“My back is still hurting.”
“We’ll need to schedule you in for another appointment.”
“Instead of medications, you give me ‘activity logs.’ What ‘activity’?”
“I know this pain has been difficult for you. We might change meds once I get a clearer picture of what’s going on. Can you also bring your wife to the next appointment?”
She sighs once he’s left. She knows the signs. Clean x-ray, clean MRI. Hasn’t worked in a decade. Doesn’t walk around the house. Too scared to exercise.
“How did he even manage to drive here?” she asks herself.
The greying man hobbles out of his van. Up the three steps into his bungalow, grimacing.
“Dear, you must be so sore.” His wife ushers him into his well-worn recliner chair.
To his left, his son drinks a beer, keeping one eye on the TV, another on his kids. He flips the recliner back. Without his asking, his son rolls over the TV tray table and slides it into place.
His wife calls the family to dinner. The grandkids run into the family room, bouncing onto the second sofa. His daughter-in-law follows closely.
Dinner in the living room. A Friday tradition for the last ten years. His wife brings plates in for all. His is always, always the blue china plate. On it is a lovely beef wellington and a side of mashed potatoes. Everyone gets up to get food, but he remains seated. His whole family in view. He swells with pride.
When the meal is finished, he takes the special china plate in one hand and presses down on the chair with the other. A twinge of pain as he strains himself, but he stands.
“Dad, it’s okay. I got that one.”
His son takes the plate to the kitchen. He eases back down as the family cleans about him.
“Hey, Dad, how’d your appointment with the new doc go?”
He holds his back and grimaces. “She didn’t give me anything new. Says she has to ask more questions. Probably thinks it’s all in my head.”
“Maybe she’s not the right one either.”
Silence. Outside the room, the sound of kids and horseplay.
“Oh, that reminds me. Me and the kids are building the backyard rink again, right?”
“Sure. Always nice to see the grandkids having fun outside. Then they’re not causing trouble in here.”
“Unfortunately they’re not much help yet. You’ll have to watch over them indoors while I’m breaking my back out there.”
“Thanks for the help,” his son adds. “I know you’d be out there if you could, but we don’t want you to make it worse."
He thinks about how he would’ve liked to play hockey with his son and grandkids. Some 2-on-2 action, him and his son in net. How if, it weren’t for the pain, he would have played with his grandkids everyday for the past 10 years. And if the pain really was “all in his head”, then what meaning did not straining himself the past 10 years really have?
In the office, the doctor finishes her paperwork. She picks up her phone and sends a text.
“Mom’s going to be a bit late. If you’re hungry you can take a container from the freezer and defrost it, okay? Your sister too. Leaving work now. Be home soon. Love you, Mom.”
She pauses for a moment, thinking about the case of chronic low back pain she saw earlier today. Thinking of how she’s going to get to him. She’s scheduled the man for another visit in two weeks' time.