Don’t Act Twenty-One When You’re Not!

Don’t Act Twenty-One When You’re Not!

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

Don’t Act Twenty-One When You’re Not!

Thirty-four years ago, I headed into my younger son’s bedroom to wake him before I went to work. As I bent down I sneezed and threw out my back. I could barely return to my bed and crawl in. Pain, spasms, and extreme discomfort hit so fast, it seemed as though I’d been struck by lightning.

My wife called our doctor, who prescribed ice for the first day and then heat, a muscle relaxer, and something for pain. An appointment was made for three days later. I fumed at the wait. I was bullheaded, impatient, and I didn’t understand why I had to wait. I was dying. I should have been seen immediately.

By my appointment time, I was able to drive myself to the doctor’s office. On a scale of one to ten, my pain had dropped from an eleven to a four. My doctor asked me to do various body poses and walking tasks. After his examination, he said, “My bet is you have a slipped disk caused by the sneeze happening when you were in the wrong position. At your age, I’m guessing time, exercise, and common sense will help you heal.”

I took the exercise pamphlet he handed me, grumbled about the common sense comment, and didn’t want to hear about letting time take care of things. But I was a young man of thirty-five back then. The pain did go away, and I went on with life as normal.

Five years later, I was on a business trip to Seminole, Texas, with its oil fields, cotton, and dust. My business partner and I had just jumped back into our rental car for the drive to the airport in Midland-Odessa, when I reached into the back seat of the car to pull something out of my briefcase. Bam! My back stabbed me like I’d fallen on a spike.

By then I had a new doctor. But the advice and the medication were the same. Even the list of exercises looked strangely familiar. I couldn’t tell for sure, because I’d thrown the other list away. My new doctor told me that I needed to exercise, not only for my back, but for my good health in general. Aerobic exercise, stretching, and moderate toning would work wonders for my physical conditioning.

With five years of maturing under my belt, I listened this time. I started an exercise program that I’ve never really quit. I did the back exercises for a few months, but with the regimen of aerobics and circuit training I was doing, I felt I didn’t need additional back exercises.

I went on a practical regimen, going to a gym or athletic club four times a week. I’d put in a few miles on either a track or a treadmill, and then go through the weight circuit. After an hour, I’d work up a sweat. My wife went with me, working on her own program. I believe it’s better to have a workout partner than to try exercising alone.

For the next twenty-four years, I had no major problems with my back. Yes, my right leg would hurt some on long drives, but nothing serious. However, five years ago, my wife and I began working out at a university aerobic center. I was physically fit and watching college-age students doing exercises on sophisticated equipment. I found at sixty-four years of age I could do those exercises as well as they could.

Beware — here enters the male ego. For all the years since my second back problem, I’d been using common sense while exercising. Now I had a vision of The Fountain of Youth. I increased my lap times on the track. I added weights to my circuit training. I added additional exercises, including back presses, abdominals, and inclined sit-ups. I felt great.

For three and a half years, I gained muscle, endurance, and energy. But the problem with men is we don’t see our limitations. I kept adding another five-pound weight here and another set there. One day, I finished doing my workout, which included four sets of eight incline sit-ups. I walked down the hill to my car and said to my wife, “Boy, my back hurts.”

“You should see a doctor,” she said. “Remember what happened before.”

“Oh, this is nothing like that.”

Two months later, I had to have an MRI, the pain was so bad. My doctor looked at the results and sent me to a neurosurgeon. We reviewed the tests together. “Well, Mister Wetterman, you’ve hurt your back before. You have old injuries to the L-1 and L-3 areas of your spine. But they are not the problem. This bulge here…”

I looked at the area where he pointed and could see the spot clearly.

“This area is the culprit. Right here between the L-4 and L-5 region of your spine.”

I explained my regimen and told him I wanted to be right back working out as soon as I could.

“I want that for you, too,” he said. “But let’s go back to being sensible. You need to lower your weights. You need to stop the inclined sit-ups and maybe the abdominals and back presses. And that’s only after this condition is back under control.”

He referred me to a pain management clinic, and I had two injections into the area to reduce the swelling. For the third time, I followed the same directions given to me thirty-four years earlier. My pain level when I went to see the neurosurgeon was a twelve on a scale of ten. Now the pain is a three.

I don’t like taking pain medication, but I do when necessary. I follow the orders of my doctors. Today, I’m still at the gym four times a week. I’m still on the track and doing weights. But the machismo has been brought under control out of necessity. I understand now about the balance between “use it or lose it” and “act your age.”

I am about to turn seventy. I have advice for men like me who are working at aging in good grace and good health. Pace yourself. Know your physical and emotional limits. Think before you try something you’re not either prepared or able to do. Be active. Follow your doctor’s advice — and your wife’s too.

Do I plan on being at the gym when I’m eighty? You bet I do. I’ll be on the track, and I’ll be working the weight circuit. But I’ll be sensible and I won’t try to act like I’m twenty-one.

~ Bill Wetterman ~

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