In the past month, Steve and I have both been suffering from back trouble. I threw mine out in March when I was working at a Primary School (trying to put things in very short cupboards and sitting in very short chairs is a good way to do that.) But last Thursday, Steve had a whopper of an attack.
Steve had stayed home the week before last with body aches, plus the back feeling as if it was going to flare up. He rested and then went back to work without much trouble (taking the taxi to work, taking it easy, etc.) Thursday afternoon came around, and I was scheduled to go to the chiropractor at lunchtime. Steve called me up and said he’d hosed his back up really badly and I was going to have to come and rescue him.
I dashed down the hill, got some money and a taxi and headed to his workplace. When we got there his co-worker was helping him just get out of the building, so I knew he was bad off. When we tried to get him into the taxi, Steve couldn’t even sit, so I made the executive decision to call the ambulance. I figured if the cops want me to call 999 if a drunken man is shouting at me in a bus station, then calling them to come and rescue someone who is totally immobile isn’t out of order. I knew he was going to have to see a doctor, and I knew how bad off he had been before when he threw his back out last Spring, so I made my first emergency call in England.
After the dispatcher asked Steve a bunch of questions, his ride arrived. Two nice gentlemen in green uniforms helped him into the ambulance and gave him laughing gas to “keep his mind off the pain.” Then we proceeded to take our first ever British ambulance ride through Newcastle. I even joked that Steve knew how to show a lady a good time and it wasn’t even the weekend.
We arrived at the hospital, and the paramedic told Steve to take a couple of good hits off the laughing gas pipe before trying to get back down the ambulance steps and into a wheelchair. After I got us checked in, we waited in the A&E waiting room for a good while. The paramedic told us that for bad backs, the hospital usually just gives you a bunch of pain killers, but in his condition it was just fine by us, if he wasn’t having to sit at home in agony.
We waited for a total of 3 hours, and I had to eventually get Steve up onto one of the hospital beds while we waited in one of the rooms for the doctor to come by. Since I’ve been going to the chiropractor, I know a handful of tricks that alleviate some of the pain – lying instead of sitting is one of them. When the doctor finally came in, he wanted to see how well Steve could move around, and even had him get out of that bed by himself, which was agony for me to see and not be able to help him.
The doctor was so nice though, and he told us that a chiropractor was fine if we wanted to go, but to always find one who was officially licensed because anyone can call themselves a chiropractor without any credentials (I should have looked into that career before I started taking out loans for my college education.) Anyway, the doctor was sympathetic and said that muscle relaxants work really well but they don’t like to give them out because kids in Bigg Market love to take those as a party drug. (Something I never understood – wouldn’t you just want to sleep instead of go clubbing?)
Once Steve was up, he couldn’t sit again, and the doctor said he was going to give him some painkillers and suggested he get himself moving again, even if he starts taking up biking to get himself moving. He was in horrible pain after getting out of that bed on his own, but a nurse finally showed up with a little cup full of pills that I had to help him take because without holding on to his back, it would spasm. His whole body was contorted as well from the muscle contractions, so I knew he was worse off than he’d ever been. But after he took his medicine, we took a walk past Newcastle University and back into town. 30 minutes later, Steve was ready to stop at Starbucks and Krispy Kreme before heading back home (standing up on the bus worked well.)
Since then we’ve been hanging out here at home. I went to my rescheduled chiropractor appointment (he had credentials, by the way) and did more of my preventative measures so I don’t get myself in a bad situation as well. (Two of us being immobilized is just not going to work.) Now that both of us have had bad backs, we’re going to take the necessary steps to prevent the same problems in the future. Here’s what we’ve learned so far:
- Lying is better than sitting. Lie back on a couch when watching TV.
- Use cold packs at 10 minute intervals.
- Take ibuprofen and/or paracetamol with codeine (I can’t take codeine because it gives me terrible stomach aches.) Some doctors won’t give muscle relaxants but even if they give you one to take the initial edge off, it’s worth seeing a GP (or even the doctor in A&E as was in our case.)
- Don’t lift, carry, or bend over. Leaning forward in a chair is probably what caused the problem in the first place.
- Sit back in your chair. Use a pillow behind your back, and even use a foot rest if if helps when you’re at a desk.
- Bend with your legs. Put your hands on your thighs when getting back up.
- Moving helps the muscles. Swimming strengthens the back. Biking is good as well (get a Dutch style city bike first.)
- Don’t be a hero. If you can’t move quick enough to grab something, or can’t get up, that’s fine. Crawl if you need to. Ask for help.
- Don’t try to do anything too strenuous too soon. Slow and steady wins the race. You can easily hurt yourself all over again by getting in and out of the tub, or getting up too quickly out of a chair.
- Do back exercises that stretch your gluteus. Lying down means the gravity is going through your belly-button, not down your spine like some yoga moves that have your twisting in a sitting position (I have a friend in Florida who injured herself that way.)
- If you see a chiropractor, make sure they have credentials as some chiropractors are just there to take your money.
- Beds get blamed for the problem, but mostly the stiffness in the morning is from being stationary for 8 hours.
I hope no one has to deal with what we have, but if you do, I hope some of these things we’ve learned can help you. In these kinds of situations, being ignorant like we were, is not bliss.
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