The world is made up of two kinds of people: those who have a back problem, and those who know someone who has a back problem.
I came to this conclusion recently, when I fell into the former category. It started out as stiffness in my lower back, which I assumed was on account of sleeping in an awkward position. But when after a few days, it felt like someone had tied a knot in my tailbone, I surmised it was more than just the product of a bad dream. There was no pain or soreness, just a niggling discomfort when I sat or stood or walked or lay down.
Two of my dear friends dropped in for a visit, and on seeing me propped up with cushions and clutching hot water bags, did what caring, over-zealous friends do. They rushed me to the emergency ward of the Neuro Spinal Hospital for an MRI. I protested with vehemence that my back issue wasn’t serious enough to merit this extreme step. But my friends wouldn’t hear of it. “Never ever take back problems lightly. There’s someone I know who ignored a lower back pain, and is today in a wheelchair.”
Hearing that, I meekly allowed myself to be led to the hospital, and even wore the padded Velcro back brace that my friends insisted I wear.
The doctor at the hospital glanced at the MRI report and said, “Well, there seems to be a mild herniation of the disc, but otherwise it seems OK.”
Was that good news or bad news, I couldn’t tell. But apparently an orthopedic surgeon could. And I was sent off to consult one.
The first orthopedist I saw took one look at the MRI, and without so much as a cursory physical examination, signed me up for 10 expensive sessions of physiotherapy at a clinic, which as it conveniently happened, was run by him.
Something didn’t feel right, and I mentioned this to another friend.
“Why don’t you try the orthopedic doctor in Prime Medical,” he suggested. “My roommate had a severe back pain, couldn’t even move from the bed, and this doctor treated him, and he’s much better now.”
Another friend who was listening in on the conversation butted in, “You know, my colleague absolutely swears by this chiropractor. You’ve got to try him out.”
An old college friend called to invite me to a party, and when I told her why I had to decline, she immediately said, “I’m going to give you the number of my husband’s chiropractor. He also treats the members of the royal family, and is very, very good!”
I had, by now, a small directory of back pain related practitioners in the UAE. In fact, I only had to say the magic words – back problem – and I would immediately have a list of therapies and therapists. Back problems, it seemed, were as commonplace as the common cold.
The alternative therapists weren’t far behind. A friend’s mother, on hearing of my, by now, well-publicized back issue, offered to perform acupressure. She began to apply pressure on certain points on the back of my hand with such enthusiasm, that tears poured out of my eyes.
Is it better, beta, she asked? Compared to the agony in my hand, the back seemed very well indeed.
I also had a masseuse who offered to do a 7-day ayurvedic hot oil treatment, and friends who could did Reiki sessions. Yet, the stubborn stiffness persisted.
One night I woke up with a start to find my bed was wet. Urinary incontinence, I had read, was one of the symptoms of nerve damage in the lower spine. But just before I could panic, I discovered that it was nothing more than a leaky hot water bottle.
With all the stress wrought by the back problem and the multiple remedies, I feared I would need psychotherapy alongside the physiotherapy.
One afternoon, when I was heading to the chiropractor, I instructed to taxi driver to slow down and avoid swerving, since I had a back problem.
It only took a moment before he turned around and said, “Back problem? I had a friend who used to go to this place in Karama…”
Like, I said, there are only two kinds of people in this world.
P.S. The back problem is no more. But I still do have the directory of Back Pain specialists, in case any one out there needs it...
P.P.S I am enormously grateful to all the friends who took care of me and suggested all the many therapies. I am glad they knew someone who had a back problem... :-)