Joco Opinion

Carrying on, and not, with a thrown-out back

I was behind the wheel in a rental car, doing my best to avoid pain. I had, shall we say, an unusual “ice pack” pressed against my lower back. My parents were along for the ride as we headed west from Long Island to Brooklyn. A dinner date with my uncle beckoned.

Specifically, the thing I had tucked in my waistband was a frozen Williams-Sonoma Guy Buffet wine bottle sleeve. It’s basically a circular ice pack, a clever, portable “wine bucket” for chardonnays and such. My folks store two in their freezer. I rotated both during this recent back attack.

Despite the whimsical art print of snooty French waiters, these bottle chillers doubled as perfect medical devices. I had already been using ’em for two days. Fancy.

Pain is the mother of invention, especially when one has sudden back issues whilst out of town. It was unbelievable to me that my parents, at their seasoned stage of life, did not have even one official CVS Aisle 7 first-aid ice pack in their freezer. They’re CVS junkies. How could they not own emergency icing products? These are grounds for AARP revocation.

I would have hobbled out to purchase an official re-freezable icing bag, but I figured, why risk more jostling when Guy Buffet, M.D., was at my fingertips? That, plus my parents’ Ben Gay arsenal (redemption for their lack of ice packs) was all I needed to get through the first rough 48 hours.

But wait, there’s more to the story. Of all times for this fiasco to happen, the sneaky back zap came on the night of my birthday. You would think ticking off another year was enough of a reminder that my body part warranties were getting flimsy. But no, fate had unfurled a twofer: blow out the candles and the back!

Earlier on that birthday, I had noticed my lower spine area felt stiff and a bit achy. It apparently did not approve of my recent series of unfortunate lumbar events. I had been hoisting densely packed carry-on luggage for connecting flights, sleeping on a guest bed with cotton candy-level firmness and undertaking chores around my folks’ house. What a perfect storm for a wonky back rebellion.

My concern grew as the “celebratory” day wore on. I noticed with each rise from a chair, some discomfort followed. But magical thinking took over. This was not a bad one, I told myself. It’s been worse. Some dopey stretches and good night’s sleep were all I needed.

But that night, as I was washing my face: ZOINK. The exclamation point to the day’s simmering symptoms. I had slipped beyond a mere stiff back. My face was soaped up at this moment of truth. I opened one eye to a sudsy, burning squint. The sink seemed so low, so far away. I couldn’t bend over it to let the rinsing water fall from face to drain. Instead, I stood up straight and splashed the water anyway, soaking my pajama shirt.

And that was how my episode of “bad back improvisation” began. There would be no sudden moves, no bending at the waist. If I dropped items on the floor that could not be hooked with an upside-down clothes hanger, they stayed there. Ground level, to me, was terrifying. Worse, I had to abandon some plans. But I kept the important ones, like the promised dinner date two days later with Uncle Bill.

Another “improv” thing I did that week was breach my rigid air travel philosophy. Though I normally avoid the baggage claim scene, I checked in my carry-on spinner suitcase for the connecting flights home. But the most brilliant adjustment, I dare admit, was foregoing bags of frozen peas for my special lumbar ice packs.

Onward and upward to more rigorous back strengthening exercises, and to using Guy Buffet wine bottle chillers for their intended purpose. Cheers.

Reach Denise Snodell at or on Twitter @DeniseSnodell

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