The five stages of a back injury – my sincere apologies to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross


The other day we gave our dogs a bath. This dusty weather makes them itchy. Their coats feel like silk afterwards, and they stop chewing and scratching so much.

yeah, afterwards is great!

The bathing part, however, is quite horrific. Badges takes his medicine, sweet little chap. But Biscuit, she makes the Tasmanian Devil look like a woos.  She tries to bolt at first, we have to take a firm grip on her collar. Then she turns to stone, tensing herself up and refusing to cooperate. We can expect to get clawed and/or bit eventually, when she’s still soapy but she decides she’s had just about enough.

This time, afterwards wasn’t so great. My husband had a pinched expression on his face and moved like a veeerrrry ooooolllld man. He held  tight on the railing as we marched upstairs to get some coffee, and before he finished his cup he was in the bathroom, rummaging around for the heating pad. He went and laid down on his back on the bed without a word.

It wasn’t the dog bath. My husband has gone a little overboard trying to squeeze in a lot of work in this very nice weather. He’s been all over the place,  doing all kinds of repairs to our house and our rentals, getting ready for El Nino. It was bound to happen at some point, I’m just glad it happened at home.

I’ve seen this before, and I was worried. Last time it took me two weeks to  get him to go see a doctor.  Now, that’s denial. 

Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross described the stages of grief associated with death – I’ll borrow her theories in relation to an injury. In denial, she says, the individual “imagines a false, preferable reality.”  Yeah, my husband imagines he does not have a sprained back, easy enough. Nothing hard work won’t cure!  Suddenly there are more chores that need to be done even more urgently and quickly. He goes outside and looks for big stuff to pick up, I swear to Gawd.

But it doesn’t last long, realization sets in fast. Here, my husband enters the next stage of back injury grief: anger. He curses himself for trying to re-finish a floor in two days, for trying to lift an air conditioner unit into a window by himself instead of waiting until my son could get back from the bathroom, loading a bunch of junk into the back of our truck without asking anybody for help, etc. Very unpleasant grumpy old man behavior – I always try to find something to do outside during this short-lived phase of the process.

Here we enter bargaining.  He’ll lay down with the hot pad for an hour if he’s allowed to go outside to clean the shop. I see the denial sneaking back in here but I’m nagged out at present and turn my attention to something in the kitchen. I set the stove timer to remind myself to go out and make sure he’s not laying in a heap somewhere along a pathway. Within 15 minutes he’s croaking back up along the stair railing, heave-ho, back into the bedroom, turn the pad up on HIGH. I reset the timer to remember to turn the pad down before he gets third degree burns. This scene plays itself out again and again over the entire first day.

Day Two sets in with depression. Having wobbled back and forth all day yesterday he finally gave up on denial and bargaining somewhere on the stairway. The second day he lays in bed. Why get up if he can’t do anything? I hate to agree, but I know from the last time this happened, that’s what he needs to do. I let him stay depressed if that’s what it takes to keep him off his feet for a day or so.

Of course I nag him every hour or so to get up and have a snack, watch some tv, walk around. At some point, he moves into acceptance.  It doesn’t take him any time to get sick of sitting around in pain. He gets into his aspirin regimen and starts doing the bed exercises the doctor suggested.

Four days later he’s got his gait back, but he still has a pronounced limp. I got him to wear the back brace belt, he says the pressure is comforting. But, I swear to Gawd – we got a delivery yesterday, and I had to follow him out to the truck to make sure the driver did all the lifting. I was embarrassing, sure – “this guy right here” – I pointed at my husband with my shrew finger – “has a bad back,” I nagged the delivery man. I’m a free-lance nag, don’t get in my arm space or I’ll nag you too.

Now my back hurts, but you didn’t hear that from me, cause I’m in denial.



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