Stress and my Back Pain by
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Prompted By Stress

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At least my most recent round of back pain earned me this amazing chair

Until Trump and the pandemic hit, the thing that caused me the most stress was my back pain. I remember it dating back to 2003 when my twin granddaughters were born. It was my total joy to cut back a bit on work hours and help my daughter by watching them so she could work a bit. But as they grew, so did my back pain. By 2004, carrying them down the stairs together really hurt, so I sought all kinds of remedies — acupuncture, physical therapy, pain clinics, steroid injections. Basically, I was open to any nonsurgical intervention.

Until the pandemic hit, the thing that caused me the most stress was my back pain.

2006 brought a third granddaughter and perhaps the stress of my balancing act of being a preschool director and a helpful grandmother was growing. I now had a full-blown case of sciatica. A friend suggested an excellent surgeon who performed a miracle cure by operating on her friend’s back. After consulting with him and undergoing tests, my back was a mess, a disk was totally missing, and I needed a fusion at L5-S1. But don’t stress, said he. I told him my younger daughter was having a baby soon and he promised I would be fine in six weeks. In fact, I could probably return to work in three weeks.

Although the 2006 operation was a success mechanically, I arrived at my daughter’s that September to be “helpful,” but was in so much pain I couldn’t drive. Stress and pain levels were definitely a ten. The surgeon never answered any of my calls, just random residents who hadn’t even read my chart. At least I could hold my newest granddaughter and give what I hope was good advice. I came home exhausted and in great pain. At my follow-up visit, the surgeon said I had scar tissue pressing on my lower back and sent me to a pain doctor, who cured me with a steroid injection. By the dawn of 2008, I was in pretty good shape. I had cut back on my hours at work and was pain-free. But stress was not done with me yet. The twins had developmental delays and I had to help get them to numerous therapies. After the birth of my grandson in 2009, we found out his older sister had cystic fibrosis. And my back started to hurt again.

My father had died in July, 2012 and my mother needed my time and attention, so after stepping back at work to mentor a new director, I officially retired in 2013. I had to remove one stress from my life, and my grandkids’ and mother’s needs came before my job. Still, during the time of our father’s illness and death, followed by moving our mother to a retirement home and settling Dad’s affairs, there was a lot of conflict with my brothers. When my mother died in April, 2015, I was in therapy and hoping it would lower my stress level, which it did.

Trying to be calm when life hands me lemons and I’m in pain is a tough balancing act. A recent bout with sciatica combined with my newly diagnosed pseudo-gout led to 16 hours waiting in two different emergency rooms, followed by a three-day hospital stay. So far, 2024 has not been a gem for me. But I am improving and hoping to resume normal walking and exercising by March. Now if I could just banish all of the political stress from my life, maybe my back will be happy again.

Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: moving, right on!, well written


  1. Ah Laurie, I feel some of your pain! I had a bout with sciatica years ago, saw an orthopedist, a massage therapist, and then a pain doc who tried acupuncture – all to no avail. Then a friend recommended a chiropractor.

    I had always been wary of chiropractors but I was desperate and decided to give it a try and he seemed to have done the trick., and since – no sciatica.

    As for your political stress, I’m still feeling the pain!

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Thanks for another suggestion, Dana. Just urned off the tv, as the “news” was just more stressful stuff about Trump. Yesterday, our pharmacy went down for several hours — a hack kept it from communicating with insurance companies. Not newsworthy, even in local papers. Sigh.

  2. Jim Willis says:

    As if all you’ve been juggling in life, I know the last thing you need is back pain! But clearly you’re a trooper and, as you say, at least you got a cool chair out of it! I think the back is one of the great mysteries of our anatomical structures. I’ve had my own run-ins over the past few years (considering surgery, opting for the needle instead, etc.) but then it abates and, for a few months now, that pain disappears entirely even though MRI’s show my L4 and L5 to be fighting for breathing space. I wish you continued success with your spine.

  3. Khati Hendry says:

    Ouch! So sorry to hear of your travails. I sympathize—I have had back pain since my early thirties, though not as debilitating as yours—just a constant thing. Turns out back pain is pretty common, but can really incapacitate! And then there is everything else life throws at us. We need all the coping mechanisms we can get. I hope writing is one of them.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Writing is definitely a major coping mechanism, although I have to remind myself to get up and walk rather than getting lost in whatever I am working on. When I first retired, I wrote at least 4 blog posts a week for the now defunct ChicagoNow. I guess I had a lot to say back then.

  4. In the feature photo, my focus was not on the amazing chair but riveted on the perennial awesome Butler University Bulldogs! I have to admit that my reading, after that, was rather halting and lacking in depth. Just so great to know that out in Retrospect-land, there is someone else who can recall and celebrate the halcyon days (and the future too) of Hoosier college basketball!
    Meanwhile, I have been working for a year on my own story about back pain. So I can relate. And to the extent I managed to assimilate your story, it’s well told. Here’s hoping that at least the political clouds will stop exacerbating your stress.

  5. Betsy Pfau says:

    Laurie, thank you for sharing your entire history. I was really concerned when you told us that you’d been hospitalized, which is why you hadn’t written for a while. Backs are a very annoying part of our body. I, too, have had back pain for much of my life (though not as serious as yours). I did a number on myself in a Pilates fusion class, some years ago (about 7) and wound up with tendinitis of the left hip flexor, a sprained groin, and sciatica down the left side. It was only after I started PT (with the most wonderful therapist, who in on MV), that he told me I probably also had a bulging disc, which was confirmed by an MRI that autumn. After that, I did get a series of cortisone injections, which really helped. Now, when I start to feel something, I use a foam roller to try to align things. I’ve used a wonderful chiropractor for years. She does NOT do manipulation. She uses a little popping device (called an Activator) on meridians. Call it voodoo if you like. It works for me. I’m sure I will need a tune-up once I get out of this walking boot, as I am all out of alignment and my back feels it. And yes, stress absolutely adds to everything we feel, from family pressure to the craziness in this country and the world right now.

    Take care, friend, and feel better!

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