.  That he would put the screws on those guys who were responsible for your life turning to shit.  Because that wasn’t your fault.  What had happened had nothing to do with you.  You had played the game fair and square and they came with their Moslem and Mexican and Jew ways and fucked your life up. It was Them that did it, those fucking bastards who wanted to take your place, and live in your house, and fuck your white daughter, while leaving you out on the curb with no place to go except rot like a piece of garbage.

Somebody had to answer for that.

Or so it went for many.

Others vanished.  They became zombies, which is essentially what I did.

I stopped taking care of my physical appearance.

I stopped reading, because it was too hard for me now to do so, and I couldn’t afford the cataract operation.

I pointlessly walked the beaches, first for days, months, and then years.

For no reason.

With no purpose, except just to not to sit around.

Sometimes I saw the carapace of dead turtles that had washed up on the beach and were being picked clean by the seagulls and crabs.  Sometimes I saw small boats that had shipwrecked.  But mostly I saw old guys like me, either fishing or walking the beach for no reason other than there was nothing else to do.

What do you do when your mind is still alive yet no one wants you anymore because no one wants to deal with what everyone perceives is a loser?

Many people say they would rather starve than be pitied and turn into charity cases, but the soup kitchens are full people who had to swallow their pride for the sake of their families.

How do you stop from going insane, as everyone around tries one way or another to pry ever last dime you have on some car or insurance or payday hustle and you finally find yourself alone waiting to die in some 600 dollar a month studio with barely enough money left over to pay for food, your  meds, and the beer you drink now to make all the hurt go away because you don’t matter anymore to anyone except every few years when some politician in a smart suit says this or that or the other thing and then goes away till the next election?

Of course not everyone my age went down that route.

Some started taking steroid shots, so their knees could withstand logging those he-man mega clicks on their expensive bicycles; others administered themselves testosterone injections and even Viagra, to get rid of the moobs and still be able to fuck that trophy wife or girlfriend; while others still pumped iron and did everything in their power to make the comeback that never happened, until they realized that there comes a time when not even Michael Jordan can play basketball any more.

So where did that leave me?

With all the gun shops in Florida, taking yourself out is a real easy option.

But… ultimately…. I finally ended up going another route.

Stay tuned for Part II of this maybe completely fictional, maybe not, post, when the reference I made earlier to the history of WordPress will start making sense and I’ll start to talk about positive solutions, despite still being trapped in a suffocating world that was slowly killing me.

leaving america

Andiamo

tavira vase
The famous Tavira Vase

It’s noon-ish on a rainy, humid, rather hot Monday in South Florida.

The ground outside our house is muddy and gummy to walk. I suspect  that, at any moment, the house may sink back into the swamp it was built on.

So where are we?

The bad news from Washington continues… I have stopped following it, but my wife still does.  That someone as grotesque as that pig in the White House is still in office is beyond me, but perhaps November may change things some.

But even so, it will not change who lives here.  What sort of people they are, on the whole, deep within.

And that is why leave we must.

On Friday the 10th of August, we travel to NYC for 10 days.

It will probably be boiling hot, while we’re there, but I hope it will be possible to enjoy some of the things that we like to do, like go to the Botanical Gardens in the Bronx, and see some of the exhibits there, or just stroll around the Upper West Side and see what there is to see.

I used to like going for long walks down Broadway on weekends, sometimes venturing from 96th on the West End all the way to Chelsea on foot. Then again, I was slimmer then.

But our real trip will be in late September.  Haven’t booked it yet, but will, and logo.

I know everyone is moving to Lisbon these days, and I would too — if I were 25.

I am very far from being that, but I still am a digital nomad at heart, even though I no longer look the part, and, after working on building and maintaining my wife’s e-commerce site for the last few years, my aging brain finally came up with a not totally stupid idea that I think would (a) be fun to develop, and (b)  might make us some extra cash on the side — which is always nice.

The town we are focused on is Tavira, in the southeast of the Algarve.

I love the fact that there is a tiny Moorish museum there, and that the word Arab in the Algarve (which stands for El Gharb, or The West in Lugha’t el Daad, as Arabic is known to Arabs) is not considered some kind of filthy smear — as it is here, in South Florida, where I live.

I have gained 15 lbs since April. when I returned from a long stay in Egypt.  I tipped the scales at 225 lbs; but now I’m  back up to 240.

Why?

Because if you cannot tolerate living somewhere, something has to give.

Some go by way of opioids, or divorcing and getting some trophy wife, or boozing it up daily, or getting that midlife crisis red sports cars — me, I hit the ice cream bar.

Well enough of that.

I don’t want to go back to worrying about diabetes and looking like a confirmed Winn Dixie habitué.

All I think about now, as I did around the same time last year, is leaving, and start over, someplace else entirely.

Some place far away from here.

tavira
Tavira, Portugal

Someplace where the air smells of pine trees, and sunrises unfold with stunning limpidity.

Maybe one day I will read on my computer screen that Iblees is finally in chains and thrown in the dark dungeon where he belongs and the news of the world will no longer be unrelentingly odious.

But I’m not holding my breath.

Mon souffle… or hayati, if you prefer, is about wanting to breathe sans lourdeur pesante, without that unyielding longing for defenestration, and we no longer have to ignore the muffled thud of innocents being bludgeoned in the alleyways.

Time to move on, and perhaps never again return.

In the meantime, I am about to install a Natural Language Interface on my wife’s web site this week.

Imagine that.

I am going to be 67 this summer, yet I am still fascinated by AI.

AI.

Imagine that.

leaving america