bringing healthy back

“Y know.  Got my health.”  People casually say this when the chips are down, acknowledging if not properly crediting the importance of health.  Only when health goes awry do we tend to fully appreciate it.

Although I feel my appreciation is generally above average.  I enjoy my health, fitness and mobility.  If I lost it I would rapidly grow less healthy, as much in the mind as in the body.  Enlivening chemical releases which come with physical exertion are difficult to replicate.

A couple of weeks ago, an innocuous crouching movement ten minutes into a freezing Tuesday night football training session led to me jarring my back.  It was painful enough to know instantly that the evening was over for me.  Away I awkwardly hobbled, hoping it would just take a few days to right itself.

We often seem trust our bodies to just do stuff and get on with it, in a way we trust little else.  Sorry I abused you with alcohol, body.  Just sort it out for me now please.

The next morning was acutely painful and distressing.  Pulling on socks was slow and embarrassingly undignified; my skeleton simply refused to move as usual.  Over the coming days I experienced several moments of what it must be like to be infirm and old.  I was irritated to be overtaken on the pavement by people I wouldn’t usually get overtaken by; I was embarrassed that standing up in public places was slow and looked ostentatious, as if I were proudly exhibiting the results of my injury; I hobbled awkwardly from any stationary position, taking a good minute to gather fluency in my walking gait; standing room-only tube carriages proved more of a challenge than usual but sitting down was rarely worth the pain of standing up.

Eighteen months ago, during my last episode of serious back pain, I visited a therapist local to my parents.  Encouraged by persisting symptoms and compounded by the contribution of a heavy cold which saw coughs and sneezes rifle pain through my creaking skeleton, I booked another.

The weekend with parents was reasonable.  My interest had been piqued in my Dad’s family history after rediscovering a couple of very old black and white photographs.  I daresay while I discussed this with Dad, Mum sat in her armchair affronted that her family history was for once out of the limelight.  But thanks to Google Streetview walks around the neighbourhoods of their respective youths, it led to Things To Talk About –often a struggle with parents.

There were even a couple of brief moments when I felt confident enough to chance speaking about myself to my parents.  In time-honoured tradition though, Mum nipped them in the bud, effortlessly deflecting attention back to herself.


On the morning of my appointment with the sports therapist my back was feeling a little better, as if the pain would desist entirely of its own accord given a couple more days.  I went for a long walk with the dog.  The forest’s late winter mulch glowed under a clear blue sky and brilliant sunshine; lungs were filled and photographs taken.  Fifteen minutes from home we encountered traffic on the pathway of a popular walking spot.  The dog rubbed noses with one other dog, walked on, did the same with another, walked on.  A man with a bad tempered dog on a lead had to be carefully steered around.

There are photographs of my mother, father, brother and myself being ‘looked after’ by dogs at very young ages.  We are dog lovers.  I want a dog of my own.  Yet there remains an awkward, discomforting grain of doubt about all of them, particularly upon seeing my two year-old niece closely petting and climbing over my parents’ hound.  That slender possibility that the dog could suddenly turn and snap and something horrific could happen to literally mark a young life forever, if not worse.  A prickling sensation of what if..?

Next along the popular path approached an elderly couple with a small black terrier.  Both dogs off their leads approached each other, dropped their sticks like soldiers downing weapons, sniffed noses and behinds.  Then my parents’ usually mild mannered Labrador turned.  They leapt up at one another, both growling and snarling, scuffling hard and firm.  Mine pushed the smaller terrier onto its back and went at it with its teeth, definitely not playing.  Compelled to act I leaned down to haul her off, pinned her to the ground, cuffed her across the nose and angrily yelled in my most masterly tone.  (It was still some distance off my Dad’s livid lunatic tone.  One which suggests he might be at risk of keeling over from stress).

Standing up almost straight, one hand still on the dog’s collar, apologising to the curiously unfussed elderly couple, I realised the damage I’d done to my back, the repairing which was now newly ruined.  Pain crackled up in waves from the base of my cemented spine.  My resentment of the fucking dog escalated in direct correlation and she remained on a lead in disgrace for the rest of the walk.


Paying a man to expertly knead the top of your buttocks isn’t something I do often, but have done once before.  As 18 months earlier, I lay on my front, looking out of the window at the pleasant rural panorama, allowing the bald, stocky man in a sporty polo neck to explore me with his hands.  Under his spell those oiled fingers danced along glutes and muscles.  He squeezed and kneaded spinal points which pranged, made me flinch and tighten, unlock and relax, explaining everything as he went.

Now approaching a stage it was before the ill-fated walk, I’m impatient to return to full fitness, to walk freely, to not fear standing up or dressing myself, to run and work and sweat and breathe heavily, to physically exert and to not feel pain.  It shouldn’t be rushed, I know.  But surely it can’t be long until I can casually utter those words again.

I want my healthy back.


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