Today’s topic: How to live with a herniated disc.
A herniated disc is a common but extremely painful back injury, which is sometimes also called a slipped disc, but I don’t tell people that I have a slipped disc. A slipped disc sounds like you did it by accident one afternoon. (“Why can’t you be more careful?” “I don’t know! It slipped!”) Whereas a herniated disc sounds like the pressure was building for a while, and then one day it just exploded.
“It just herniated. Blew me right out of my chair. I was on the floor for a week.”
I was on the floor for a week. Well, actually, I was on the floor, on and off, for a little over a week, and then one morning I pulled something while putting on my socks and couldn’t get out of bed for three days until my wife called a friend of mine to help drag me to the doctor. Literally.
First of all, people keep asking me, “Do you know how it happened?” And I say, “No,” and they say, “Well, you must know how it happened. It’s not like a cut, where you look over and say, ‘When did I cut my hand?’ You’re telling me that one day you noticed that you were sprawled out on the floor, and you said to yourself, ‘Hey! How long was I like this?’ Retrace your steps. What were you doing when it happened?”
I think they ask this because they want to use me as a cautionary tale. That way, they can say, “Don’t do X, like Schmutter did.” So I say I was putting on my socks. This gives them absolutely nothing they can use.
Then they’re like, “Um… What kind of socks?”
Yes, apparently herniated discs make me sarcastic. It obviously wasn’t the socks. The socks were just the straw that, um, broke the camel’s back.
Back pain was something that I’d always associated with old people, such as my parents. I’m only 36. Turns out it’s hereditary, though. This is scientifically proven: Back pain runs through families. (Well, not runs. More like commando crawls.) No one’s sure why this is. Maybe you’re falling asleep on the same couches.
Or maybe my back hurts because I sit at a desk all day. Apparently “humor writer” is not the healthiest job. Who knew? I thought laughter was the best medicine. For what?
I did go to the doctor, eventually, and now I’m out of bed, taking medication and waiting for my physical therapy to start, so I can learn what kinds of stretches I should and shouldn’t do. But in the meantime, I’m afraid to do anything.
For example, I’m not bending down. In theory. It doesn’t help that my kids put everything on the floor. We hand them something and say, “This goes on the ground floor.” So they go downstairs and put it on the floor. Or we say, “This goes upstairs.” So they put it up some of the stairs. I think the kids learned some kind of kibbud av loophole in school where they only have to do exactly what you say and ignore what you both know you meant.
I’m also using this pinchy grabber stick to pick things up off the floor. I feel like one of those guys cleaning garbage on the side of the highway. But I’m getting a lot of practice. I could probably put on my pants if I got two of them. If I keep going, I’m going to be awesome at those claw machines. I’m going to win a whole bunch of stuffed animals, and then I’m going to come home and have to keep picking them up off the floor.
I’m also not wearing shoes and socks these days, as a precaution. Three days is a lot of time to lose. So I wear Crocs everywhere. Shabbosim too. Last Shabbos I came to shul in Crocs, no socks, and a suit. People were like, “Are you wearing Crocs?” And I said, “Yeah, I have a herniated disc.” And they said, “Aren’t those in your back?”
I used to judge people who came to shul with no shoes or socks. Now I just assume they have back problems. Now whenever I see someone in shul wearing sandals and no socks, I keep offering to bring him stuff. I don’t even mention why, because I assume he doesn’t want to talk about it.
My wife told me I need to get slip-ons. Those will look even weirder without socks, though. I think I need some kind of half-footie pajamas, where I put on my pants and the socks are attached. Or I can sew socks to the bottoms of all my pants.
I also have to figure out how to get some work done, because most of my work involves sitting, which is a huge pain in the back. The best way to sit is with something behind my lower back. Putting one arm behind me works best, except when I’m typing, which is whenever I’m sitting.
I’ve also had to stop sitting in my comfortable office chair, because apparently it’s too comfortable. Also, sometimes my back seizes up and I have to get out of it, slowly, while leaning on the arms for support, and that is not easy with a chair that has wheels. My best shot so far has been backing all the way up until I get to the couch, and then falling off the chair.
Meanwhile, I’m finding more and more people saying they also had a herniated disc. And they all want to give me conflicting advice. They start their story with, “Well, it started when I was 36…”
And I’m like, “Hey, I’m 36!” Thanks for telling me this beforehand, so I could get a heads up!
It should be on the birthday cards.
By Mordechai Schmutter
Mordechai Schmutter is a freelance writer and a humor columnist for Hamodia, The Jewish Press and Aish.com, among others. He also has five books out and does stand-up comedy. You can contact him at [email protected].