My Achilles Heal

My back is killing me. I sound like a guy in his mid-sixties who has seen better days and wants you to know. I used to haul camera equipment up hills, race through war zones in search of safety. Then, gradually I lost the ability move quickly or just stand straight before a mirror and shave. My back is giving out on me. The muscles feel weak, as if I am about to lean forward and fold in half.
Is there one part of your body, a single joint or muscle that feels weak enough to bring the entire structure down? I keep thinking about that camel that agreed to carry one last thin reed of straw. Probably, he still is in some veterinary hospital wishing he had remembered to buy insurance.
I had a disc problem in my lumbar spine, maybe the result of the contorted way I carry myself. I had a lumbar fusion and was assured I would be whole again. Not. The stress of the surgery kicked in the MS. Now I stand at the sink, struggling to stand straight as I brush my teeth or shave. My torso begins to fold like a napkin. I finish the job sitting on the closed toilet cover.
It is not my legs that limit my walking to only a few city blocks. Again it is my back.
I am not crying in my beer. I know that many have it much worse than I. I try to strengthen my core. Physical therapy is tough. I see small changes but nothing to write home to mother about. She is 93 and would tell me to stop kvetching anyway. And I will now.
But does any of this sound familiar, an Achilles heal that will not heal and is nowhere near your foot?

36 Responses to My Achilles Heal

  1. dale April 7, 2015 at 3:37 pm #

    Legs. Also the result of MS kicking in big time after surgery. Leaning on the sink is routine.

    And my reaction to grumpy people. Especially arrogant grumpy people. I have a hard time rising above their attitudes. But to react basically results in self inflicted wounds.

    I like your mom. A lot. Look at all she’s contributed to the world, Even if he likes to kvetch.

    • April 7, 2015 at 8:38 pm #

      She is a rock. Her husband of 62 years died from complications of MS. Sher has been there.


      • Dale April 8, 2015 at 12:06 am #

        Tell her she’s got a fan…..

  2. Amy Corcoran-Hunt April 7, 2015 at 4:32 pm #

    I’m a leaner. I help the toddler brush her teeth, but I don’t let her watch me brush mine, it’s not an excellent example.

  3. Joan Z April 7, 2015 at 4:50 pm #

    I can’t ever figure out cause and effect. I have times when I can’t stand up straight to brush my teeth, days when simply putting on socks and shoes folds me like a jackknife just sitting on the sofa. Then other days it all works fine (well, ok). I spend too much time wondering was it what I ate or drank last night, or godforsaken heat, or damn hormones, or star/planet alignment, or none or all of the WTF above. Just another day in the life…

    • April 7, 2015 at 8:40 pm #

      Don’t try to make sense of it.


  4. Jan April 7, 2015 at 6:10 pm #

    (I keep telling myself that I will only read; give responses a break. “Epic fail,” as my teen would say…)

    Yes, totally. This morning, I was up at 5 to bid farewell to an 80 year-old relative, and then did housework, more than my body is capable of. I’ll just rest later.

    Instead, former out-of-state neighbors got in contact. “Are you up for a short visit on the way to see our son?” Yikes, I silently sighed, eyeballs wide. “Absolutely; always glad to see you!” Now what am I going to do? When I’m in the nasty health triad of physically overdoing/overtired/in high humidity or if I try to cook a long recipe (without shopping, chopping the prior day), my body won’t cooperate (posture tanks, legs and back do not support, even when sitting).

    Had planned to rest: I will make it, I just will. (I give myself no options). Grief, the house is clean, but instead of a day in workout wear used more for aesthetics than function, I dressed more civilly, did the 3 min. makeup thing, and barely made it to my inside garage door. My back weak, bent over and hanging onto the door and trying for my wet-noodled legs to not melt like the Wicked Witch of the West, I know I could drive once in the car. But crossing from the door to a mere 5 feet to the car felt like conquering the Royal Gorge.

    I did it; glad no family was here to witness. The AC slightly revived what perseverance could not. Back to scooters, but this time on a guest grocery mission with no time to ruminate over using them. Perspective.

    So yes, MS can mess with my back, posture, ankles, head pain. As with both life in general and wielding technology, I do better when I make reasonable, balanced choices—but no longer have the luxury of normal spontaneity.

    • April 7, 2015 at 8:42 pm #

      Fun, isn’t it?


      • Jan April 7, 2015 at 9:20 pm #

        Richard, no, not fun (for any of us). And Louise, one of my biggest issues is that I often fail at striking a good balance with things… I just push on as hard as I can to accomplish what I “think” I should be able to (if it weren’t for MS, that is).

        But “think I can” and “reality” are not necessarily synonymous, and I’m trying to be more self-aware and manage more realistically. So, sometimes I really can tackle a, b, and c, but only if I don’t do x and y. It’s like that.

        And I typically don’t give up interacting with people but, for example, could have just rested and served water. They would for sure have understood. My perseverance is sometimes really stubbornness in disguise, likely.

    • Jan April 7, 2015 at 10:17 pm #

      oops: “bid farewell” meant than grandpa was flying home home after visiting us. The way I said that was kind of vague.

    • Yvonne April 8, 2015 at 9:21 am #

      Jan that was a perfect blow by blow of what my days will look like when my sister and her husband come visit next week for 4 days!

      • Jan April 8, 2015 at 10:50 am #

        Yvonne, I truly hope that your visit with your relatives will be a good one–that you will be able to “just be you” and enjoy time together; that they will know you for who you are inside, yet respect all that you are going through and appreciate your welcoming them for a visit.

  5. Jan April 7, 2015 at 6:19 pm #

    P.S, So totally worth it to see my friends! To me, it’s people in life who matter.

    • Louise April 7, 2015 at 7:50 pm #

      Yes Jan, I agree, kind of. For so,e reason that post made me think whom would I give up in exchange for no MS. Hmm………

      • Dale April 8, 2015 at 12:30 am #

        Bwahaha yes there actually are a couple of people I could exchange come to think of it. Today’s candidate was a combination of the EPA guy from Ghostbusters and Mr. Hyde. Dr. Jekyll must be on vacation. I think this guy’s a job for Richard’s mother. She’d know what to do.

  6. Yvonne April 7, 2015 at 11:47 pm #

    Again, why I love this blog. Who else truly understands how much I miss making my own sauce. Standing to chop…gone. Sitting to chop…gone(fingers) Standing to stir…gone. Sitting down and getting up intermittently to do this stuff…exhausting. I have tried braces but my back still hurts. The one I have now from Total E Medical(surprisingly Medicare paid) is probably the best I have ever had but still my standing, or should I say teetering, is limited. I clutch onto the vanity to brush teeth and hair. I wish I could get people to understand that sitting for me is a different kind of sitting. My back hurts and I haven’t found the chair that’s comfy and I’ve tried all kinds of coccyx support. I realize standing laying or sitting I will never be comfortable again.

    • Jan April 8, 2015 at 9:48 am #

      Yvonne, although nothing really helps when my back is weak, a few years ago my husband got me a somewhat pricey drafting chair with arms for the kitchen that I have found to be very helpful. While I don’t always use it, it can be extremely handy when cooking–stirring at the stove, gathering napkins/silverware, etc. during a hard health day (and was my buddy of sorts during that horrid flare in getting from one room to another).
      “Oh, you have ‘what’ and for how long?” As the commercial used to say, “Only her hairdresser knows for sure.” Well, only my family really sees what I go through. And not even then, actually. It’s like that for many of us, I suspect.
      It won’t give needed leverage to chop well, safely carry a pot with pasta/hot water to the sink to drain (I then alternate standing and sitting), but I do like it.

      And my “kids” find it fun. Study enough to support one who has some muscle on his 6’5″ frame! I sometimes spin in it like a ballerina.

      If anyone wants to know the exact model, just let me know and I’ll look in my files.

    • April 8, 2015 at 7:49 pm #

      It does not end, does it? Keep on truckin’.


  7. Dale April 8, 2015 at 7:55 am #

    A colleague broke his back in a climbing accident when he was young. He spent six months in a torso cast (taught himself to cook, his folks got him an account at a local gourmet grocery store that delivered and he sneaks through backyards collecting mushrooms). But he’s been on painkillers for the decades I’ve known him, Vicodin until just recently they switched him to Neurontin, That one surprised me. My mom had chronic back issues and was a ‘have Percocet will travel’. I am really symathetic.

  8. Jenny April 8, 2015 at 9:45 am #

    Wish things would be consistent (know it won’t be with this demon). One day I can stand at the sink for 5 minutes washing the dishes. My back and legs hold out for a time! Yay, maybe I am getting stronger! But then the next day…difficult standing 2 minutes to brush my teeth. A slap in the face with reality.

    • April 8, 2015 at 7:52 pm #

      The story of our lives.


  9. David April 8, 2015 at 11:31 am #

    Heavy is the word I use so much. The scale says 180 and that’s not too bad for my age, 61 and height at 5-11

    I weighed twenty pounds more before MS so whats up?, its the back of course

    Like you and so many of us the reality is we strain our backs to do what used to be so mundane a task, like shaving or now for me standing

    I feel like I will fold in half too

    I can take a lot of pain and I have but it seems like I am losing my ability to function and that I cannot take.

    The back is definitely my Achilles too,not near the foot but a former partner,lets keep moving.

    After all, the choices a few

    I am hoping all good things for everyone here!

    • April 8, 2015 at 7:54 pm #

      The story of our lives.


  10. Dale April 8, 2015 at 4:23 pm #

    Guilty. My Boston Strong wristband is right next to my MS Hope bracelet. Neither have come off since April 2013. The kid was right under our nose on the UMass Dartmouth campus.
    Everyone here was either in the race, at the race, or knew someone at the finish line. Feels like yesterday. But so does 9-11.
    Somehow not running the Marathon doesn’t seem all that important right now.
    to me

    • dale April 8, 2015 at 10:41 pm #

      Sorry, guess my real Achilles Heel is letting my emotions get the better of me. The mechanical part I can’t do much about.

  11. Jan April 8, 2015 at 6:21 pm #

    In context, a choice may not always be there.

    But when it is, I came across this quote: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t—you’re right.” – Henry Ford

    • Jan April 8, 2015 at 7:45 pm #

      Oh and Richard… Why is it I imagine I may now hear about the Edsel?

    • April 8, 2015 at 7:56 pm #

      Great quote.


  12. Linda Lazarus April 8, 2015 at 7:09 pm #

    Hello Richard
    I have repeated neck episodes. Sometimes it just does not want to stay up. When I go to the theatre or concert hall near where I life, I am lucky that I can get a seat in the last row which puts a wall at my back. I can lean my head against it in both places. Both theatres are small so sitting in the last row still puts me in great position.

    I bought kitchen chairs with very high backs for the same purpose. When my neck is dragging my face straight toward the soup bowl I push my body back and the chair catches my neck.

    This happens for weeks about half dozen times a year.

  13. Rosemary April 9, 2015 at 12:00 am #

    We’re all crumbling.

  14. Christopher April 9, 2015 at 6:19 am #

    Yes sir, it does sound familiar.

    Over the past 14 years my core muscles have atrophied and my back and shoulder muscles have taken up the slack–sort of. I empathize with Linda above… my whole body, and sometimes my neck, will bend forward when sitting up, and it’s a constant fight to keep upright when I’m fatigued. My back muscles are so strong now that they feel like bands of steel, and they even protected me from a few bad falls. The problem is the overall disparity in muscle strength/weakness. If I had a map of it, my right side and middle front would be weak, my left side and upper and mid back would be strong-ish and my legs would be stronger on the front sides and weaker in the back–pretty much unevenly. I have a lot of problems with pain in my back and hips and shoulders because of the uneven tension. Physical therapy is supposed to be good for this… time is the enemy here though. I have a full time job, and being a super slow critter now makes PT appointments almost impossible. From time to time I have a chance to stand up straight–usually when my neighbor helps pick me up and my back ‘pops’–and it feels soooooo good. If someone could capture that feeling in a pill, I would definitely become an addict.

    Unfortunately MS picks its battles without the benefit of alerting ahead of time, and is constantly moving. It’s like physiological drive-bys. One time it’s the back, then another the legs. Sometimes both, or even something else. The nature of the signal dysfunction to my muscles has some weird sensations sometimes. Every so often I will fall down because my legs become instantly weak without warning. But the signals from my CNS are still getting through, just sporadically. So I seem to fall down in slow motion, like I am pantomiming it. Then when I get to the ground, and I’m on my hands and knees, there is a moment of calm before I feel like my body has been taken over. I will go from hands and knees to going straight to the floor, head first. It literally feels like someone pushing me into the floor, and like that same someone is smooshing my face into the floor. I can’t push up no matter how hard I try. Then after a few minutes it reverts, and I can sit back up like nothing happened. Like I’ve been released from some weird wrestling hold. It’s disturbing, frustrating and creepy, to say the least. So, yes Richard… the stuff you describe sounds very familiar. If I had to pick a set of muscles as the worst offender, it would be my core–my abdominals. Ugh.

  15. Anthony Wright April 9, 2015 at 11:14 pm #

    If I am being honest here with you. I stumbled upon your blog in an interesting way. I was sitting watching Madh on Netflix, and the “Sniper” episode with Teri Garr came on, I immediately went to the Internet to find out what she has been up to. I found out about her condition (MS), and also about her brain aneurysm. I watched her on Letterman, then saw that she only did one thing after that and I dug deeper and found your blog about a conversation you had with her.

    Now, I am 38 years old. I have had spina bifida my entire life and have lived with unbelievable back pain day after day. The average person could maybe not tell you that I have this nasty condition, and it is not as bad as some have it, but I also developed degenerative arthritis in my neck and back, so I kind of get the worst of both worlds. I was debating on offering advice or support of any kind because truthfully I thought your blog post about Ms. Garr was out of line. To have that be the last thing she out out to the world, to have spoken with you and that blog post is what you chose to tell people, well I really don’t understand it.

    All that being said, I will offer some words to you anyways with the hope that since you have problems yourself at this point, maybe you could now come away from a conversation like the one you had with ms. Garr and offer more to people who may or may not be familiar with her work. Maybe not though, who knows. None the less, I’ll say this to you. Never give up. Never let it get the better of you. You know all that stuff the doctors tell you that you can’t do? Try to do it anyways. Live with the pain. Harness it as a way to show yourself that you work harder than those around you. Demand your body to work for you, because if you don’t, it’s over.

    I find it interesting that in said blog post I came her in the first place to read that you say how sad it is that Teri sounded or was, not that you would really know anyways, defeated. Well sir, you yourself sound that way to me now in this post you made. Maybe it’s something you needed, I don’t know. But I do know this… You can take this situation you are in and harness it for better or for worse, that is for you to decide. But if you want to continue living life, you better get on with it as best you can. Demand the most of yourself. Take care.

  16. Anthony Wright April 9, 2015 at 11:16 pm #

    Please excuse the few typos, I did all that on an iPad and didn’t want to lose it by proof reading it.

  17. Barbara April 10, 2015 at 2:12 pm #

    Not only do I lean into a respectful bow, but I also list. MS, while weakening my torso, revealed a previously undiscovered scoliosis. How interesting.

    MS finds my attempts to strengthen my body hilarious.

    Oh well, your mother is right.

    Press on regardless.

  18. Christopher April 10, 2015 at 2:37 pm #

    That’s cool that you give your MS a personality. Most times, for myself anyway, the disease actually feels purposeful… like it’s something personal, or a competition. I know how wacky that sounds, or paranoid, but that is how it feels from the inside. And the thought of a disease sadistically laughing at my will-to-power is an awesome visual tool.

    Thank you for that, Barbara.

  19. Kate Aquilino April 10, 2015 at 3:47 pm #

    It sounds to me like the MS hug. One time I felt as if my core got Bell’s Palsy and collapsed. My back muscles were not strong enough to hold me up alone. So I went to bed to think it over. For four days. I realized my bottom rib, especially, hurt. And the corresponding place it attached to my spine. I upped the Klonopin and faxed the doctor to let him know. I’ve had ms hug since 1978.