Tag Archives: broken back

Where We Are Right Now

I’ve been reading a lot of my older, archived posts to my son lately. It’s a fun trip down memory lane for both of us, except in his case he doesn’t really have a memory of most of it. The stories I’m reading him mostly happened when he was very young. Still I’ve observed some things.

Gosh, I’ve been having fun with this family of mine for a long time now. I look back and realize how much time has elapsed since these older posts were written and see how little has changed in the “Dad loves being Dad” department. It’s kind of like it was my calling or something.

My kids’ personalities were present even when they were super-small. Let me backtrack a moment. My kids were never super-small. Reading about their antics from 8 or 9 years ago I can clearly see large bits and pieces of who they are now and not even some kind of nascent, infantile hint of a trace. No, full on stuff here. Then again, I also see (to my chagrin since I strive to live a life of modestly false humility) that a certain someone who wrote those stories had a fat role in how their personalities formed. In other words, DNA strikes again.

I miss the old prompts. I started the writing of many of those posts as a response to a series of writing prompts. Granted I was always able to take those prompts in bizarre directions but that was a large part of the fun. Perhaps I’ll seek out new prompts.

Tonight I was wondering how I would answer this prompt I just made up (because I’m so clever)…

What are you doing right now?

I apologize to the Federation of Prompt-Writers because that one literally cried out to heaven for vengeance. But let’s go with it for a moment. Smile, sip, repeat. So what am I doing? Right now? Geez, so precise tonight. Oh wait, I wrote the prompt. I suck. OK, I’m sitting in my recliner, watching – wait for it – Nancy Drew. It’s the daughter’s choice. Yet somehow the four of us watched it. Actually, wife and son have fallen asleep and despite the fact that this cinematic gem features a leading actress who resembles Molly Ringwald (not an MR fan), daughter and I are invested in this nonsense. I’ve just finished grading a bunch of quizzes. I’m patting the head of my terrier who has come to sit by the side of my chair. He’s a good boy.

Not the movie we were actually watching but a close approximation. Or… This could be a representation of me trying to do deadlifts a few days after breaking my back.

Ask me the same tomorrow night and you’d get a completely different answer probably along the lines of “Currently doing crazy” or some variant. One thing I hope to say tomorrow night at this time is that I jumped back into some semblance of a workout. Despite my recent posts and my insistence that I was just going to ignore every shred of medical “advice” and hit the weights anyway; a few things changed my opinion. I’ll let you in on a secret. Broken bones hurt. And they need time and rest in order to heal. Fortunately my night job hasn’t been too busy lately so that covers that half of the day. But even doing mundane tasks like standing (as I do when I teach) can put stress of the spine. I ought to know this by now.

And the truth is that I do know this. But I also know how dedicated I’ve been to lifting and how I hate being told not to do something. So that next day I mentioned – the one where I was going to get back to my weights? Yeah, I decided I didn’t need anymore painkillers so I didn’t take ’em, see? Yeah, see… And no one could make me either! You just read that sentence in your mind as Jimmy Cagney. Now read this next one as Cagney and Lacey. Harv, how stupid are you!? By 8PM I knew I had made a mistake and that I would simply have to follow orders and rest. So that’s what I’ve done. And it’s only been two weeks since the break. I tried some basics tonight to see what I could manage. Knocked out a few sets of pushups. A set for me is at least 40 pushups so I think I’m at least able to ease back into this. I’ll play it smart and not overdo it and all that. And I still have some of those lovely little Tramadol things they gave me in case I go too far. And I’ll get those gains all over again.

The prompts never did tell us how to end.

The Rest

My dear mother commented on my last blog (but on the reposting of it on Facebook, not here). I had mentioned that I think I got my “grit” from her. I learned long ago, kids, that your grandma was one tough cookie. I also learned that toughness does not mean one has to be cruel or brutish or a boor. She’s also one of the kindest, warmest, and most loving people you’ll ever know.

Her comment simply read “I love your grit as well.”

Thanks, Mom!

The Rest Is Over

Inspired by these words, children, I think your old man has had about enough rest and recuperation. A compression fracture certainly isn’t the end of the world. Come to think of it, the doctor didn’t even put me under any specific restrictions. That could be because it was almost 6:00 on a Saturday evening and I was their last patient. Nonetheless I believe in the old adage of listening to one’s body as a guide to pain management. And this body of mine is saying “Go on now, old man, time’s running out. You’re not getting any younger and you NEED to do something.” I still have these nifty painkillers they gave me and I’ll continue to take them as needed.

But tonight I was called out on four jobs requiring me to move a few hundred pounds worth of medical shipments. I was leery but you know what? I did it. I figured it out. I didn’t hurt myself (at least the pain hasn’t set in yet) and I survived.

I’ll probably never look like this dude. My feet point in different directions. And I only have two of them.

You know what that means? I’m getting back to the gym tomorrow. And when you read this years from now you’ll see that your dad was nothing if not determined. He’s determined not to be sidetracked. He’s determined not to let pain rule his life. He’s determined not to get soft. And he’s determined to continue to go after the hard things in life. I still don’t think I’ll go anywhere near a trampoline anytime soon but free weights?

Never Give Up

I can’t let myself down. I’m going to get shredded if it kills me

I can’t let you kids down. You deserve a dad who can physically do all you demand of him.

I can’t let the high school athletes down. They look up to me. On this last point I’m mystified because if they could have seen me when I was their age they would have kicked sand in my face assuming we were anywhere near a beach.

Life goes on, my children.

And for everything else… say it with me. “There’s Percocet!”

BACK to the Grind

Man 1: “Do you like Kipling?”

Man 2: “I don’t know. I’ve never kippled.”

My dad was fond of telling that old joke when I was growing up. In reality, I like some of Kipling’s work. The Just So Stories come to mind. But the focus on Kipling was not why I repeated it here. I opened Facebook this morning and saw a picture of my father (with my mom and me) and for some reason I thought of that line. Still that joke must have made an impact on me. Every now and then my son will turn to me and ask: “Daddy, do you like… Kipling?” We both laugh like little kids.

Where were we my faithful follower? Ah yes, I broke my back. I don’t want to beat a dead horse. That wouldn’t be fair to the horse and simply a desecration of its body. But this is significant. First, it hurts. Second, it really hurts. Finally, it hurts a lot.

Let’s get caught up, shall we?

Determined to do hard things I realized that lifting heavy weights wasn’t enough so I started doing bizarre gymnastics-like things called calisthenics then my wife went out of town and I gave in to the whims of my children and, having prayed to share in the Passion of Christ, did a frontal flip on a trampoline at the age of 41 with two spinal fusions under my belt (literally), and broke my back. This was followed up with a visit to an urgent care facility wherein two pit bulls had been shot and killed by police earlier in the day after mauling their owner to death. That sound about right?

In my last post I quipped that I must be pretty tough that I went almost 24 hours without treating it before being seen. You see, although I probably get my love of dad jokes from my dad (go figure) I think I definitely get my grit (if you can call it that) from my mom. I still vividly remember her when I was a child and a fall from a second story window in a house fire had left her in traction for weeks. She willed herself to get out of that hospital because, as she said: “I had kids at home to take care of. What was I gonna’ do? Lie there forever?”

Do you like him?

This morning I walked into my classroom and was greeted by 18 of the happiest faces you could hope to see at 8:45 in the morning. They rose to their feet (as they always do, they’re very polite) and said good morning. Then, having already heard through the grapevine that I was injured they began asking with mouths wide open how it was possible that I was with them. I told my story.

Then it was on to my senior class who literally bowed down for me when I came in. They informed me that two of their classmates were out sick because they “didn’t feel well today”. They then told me they would be texting those two to inform them the the “legend” (their teacher) was a machine, a beast, and the most incredible human being they’d known because he didn’t let no broken back stop him from getting to work.

“Kids,” I said, “I had to demonstrate my toughness for you.” It’s an old teacher trick.

The juniors were last and just as mystified as to my presence. “Kids,” I said, “Who else was going to come in here today and have as much fun with you as me?” They appreciated my being there as much as I appreciated their presence. One of them in particular, an athlete, picked up on my fear of getting soft over the next few weeks. He offered me some advice on exercises I could do and diet tricks to keep in mind during the time when I wouldn’t be able to lift. Nice young man.

Back to the doctor’s office on Saturday, the doctor who came in to speak with me after looking at my X-ray asked me “Do you, um, like, do you lift weights or anything?” I gave a bit of a smirk, nodded my head, and said “Yes, yes I do.” “That’s what I figured,” she said. “It probably saved you.” She had just spoken with the neurologist on the phone because she was concerned with where the break was. It seems that a break like mine could easily have left my paralyzed but for my brute physical strength and charm. I tossed the “charm” in there for fun. But really, being in decent shape allowed me to thrust myself out of the dangerous position I was in and I’m glad that I can see a payoff for all the hours in the gym.

Tonight I’m back out making pick-ups and deliveries as part of my courier job. I’m hoping none of the parcels tonight are particularly heavy but as I previously stated “for everything else, there’s Percocet.”

I think Dad would be proud. I didn’t let a little thing like a broken bone get in the way of continuing to do what I need to do for my family. He taught me well. And Mom? Do I even have to ask? I think she’s probably wondering why it’s even a thing. After all, if memory serves, she broke several vertebrae in that fall. She’s probably reading this and thinking “When’s he gonna’ shut up about it? It was one bone!”

And my kids? Well, one day we’ll determine if we actually like Kipling.

Harvey Millican Is a Complete Idiot: Part II

I am sure the vast majority of men (indeed of all humanity) and particularly of Catholic men do not recognize the inherent sinfulness of laziness. St. Don Bosco is famous for chiding the young men in his care to remain physically active. “Laziness teaches us all kinds of vices,” the great patron of youth would say. Of course, he would say it in Italian but you get the point. As a further warning, laziness is enshrined as a capital sin under its more severe form called “sloth”. Also, for those in the know and as Fulton Sheen would attest, it’s pronounced /slōth/. With a short “o” we’re talking about the lazy, three-toed tree-hugger from Brazil.

Do Something, Anything, but Avoid Being Idle

Going back to that theme of doing hard things I had made it my quest to lift hard and heavy and often, to run, jump, and planche forward so that I could be better. I knew that laziness had no part in this plan and that it would, in fact, sink any effort to be more manly (in a truly Christian sense). I became cognizant of all the times I had given up time I could have been doing hard things in order to do no things. And I determined to do more of the former and less of the latter. Besides, I thought, being more active would set a better example for my ten year-old son who’s been exhibiting his share of wanting to “do nothing” lately. Hey, I was a ten year-old boy once. I get it. Doing hard things is, well, hard. But the payoff is huge – huge gains physically and eternal life ultimately.

Over the past year I started to notice myself getting physically stronger. This means nothing except that I would now have a benchmark so I would know I was progressing and progress is good. Stagnation is a benchmark of laziness. I noticed as well that my prayer life was improving. As I forced myself out of bed early simply to deny myself sleep I would use the time to pray. I prayed as I poured my coffee. “Dear God, get this caffeine into me NOW! Amen.” I prayed as I struggled not to get back into bed. “Dear God, the floorboards are so cold. WHY?! Amen.” I prayed as I got into the shower which, thanks to Exodus 90 is a cold shower. “Dear God, Take me swiftly into thine eternal light! Amen.” On that last point I often wondered as to the propriety of praying in the shower. I reasoned, of course (of course), that the Good Lord created me naked so He probably wouldn’t be too embarrassed. But boy was that water cold.

I came to embrace the sacrifices because I wasn’t merely giving things up – time, sleep, my body to the pain – but I was gaining. I gained time with Our Lord in prayer. I gained satisfaction in improving myself and setting a better example. I gained a few lbs. of muscle which was cool. Regarding that benchmark I mentioned, I noticed I was lifting heavier weights. When I started I struggled to do biceps curls with 25 lb. dumbbells. Now I start a “rack run” with 55’s. I feel good. But it must always be seen in context. I drop the weights and thank God I can do these things. I drop the weights and I ask God to strengthen me to protect my children. I drop the weights and realize my big foot was just a bit too far in front of my body. 55 lbs. of iron on a big toe really, really hurts.

Shedding one’s laziness is a lifelong endeavor, at least for me. A year into this mindset and I still fight the temptation, when offered a choice of doing something active or doing something sedentary, to force myself toward the active. Example: I come home from a long day of work (at my first of two full-time jobs) and, having picked up the kids from school, the question is posed “Daddy, will you go on a bike ride with us?” or “Daddy, will you do gymnastics with us?” or “Daddy, will you do flips on the trampoline with us?” What the children are actually asking is “Daddy, will you run alongside while we ride our bikes for three blocks until we get tired and make you carry the bikes and us back home?” or “Daddy, will you move furniture in the living room to put down the mat and do handstands for our entertainment?” or “Daddy, will you bounce on the trampoline while we sit in the middle of it and let your weight propel us high in the air?” The answers are yes, yes, and yes. The reward for this sacrifice of giving up watching the evening news is the joy of spending time with two awesome people who seem to think I’m Joe Weider.

A COMPLETE Idiot

So let’s talk about my progress with calisthenics. You didn’t think I mentioned the gymnastics mat and the trampoline for nothing, did you? About three weeks ago I set out trying the basic wall-assisted handstand. Like my experience with pull-ups about a year ago I knew that this would take a bit of time until it “clicked”. In other words, I had to figure it out by just throwing myself into a flip against the wall until I got closer and closer to actually doing it. When it clicked it would be a recognition in my body’s muscle memory and then I wouldn’t be able to “un-do” it. Think of toddlers learning to walk. They struggle but they don’t give up because it’s hard. And then one day they shed the last bits of their fear – in this case fear of not holding onto anything – and they take that step and Shazam! They don’t seem to ever forget how to walk after that. When I figured out pull-ups it was about figuring out which muscles to activate. And then I got better and better. Pushing past my fear of falling on my head I started tumbling headlong on the mat toward the wall in my living room. What stunned even me was just how quickly I “got it”. Within a week I was able to hold a handstand against the wall for 30 seconds. I’ve been working at it for about fifteen minutes daily the past two weeks now and starting to work in something that resembles a handstand push-up. And as for that trampoline? Here’s where you learn why I called myself out as a complete idiot in the title. Remember Aristotle’s definition of virtue and how it stands in the middle? Sometimes in life we gain so much confidence that we exceed the virtue and head right back into the realm of extreme vice (or in my case stupidity). Two nights ago, with my wife still out of town (she was winding down a week-long business trip) I picked the kids up from school and play practice. I was so enjoying the time I had been given with them that I took them for pizza (meatless, it was a Friday after all). We came home and were joined by my college-aged nephew who goes to school nearby. And then came the shouts of “Daddy! Bounce us on the trampoline!” One of these days I’ll get them to bounce me.

Standing on the springy blue “floor” of the trampoline I heard all kinds of things. I heard laughter. That’s beautiful. I heard music. I had brought a bluetooth speaker into the yard so we could have a dance party. I heard one of the kids implore me “Daddy, do a flip!” On a trampoline I’ve done these flips a hundred times.

But this time was different.

I thought about it. Let’s tie it all together. 1) Sacrifice yourself for the kids. 2) Do hard things and be a man. 3) Avoid laziness like the plague. 4) Make it a prayer.

“God, help me amuse me children and gain strength. Amen.”

I bounced. I bounced higher. I bounced even higher. Then I launched and lurched forward. But something was different. Normally there are only three of us on this thing. Today my nephew was on it too. I don’t know if I was distracted or simply not paying attention. I flipped and did not roll forward enough. I landed on my head. I heard the most ghastly snap like when a person cracks his knuckles. And then I lay motionless for 45 seconds while the kids and my nephew laughed thinking the old man was playing a prank. Finally my nephew was able to hear my gasps. “Help… Me… I… Can’t… Breath…” It hurt like nothing I’ve ever experienced. He cleared the kids out and helped me roll off the trampoline. I could stand and walk, though with much pain, so I knew I wasn’t paralyzed. I’ll spare you the details of the rest of the evening except to say that I took a painkiller left over from my last surgery and rested as comfortably as I could. The ER on a Friday night would not have been able to do anything for me.

The next day I finally decided to go to an urgent care center that only handles orthopedic injuries. I was still in tremendous pain. Because of the previous spinal fusions in my lower back I wanted to insure I hadn’t done anything too damaging. A X-ray revealed a pretty nasty fracture of a vertebra in my mid-back. Turns out the lumbar fusions prevented me from rolling out of that flip the right way, hence something had to give. And there’s nothing they can do for me other than painkillers and rest.

There you have it, kids. Daddy sacrificed his body for your entertainment.

I literally broke my back (albeit this time unintentionally). And believe me, God has given me the grace as a father to know just how to use this bit of information to guilt you guys into a virtuous life. “Son, you won’t take out the trash? I guess I’ll do it… Owwwwww! No, don’t worry, my boy, it doesn’t hurt that bad. It’s just a minor – ouch – inconvenience. Not like I didn’t do that back-breaking flip for you…”

But did I hit the goals? I already mentioned 1) having sacrificed my body. 2) A 41 year-old man with titanium hardware in his spine doing a flip on a trampoline counts as “hard”, so, check on that one. 3) I didn’t say no when they asked me to play with them so I’m good on the “avoid laziness” thing. And I even said the following: 4) “Jesus, are ya’ comin’ for me?” as I lay immobile on the trampoline so, prayer, done.

Not a radiologist? I circled the break.

Sacrifice, Lent, the Passion, and True Joy

When I was growing up I was always captivated by the mosaic of the second station of the cross in our parish church in New Jersey. Jesus accepts His cross. In the tiled image Our Lord is depicted with arms outstretched and an expression of joy as the cross is presented to Him. He looks like a young man who has just encountered the woman he’ll marry and he recognizes the joy of love at first sight or like a parent, separated from a child at birth who is finally meeting that child.

This image of joyfully embracing the cross is the finally piece of the puzzle. Yes, I take physical pleasure in lifting weights and in laughing with my kids and in doing hard things and seeing hard gains. I thought of that image and began to ask God, naked in my cold, morning shower, to help me this Lent. “Father, if You will it, I can be made whole. I am a sinful man and Your Son sacrificed Himself for my salvation. I don’t fully understand what I’m asking but please, in Your mercy, let me suffer with Him.”

On this Lenten Friday, missing my wife, rejoicing in my genetic minions who grow more and more like their old man each day, grateful for all He’s allowed me to accomplish, striving for perfection, hoping in His grace… On this day He broke me. But He broke me because He loves me and He gives me a chance to feel that death I must undergo in order to rise to new life. I won’t overdramatize it; but this hurts. I will now have to sacrifice working out because I simply can’t if I want to heal. I’ll have to devote that time to even more prayer and meditation. I might lose those precious gains of which I was so proud and thus exhibit only three abs instead of six at the beach this summer and then I’d have to embrace humility. And it HURTS.

But I’m sure Our Lord’s back was broken under the weight of that cross and he received it with a smile.

Amen.

For those wondering what any of the things I’ve been trying should ACTUALLY look like…