I am a Sad Pathetic Old Man.

I threw out my back yesterday. I threw out my fucking back.

I’ve never done that before.

I was doing that thing where you pump the free weights over your head— what do they call that, Military Press? Grabbed them like I’ve done a thousand times before, and whump. It was like someone snapped a rubber band in my lower back. I had to crawl around on all fours to put away the equipment. And of course the pones had pile in the door from school just in time to mock me. Not a gram of empathy in either of those sociopathic little bodies.

I can’t even use the treadmill. I tried a couple of hoppy steps on the stairs this morning— I mean, it’s not like you need your lower back for running, right?  You can do lots of things without your lower back. Turns out, not so much.

I don’t know how long healing will take. (It better heal— and by the way, where are all the transhumanists and NanoMed people when you need them, huh? Where’s the fucking Wolverine mutation?) The silver lining, I suppose, is that I now have six or seven extra hours this week freed up to finish this dumb story I’m supposed to hand in at the end of the year. (And to those who asked in the comments on last week’s fiblet: yes, this is another story set in the universe of “The Island”. I’m writing a series of those: Another one is supposedly coming out “Fall 2013″— although the anthology in which it’s slotted to appear still doesn’t even show up on Amazon yet, so who knows.)

Beyond-the-Rift-coverI’ll console myself by rereading the recent reviews for Beyond the Rift, which have been pretty good. Publisher’s Weekly grudgingly admits that I have “skill as a writer”. SF Signal glows. Library Journal apparently recommends me to people who appreciate “a good SF short story”, although not being a subscriber I have to take Barnes & Noble’s word for it. Paul di Filippo, writing in another corner of B&N’s (apparently not-dead-yet) empire, describes BtR as a “knockout collection” while lamenting it as one of the year’s “overlooked” titles— although it wasn’t overlooked by the folks at the Milwaukie Journal Sentinel, who selected it as one of a dozen “Editor’s Picks” for 2013 (along with a Nora Ephron Sampler, a cultural history of “Fiddler on the Roof”, and a book about Norman Rockwell). Various bloggers are being almost suspiciously kind.

But my favorite pull quote has to come from Gary Wolfe, who — in addition to being perhaps the only reviewer to realize that “A Word for Heathens” is an alternate-history tale— wrote in his Locus review that my

“grimmest stories celebrate at least the possibility of survival, while his lightest ones touch upon things like the Holocaust…”

Ah yes. I am an author who, in his more light-hearted moments, takes a break from the usual grind to write stories about genocide. No wonder I can’t get any damn reader reviews on Amazon.

Still, I’ll take it. Just make sure, if you do get the book, that you read the  Outtro. It puts things in perspective.

Sorry about all the tub-thumping. I miss the science posts too— but it takes a solid day to do a decent job on one of those, and right now I’m feeling guilty about spending a measly hour or two blogging when I have a story to finish and not many days to finish it. I still haven’t even figured out whether coronal hoops or solar eruptions are more likely to induce free will in the human brain…

Oh, and did I mention I threw out my back?

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Tuesday December 17 2013at 08:12 am , filed under reviews, whinge . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

37 Responses to “I am a Sad Pathetic Old Man.”

  1. Lower back problems are no good. From personal experience I highly recommend Stuart McGill’s books on the subject. You will want to get in the habit of abdominal bracing (both in rehab and when lifting, overhead or not).

    On the other hand, if injuries make you finish stories more quickly, forget I said anything!

  2. I threw out my back once and was pathetic for 3 to 4 days iirc. I got one of these things, http://www.laptop-laidback.com so that I could work from the floor.

    Before that came in the mail Carl put something together from scraps of wood and metal.

  3. My understanding is that the British Navy kept whiskey on their ships for medicinal purposes for exactly this kind of eventuality. If your spine is still out in a week’s time we can evaluate that theory.

  4. I’ve got the number of a good non-charlatan chiropractor by broadview station if your back doesn’t clear up in a couple of days.

  5. Was a long time ago I threw mine out. Recall sliding into/out of bed, crawling to bathroom for first several days.

    However, did injure my back a few nights ago when it got so damn cold in the house I slept in a funny position (read: likely fetal) and between that and 6 or 7 inches of that which many members of Congress just knows *proves* climate change is a hoax, my gym visits are on hold.

    As for Wolfe’s review snippet, I’d take that as a compliment. Gotta be a way to angle it toward lovers of the Hitler/History and Science channels anyway. Maybe you need a synthesist PR person, lol.

    Get well soon.

  6. Mine blew out 4 years ago. Crawling for weeks, unless I used a staircase to help get vertical. Then a cane and a back brace (an obusforme I still use in my car, which helps a LOT), always afraid of slipping and falling…still. I spent a LOT of time walking around Home Depot with a cart, not buying much (but I knew the stock better than the employees). Apparently us tall folks are more susceptible to lower back issues than the trolls….whoops, I mean short people. I’m told that increasing the # of vertebrae (as opposed to the height of them) would be helpful, but we can’t do that yet. I changed a bunch of habits….only sit in hard chairs, changed my sleeping position (I now use a bawdy, no dammit, body pillow), changed my mattress (memory foam is apparently a bad bad bad idea my spinal neurosurgeon tells me) to a much firmer one. I now write standing at a small podium on my desk…I can tell if I’ve been sitting at it too long for sure. Things are back to 95%, altho’ I still feel a little fragile at times (which means I need to change something I’m doing…usually it means I’ve slept on a soft mattress or spent too much time sitting at my desk). Figure out what you gotta change that helps your back…..which can take some time. The “sunshine” bit is that if you figure out what to change then odds aren’t bad that you’ll get back to mostly normal…it took me a couple of years. Best of luck Pete. And Merry Christmas.

  7. Exactly what happened to me this morning. I was trying to load something to my wife’s car (not very heavy payload; not much you can put into Mini’s trunk). Something snapped in my back, had to literally crawl home. Doctor said it will take three days just to be able to walk properly. So, having that much free time I started checking favourite blogs, found you to have similar indisposition. Coincidence. Hope we both get better soon.

  8. Ouch. Damn.

  9. If it makes you feel any better, at least mentally, I’ve been throwing my back out about once a year for the last 7 years or so. And I’m only about to turn 32. Turns out exercises that strengthen your core (stomach; deep muscles) are really good for lower back problems.

    Usually, when my back stops functioning and furniture becomes my only way to get and stay vertical, I spend a week on the couch. There are exercises to straighten you out that you can do rolling on the floor; there’s physical therapy that’ll teach you all that and more, but in the end rest is the best. I had good luck with a chiropractor a couple months back the last time I was getting bad, but it ends up being a bit pricey for only moderate improvement.

    In short: Do whatever, haha. I’d recommend at least having a PT teach you the exercises that’ll improve your core, but as a repeat offender, I’m probably not in much of a position to recommend anything. Get well soon!

    Haven’t read the book yet, but really looking forward to it post holiday.

  10. Ouch … that sucks … “threw” out my back for the first time at a much more tender age than yourself. Thought I was gonna die – I didn’t. I must have had the longest running series of Doctors in Canada who do NOT believe in freely dispensing happy pills – or even muscle relaxers. DAMN! Dr Hall’s book was useful: http://www.amazon.ca/The-Back-Doctor-Hamilton-Hall/dp/0770426190

    You’re getting older – you can still do LOTS of shit – you just have to be careful. Could be worse – I now need hearing aids from too many years of flying around in noisy airplanes. I pretty much had to admit I was old when I had to find my Fucking reading glasses to change the batteries in my FUCKING hearing aids … FUUUUUUUCCCCKKKK! Take care.

  11. My back used to go out once every 11 years, almost like clock-work. More recently it’s been once every two or three.

    Anyway, in my personal experience, there are two keys to a quick recovery.

    First, a muscle relaxant before bed, to make the quivering bastards *relax*. As much *gentle* exercise as you can manage without (too much) pain. Walking, gentle stretching, etc. Motion is Good.

    (If schadenfreude makes you feel any better, one of my worst episodes came about not from using free weights but from reaching down to a coffee-table to pick up a news-paper clipping. It took me the better part of an hour to reach my phone and call a friend to help me into bed.

  12. On the plus side, you’re old enough to be safely dead before shit truly hits the fan.

  13. I just re-read A Word For Heathens and it seems very obvious that it’s alternate history, even if you only have a very limited knowledge of the history of Christianity. It’s brilliant.

  14. May you recover soon. Ow. I’ve done similar terrible things to my neck and . . . I do not envy you.

    excited about new collection.

  15. …it’s not like you need your lower back for running, right?

    What, seriously? What do you think the lumbar flexure is for?

    Hope you’re feeling better soon. One of my anatomy instructors told me once that all male humans have experienced at least some lower back pain by the time that they were 45. Still priding myself on having beaten the odds.

  16. Dude, if that’s a herniated disc, you are in for 12 weeks of hell. No joke. They have an operation they do now but it means they fuck around with shit near your spinal cord! So do yourself a favour and make sure it’s not that. I had one at L5/S1 that made me a Percocet-gobbling, grimacing, hobbling bent over crone for 12 looooonnnng weeks. Acupuncture helped. I don’t know how or why but it did. Get that looked at, will ya? And your book’s my Xmas wish list.

  17. Good luck with that, man. On the plus side, your job is not entirely hostile to the immobilized.

  18. I threw my back out a couple of years ago too. I shit you not, it took me nearly three fucking hours of rooting through the garbage before I finally found it. Washing off the old coffee grounds and banana peels was no small feat either. Despite all that, the thing STILL smells funny.

    I tell you, the next time I throw out my back, I’m just gonna go get a brand new one at the Back Store.

    *I’ll show myself out*

  19. I had some lower back trouble a couple of years ago that manifested itself in my sciatic nerve – at its worst, I could barely walk. My doctor sent me for physio to these people (on Yonge St, south of King) http://www.cbi.ca/web/toronto-physiotherapy/home and it really helped. They specialize in back problems.

  20. Ah, like others above, I’ve been there. It started last summer, pushing my motorcycle around, wrenched a muscle in my inner thigh and literally could not walk for several days. Now, all these musclely things are connected, see? So the leg muscle is connected to the ass muscles, the back muscles, etc. and this summer I trashed a lower back muscle, then slipped and fell in the bath (while trying to relieve the agony in my back) and broke my ribs on the other side. You can imagine what a happy camper I was. It was actually several weeks of not being able to roll over in bed, or sit up, or sit on anything softer than a cinder block. Going for a massage made it even worse. Even the idea of lounging on a cushy sofa was sickening. So, your friends above are all correct about the muscle relaxants, the core strengthening, the wooden board for a bed, et al. I would only add one thing – the little muscles that thread their way between your legs and up your lower abdomen – women like to Kegel these – are somehow key to keeping your back in flexible and strong shape. And you can easily do your Kegels while you’re writing, in fact, you better start doing some right now! Call me if you want me to come and visit, to make fun of you, and bring you an Irish coffee.

  21. Possibly relevant? Certain formations in the brain predict whether or not the back pain becomes chronic pain:

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130917093908.htm
    Abstract:
    http://www.painjournalonline.com/article/S0304-3959(13)00365-5/abstract

  22. Peter, thanks for the link back. I know you’re being sarcastic, but the collection is not ‘suspiciously’ good. It really is good. It possesses more depth and integrity than the majority of genre rot being published these days.

    “A Word for Heathens” being alternate history, ok. I had mistakenly interpreted it as a bizarre, far future scenario wherein society has reverted to an authoritarian religion and is controlled via the head implant technology described. I suppose the mistake comes down to my lack of knowledge regarding history and religion, and were I to have had that knowledge in place, the story’s setting would perhaps have been obvious.

    Regarding your back, try the McKenzie Method. I’ve thrown my back out three times. Stupid male that I am, I thought the first two were just ‘muscle pulls’, but after the third decided to investigate further. I’ve been using the McKenzie for three years and am able to fully participate in all sports, including basketball and badminton, both of which require a lot of rotation and twisting of the spine. I’m 36 years old, so there’s hope for you.

  23. Commiserations and hope you get better soon. Nurofens are your friend. If it’s not too serious, you should be able to walk around (although stairs will still be a hassle) fairly soon.

  24. I have found that having an 18 inch titanium rod bolted to your spine, and having all of your vertebrae fused together, almost guarantees that you never throw your back out. But I would try muscle relaxers, alcohol and a heating pad first.

  25. Read something about back pain being related to the bacteria that cause tooth decay being found in the spine.

    Anyway, I too had an episode last year, it was like that pain you get before you crack the joint, but instead of going away with a satisfactory pop, it kept getting worse. I was only 36 (A child!) so I was outraged and disconcerted.

    The area still feels a little tender a year and a half from then, but I’ve kept it under control with some half assed yoga poses that seemed to help reinforce the muscles.

    Fucking biology, I tells ya.

  26. PW found “Mayfly” optimistic? Yow. Must have been my fault. BTW, the book came today. Very nice.

    Sorry about the back, but welcome to my life. If it isn’t one thing falling apart, it’s another. My and my physiotherapist, we’re thisclose.

  27. Hmmm. It looks like chaosium.com had a release for Extreme Planets on Nov 1, then deleted it. Google has it chached though:

    http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:8uK5teL8zrMJ:www.chaosium.com/article.php%3Fstory_id%3D541+&cd=4&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us

    As soon as someone puts up a buy now button I’m clicking it.

    Sorry about your back. I’m 38 and have never thrown out my lower back, but I have pinched nerves in my middle back, rediculous amounts of pain for a week or so. Also i seem to be prone to pinching something that makes it painfull to turn my head, and this seems to run down my back somewhere too.

  28. Keith Soltys: My doctor sent me for physio to these people (on Yonge St, south of King) and it really helped.

    Hey, I think I’ve been to those guys! Down in the basement, right? I went there a few years back, when I ripped my hamstrings.

    Jesse: “A Word for Heathens” being alternate history, ok. I had mistakenly interpreted it as a bizarre, far future scenario wherein society has reverted to an authoritarian religion and is controlled via the head implant technology described. I suppose the mistake comes down to my lack of knowledge regarding history and religion,

    It was actually a pretty subtle reference — the bishop talks about a “thousand-year rennaissance” following the reign of Constantine, which would put the time at about 1300 AD by our measure. But I wasn’t being coy; the story originally appeared in anthology of explicit alternate-history stories (ReVisions, Julie Czerneda editor), so all the original readers knew the score going in.

    (And thanks for the kind review (suspicious or not). I’m still kind of surprised that anyone would even think a collection of my stuff would be viable.)

    ken: *I’ll show myself out*

    Yes. You do that.

    Anony Mouse: I have found that having an 18 inch titanium rod bolted to your spine, and having all of your vertebrae fused together, almost guarantees that you never throw your back out.

    As you know, I’ve always preferred to think of your predicament as one of having a giant stick up your ass.

    RedIndianGirl: Dude, if that’s a herniated disc, you are in for 12 weeks of hell.

    I think it’s muscular. At least, it’s better now than it was yesterday. I even managed to hustle my butt outside with a scoop of kibble when the stray scruffy black cat who hasn’t been seen for a week suddenly made a reappearance after several days of bitter cold.

    He is snarfing as I type. Still won’t let me anywhere near him, though.

    G and Shiela and Greggles (“greggles?” Really?) and whoever and Mike and ninsei and jrronimo and Deckard and jeffrey and ken and keith and diane and nestor and derryl: thank you for making me feel, if not less old, and least not quite as old as.

  29. I’ve come to the realization that I’m a grumpy old man. Something happened to me after turning a half-century, like low energy and more aches and pains. I keep asking myself, what the fuck happened to me?

    On a brighter note, I picked up a copy of Beyond the Rift from my local bookstore yesterday.

  30. Peter, since you are a bendy-stretchy kind of guy due to being accustomed to stretching before running — you do stretch before running, right? — there’s a stretch I learned after having a really bad lower-back problem for years. If I can articulate this right it may be something that will help you.

    Find a corner to stand in, just so that you have two walls to put a hand on in case you need to stabilize.

    Do whatever other stretching you normally do, in particular if you do slow stomach crunches be sure to do those as the core stomach area muscles provide a lot of stabilization for the spine.

    Now stand in the corner, facing one wall. Now do this:

    Right hand ready to go to wall fore or right, otherwise leave it relaxed at side if possible. Left hand on left buttock, palm out (looking down at left hand, rotate counter-clockwise, hard to do, I know!).

    Lift left foot by bending at the knee, no hip movement other than perhaps backwards, more or less bring your foot up to the buttocks. Carefully attempt to grasp inside of left foot with inside of left hand. (It may take a few days to work up to this. Move slowly and don’t jerk or pain will be your guide.) Part of lifting up is to get your lower spine recurved into the way it is supposed to be.

    Gently pull left foot upwards as far as it will easily go. Once it gets to the top, use the inside of your left hand grasping the inside of your left foot, and gently push leftwards, horizontal to the ground, elbow as close to the spine and ribs as possible. You may feel some slight popping in the lower back, this is supposed to happen and for most lower-back problems it is good if it does. Keep pushing a bit forward as well. More or less rotate the thighbone vertically around its axis using the flexed knee and lower-leg as a lever. Allow to slowly return to start position of heel-to-buttock and only then gently release and extend, unbending the knee. Now do the same thing on the other side.

    If nothing else, this is a bit of yoga type movement that will strengthen the lines of muscles and tendons up and down the leg and back. I was getting nowhere better with my own bad back until I learned this and started doing it every day. After about 4 weeks pain was very well managed, and at 6 months almost non-existent.

    Remember, you can see all of the doctors you want, but they cannot exercise for you.

    If you try this and mere agony escalates to Someting Beyond Words, herniated disc sounds like a real possibility. But in most cases lower-back pain not resulting from fairly obvious trauma tends to be fairly quickly fixed by the exercises detailed above.

    Get Well Soon and have a Super Solstice!

  31. for stretching, a PT friend recommends Stretching by Bob Anderson. When I threw out my back, I picked some of the stretching exercise that could be done on the floor for the back.

  32. Yes. Greggles. Deal.
    Glad to hear your back is improving, I first threw mine out about 6 years ago, lifting a small iron. As in for ironing a shirt. It took me 5 minutes to get down on the floor, I still remember the incredible sense of bliss from the sensation of a nice solid floor under my back.

  33. Peter, I would recommend checking out Williams Exercises. My father, a physician, suffers from lower back pain and recommend them to me. Specifically the double knee to the chest – he performs this every morning. He is a gastroenterologist, so take this with a grain of salt :)

    Glad to hear that you seem to be improving.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Williams_Flexion_Exercises

  34. First time I threw out my back it was a severe muscle spasm; I was 32. It’s happened two or three times since then in the last five years. As others mentioned above, core strengthening exercise is the way to go or would be if I wasn’t too lazy to do it. Prescription strength muscle relaxants, that’s my solution, plus deep and sincere efforts at denying the existence of the aging process.

  35. Hey, I go out on a long assignment, and when I get back, one of my favorite writers turns out to have done something described as “throwing out one’s back”. I had to go visit mr. Webster, there.

    Anyway, did you at least get an MRI ?

  36. Two silent weeks on the topic, you must be better by now, right?

    Having had back pain sporadically for, oh, about sixty years now off and on, the ‘what worked for me’ response:

    http://www.abebooks.com/Maggies-back-book-Healing-hurt-lower/5554047274/bd
    Summary: anything that stops the pain lets inflammation subside and back muscles start healing. Positions therefor, for all purposes.

    Contractor’s stretchy-velcro belly-band with suspenders, just for a day or two if you have to move around — because all the weight in the gut is hanging off the inside of the spinal column and bouncing that up and down hurts. Reducing gravity or its effect takes some of that load off the little muscles around the spine that handle keeping everything cantilevered properly. Again just briefly, make the pain stop. Not for exertion.

    My summary, 20 years ago, when I finally quit toughing this stuff out: I could keep moving around in increasing pain for two or three weeks, until I had to spend a few days with my lower back flat on a board, a washcloth folded under the tailbone, pillow under my knees, studying the ceiling, like Maggie shows how to do. Or I could just do that when it hurts, and maybe only need a few hours or a day or two.

    Even better, though — just believe it’ll never happen to you again. Could be true.

  37. Yup, more or less fixed now. Got back to lifting weights a couple of weeks back, although I’m still avoiding the high-end stuff that threw my back out in the first place.

    I’d probably be working out right now, in fact, if this stupid head cold hadn’t come back for an encore…