I’ve discovered, in my journey with stenosis, that I take my back for granted. This seems to me an absurd thing to say given the large number of episodes of spasm and soreness and stiffness I’ve had over the past 39 years, but in the midst of all of my intensive use (some might call abuse) in the studio and on the bike, all the strengthening and stretching, all the yoga and chiropractic and PT, the basic deal we’ve had is that it can make all the noises it wants but will keep operating more or less normally. But it turns out there was no deal–I made the whole thing up.

The posterior half of my lower body, lumbar spine through feet, is not working. First, I can’t quite stand up straight. I get ready, sit on the edge of the chair, lift my spine, pull my head back and over, stand, breathe deeply, center my weight to let the natural curves form . . . . but they don’t. My lumbar spine moving to its proper curve sends shooting pain down both legs. So my autonomic interlocutor, Proprioceptive Body System 2.0, uses its standard algorithm and generates a supremely normal reaction to pain: “Stop!! Don’t do it! Stay hunched over, man.” “Well, I’m gonna do it anyway!” says the aging-is-a-state-of-mind part of my brain. Ahh, defiant humanity! “Hmmm,” says PBS2.0, “it’s your funeral,” and lets loose with the lightning bolts. “It’s only pain,” I say, “a signal, not curse.” So the visualization begins. “Let the curve form, lift that midsection, open the space the space forming, let those posterior muscle carry the weight.” I try every trick I’ve learned over nearly fifty years of dance and athletics.

None of which work. So the very things I need to do to get better directly confront the condition. There also is a neurological component; my calves don’t work properly, so I can’t rise to half-toe, can’t push off my foot when I walk and tend to tip backwards on stairs, so I have to put my whole foot down all at once. “Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum,” I come clumping . . . like Abiyoyo. So much for sneaky romantic interludes with my sweetie. On top of it, remaining in what primarily is a defensive (pain-preventing) body posture twists me into psychophysical knots–that is, I get depressed and mournful. And I am unclear whether pursuing these things is improving the spinal environment or merely exacerbating the condition. It may be that surgery (next check-in, May 13) is the solution. But at best surgery will buy me some time. My stenosis is congenital. Dr Paul says he has seen these things resolve by themselves in six to 24 months, and I’m a bit short of four, so that not encouraging. My posterior spine is being held hostage, and the negotiations are delicate and ongoing.

Living with Half My Back