June 22nd, 2015

Epic Fail

There's a syndrome for everything that hurts, and most things that don't

I’ve been diagnosed with Acute Mechanical Back Syndrome.

Yeah, I hurt my back.

Chronic pain is different from acute pain, which isn’t cute at all. Years ago I spent several hours at a business fire, most of it with a steel breathing air tank on my back because I was a dumb rookie. You know those big external fuel tanks on the space shuttle? Like that, only on your back. The newer air tanks are lighter, but—too late.

Now my back hurts all the time more or less, but you get used to it. More or less. Chronic back pain is like members of Congress who just keep getting elected, and never quite go away.

Then there’s acute pain. One time at an accident scene I pulled a back muscle while helping to carry a body up an embankment. (Yeah.) I managed to crab-walk into the rescue truck, got home without whimpering too much, and died. This was back in the days when firefighters didn’t admit to pain, or to being without insurance.

That’s acute pain, which I don’t usually get in exciting ways. At fires I’ve had ceilings fall on me, faced venting propane tanks, been on burning roofs, and once I missed a step in a smoke-filled building and fell down a flight of stairs.  (I’ve also done that in buildings that weren’t burning, but I’d rather not talk about it.) Generally I’m a pretty dull person, but every now and then I get into a situation.

But when I really get hurt? Never an interesting story, unless I embellish. This time, for instance, I’ve been laid up for days with intense lower back pain. What did I do? Rescue a kitten from a bear? Put out a flaming cocktail bar? Yank on Chuck Norris’ cowboy hat?


I jumped over a puddle.

Yep. Just did an extra-big scissor step over some water, and felt a “twang!” like an overstretched guitar string. Then came the acute pain.
“I’ll be better tomorrow,” I told my wife. I wasn’t. I hurt so bad I couldn’t even write. Luckily for me she’s an excellent nurse, although she did overdo it a bit on al the stuff she made me do. Heat, cold, pills, rest—sheesh. On Monday I crawled into the doctor’s office, and he prescribed some stuff that had me counting the little rainbows spinning around on the ceiling. Then he gave me possibly the best advise any man who wants to heal could possibly get:

“Do whatever your wife tells you to.”

Yeah, those breathing air tanks. I had more air and more hair.