Are you the kind of person who will develop back problems? Take this easy test.
l. Are you alive?
2. Are you getting older?
3. Do you ever pick things up?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, back problems are probably in your future. (Eighty percent of adults experience them at some point.)
“But I’m not the kind of person who has back problems!” you protest.
That’s what everyone says. Right up until the moment his or her back goes out.
What did mine in was decades of library work. Hours spent lifting small weights (books). And heavier weights (reference books). Not to mention carrying carton after carton of donated books from the vestibule where patrons dropped them off into the storage room. All of which I handled with the casual assumption that I was, and would always be, Superwoman.
I thought nothing of stooping, hoisting up a mammoth box of books, then lugging it the length of the library.
People tried to warn me. “Watch your back!” a patron would caution as I staggered by with a large box.
“Thanks!” I would respond, while thinking: “Back problems? Me? Not a chance.”
Then one morning I got out of bed and I couldn’t stand up. My back refused to bear my weight. I hit the floor, then crawled back into bed and phoned my sister, who has coped with back problems for years.
“I’ll be right there with a heating pad,” she said. “First, you need to heat it. Then you need to ice it. And then you need Michele.”
Michele is her (and now my) physical therapist.
After working with Michele, and dutifully doing my exercises each morning, I’ve gotten to the point where I can function again.
But I’ll never be the same. I can no longer sit for any length of time before the pain starts creeping in. Or lift anything heavier than a Yorkiepoo. Which is say, five pounds. That’s two library books. (Unless you’re talking about the first volume of Mark Twain’s autobiography, which, at close to 800 pages is closer to a Bichon.)
As my co-workers zip around with big stacks of books, I’ve learned to limit myself to two, one in each hand.
Or else I use a book cart, which is what I should have done in the first place. (My boss used to pester me to use a book cart. Naturally, I ignored her. You hate to think that your boss could be right about anything.)
I know what you’re thinking: “There’s nothing wrong with MY back!”
Nonsense. You’re just one sports injury, crazy dance move or well-intentioned offer to help a pal carry that armoire up to the attic from Broke-Back Boomer.
When your back does, inevitably, go out, here’s my advice: Do your exercises. Never lift heavy objects. And, most important, channel Nancy Reagan: Learn to “Just Say No.”
I used to be the first one to pitch in to get the job done.
Help move your ex-boyfriend’s marimba out to the curb? I’d love to. Hold those six bags of groceries for a moment while you get the front door open? No problem. Hoist Voldemort, your labradoodle, into the mud room sink for a paw wash after he comes in from a backyard romp? Easily done!
But now, if it needs to be picked up, lifted, carried or moved, I’m no longer available.
And don’t even think of asking me to go with you to Ikea.
My man just became a grandpa for the first time. He can hold baby Brock for hours. I can hold him for, at most, 10 minutes.
By the time my son places my own first grandchild in my arms, I want to be able to hold him. Easily. For a good long time.
So I’ll continue to do back-strengthening exercises. And to refrain, however much I want to, from helping you lift that fallen tree limb off your Toyota. Not only that, but, for the sake of my back, I’ve done two things I thought I would never do.
Practice yoga. And acquire wheeled luggage.
I always thought people with rolling suitcases looked rather silly, like grown-up toddlers with a pull-toy. Now I’m the proud owner of a sky blue Samsonite Lift Easy with multidirectional spinner wheels. And while I’m way too impatient by nature to actually want to slow down, breathe deeply and assume the Upside Down Turtle or Backward Facing Squirrel, you’ll find me on the mat every Monday and Wednesday for “Gentle Yoga With Georgette.”
Should I have accepted these changes more gracefully? You bet. After all, I’m pushing 60. Nobody expected my Grandmother to hoist large objects at this age. If she needed something moved, she thought nothing of asking for help. And we were always happy to lend a hand.
But I’m a boomer. Forever young. And a feminist. (I am Woman! Hear me Roar! Then watch me lift this heavy box!)
Even so, the strength I really need now is the strength to cope with my own limitations. To ask for help when I need it. (And to refrain from hollering “Watch your back, you idiot!” every time I see you go by carrying anything heavier than a Yorkiepoo.)