How it happened.
A couple of days ago I was sitting on the bed writing on the laptop when the kitten trotted into the bedroom heading straight for the plant pot. He’s been pretty good at using the litter tray downstairs, but a couple of times he’s become confused by the pot chippings and squatted down there instead.
‘Hey! Solly! No!’
I put my laptop off to the side and leapt off the bed. There was an immediate scrunch of pain in my lower back so sharp it made me grunt and double over. I couldn’t straighten; instead I had to hold onto furniture and shuffle around swearing and gasping until I felt able to hobble downstairs to the medicine cabinet.
Solly hopped up onto the plant pot, blissfully uninterrupted.
So that’s how my back went.
Not kicking down a door to reach a patient. Not climbing through a window or monkeying up a drainpipe. Not hauling a large patient downstairs on the chair, or transferring a morbidly obese patient from a commode to a trolley. Not carrying a drugs pack, response bag, obs kit and Lifepak 15 up four flights of stairs. Not wrestling with an eighteen stone patient to stop them jumping out of the back of the ambulance. Not clearing furniture out of the way to reach someone, or climbing into the back of a wrecked car.
Trying to stop a kitten.
The physio was reassuring. She said I’d probably damaged a vertebral disc, the kind of non-specific back pain that would resolve in a few weeks. If I kept mobile, did the stretching exercises she showed me, used regular pain meds, took up swimming again, or Pilates, it would all be fine. It was a sign of wear and tear, though. Ten years of ambulance work have made me more susceptible to these kinds of injury. I probably ought to change jobs, find something less physically demanding.
So I’m off work for a couple of weeks, and on light duties for a few more after that.
* * *
The next morning, keeping mobile, I took our dog Lola out for a walk across the fields. The mist was starting to clear, but still everything was muffled and cold. As I passed through the gate at the back of the recreation ground, a crow flew up out of an oak tree to my left, less like a bird and more like a branch magically animated and blowing away into nothing.
A man and his dog appeared out of the mist heading the other way.
‘Happy New Year!’ I said.
‘Welcome to the mud,’ he said, pulling his cap lower.
I walked on a haze of pain relief and low thoughts whilst Lola chased around in the gloom.
What if my back didn’t get better? What if the rest of my life was reduced to this level of pain and mobility? Even though I’d always thought of myself as an empathetic person, suddenly it struck me how clueless I really was. All I’d done was wrench my back. The physio seemed confident it would get better. How would it feel to face any of the hundreds of dreadful illnesses I’ve come across over the years? How would I cope then?
Eventually I came to a spot in the walk where I expected to see the wreck of a fallen tree. It had died some years ago, stood in an impressively warped display of old timber, then been blown down in a gale. I’d stopped there many times before because it was so dramatic. The dead wooden trunk had exploded when it hit the ground, scattering into twisted pieces of timber, ploughing up the grass, less like a fallen tree and more like the site of some terrible explosion. But here I was and the wreck of the old tree had completely disappeared. All that was left was a faint shadow on the ground.
Has someone cleared it all away? For firewood? But how did they make the ground right again?
It was only then I realised I’d walked further than I thought. The old tree was fifty yards behind me, still lying in splinters where it had fallen in that storm. In my introspective blur I’d stepped right through the bones without noticing. Not only that, but here I was standing by this new shadow on the ground, something I’d passed a hundred times before and never noticed, the shadow of some other, older tree, long since passed. It seemed significant, but I couldn’t figure out why.
I hobbled home.
Took more pain relief.
Thought about the future.
Wrote about a tree.