It started innocently enough: a big Chicago snow storm followed by a period of relative warmth and rain, followed by the usual repeat of another anticipated eight inches of snow. Typical Chicago weather.
And I, being of unusual vim and vigor, set out to shovel the walk before work at the request of the Mrs. After all, 8 more inches on top of the slushy mix were to make for a hazardous path upon which to walk.
It was really heavy stuff. Not the usual fluffy white stuff. But the slushy/watery mixture was quickly moved off the walk since this had set back my usual before-work timing yesterday. I stood triumphant.
But there were a few last remnants of snow and slush that looked like they might represent a hazard. So I took one last past to clean those up, lifted the shovel only half-full of snow and, BLAM, a sudden piano-wire of sorts ruptured. I have no clue what it was, but there, standing on the sidewalk I was paralyzed with pain. It was like a 6,000 volt power line had attached to my lower back and sent it into uncontrollable spasm. I grabbed the nearby fence with my left hand and held the shovel handle with my right hand – not sure what to do next. Standing straight was not an option. Nor was twisting at all. My physician self thought: “Okay, I can still feel my legs. No real weakness. No radiculopathy. You should be okay. So walk.” Shuffling like a 90-year old with a walker in a torrential snow storm, I hobbled back to the house. Damn my back hurt.
I managed to get back to the house and first tried to lie on the floor.
Bad idea. I soon found that any attempts to right myself were met with remarkable spasms of pain. I could find a relatively comfortable position, but soon realized I could not lie there all day. So I log-rolled, flexed my knees just enough to rise to my hands and knees, then groveled back to a chair to plan my next move. Meanwhile, my back was still sending paroxysms of neuronal afferents to my cortex gleefully. Little bastards.
Now what? There I was, one hour before a full day of clinic was to start wondering what the heck do I do now? I mean what kind of idiot would do this to himself? Three surgeries tomorrow, weekend call this weekend. Back hurts like hell. And I’m unable to move except with remarkable discomfort. I have to get to clinic, I thought. My patients are probably already there.
My mind scrambled. I contemplated my next moves. I called my secretary to discuss the situation: perhaps reschedule folks? Have a colleague cover? Grin and bear it?
And then it dawned on me really why this was so terrifying:
A doctor had just become a patient and had to learn to negotiate their side of the health care system.