Ouch! That really hurts! My back’s been a mess since I was a kid. Fell off one horse too many. Rebuilt in 1967 — fusion and laminectomy using saws, drills and chisels — long before micro surgery and instrumentation. I’m not special because I deal with pain. I’ve got plenty of company. Sometimes, too much company. We’re all squished together in an over-crowded lifeboat.

Me at 20, a year post spinal fusion.

I’ve had a lot of problems with my back over the years. The fusion, made from bone paste taken from my hip, began to disintegrate about 25 years ago. Nature kindly replaced it with a sheathing of arthritic calcification. That’s not such a bad thing because without the arthritis, I’d (literally) fall apart.

Looking at pictures of me in years gone by, I got to wondering how life landed me here. How did the bright-eyed woman become this creaking achy old thing fighting to keep moving under her own power?

Who is this person?

She doesn’t look or act like me. I can vouch for this because I used to be her, but now I am not at all sure who I am or whose body this is. Maybe while I slept, someone gave me an impostor body. I would jump right on the impostor theory except being me is not something a sane person would want. If I had a say in the matter, I would be healthier, wealthier and younger. Some other body, but I’d keep the brain. I like that part of me.

Life changes, sometimes in a split second.

Remember Christopher Reeve? One minute, he was a big, handsome, strapping movie star. A dreadful split second later, he was someone else.

My down hill slide occurred at the pace at which bones and joints calcify. I broke my back when I was a kid. I was reconstructed when I was 19. For the next 35 years, I refused to pay any attention to my spine. I was not going to be disabled. Not me. It was mind over matter and I am strong.

Turns out, mind over matter only takes you so far. Seven years ago, I began to have trouble walking. My balance became erratic. I lost sensation in my feet and miscellaneous reflexes disappeared. (I didn’t yet know about the heart problems which no doubt contributed.)

I went to doctors, orthopedic hot shots. All of them said I need a new spinal fusion, the old one having fallen apart over the long years. Diagnosis: Horrible spine. Solution: New fusion in which I get screwed together using metal rods. After surgery, I would be in even more pain than now, but my spine would be stable. Say what? This surgery would be the 21st century version of the surgery I had in 1967.

I said Hell no and took my case to the top spine guy in Boston, the Supreme Court of spinal diagnosis. He said I don’t need surgery. More to the point, he said the surgery wouldn’t solve my problems.

This time I heard: “Your back has got you through this far, it’ll take you the rest of the way. Pain control, gentle exercise, and recognize your limits. Don’t do anything stupid.” Like fall off a horse? Lift heavy packages?

selfie 23

There are a lot of members of the back pain club. After you join the club, you usually get a lifetime membership. I finally discovered I have a problem I can’t fix. No amount of persistence, research, medical attention or cleverness is going to make it go away. So I’ve designed the world to make my back happy. We have a back-friendly home. From our adjustable bed, to the reclining sofa, our place is kind to spines.

There’s no moral to this story. It’s just life. If you don’t die young, odds are you hurt. The years roll on, pain gets worse.

I’ve had to accept reality but I don’t have to like it. Sooner or later we all face an intractable problem. Or several. It’s a nasty shock, especially if you’ve always believed you are unstoppable. When you hit that wall, I recommend buying very comfortable furniture.

Author: Marilyn Armstrong

Writer, photography, blogger. Previously, technical writer. I am retired and delighted to be so. May I live long and write frequently.


  1. I’ve got the clear thing for horse back riding. Have a listen to “Posting in the Trot” and imagine you are there. That’s me on the flute. No falling off any horse.


  2. Whenever I can scrape up the money, I am SO buying me and DSB one of those adjustable beds and two new recliners. Ours are in sad shape, indeed.


  3. I went for a memory foam mattress last time. I think I am done with old fashion mattress with springs. I still kept the springs under the mattress. This works. It is all about comfort now.


    1. I have a natural latex mattress on an adjustable frame — that’s memory foam ultra-max. But friends of mine went with a sleep number bed on an adjustable frame and are deliriously happy with it. Whatever does it for you is the right thing. As long as getting into bed brings you to that moment when you sigh and snuggle into bliss. Ahhhhh.


  4. Sounds like a sensible plan – I am NOT looking forward to when I get older. I broke my right foot so many times playing tennis that the last time the doctors said there was barely anything left to fix. It’s started to ache a bit as I got older and shoes have had to get lower heals but I know it’s only the start.


    1. Go gracefully into comfort. Flats are fashionable (finally) as are all kinds of sport shoes. Be grateful for small favors. When I was young, it was all 3″ heels and pointy toes, or what I call “Oh my aching feet!”


  5. Hello,
    I loved this post. I have had two fusions in two years, and the latest one is still refusing to fuse. Your attitude is really admirable and I look forward to reading more!
    – S.


    1. I think you will discover that my attitude is entirely practical. There’s nothing I can do to “fix” the problem. No one sane wants to go anywhere near that mess at the base of my spine, so I do what I can to make life bearable. Furniture, I have discovered, is more important to my ability to function than any medication they’ve come up with! Good luck. Two fusions. OY.


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