There’s a syndrome for everything that hurts, and most that don’t

I’ve been diagnosed with Acute Mechanical Back Syndrome.

Yeah, I hurt my back.

Chronic pain is different from acute pain, which isn’t cute at all. Years ago I spent several hours at a business fire, most of it with a steel breathing air tank on my back because I was a dumb rookie. You know those big external fuel tanks on the space shuttle? Like that, only on your back. The newer air tanks are lighter, but—too late.

Now my back hurts all the time more or less, but you get used to it. More or less. Chronic back pain is like members of Congress who just keep getting elected, and never quite go away.

Then there’s acute pain. One time at an accident scene I pulled a back muscle while helping to carry a body up an embankment. (Yeah.) I managed to crab-walk into the rescue truck, got home without whimpering too much, and died. This was back in the days when firefighters didn’t admit to pain, or to being without insurance.

That’s acute pain, which I don’t usually get in exciting ways. At fires I’ve had ceilings fall on me, faced venting propane tanks, been on burning roofs, and once I missed a step in a smoke-filled building and fell down a flight of stairs. (I’ve also done that in buildings that weren’t burning, but I’d rather not talk about it.) Generally I’m a pretty dull person, but every now and then I get into a situation.

But when I really get hurt? Never an interesting story, unless I embellish. This time, for instance, I’ve been laid up for days with intense lower back pain. What did I do? Rescue a kitten from a bear? Put out a flaming cocktail bar? Yank on Chuck Norris’ cowboy hat?


I jumped over a puddle.

Yep. Just did an extra-big scissor step over some water, and felt a “twang!” like an overstretched guitar string. Then came the acute pain.

“I’ll be better tomorrow,” I told my wife. I wasn’t. I hurt so bad I couldn’t even write. Luckily for me she’s an excellent nurse, although she did overdo it a bit on al the stuff she made me do. Heat, cold, pills, rest—sheesh. On Monday I crawled into the doctor’s office, and he prescribed some stuff that had me counting the little rainbows spinning around on the ceiling. Then he gave me possibly the best advise any man who wants to heal could possibly get:

“Do whatever your wife tells you to.”

Yep, tanks just like those … I had more hair then.


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8 thoughts on “There’s a syndrome for everything that hurts, and most that don’t”

  1. I feel your pain brother and while doing so, couldn’t help noticing that Acute Mechanical Back Syndrome is AM BS.

  2. My doctor gave me something for arthritis pain, but I didn’t get to see any little rainbows spinning around on the ceiling!

    I did see stars, once, when I hit my head on a washing machine door in a laundromat. It took an extraordinary level of klutziness to do that, too.

  3. I feel you, dude. Years ago I pinched a nerve high five-ing a guy at a baseball game, and I knew at that moment it was trouble the rest of the way. Now, with 2 bulging discs I seem to throw a throw out the back party almost every year. Just remember: your reward for all the pain is you get to count little rainbows spinning around on the ceiling.

    1. Yeah, you know, that’s something that puzzles me. Some people will commit all sorts of crimes so they can get drugs to cause that effect; I hate it. The sooner I’m off these meds, the better I’ll like it, and I really don’t get people who make up ailments to get more of them.

  4. Holy smokes, Batman! Didn’t I see you doing a cameo in Backdraft? Oh, you came by your back pain fair and square, and I hope it goes away soon. Thanks for the peek into a fireman’s life before equipment and technology improved. Wow, I can’t imagine rescuing anyone with that huge cylinder on your back!

    1. Yeah, I’m the guy who fell! 🙂 The air pack isn’t bad early in the fire, when you’re doing the exciting stuff. Later, when you’re overhauling and searching for hidden fire and the air looks clear but still isn’t, that’s when those tanks get heavy.

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