To make a long story as short as possible, I’ve been experiencing some pain in my low back, at an increasing interval and increasing severity, since April. I’m pretty sure I know the root cause, and I’m finally getting that taken care of, but I didn’t do it in time, because over the weekend the pain became as bad as it’s been, forcing me to face the problem and actually deal with it.
My journey into dealing with it begins with the average horse person’s approach to any health problem. Is it keeping me out of the saddle? No? Then it’s fine. Yes, but there’s a workaround, like not wearing a boot on your left leg because your toe got stepped on so badly that it’s turning colors so unusual you’re thinking of calling Pantone? Then it’s one-boot-wonder time. But when it actually is keeping you out of the saddle, it’s time to consult a physician.
Oh, did I say “consult a physician”? What I meant was “string together a repair using stuff you’ve googled and things your vet has given you.” For example, a veterinarian friend of mine has X-rays of my left foot on a hard drive somewhere, because when I was really deep into triathlon training a few years ago, and I thought I’d fractured my foot, she was the person I called.
I took the same approach to this round of back problems. Only when I could no longer post or sit the trot did I declare defeat, and so I put together a medication protocol based on my extensive training in medicine obtained by decades with horses and a brief affair with the TV show “Grey’s Anatomy”: one muscle relaxer also prescribed to horses, and a painkiller also prescribed to my dog. (My doctor was a little impressed with my specificity in asking for the drugs that I wanted him to prescribe to me. And grateful I called him instead of just stealing my animals’ pills.)
Unfortunately, my brilliant medical scheme didn’t work, and I finally had to bring in actual professionals in human medicine. I had an MRI a few nights ago, which confirmed that I’ve got two problematic discs, though fortunately nothing worse. (I was supremely disappointed that they gave me my MRI images on a CD, because my laptop doesn’t have a CD drive, and that means I had to wait until an actual MD read my results, instead of me attempting to read them on my own. I play a game with my veterinarians when a client does a pre-purchase exam where I read the X-rays myself and compare what I find to what they find; I’m getting pretty handy at it.)
When an actual physician told me that I’d have to actually NOT RIDE for a few days, I did what any horse person would do: google my problem to find someone who said I could keep riding. And much to my dismay, the internet let me down.
So I longed some horses instead. Hey, not riding! And Puck only took off bucking once, and knowing I couldn’t hold him, I let go, which provided an opportunity for Puck to learn about why he shouldn’t take off on the longe line. (He wrapped himself up in both the longe line and a chair outside the arena and, fortunately, waited for me to sort him out. Good boy, sorta.)
There are other ways to spin this as a positive. In addition to longe-line-patience training, there’s feeding-time-patience-training (I can only lift one feed bucket at a time, rather than just holding the whole stack and dropping feed as I go); leading-patience-training (even the 17-handers are learning to plod along next to me as I shuffle them in and out of the barn for turnout); and lots and lots and lots of squats (as anything I drop on the ground throughout the day has to be picked up by lifting with my knees instead of folding at the waist; I should have a Beyoncé-worthy booty by the end of this).
I’ve gotten input from three or four human-body experts of various specialties (genius massage therapist, two chiropractors and a neurosurgeon) that all tell me that I’ll be fine in a few days, and that while this is painful and annoying, it’s not the end of the world. But they do also all agree that this should be the wake-up call to make some changes in my life to help at least minimize the chances of this happening again.
Their suggestions include cutting out gluten and dairy (which I celebrated by eating 2/3rds of a pizza at 10 a.m.; whatever, it had cauliflower in the crust, so it was basically a salad); getting serious about yoga (you mean owning yoga pants and a yoga mat isn’t enough?), and just generally treating the warning signs of health problems in myself the same way I treat them in my horses (THAT BUMP ON HIS LEG IS A FIVE-ALARM FIRE, but if blood is pouring from my eyeballs, just put some Windex on it and give me a leg up).
All joking aside, I’m not in my 20s anymore. This is a hard job, and it’s going to get harder as my joints start to creak, as the wear and tear of decades of getting stepped on and bucked off and lifting and pushing and all the other things that come with a physical job catch up to me. So it really is time to do some thinking about being a better caretaker of this bag of bones, because it’s the only one I’m going to get.
But first, let me finish that pizza while giving serious thought to taking one of my dog’s painkillers.