Expat Life: What a Drag it is Getting Old

This is about right.  via

Although MrLogical is the one who recently celebrated an iconic* birthday, it seems that MsCaroline is the one who is experiencing all of the degenerative effects of old age.  MrL - with only a little less hair that is, possibly, ever-so-slightly greyer - still weighs the same as the day we got married, wears the same size trousers, and is apparently, still as fresh as a daisy.  He goes to the gym regularly (sometimes twice in one day,) takes hideously long bicycle rides with his Korean teammates, and generally enjoys the rudest good health.
Gratuitous photo of MrL who is still as hawt as ever after all these years.  

In stark contrast, MsCaroline - who is almost 2 years younger - is having problems tying her shoes.

Up until 4 years ago, MsCaroline had never experienced back pain (except the pregnancy-induced kind) in her life, treating her back with no more consideration than, say, her knees (and they're another story) or her elbows (still good, so far.)  Then, she flipped over the handlebars of her bicycle on a 25-mile 'fun ride at mile #12 but insisted on getting up and doing the rest of the ride' took a small tumble from which she experienced no immediate obvious adverse effects (except the bruising of her person and her dignity.)

Three weeks later, she bent over to vacuum under the bed, and joined the ranks of those whose lives have been forever changed by back pain.

Over the course of the next few months, MsC experienced the joys of both chiropractic and conventional medicine, and, after more than a year of pain pills and steroids and chiropractic and injections and x-rays and MRIs and PT, finally got to the point where she was until yesterday: living with a ruptured lumbar disc which is mostly OK but sometimes flares up and causes problems.

MsCaroline is not bothered too much by this.  She knows if she keeps up with her PT exercises, doesn't lift too much, and puts an icepack on the affected area as soon as it begins to hurt, her life is not significantly affected by her quitter back, and all is well.

Apparently, however, once one part of your back starts to go, it's all downhill from there.

Yesterday morning, leaving for work,  MsC bent over to tie her shoes, and experienced the electrifying sensation of someone stabbing a knife directly behind her shoulder blade.  "Ah," she thought, "I've pulled a muscle or pinched a nerve or something.  I'll try stretching it out."

This did not work.  In fact, it intensified the sensation, to where MsC was gasping for breath - another problem, because, as it turned out, taking anything but the shallowest of breaths was excruciating.  MsCaroline's solution for this was to panic breathe shallowly and rapidly, which - I think we can all agree -is not ever a good idea when you are alone in the apartment, in serious pain, and late for work.

Eventually, MsC -still convinced that she'd pinched a nerve - hobbled back to her laptop, where she did the dumbest thing any human being can do when in pain the 21st-century equivalent of calling her mother:  she Googled her symptoms, hoping to find some stretches that would help her un-pinch whatever she had pinched.

You may be surprised to learn that, when one Googles 'sharp pain in shoulder blade,' the first 250 or so hits offer no useful suggestions whatsoever for 'un-pinching' a nerve.  Instead, the alarmists all recommend immediate transportation to the hospital via ambulance to investigate a suspected heart attack.  Even though MsC was pretty sure knew that she wasn't having a heart attack, the excruciating back and neck pain - combined with the lightheadedness from all that shallow breathing - were messing with her brain, and she started picturing Son#2 and MrL arriving home that evening to find her lifeless corpse on the floor, her laptop open to the Mayo Clinic's  'How to Tell if You're Having a Heart Attack" page.

Eventually, MsC calmed herself down enough to accept that, pinched nerve and blinding pain or no, she would not be expiring - at least not before work- that day, and that she'd just have to get herself out the door and hope she didn't pass out en route from hyperventilating.  Tossing down a handful of ibuprofen and hoping for the best, she Quasimodo'd her her way out of the building to the taxi stand (no time to wait for a bus.)

The trip to work in a taxi was actually quite helpful, because the sweet old driver's insistence upon showing her the photos of his visit to the Grand Canyon on his Smartphone - while driving in morning rush hour traffic - distracted her from the fact that she could not breathe.  In fact, during that ride, she discovered that, if she bent her right arm at the elbow, held it at a 90-degree angle to the side, and pushed it back as far as it would go while taking a deep breath, the pain was bearable, and she could get enough oxygen into her system to retain consciousness.  Needless to say, it was probably a little alarming for the taxi driver to observe this in his rearview mirror, but MsC figured he was so engrossed in scrolling through his photos on the phone, he probably didn't care too much.

MsCaroline arrived at work, still flapping her arm at regular intervals (it looks a lot like someone imitating a one-winged chicken) to ensure oxygen intake, and started off on her long day.

While the children were blissfully unobservant, more than one of MsC's coworkers commented on her strange arm gyrations.  All of them - despite being about a thousand years younger than she is - commiserated fully and offered suggestions for relief, ranging from a few stiff belts of schnapps (after work, of course) to acupuncture.

The most practical - and immediate- suggestion, however, came from one of her coworkers who recommended applying heat in the form of one of those adhesive patches that can be affixed to the affected area (in the US, they usually smell like menthol.)  However, she assured me that the Korean version was far superior and - bonus! - did not smell like menthol.  When I expressed doubt at my ability to communicate my desire for just such a patch to the Korean pharmacist, she whipped out a pen and paper and wrote down exactly what I would need, and I gratefully tucked it into my pocket on my way to sing, 'The Itsy-Bitsy Spider' for the 53rd time that day.

This is Korean for (roughly) "adhesive back patch that will make a pinched nerve feel better."

Naturally, by the time the end of the day rolled around, the neck pain had settled down enough to the point that MsCaroline could take a reasonable breath without too much pain, and - if she was careful about it and didn't turn her head too far to the right - she was doing OK.  Based on those improvements - and the fact that she had no desire to schlepp to the pharmacy in the grey misty drizzle hanging over Seoul - she headed home, applied a heating pad, and put herself to bed at 7:45, optimistic that, by tomorrow morning, things would have returned to normal.

Needless to say, it's now tomorrow, and things are back where they started.

MsCaroline will be stopping at the pharmacy on the way to work, and someone else is just going to have to get dinner.

In the meantime, she's decided she's definitely wearing slip-on shoes today.

*A significant one ending in zero


Unknown said…
I love, love, love your blog!
Karen said…
Just a few words before I go commiserate with hubby, who may have the flu. My words are, "doctor," "fabulous fast clinics," and "get thee there." Does not sound good Ms. C. As for me, I'm supposed to go to Albany for girls' weekend but not if hubby has flu....sad weekend for us girls! Feel better....soon.
Stacy said…
I must confess that you made me laugh out loud several times and then I immediately felt guilty for laughing (holdover from Catholic upbringing) but I couldn't stop. I hope your little patch was helpful, the pinchedness has been relieved and you are back to living more or less on peaceful treaty terms with your wretched back. It's hell getting old, but as my father always says, it beats the alternative.
MsCaroline said…
Sara - awwww...thank you! Sometimes after I hit 'publish,' I start second-guessing myself - especially on topics like 'back pain.'

Karen - Trust me, if things don't improve rapidly, I'm there. However, I'm discovering that it seems to get better over the course of the day, which tells me it must have something to do with stretching...hope it turns out to be seasonal allergies, and not the flu for DH, and the girls' weekend can proceed as planned!

Stacy - No guilt - I wanted you to laugh!In fact, I'm glad you laughed - I figure most people (or at least, women) can identify, and I really did feel pretty stupid flapping that arm around. Your dad is absolutely correct, although I have to say it's just been the last couple of years that I've finally started to 'get' what people were whining about.
Trish said…
Ah you do write a good post, missus!
In our family it is the husband who suffers with his back, despite him being the more active one in the partnership. His mantra is 'keep it until it gets better' which is helpful.
MsCaroline said…
Trish - thanks very much - very flattering compliment from a BiB shorlister! Interesting to hear Dougie's way of handling back issues - one always imagines that docs have a stash of secret remedies that the general public doesn't know about. I've affixed my patch and am patiently letting time do its thing.
MisterLogical said…
In the interest of full disclosure, MrL has been known to do the "walk-like-you-got-sumpin-violating-yer-private-spaces-cuz-you-cannot-move-without-blinding-pain", and has also found various lumps and bumps erupting from random locations on his 50-year-old person. At least we'll grow decrepit together.. ;-)
Love this!! I could have so easily have written the same post. My husband also turning 50 next month and sounds fairly identical--apart from his cycling buddies are not Korean. And yes, I sound fairly identical to you. It gets bad when you start a google search and the predictive google suggests a series of health related searches for you...

Great post.
Nance said…
Oh, I'm so sorry. Back pain is so defeating. Rick has been a sufferer forever, and I'll spare you the details. Don't wait too long to see a doctor. Just think if it meant that you could be lessening this pain!

Your husband does look very fit, which I would find tres annoying. How dare he flaunt all of that in front of you as you cower on your bed of pain? I find most cyclists to be The Worst Offenders when I am trying to wallow in my discomfort. They and runners make me fidgety.

It's people like that who make me linger in my jammies and fleece blankie until noon in open defiance. I hope they're happy with what's become of me.
MsCaroline said…
Michelle- I wonder if there is a pattern to this - cycling husband, wife with dodgy back...? The older I get, the less likely I am to look at Google for information: it just makes me too paranoid. I've heard that the anxiety resulting from Google health searches are referred to as 'cyberchondria.' Seems to fit the bill for me, although I was pretty sure it wasn't a heart attack. ; )
MsCaroline said…
Nance - It *is* annoying, isn't it? MrL insists he has just as many infirmities as I do, but I'm not sure I believe him. If he does, it means either: a) his are much milder than mine, which doesn't count, or b) he is in just as much pain and doesn't let it slow him down, which implies that I'm a wuss. Neither option is acceptable, in my book, so I'm going to assume he's just fine. About the back issues - believe me, I take them seriously, having already been down the steroid/spinal injections/pt/stupid-making drugs route. We have fabulous health care here in Korea, so the next time I'm at the doctor I'll mention it and they'll probably scan it then and there. And in case you're interested...I'm wearing fleece at this very moment.
Anonymous said…
Probably the funniest post on back pain I will ever read! I especially love the visual of Son#2 and MrL arriving home to find lifeless corps on the floor with your laptop open with search results for 'How to Tell if You're Having a Heart Attack" page - not that I hope that that happens - but it does make me wonder just how often this does happen to people! Great post!
BavarianSojourn said…
Oh no, poor you! I hope things ease up a bit? I had a trapped nerve in my neck once, they prescribed me diazepam. My neck was soon to be the most relaxed it had ever felt, as was I! :D
MsCaroline said…
Outbound - you know, once I got past the worst of it and realized I'd live, I did realize just how ludicrous the whole picture was! I'm much better now, and I got a blog post out of it, so no harm no foul!

Emma- When I ruptured the lumbar disc, they gave me some pretty powerful drugs, too, but I don't remember getting diazepam! Whatever they gave me just made me feel slow and stupid - not relaxed at all!
Many sympathies, and hope it recovers soon - my ongoing aches and pains have made me realise just how debilitating and frustrating back pain can be (particularly when my husband is still going off for early morning runs, on the route that I pioneered).
Circles said…
I'm so sorry to hear this, but I'm so glad you wrote about it! Wonderful post! Once again, was so relieved to hear I'm not the only person at risk of cyberchondria! I do hope the pain is receding and you're feeling okay. I loved your description in your apartment - I had a similar incident in the middle of the night the other week - a panic attack out of the blue - must have started while I was sleeping!! And I told DH to call an ambulance. He had the sense not to and I was able to calm down. (I, however, did not have the sense to resist consulting Dr Google in the morning!). I really hope you feel better very soon xx
MsCaroline said…
Nappy- Yes, once you've been there, you really do have a new appreciation for how back pain seeps into every.single.aspect. of your life. I will say, though, I think you have had a lot more challenges with yours than I have had with mine - and I felt like I spent most of my disc episode crying in bed, not chasing littlboys... Still hoping that they find that magic cure - and that you'll be back to your running! x
MsCaroline said…
Circles - We absolutely must meet someday- too many parallels! I've had a couple panic attacks myself, although the worst one turned out to have been triggered by - of all things - a decongestant. I woke up about 2am convinced I was dying. Had no idea what could be wrong, since I assumed a panic attack would have to happen when you were conscious and able to actually be panicking about something! I (stupidly) Googled myself, too, which just worked me up even more. MrL is always telling me that if I don't stop it he'll figure out a way to disable Google on my laptop. ; )
My new word: 'cyberchondria'! Thanks for that. Last night I was googling away again. My husband calls them my 20 second cancers. He's not trying to be dismissive, just realistic!
MsCaroline said…
Michelle - Just read your comment to MrL, who nodded his head knowingly. I so wish I thought the way he did: when something's wrong, he makes an appointment, goes in, tells them what's wrong, and lets them get on with their business- not me! I surf and google and worry and second-guess and read forums to the point of misery; by the time I actually get to the doctor, I'm a basket case! I wish I knew why I feel like it's my responsibility to go in having already diagnosed myself. It's very challenging without a medical degree....; )

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