Stiff Back

My medical experiment began on May 10th. The object was to test the hypothesis that my medical condition (which I then characterized as heart disease, arthritis and spinal deterioration reflected mostly in numbness in my lower limbs and feet) might actually improve without drugs.

Many times during this investigation I have wanted to succumb in particular to Tylenol Arthritis pills to eliminate the persistent joint pain in my feet especially.  But I am not convinced the pain killers will improve my general temperament, at least not without compromising the modest advantages I have since uncovered of not being drugged (perceptible decrease of leg inflammation and returning sensitivity to my feet). Increasingly I am turning to toe-touching and hip-swivelling to defeat the pain.  So meteoric is the advancement of my stretching that I now contemplate (but only contemplate) being able to lay my hands flat on the floor while bending over. Touching my toes is no longer a dare. I am even beginning to question whether the pain is arthritis or just muscular stiffness which could conceivably be the product of having bicycled almost every day for the past year, here and on Hilton Head Island. Whatever the cause, the discomfort in my legs is now less apparent than formerly. The focus of the “pain” (if that indeed is what it was) has  changed from my legs to my lower back where I imagine there is a knotted muscle which I have as yet been unable to disengage and release. Lying in bed at night is no pleasure. Constantly last night for example I turned from side to side, each time attempting to stretch the muscles of my lower back to relieve the tension. I seem to be more comfortable when taking an afternoon nap on the leather couch with my feet uplifted by a firm pillow.

When I awake in the morning I am normally as stiff as a board.  This morning was no exception. Walking is a real challenge; my knees sometimes give out momentarily. What must then ensue is repeated stretching and attempted elongation of my spine in order to regain a passable imitation of mobility. I would consider it an impossibility to run.

I still have a drawer full of pills, Celebrex and Tylenol Arthritis. It is tempting to capitulate to the drugs for relief. I am not however persuaded that the pills will do much to improve my condition (though I am not entirely sure why, but it is more than mere stubbornness, there is change afoot pardon the pun).  Having taken both Celebrex and Tylenol Arthritis for years my recollection is that I experienced very much the same symptoms as I am now enduring without the pills; that is, tightness in my lower back, wonky knee operation, numbness in my lower limbs and feet.  There are on the other hand certain symptoms which no longer persist; namely, feeling of inflamed leg muscles, rampant numbness in toes and balls of my feet, the sensation of my legs being mere mechanical appendages. As much as I do not like having to tolerate discomfort of any kind (and this is an observation of universal application, both physical and metaphysical), I cannot but feel that what I now endure is essentially the base-line of what was always there in any event but without the threat of contamination and so-called “side effects” from the drugs themselves.  There is a hint at least that the tide of discomfort is recoiling. I am in any event intent at least upon conducting a purge of my system to eliminate as much as possible any nefarious elements. Meanwhile I am gobbling up as much “natural” medication (Glucosamine, Chondroitin, Curcumin and fish oil) as I can put my hands on, partly as a concession to my addiction to pills and partly in hopes that these trendy naturopathic-like concoctions may work. I can’t imagine that the increased stretching and rotating that I am doing is harmful in any way.

While it is not new, we’re trying to cultivate better eating habits which include for example more vegetables, less sugar, less meat, and smaller quantities.  Basically it is the so-called Mediterranean diet. The object is to lose weight which to date has been an insurmountable obstacle.  So far I’m just shy of 230 pounds. Getting noticeably below that is proving almost impossible even though we bicycle every day. I have also added raw nuts (cashews and pecans) to the diet as a treat (primarily to replace spooning peanut butter from the jar, not to mention drinking maple syrup and spooning maple butter, all of which I normally adored though oddly less now that I have quit the drugs).

After a lifetime of having surrendered to the alleviating effect of pain killers it taxes both my resolve and my Stoicism to avoid them. However I remain confident for the time being that I may yet reap benefit from purging my system. There is undeniably some improvement in my legs and feet though my back has become more obviously annoying. What trumps the entire debate is that a close examination of my present condition leads me to conclude that my physical state is marginally better than it was when drugged.  It is a small complement but nonetheless compelling.  I am of course hopeful that it will continue to improve, perhaps aided by further exercises and stretches, weight loss and general cleansing of my old, dilapidated body.

Meanwhile there is no mistaking my progressive lapse into the traditional anxieties of old age. The frozen truth is that I am pushing 70 years of age (all-right, 68 – almost, in December) but however you look at it, it’s not exactly flowering youth. If I thought there were a pill to take which would eliminate my various pains without the side effects of inflammation, liver damage and constipation, I might be convinced to take the pill. It has instead become a matter of balance, choosing one evil over another. I have faith in the ability of the body to perfect itself if properly treated, a bias I have adopted after having observed my body recover quickly over the years from almost any assault, everything from a pin prick to open-heart surgery. Slowly I am transforming my corpus from a toxic waste site to a functioning, unadulterated living matter.

I have even thought that alcohol or marijuana might provide the magic answer. The alcohol alternative is the less attractive of the two because I know it is destined to become a struggle for recovery. I might consider the marijuana alternative if I thought it could be taken internally as a pill rather than smoked. The controversy is whether to adjust to life’s imperfections or to hide from them. As I say, I am not a celebrated Stoic.


This afternoon has precipitated the most unexpected and equally welcome development.  My condition appears to be improving by the minute.  While I had hoped for improvement, I confess I hadn’t imagined that the progress would be quite so tangible.  Earlier this morning we performed the ceremony of our usual bike ride, about a 10 km run leisurely down Country Street, along Rae Road and back onto Concession VIII Ramsay to the new Town Hall, then flying down the hill towards home.  Even while pedalling in my customary modest manner I sensed that my muscles were behaving differently, with less strain. Later we went to the City to pursue two foiled shopping ventures, after which I rounded out the day as usual with a car wash.  It was then in particular that I remarked that my walking was considerably enhanced. My lower back oddly felt as though it were drugged, doped by some pain killing device.  It was of course a welcome sensation but one to which I can attribute no particular cause. The numbness of my lower legs and feet was clearly mostly topical (as opposed to internal as it had felt formerly). In view of the marked gradation of benefit I am very reluctant to proclaim anything approaching victory, but it is beyond doubt that things are better! Considering I was about to throw in the towel earlier this morning when I first got out of bed, I am congratulating myself endlessly for my unaccustomed stamina in the face of urgency and gloom. I am not yet preparing my lucubration for delivery to my physician but I can tell you it is no easy matter to hide my beaming smugness!