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.


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 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.

The Elephant’s Memory

elephant skull
Elephant skull, somewhere in Africa

The prolific novelist and esteemed motor-cycle riding (which killed him, at the age of 49), rebel upstate New York university professor once wrote that the inferior writer writes derivatively — or something along those lines.

And if I were in the mood to write a derivative post today, I would pen some moody piece about some old elephant slogging along, as he headed toward the so-called “elephant’s graveyard” that I used to read about in the Edgar Rice Burroughs Tarzan books I read as a kid.

The old elephant would of course be some version of me, and there would some bittersweet remembrance of ancient battles fought and won, ancient loves won and lost, and, most terribly, the ancient memories for which elephants are famous — memories that haunt like ghosts.

The conclusion would be some Hemingway Old Man and the Sea moment, as the elephant turns back one last time to confront the tusk poachers who have been pursuing him for weeks.  Then I would end it with some ambivalent finale that, while exquisitely melancholic, in reality would be no conclusion at all but just a cop out.

Well, fuck that.

Today, being the second day of the New Year, there is much to look forward to: the year is in its infancy, and hopes are renewed — no matter how useless a pursuit that may appear to the jaded.

For one thing, the crippling back pain that I suffered for four days has gone away — this happened after I stupidly lifted something heavy rather awkwardly, while forgetting to bend my knees.

Now that I am not confined to my study and the comp, I plan to go out and be up and about and take care of some things, like the car whose dashboard engine icon is now urgently on, a bad sign of expensive things to come.  Perhaps I will end up on a beach, and have my wife snap a pic of me wetting my feet in the cold Atlantic — providing there’s no toxic algae bloom or flesh-eating bacteria floating in the ocean (this has become a perennial problem around Florida; moreover, there is also a mosquito Nile Virus alert in this Florida county at the moment.)

For some time now, I have looking for a place to hang my hat (I think I will wear this hat if and when I go to the beach later today).  When one considers leaving America, you have to think: what is driving me to such and such a place?  Is it that I am trying to escape from an America I can no longer tolerate, or is it that I am attracted to a particular place for what it has to offer?

For me, as I consider Porto, I really have to say that I have doubts.  I do like Portugal, but the Atlantic is not my sea; the Mediterranean is.  The truth is, that at my age — I am 67 — one does not want to waste a lot of time making the wrong move.

Supposing I drop dead tomorrow?  Unlikely, as I am in excellent health (for my age), but if I were to, where would be a suitable graveyard?  Florida?  Not on your life.  Porto?  Uh, no.  Someplace along the Mediterranean?  Now you’re talking!

Don’t get me wrong:  I really like Portugal, especially the Portuguese people: I think the coolest moment there was when I went to that hidden, back-street after hours place in Tavira and had a long conversation with a local — artsy, 40s, spoke English and French — about Fernando Pessoa and Tavira in general, and when he slipped me a piece of hash, shortly before he left to disappear into the night, I thought now that was pretty cool.

I learnt much about Tavira and Portugal from that meeting; but I’m not that interested in hanging out in the Algarve, despite the fact that my English cousin lives there; nor would I favor hilly, cold, damp Porto, that is completely infested with Birkenstocks as well as bucket list young people who spend a day or two or three taking in the sights and moving on with their young lives, as I remain behind, shivering in some ratty apartment with no heat.

What, exactly, would I do there.  Go to the Livraria Lello and hope lightning strikes twice?  It is good to remember what the pipe-smoking  John Garnder said (in one of his On Writing books) in that regard, when one is tempted to do something moronic like that.

Instead, I really ought to focus on the why would I go to part of my quest, as opposed to the running away from trope.

This, in fact, is the subject of today’s post.

Let me get at what I want to say indirectly, as meandering along the back roads is usually more interesting than an on-the-nose, straight drive to the point.

I remember watching a movie in 1975 called Swept Away, directed by that formidable Italian Marxist, Lina Wertmuller (who is 90, and still apparently vigorous, as of this writing), that I remember seeing at the Cinema 11 Theater, on Third Avenue and 59th Street.  That cinema, unlike many I used to go to in the 70s and 80s, when I lived in various studio and one-bedroom hovels throughout Manhattan, is still around.

cinema 3 ny

Swept Away (I never bothered to see the Madonna remake) has remained in the back of my mind since then, especially for the classic comedic North/South “class” interplay between Giancarlo Giannini and the late Mariangela Melato, a movie that included an extremely funny ass fucking scene (which no doubt would be frowned upon by present era reviewers, unless they realize that the director is a fierce feminist), but also, and perhaps more importantly for the purpose of this post at least, the extended, idyllic scenes along the golden sands of the Sardinian eastern coast, in the province of Nuoro, before the Agha Khan and his successors had completely turned he Costa Smerlada into the obscenity it is today.

Who would not want to have an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August (the movie’s ellipsed subtitle), especially in the company of beautiful firecracker like Raffaella?

Okay, now let’s cut to the point.

About twelve years ago, when I became restive in Florida, after a series of marital mishaps and career disasters and near financial ruin, I happened to find myself in Tunisia.

It is there that I first heard about the island of Tabarka, and its ancient relationship with the island of Carloforte in Sardinia. I was intrigued, as I invariably am, by points of historical connection along the White Sea, el bahr el abyad el muttawasat, as the Arabs call it, the sea of my now near mythic childhood summers.

Time passed, and I continued along my random travels, mostly along the French Riviera and Dahab in the Sinai, until I suddenly fell quite ill, almost died in Times Square, then almost went blind, had an eye operation, began to see again, and, about 15 months ago, resumed my quest, first going to Nice, where I spent a year once, and then El Gouna, where I wondered if the Red Sea could ever replace my beautiful Mediterranean.

Alas, no.

The Nebida coastline as viewed on Google Earth

But… after coming across par hazard this blog a few days ago, I wondered, what if Sardinia, yes, windswept, cold and rainy in the winter Sardinia, rugged hills Sardinia, nuragic Sardinia that is still empty over much of its interior surface (it’s about the size of Maryland, and has a million-and-a-half plus inhabitants, most clustered in cities, towns and villages along the coastlines), Sardinia that has ferries that go to all the Medi ports and rocky islands I love and know so well, Sardinia that is infested in summer with cruise ships and by Germans and Northern Italians and probably Brits too; Sardinia, Sardinia, Sardinia, whose language — a favorite of e. e. cummings and Eliot and Joyce! — I understand more readily than Portuguese, as it is closer to French than the former, and because so many Egyptian loan words in Arabic are of Italian origin; Sardinia, where if you wanted to be a hermit and write a book and do the retired writer thing in the sun thing might be financially doable, someplace perhaps around the tiny village of Nebida, or thereabout, not far from Carloforte, not far from Africa, not far from Corsica and the South of France, and not far even from a ferry that takes you to Barcelona in the summertime, where a childhood friend of mine has a place.

A view from the walk down from Nebida

Something to think about (though Alghero does have its merits, too, not the least would be possibly far better housing opportunities for a writer’s garret at an affordable monthly rate).  I have put out some feelers on the matter with the owner of said blog, and will wait and see what develops.

Stranger things have happened, as the phrase goes:  but one thing I am sure of is that slogging through the upcoming nightmare between the Dems in the House and the mafioso Cyrus the Great charlatan occupying the White House is a tedious freak show that I would rather not endure.

Plus tôt que plus tard, on verra bien ce qui va’sse passer, avant que l’éléphant s’endormit pour la dernière fois et oubli tout.

leaving america




I got a rock

This morning I went to the beach where I have spent much of the past 17 years.

Unlike the situation in Tavira, you don’t have to get a 2 euro ticket to hop on a ferry filled with the Birkenstock people to get to the beach here.

It was empty; usually this time of day, and in season, there are lots of fishermen around.

florida algae warning

Only two today, and one of them had his nose and mouth wrapped with a towel, which made him look like an American Bedouin.

I walked around, but didn’t see Ozzie, my old Osprey friend, but did come across the usual sandpipers scampering about.

He and I go way back, Ozzie and I do, from the time I used to come here alone and sit for hours, thinking of my life in Manhattan that had now disappeared, thinking about how promising everything looked, before my life fell off a cliff.

After a while, I felt, or imagined I felt, a slight burning sensation in my lungs, and my nose started to run.

Then I noticed my shadow on the beach, as I have seen it many times before.

Not to get all lugubrious on this hallowed day, but one day I will only be a shadow that once walked on this earth.  What will they say I’ve accomplished?  Anything? Did I just take up space, and then that was it?

I have been having this (decade-long) debate about writing a novel that takes place in Egypt along the Red Sea, and it occurred to me that I might write the idea I had about ten years ago as a sort of Zombie Apocalypse comic-serious book.

That would relieve the literary pressure of trying to come up with “the novel” that would cement my reputation as a writer — which is now zilch, unfortunately — that would prove… what exactly was it, again?

I have also been trying to keep away from working on this software idea that has I haven’t been able to stop myself from noodling with since before leaving for Portugal a month or so ago.

It’s not that I wish I were this guy…

… but last night and the night before that I spent hours creating an interface for the application. It’s now done.

And I studied — quite seriously, not in some cursory fashion — what would be involved in terms of the necessary underlying tech stack that it would take to realize the idea.


Even with a team of programmers who can code like greased lightning, the effort to implement this would be non-trivial.  I used to be the CTO for a small Internet company in Manhattan, after years of being a data modeler and programmer in the fintech space, but now am 67 and haven’t developed software since 9-11 — not an ideal time in life to consider implementing a complex WP plug-in, solo.

But the more I researched what would be involved, the more my interest was piqued.

I do feel younger than my years, nowadays; that’s one thing. When I was 30, I felt like I was 70 on some days, but that is what burning the candles at both ends when you are young will do.

Maybe I’ll do both things, or maybe just think about doing them, alternating the heavy lifting of creating vapor ware with the equally exhausting task of vapor writing.

The beauty of this plan is that I can accomplish all this without the pressure of having to fly to Gouna to raise angel funding and promise them a unicorn, while slaving away during my spare time, like a dog in a junkyard filled with Smith Corona typewriters, just so that one day I can say to the doubters at Mizna, see, it was in me the whole time, the gift.. it was there all along: you just never saw it; or rather, I chose not to let it be seen.

I kept walking on the beach — whose contours I know intimately — and found a coral rock that would fit perfectly in my garden at home.

I picked it up, and upon returning with it to the parking lot, a woman my age who was driving a brand new silver Merc pulled up and parked next to my beat up old Escape.

She got out of the shiny Merc, looked at me, and said, without even a good morning, even though it still quite early in the day… you know, you look just like Charlie Brown on Halloween with that rock.

People remember the oddest things.

Sometimes it takes living a long time to make connections you never saw while growing up.

So that’s me, today:  a kid on Halloween who got a rock, just like it’s always been.

The lady in the Merc said so.

leaving america