No kidding. The title doesn’t lie. Read at your own risk.

purple chairThis purple chair came with my otherwise unfurnished studio apartment. (The dog did not.) It’s a comfortable chair. Since Hekate the laptop moved in in July 2010, it’s been my primary workspace. That’s Hekate in the photo, sitting on my lapdesk. I spend hours a day in that chair.

In the fall of 2011 I sat down too heavily in the chair. The underpinnings collapsed, causing my right butt to fall into a hole. My neighbor/landlord, a very nice and very handy guy, fixed the chair. It was not an easy job.

This time the underpinnings of the chair collapsed gradually. My right butt was sinking again. I propped the seat cushion up with a couple of town reports. It seemed to work OK. Over the next few days I added several back issues of the Island Book and a coffee-table-size softcover. It still seemed to work OK. Monday afternoon I set up a Cyber Rally-O course and ran it with Travvy. As it turned out, we finished our Level IV CRO title, huzzah huzzah. I still felt OK.

Trav and I playbow to each other on Monday afternoon. I would love to be able to bend at that angle again!

Trav and I playbow to each other on Monday afternoon. I would love to be able to bend at that angle again!

By late Tuesday afternoon my back had had it. The first time the chair broke, I developed some discomfort in the lower back/butt area. This time it went way beyond discomfort. This was screaming pain. Finally I stopped trying to sit in the chair. I sat on my balance ball instead. Hekate still sat on the lapdesk, and the lapdesk on the arms of the chair, but now they faced in the opposite direction.

Tuesday night I had a hard time getting undressed for bed. Wednesday morning, it took at least 15 minutes to pull my underwear, longjohns, and socks on. This was serious. What did I do? I posted on Facebook, of course: “Lower back pain makes me mad at the world.”

This elicited much commiseration and some good advice. The best piece of advice was “Advil.” I don’t do painkillers. A small bottle of aspirin generally lasts me several years past the expiration date. It’s not that I’m stoic — well, OK, I’m a born-and-bred New Englander, so I guess I’m a little bit stoic, but mostly it’s that deep down I don’t believe that anything available over the counter could possibly work. Advil, my friends told me, is not just a painkiller: it also reduces inflammation.

I was wrong. Advil works. (Have since been told that 600 mg, meaning three tabs, are advised if you want serious relief. One 200 mg tab every 5–6 hours has been working nicely for me.) The second-best piece of advice was “ice.” Into the freezer went the cold pack I acquired during my horsegirl days. I take it out every few hours and lie on it for 15–20 minutes. Travvy can’t figure out what I’m doing on the floor.

Apart from my crappy teeth and my funky vision, my body has been remarkably low maintenance for all of my almost 62 years. My mind needs constant attention; my body almost none. Body and mind are, of course, closely connected, so body’s current challenge has sharpened mind’s perceptions. Among them —

Pain makes me cautious. Actions I usually undertake without thinking, like getting into and out of the car, provoke instant and unpleasant feedback. This morning I felt almost normal as long as I lay on my back in bed. Usually I throw back the covers and yell “Breakfast time for the puppy!” whereupon Travvy jumps off the bed, does a playbow, and waits for me to join him. Puppy did get his breakfast this morning, but it took a lot longer.

Pain underscores details generally taken for granted. Who knew how many different movements and muscles were involved in pulling on a pair of socks?

Pain makes me self-absorbed. Accomplishing the smallest task, like pulling on socks or getting out of the car, requires my total attention.

Pain makes me more observant. In Oak Bluffs on Wednesday afternoon I noticed how gingerly that woman got off the bus, and how watchful her companion was. A man on the sidewalk near Reliable Market walked as if he didn’t quite trust his knees. I wondered how he gets dressed in the morning.

Pain shortens my fuse. This morning I yelled at Travvy three times for doing stuff that wouldn’t have fazed me in the least if I didn’t hurt. Like when he pounces on a vole or is just so excited he has to zoom round in circles.

Pain makes me more tolerant. If I’m cranky because my body’s screaming at me, how about the person who snapped at me in the shop or brushed me off when I called for more information? And if my body can give me such grief because it sat in a broken chair for too many hours, how about the woman who’s had to spend hours, years, decades, on her knees scrubbing floors or the guy who’s contorted his body into tight spaces to mine coal?

So at the moment I’m thinking that pain is, yes, a pain, but it’s also a way of calling attention to that which should not be ignored. Tuesday I’m taking Malvina Forester off-island for four new tires and an oil change. I’ll be shopping for a new chair on the same trip.

About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has been preoccupied with electoral politics since 2016. She just started a blog about her vintage T-shirt collection: "The T-Shirt Chronicles." Her other blogs include "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories," about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard, and "Write Through It," about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
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8 Responses to Whine

  1. Dennis Shanley says:

    Just don’t even think about shoveling snow. That’s what high school kids are for.


  2. Susan Robinson says:

    So sorry to hear this, Susanna. As a person with congenital abnormalities, I’ve had back pain all my adult life. The only thing that’s helped and it really helps is a back support with magnets in it. It’s 7 1/2 inches tall and velcroes in front. I weigh 130 lbs and use a large. I got it from Cutting Edge Catalog (see Google) and it’s what’s allowed me to get out of bed, take long walks, stand at sstove a All this in case the new chair and your other approaches don’t do the job.


    • I am going to keep this in mind. Thanks. I’m afraid that if I’d had to deal with this all my life, I would have crawled under a rock — but maybe not. Maybe it would have been too boring under that rock and I would have crawled back out again.


  3. Shirley says:

    So sorry about your pain, Susannah – I know what you’re saying. I have a very hard time pulling on my socks every day, not because of pain but because I just don’t bend very easily anymore. I have a gadget that may help you – I’ll bring it to Cynthia’s tomorrow – if I go. My car is under a lump of snow and I’m inclined to wait until Monday’s temperature and rain wash it off before I attempt to go anywhere.
    If you are going to Hyannis, Cardi’s is an excellent furniture store – I bought a wonderful recliner there that I love – it fits me perfectly at any angle – lying down or sitting up. Barbo’s in Falmouth is good also, but I like Cardi’s better. Good luck!
    Love, Shirley


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