Pain Train

It begins with a back ache. What is this? I see my doctor, leave with prescriptions. Things worsen. The pain scorches down my right leg, a flamethrower. I learn not to bend over. I learn not to put any weight on my right foot. I refuse to cough I lean on the grocery cart in the market. I buy a cane.

Art Work

The chiropractor’s form depicts a human figure. Draw your pain. I shade in a band across my lower back. Arrows down my leg. In the waiting room, other people concentrate, sketching the dimensions of their private prisons.

Thanks but No Thanks

I stop walking the dog. I stop going out with friends. I cancel a trip to California. I keep the porch light off. No one is coming over. I force myself to go out. I double up on pills, drink some wine. Squirm in my chair. Pace the back rows. Home, I bend over the sink, elbows splayed, right leg lifted. A giant wounded bird.

The Things She Carries

I trade in my shoulder bag for a purse. I trade in my purse for a wallet. I trade in my wallet for a few bills in my pocket. Camera?Fuggedaboutit!


Tylenol; Ibuprofen: Alternate if necessary. It is always necessary. Apple sauce. Plastic spoons. Index cards with scribbled numbers. 6am, 10 am, 2 pm, 6 pm, 10 pm, 2am I ask my doctor: How long can I stay on these pills? She shrugs: For life.

Happy New Year

In November, the receptionist at the chiropractor says, This is covered by your insurance. But you have a $2000 deductible. In January, the receptionist at the physical therapist says, This is covered by your insurance. But you have a $2000 deductible. The massage therapist doesn’t have a receptionist. She says, This isn’t covered by your insurance.


Getting dressed is torture. And I am always cold. I wear black stretch pants, black socks and black slip-on shoes. A black hair band. Oh, and a wide black elastic back brace. I open my closet: Cute skirts and cool boots. Bright tops and gauzy dresses. Who was that person? I catch a glimpse of my reflection: Dark circles. Mouth a thin slit. Old….


The physical therapist watches me walk. You’re putting all the pressure on your left side. The next week, she watches me again. Now you’re pitched forward. The pain specialist strikes my left ankle. My foot springs forward. He strikes my right ankle. Nothing. He looks up: This is permanent.

False Hopes

Stretching. Massage. Yoga. Swimming. Acupuncture,  Injections. Don’t think about surgery. Too much can go wrong…

Social Studies

I pace the crowded waiting room of the MRI center. A woman asks, Your back? She’s had bad discs for years. Two others agree: I’ve had disc replacement twice one says, I’ve had fusion, says another. My pain is 7 out of 10, one says. The first woman chirps, I’m always at 8. I’m starting to dislike these people.


Bedtime arrives earlier and earlier. I sleep on my side, right knee pulled up. I think about the word: Ache. The long drawn out AAAAAA. The choke of CH. In the bathroom, in a basket of scarves is a bottle of oxycodone. Don’t go there.

The Haves and the Have Nots

At a stop light, a woman jogs through the crosswalk Shorts and tee shirt, strong legs. Then a man rolls by backwards in a wheelchair, pushing off with one foot. Our eyes meet. He nods. How did I miss all these damaged people? It is as if I was standing on a mountain unaware of everyone buried below. I’m one of them now. Underneath.