You know what is currently a massive pain to me? My lower back. As with most of my encroaching health issues, it’s somehow my own fault.
If we humans just did very little, other than walking around a bit, eating 5 bits of fruit per day, breathing clean air, drank two litres of water, and ate a balanced meal three times a day, we’d be fine and live forever. But no, life doesn’t work like that. Life instead makes bad food delicious, smoking addictive, human existence polluting to our atmosphere, drinking alcohol fun, and bending over to pick things up easier than using your knees.
This is what I’ve done to myself. After a life of playing in bands, carrying heavy loads, and not keeping my back straight and using my knees to pick up things in those crucial early years, I’m being repaid in full by having a bad back. In fact, having a bad back has been going on longer than actually having a good back.
It’s another, rather boring and predictable sign that my body is slowly packing up. I’ve currently got a ticklist of minor ailments: Short-sightedness, permanent tinnitus, clicky joints, this bad back, occasional chest pains, and a weird ache in my right shoulder that has been going on for months.
Of course, the annoying thing about having a bad back is not just limited to the spasms of OW FUCK FUCK FUCK SHIT that I get from time to time. No, the annoying thing is, it seems that everyone who knows me knows that I have a bad back. And they won’t let me forget it, which bugs me for two reasons: One, because I’m not the sort of person who likes being nagged about stuff or told to be careful; and two, they don’t really need to tell me because my back reminds me of its sensitivity in no uncertain terms. In fact, it often reminds me that I have a bad back long before anyone else gives me a reminder, and often about the stupidest things. My current back predicament has come about thanks to me picking up a plastic bag of tin cans that were destined for recycling.
Loads of things I want to do in life now come with a muttered comment of “and be careful with your back” from someone. It’s usually Sarah, but it can also include bandmates, family members, chums, and work colleagues. I can’t bend over at the waist to pick up the smallest thing without someone screeching “BEND YOUR KNEES!” at me. Of course, the irony is that now my knees are beginning to hurt if I bend them too hurriedly, or for too long. So now I have the choice of bad back or bad knees.
Having a bad back is not something I’m proud of. Yes, sometimes it gets me out of doing the odd bit of manual labour, and sometimes people rush to my aid when they see me struggling with something awkward, but I’d rather not. I’d rather be there with everyone else – lifting the heavy things, carrying the awkward stuff, doing my bit, helping out, being part of the team. I feel somewhat diminished as a man if someone interrupts my task, takes something away from me, and tells me to go and sit in the corner and rest myself. I’d far rather be the heroic type, struggling through the pain, sweating manfully as my muscles strain, and doing all the impressive lifting, rather than lying on my bedroom floor doing Doctor’s-Orders exercises and taking industrial-strength painkillers.
Case in point: about 12 years ago, I was gigging with a band in a bar. Sarah and I weren’t yet married, and obviously, I wanted to be impressive and rock-n’-roll in front of her (still do!). My back had been playing up, and I was not very comfortable, but I was manfully, and with great bulging muscles and plenty of heroic sweat, going to play a proper full-on rock show with my boys and blow people away with our onstage energy, and I was determined to put on a good performance. The other guys in the band had done the you-just-sit-there-while-we-set-things-up-Dan-you-rest-your-back, which was kind, but it meant that they had set up my keyboards all wrong, the stand at the wrong height, and I was in a really tight corner of the stage. I had been terribly British about it, and said that the set-up was fine. I didn’t want to sound ungrateful or diva-ish, but they had done an appalling and shoddy job, frankly. I decided privately that I needed to tweak the set-up to give me a bit more throwing-shapes space, and also to change the height of things, etc.
The bar was now filling up with incredibly beautiful people who were all young and well-dressed with very on-fleek clothing and hair, and were anticipating an impressive show from us. This was a crowd who would thrill to my muscular arms and gasp at my athletic shapes being thrown. I wanted to impress them as much as I wanted to impress Sarah, who was at the bar with the other band girlfriends and a few other chums. So, in a quiet moment, when the incredibly trendy people were indulging themselves and their backs were turned, I went up to the stage and moved one corner of the keyboard stand.
From the back of the room came a shriek of “Dan! NO! You MUSN’T DO THAT!! Think of your BAD BACK!!”, and I looked up as I saw a very stern Sarah parting the crowd and marching over to me. People turned to stare as she came up and berated me, reminding me of my weakery and feebleness, the spotlight of her voice illuminating me, and stripping away my cultured and carefully-manicured aura of cool. Oh bugger.
The gig went on. The keyboards remained at an (ironically) uncomfortable height. I felt like a wheezing old cripple in the corner, unable to rock out properly. The many interesting people in the bar all marvelled at my splendid bandmates, who were throwing their shapes and manhandling equipment without any interference from their partners, while I suffered the indignity of everyone knowing I had a very un-rock-n’-roll bad back.
Of course, this story is proof that I’m really an awful person. Listen to me: I’m being horrible to people who are wonderful, who were actually looking after me, and only have my best interests at heart. They care. They don’t like seeing me hurt. In Sarah’s case, it’s not just the pain I suffer, but also all the slack that she has to pick up if my back is having one of its episodes. My bad back affects everyone around me, and it’s inconsiderate of me to assume it’s just my problem, because when it flares up, then it also confers some of the inconvenience onto everyone else, but usually Sarah.
Having a bad back has very few upsides. It affects work, play, movement, sleep, even sex. It forces me to exhale noisily when I get out of a chair, a bath, a bed, a car, or from any other position other than standing up. I’m sure people notice the massive “UHHHHHH!” and “AHHHHH!” noises I make whenever I rise from sitting. I sound like an elephant seal having an orgasm.
The only upside I can think of from having a bad back is the time I saw a Doctor about it, and instead of the usual bland advice about exercises and bending the knees when I pick something up, she just briskly wrote out a prescription for Diazepam and Tramodol, and instructed me to take them both for a week. And for a week it was, like, hello marshmallow world!
For that week, I existed in a weird fug. It was like being a student again. I was signed off work, and I had nothing better to do. Sarah was still at home looking after Alice, so I had oodles of spare time on my hands. So I wrote and recorded music for a week. But what music. Weird, disjointed music that seemed to be all pillowy, and dark/weird, but I kinda liked it. I’ve tried many times since to get that same wooziness in my recordings, but to no avail – at least, not without sounding contrived.
Here is an example of my music from that week:
OK, so why am I whinging about this on here? What has this got to do with parenting? Well… everything.
I can’t be there like I normally can. I can’t get things for her. I can’t lift heavy items. I can’t rush to comfort her. I can’t bend down to talk to her on her level, I just loom, or glare at her from my position on the floor. To be honest, I don’t like being the incapacitated parent with a ‘health issue’. I don’t want my kid to see me lying around being feeble. I should be active and prancing about, and ready to pick her up and throw her into the air. I should be fixing things and being capable, not incapable. Trouble is, she’s now nearly eight years old, she can look after herself more, and I was never that kind of throwing-kids-around parent anyway.
Also, it’s a matter of pride that she has a Daddy who is strong and dependable. It breaks my heart for me to be lying on the sofa complaining of a bad back, and to have her come over to me and say “Poor Daddy”, and patting me on the arm. It’s sort of sweet, but I wonder if occasionally she’s being sarcastic. The evidence? Well, she doesn’t so much pat my arm, as thump it. That, and she sort of exaggerates the words: “Pooooooor *thump-thump-thump* Daaaaddddyyyyyyy *thump-thump*”.
I should suck it up. Last time it got really serious, I paid for a top-whack chiropraccy back-crack quack to sort me out. And it did, believe it or not. For two glorious years, I got the occasional twinge, but no days on hard floors taking pills that make me go all dub-reggae. I should do that again, if it didn’t cost me a bloody fortune. But I should make the effort to cure this.
Dads do not lie prone on the floor. Dads are not like squeaky doors. Hey, I made a rhyme!! I must be feeling creative. Now I’m off to the Doc to see if I get some pills to make me go all woozy, and I’ll see if I can make some more music that is twatty and weird.