This Is What Happens When Your Back Turns To Mush

This is a story about pain. If you've ever had it, maybe you'll feel compelled to read on. If you never have, I hope you never do.

I had surgery on my back two days ago. A doctor slit open my lower back, swept my muscle and nerve tissue to the side, drilled through my vertebrae, and took out a piece of one of my discs that was pressing against a nerve running down my right leg. I'm told the disc is the consistency of crab meat. I had planned on asking the doctor to save whatever he took out of me. I kinda wanted to sell it or eat it. But I forgot to ask.

This is the third time I've had this kind of surgery. I'm 33. My first back surgery occurred when I was 18. You aren't supposed to have surgery on your back at 18. That's not good. Every time I have one of these surgeries, I can't help but feel my body has become increasingly and irretrievably broken. I can do everything right. I can stretch. I can exercise. I can lose weight. I can take all the medication in the world. None of that changes the fact that I have three degenerating discs in my spine, all stacked on top of one another, and that one false move will cause them to collapse once more, leaving me in complete fucking agony. I know deep in my heart that Monday's surgery was most certainly not my last.

I slipped my first disc for unknown reasons. I slipped my second disc playing touch football. I slipped my third disc less than a month ago when I was helping my son put on his shoe. That's all I did. I wasn't rock climbing or jumping out of a fucking plane. I was just trying to get a sneaker on my one-year-old. Hardly seems fair.

Pain is a terribly lonely, isolating thing. It's like depression, only it comes armed. By definition, pain is the brain's way of letting you know something is wrong somewhere in your body. In that sense, pain is a thought. And it's a thought that, no matter how hard you try, you cannot possibly express to someone else. It's all your own. No one can know exactly what it feels like. No one else can feel it jumping in and out of various points on your body, like Nightcrawler disappearing and reappearing out of thin air. No one else knows about those times when it subsides, only to cruelly come roaring back because you somehow displeased it in some manner. Pain will occupy your every thought while it's around. You cannot think about anything else, and you cannot engage with anyone else on a meaningful level while you're suffering from it because FUCK THIS HURTS. It makes you a different person, one who is monstrously self-absorbed and all too aware of that fact. Whenever my back gives out and my leg begins screaming in pain, I always picture myself at 60 years old, too far gone for any useful treatment and condemned to spend the rest of my existence memorizing the ceiling tiles.

After I had my second surgery, the doctor told me it would be best if I never ran or played golf ever again. Now, I suck at both those endeavors. Giving them up was not a terribly difficult thing to do. But there's still something disturbing about the idea that there are things I should not and cannot ever do again. It's like a part of your life has died, and I often find myself wondering what else I'll have to cross off the list down the road. I hope eating bacon won't ever have to be sacrificed.

Anyway, if you have a functioning body, I strongly recommend you take care of it. In the end, it's all you ever really have. And once it goes, you don't get it back. I played football (poorly) for 10 years. I never saw the field, but I did hitting in practice and all that shit. I never had a direct injury as a result of playing, but I know damn well that this rotting spine of mine would have been better off had I never played. Shit, I wasn't even good. I don't know why I even bothered. The doctor that operated on me showed me a model of fusion surgery, which is where they take out the entire disc and bolt together two of the vertebrae. It's what awaits me in the future. He told me that he performed this operation on Reed Doughty of the Redskins. Doughty was back to playing football mere months later. I would not want to be Reed Doughty at 40 years old. If my son wants to play football in school, I'm buying his ass a pair of soccer shinguards.

Now, some notes about getting operated on:

• I had to get an MRI before my operation. If you've ever had an MRI, you know that you have to lie down in a fucking tube for an unreasonable period of time. Up to 25 minutes. If you're watching a football game or reading a good book or something, 25 minutes goes by like that. But when you have NOTHING to do? When all you have to do is count down until you can finally get out? It's FOREVER. You feel like you've been buried alive. And the noise coming from the machine is deafening. It sounds like someone let a bunch of preschoolers into a drum shop. Do not get an MRI.

• They showed me the MRI on a computer in my doctor's office. The MRI is a cross section of what your body looks like. Basically, it's what you'd look like if someone butchered you. My vertical cross section looked like a side of beef. Some tasty cuts in there, to be certain. I'd eat me. I'D EAT ME SO HARD.

• They give you all kinds of kickass hospital bracelets when you have surgery. I love these things. I feel like I went to six happy hours whenever I wear them.

• I had to sign a consent form allowing the doctor to give me a blood transfusion if I lost blood during the surgery. And all I could think while signing it was, "Please don't give me the AIDS blood. Please don't give me the AIDS blood." Because I know damn well they have the AIDS blood ready in a super-duper emergency, like if all the O negative is gone and they HAVE to use the AIDS blood, they'll use that AIDS blood.

• They made me wear latex stockings prior to the surgery to prevent blood clots in my legs. These stockings turned me on far more than they should have.

• Everyone is very nice to you when you have surgery. They pay attention to you. They fetch you things. They clean up your vomit, regardless of where you vomit. It's cool. Before I left the hospital, I barfed orange Gatorade into a plastic bag. Lots of it. The nurses were way impressed with my output. Then I just handed that shit to a nurse and she took it away without complaint. Let's see your sorority sisters be that proactive.

• It's not fun to get surgery right as your COBRA insurance is about to lapse. You'd be surprised how many health insurers don't want to insure a man with three back surgeries and a scotch habit.

• I had outpatient surgery, which means you go home the same day they cut you open. But they won't let you leave the hospital until you go to the bathroom. Because of the anesthesia and drugs, my bladder was paralyzed. I couldn't go. I strained and pushed, but nothing came out but a tiny trickle. That's when the nurse said, "Okay then, we'll have to catheterize you." And that's when I said, "HANG ON, BEEYATCH." And I summoned the strength of a thousand bladders and squeezed out 250 mL of dust-brown fluid. The nurse told me virtually every man gets right to pissing after she brings up catheterization. And with good reason. I've never had a tube up my dick, and I ain't starting. If you've made it through life without a tube up your dick, I say you've come out ahead.