Twist and Shout

Twist and Shout

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

Twist and Shout

I’d never really understood what people meant when they claimed they’d thrown out their backs. I’d thrown out faded towels, broken alarm clocks and even coffee grounds, but never my back… nor any other part of my anatomy. I didn’t get it.

And then one day I did. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I’d been flying back to Belize City from a conference in Trinidad. When the plane taxied to a stop, I jumped up and bent down to retrieve my duffle bag from under my seat. As I straightened up, I shrieked with pain, startling my fellow passengers, and especially the flight attendants, who hustled down the aisle towards my side.

“What’s wrong?”

I was crying so hard I could hardly get the words out. “I’ve done something bad to the right side of my back,” I finally managed.

They called for a wheelchair to transport me to the baggage claim. Lucky for me, the Peace Corps driver had already pulled up at the curb, just as we’d prearranged. I couldn’t tolerate sitting outdoors for long in the sultry 100-degree tropical heat.

“Going home to Regent Street?” he asked, helping me from the wheelchair to the car.

“No. I have to stop by the office first and see Nurse Jackie.”

Nurse Jackie had been the Peace Corps Medical Officer since I’d been a Volunteer. She gave us our gamma globulin shots, dispensed our Aralen prophylactic pills to guard against malaria, and assessed us for the usual array of scrapes, bruises and fevers that seemed to befall us continually.

“What’d you do, girl?” Nurse Jackie frowned as she watched me creep across the floor.

“I hurt my back somehow. I don’t understand it. I only reached under the plane seat to get my bag.”

“Were you standing up, and then leaned to the side?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Done say it,” Nurse Jackie commented, as she slipped into Belizean Creole, shaking her head.

I felt relieved immediately, because “done say it” translated into “Okay, I hear you, I’ve got your number.” Nurse Jackie would know what to do. Maybe I’d be able to stand up straight once again, or sit down, or even take a few unaided steps.

“I’m giving you a muscle relaxant and I’ll ask the driver to take you home. Get in bed and stay there as much as you can for the next couple of days. You’ve pulled a muscle in your lower back and I’ll tell you exactly how you did it.”

“I just leaned over to the side,” I sputtered.

“That’s not all. You didn’t make your nose follow your toes. Never twist or bend your body when you’re lifting anything. It doesn’t matter how heavy it is. You can throw out your back just by reaching down from your chair to pick up a dropped pencil. And if you’re standing up, make sure your nose and toes always point in the same direction.”

For the next two days I played invalid, dozing atop my sheet, sipping limeade and reading a Jonathan Kellerman paperback. I still suffered whenever I tried to stand up. It continued to take me ten minutes to inch my way down the hall to the bathroom. But by the third day, time, rest and the muscle relaxants finally combined to get me back on my feet.

For the remainder of my Peace Corps service in Belize, no matter what I did, I always made certain my nose followed my toes. I’d remind myself as I washed my laundry in the bathtub and hung it on the line, as I plucked a basket of mangoes from the trees in my yard, as I stooped over to pat a preschooler on the head. Nose follows toes. It became my mantra.

It still is, and I’ve Nurse Jackie to thank. Done say it! She had my number, and she had my back.

~ Terri Elders ~

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