I learned several days ago that my neighbour, Sharon, has a problem with her lower back. She has a damaged disc near the base of her spine. Her physiotherapist told her this is not an uncommon problem. She is 53-years old. The physiotherapist said disc problems can come with aging and the inevitable deterioration of the spine.
(Details in this story have been altered to protect privacy.)
Sharon asked her physiotherapist what her life will be like when she’s 70. He said there will be new treatment methods available in two decades and to not worry about it. He is knowledgeable and Sharon believes his response. She is not a Polly-Anna person, but some pretty amazing developments are happening elsewhere in medicine, so why not hope?
Sharon and I spoke recently with Sharon’s mother, Laureen, about Sharon’s disc problem. Laureen is 20 years older than us so I figured she would have some philosophical thoughts to share, to help Sharon determine how she’s going to live with her back problem over the longer-term. I like what Laureen said.
Laureen shared the following. She stated, “Life is a pleasurable, fantastic downhill toboggan ride. There are bumps along the way. There’s a rock at the bottom.”
This assertion made us howl with laughter. The rock at the bottom, of course, is death.
Laureen is right. We all have to take this ride. We will all age. We will all eventually die. How we transition from the age we are to the age we will die at will involve hitting bumps. Sharon’s current disc problem is a bump.
Laureen suggested to us, “Hang on during the bumps. They’re only bumps. And in between bumps we get to enjoy this fun and wild ride.”
I like Laureen’s philosophy. I like Sharon’s physiotherapist’s suggestion, too, that we will be able to handle whatever comes along when we are 70.
Sharon is fortunate because her pain will almost certainly remit. To help minimize future problems as she progresses along the downhill ride that is inevitable, it will be helpful if she is 100% compliant with her physiotherapist’s recommendations. He will continue to give her exercises to do that consume at least half an hour a day. He told her that hiring a personal trainer to teach her how to have proper technique as she exercise will be key. She will wear good-for-you shoes because they will help her back. She will improve her posture. And she will lose 20 pounds because her physiotherapist said that losing weight is the single most important thing she can do to help herself avoid future flare-ups.
When we spoke with Laureen, she shared that she had received news about two of her good friends. She said both have been diagnosed with unexpected terminal illnesses recently. Neither will die imminently, but both can now see the rock coming into focus on their downhill rides.
As for Sharon? She is actively choosing to see the problem with her disc as a new part of her. She is motivated to learn everything she can about her condition so she will not have any surprises. Her physiotherapist said he’ll show her her x-rays next week when she comes in to see him so she’ll better understand what she’s dealing with.
Since talking to Laureen, we have also talked to a friend who has had Juvenile Diabetes since she was 30 years old. We spoke with another friend who had major reconstructive surgery on her ankle after a car accident, and who has regular migraine headaches. We are concluding that we all have something. More things will appear as we age. We’re all on this downhill toboggan ride together.
A psychiatrist I respect wrote me a letter last year. His last line was, “I wish you all the best in the future on this wide and wonderful ride.” I wonder if he knows Laureen?
Dr. Patricia Turner, Registered Psychologist, Calgary, Alberta
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