I recently found myself writhing in agony on a plane trip to South America. The pain was so bad that I arrived in Rio only to turn around and return three days into my trip. Upon my return to the U.S., I saw my doctor, chiropractor, and orthopedist. As you might expect, they all asked “What did you do to your back?”
I interpreted their question to be “What recent events might have caused the injury to your back?” and answered that there was nothing that came to mind. There was, in fact, nothing I had done to my back recently that warranted a diagnosis of two herniated disks. The doctors didn’t look convinced.
Since my appointments, I’ve thought more broadly about the doctors’ question and have come to terms with the reality that my history includes a lot of falling.
In the first grade, I fell on my neck after missing the ground with my feet during an attempt at the Death Drop from the monkey bars. I did finally master that upside-down hanging flip from eight feet in the air.
In the fourth grade, I showed off my ability to balance on the hind legs of my classroom chair. While I mostly hurt myself when the chair shot backward and into the floor, a few times I was holding a cup full of pencils. As you might guess, those were thrust straight into whatever group of students was sitting behind me.
In the seventh grade, I learned what a great feeling it is to make one of those soccer kicks that’s a combination backflip and kick. Then I learned that the jubilation that follows such a kick is followed by the eerie silence of people who don’t know how badly the player is hurt. I scored, but wasn’t allowed to play soccer again.
In the eleventh grade, I fell down a flight of stairs for the first time (the second time came almost ten years later in the law school library).
After college, I learned to mountain bike. My best friend and I went to Moab, Utah and did the Slick Rock Trail. My friend walked her bike down a steep part of the trail. I argued that so long as I lifted the wheels as I approached the ground, I’d ride right off the cliff and onto the continuing path. Gravity had other plans for me and the bike hit the ground at exactly the same angle at which it left the cliff. I flew over the handlebars and face first onto bed of sand. She said, “Wow! You looked like Superman.”
I’d fly again years later when I bounced myself off of a trampoline, 10 feet into the air and onto a grass lawn. The five-year-olds watching me were less convinced I was a superhero.
My back is slowly getting better. The docs are working me into an exercise routine and have me being careful about every move I make. I don’t like how planned all my actions have become. Perhaps that’s why lately I take great comfort in a tiny print that decorates my office. It reads, “Most people she never tells about the tightrope because she doesn’t want to listen to their helpful comments from the ground.”
© Laura Genao 2006