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Indestructible

How a common injury triggered existential concerns

I went to the doctor with E. I used to make fun of my parents who went to these things together, but here I am, sitting in front of a doctor, the universal secular authority figure, telling him about the increased pain in my lower back.

He examined me. “You most likely have some sort of dicopathy, a problem with one of your lower discs,” he said. “As you are young and fit, it might be a good idea to have an MRI in order to decipher what exactly is causing your pain.”

A week later, the MRI results were in, and my phone rang. It was the doctor. “You have discopathy at L5 S1. A surgery is not necessary but you will need physiotherapy. Give me a fax number to send you details”. I asked him a few questions — how long will the recovery take, is it serious, can I exercise? — and then hanged up. It was all too confusing. “I’m only bloody thirty, what the fuck?”, was my initial though, which I unfortunately vocalised at my workplace.

I turned thirty a bit over a month ago. The news about the discopathy came on top of increasing concerns about time passing by. I have suddenly grown all too aware of the wrinkles shaping on the faces of my loved ones and myself. Any encounter I have with mirrors is overshadowed by the possibility of an unwelcome surprise.

Until recently I didn’t care much. I have maintained the same perspective towards life (and therefore death) for some years now: that we should try to make the most of what we have, to impose as less pain on others as possible, and to try to make a difference to one person’s life at a time. By my scale, a life worth living is devoid of high expectations, though such are of course not discouraged, and indeed occasionally achieved. The point was to manage expectations in order to cruise life smoothly and generate feelings of felicity from simple, everyday pleasures. A zen-like existence, which makes me fare well in high stress situations and seem pig headed in normal, domestic contexts.

Looking a bit deeper, it becomes obvious that my careless outlook has been based on the performance of my body, owning to the fact that it was only in my mid-twenties that I started taking good care of myself. It was then that my body started performing well. From there onwards, I felt stronger and stronger. Indestructible. Up until a few days ago.

I still have trouble fathoming how my body gave up on me in such a way. Is this it from now onwards? It can’t be, though the wrinkles and my decreased ability to metabolise alcohol indicate otherwise. Will I recover fully? And if I do, will I ever feel as comfortable with my body as I did a week ago? Maybe I will feel like someone who got robbed and is always afraid of it happening again, always vigilant for perspective violators. I hope not.

It is not that I lost perspective. I know that, in the grand scheme of things, this is not a big deal. But I have been committing a hubris, which I only now realise. I was not acknowledging the passage of time.

Would I like to turn back? Most definitely not. Intellectually, I feel that I am very much living through my prime years, and that my best years maybe ahead. In the past couple of decades I made loads of mistakes, got disappointed with myself and others, celebrated successes and swallowed failures, and somehow managed to survive only to become stronger and more aware of my abilities and limitations. I wouldn’t trade that for the world. But I am concerned. I don’t know how to process the effects of this pretty mundane injury. Writing this helped a bit.

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