As Strong as an Oak Tree

As Strong as an Oak Tree

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Say Goodbye to Back Pain!

As Strong as an Oak Tree

“How is your back?” seems to be the way most people greet me now. They don’t say, “Hi, good to see you! What have you been going?” Nope, they ask, “How is your back?”

I’d been galloping my horse over the crest of a hill and there was a sudden sharp drop into a deep ravine. The horse stopped but I didn’t. I was thrown over the horse’s head and down into the ravine. I hit the ground hard. My back felt as if it was on fire and I could barely move my left leg without screaming. I was miles from anyone, with no cell phone, and no one knew where I was. I live alone so it could have been a week or more before anyone noticed I was missing. I had no choice but to crawl out of the ravine, pull myself back up into the saddle and ride my horse home. It was a long and extremely painful ride.

It was six hours after the injury before I could get medical help. I was in agony. The doctor said nothing was broken, my spine was slightly crooked, and one vertebra was knocked out of alignment, but he didn’t think anything could or should be done about it. I was to let my body heal naturally. He said to use crutches until my leg stopped hurting.

I hobbled around on crutches for three weeks, then hobbled around without them for another three weeks. I slowly regained the use of my leg and didn’t waddle like a duck anymore. I could finally put my left foot flat on the floor. I’d been tiptoeing on it since the fall.

My back still felt like it was on fire, especially if I bent over to pick up something. I also had a knot the size of a golf ball in the middle of my back and if I sat in a hard-backed chair or bumped the lump, it would send a sharp pain through my back.

My friends suggested a back brace, a variety of treatments and medications, and a different doctor. They warned me that a “woman my age” needed to be careful because if I fell again I could be crippled or paralyzed. After all, I was sixty-eight years old and not a kid anymore. I couldn’t just go around doing the things I did when I was young.

I became careful and fearful. I took smaller steps when I walked. I sat in soft chairs. My back became an excuse not to do things. What if I fell? What if I got hurt again? What if that crooked vertebra decided to slip out of place? What if?

Friends still greeted me with, “How’s your back?” I felt like there was more to me than just my back and began feeling like my back had a social life of its own. It could start going to parties by itself while the rest of me stayed home. I was no longer a woman — I was a woman with a back problem. Or maybe I was a back problem with a woman attached.

When people asked me how I was doing, I’d tell them “I’m doing okay I guess. I’m 90% healed,” or “I’m 99% healed.” I wondered if someone asked me if I was alive I would answer, “I’m 90% alive” or “I’m 99% alive.” It was as if I had to maintain a bit of my injury to keep my membership in the club that I seemed to have joined.

I was sympathetic to those who were suffering from various injuries and ailments but it seemed every contact with my friends turned into an “organ recital” where we all complained about what was wrong with our organs. All we seemed to talk about was a grocery list of illnesses, medications and doctors.

My back pain had become a “pain in the neck.” I wasn’t enjoying life. I decided to do something about it.

As soon as I woke up every morning I told myself how great I felt. I stopped “being careful.” I took longer strides when I walked. I stood up straighter. My back was healing but I had allowed well-meaning people to make me think of myself as “the woman with the back problem.” I decided I would no longer discuss my health or my back with anyone.

I began to picture my spine as the trunk of a tree, my head, arms and legs were the branches. I pictured a strong, sturdy oak tree, capable of supporting its limbs and withstanding any storm. Instead of thinking my back was weak because it had been injured in a fall, I began to think how amazingly strong it had been to endure such a bad fall and not break.

I began to believe I had an incredibly strong spine. After all, it had survived a trauma. It was still a little crooked but it functioned normally. The lump on my back was getting smaller and would disappear in another month.

I found my courage again and began doing everything I loved. I started riding my horse again; I went ice skating and hiking. The less my back hurt, the less I thought about it, or perhaps it worked the other way around and the less I thought about my back the less it hurt.

Will I gallop my horse across the hills again? Yes, because I love riding. Will I fall off my horse again? Well, I hope not, but I might. Will I fall down if I go ice-skating? Probably, because I’m not very good at ice-skating, but I enjoy it. Will I live my life in constant fear of what “might” happen? No, definitely not. I will live my life to the fullest every day. I will not be foolish, but I will not be “careful” or “fearful” and I will not live half of a life. Life is a great adventure, or it is nothing.

If anyone asks me how I’m doing, I’ll say, “I’m doing great!”

~ April Knight ~

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