Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Oh, My Aching Back!

I know how you feel, Mum!

I recently threw my back out, lifting an air conditioner.  I mentioned before that as you get older, the body starts to fall apart.  You realize - far too late in life - that everyday activities are slowly eroding various body parts.  And the ability to replenish and renew deteriorates over time.  The Queen, over 90 years old, just threw her back out and couldn't attend some ceremonies.  I understand how she feels!

There are a myriad of back problems that can occur, the least serious is a muscle spasm, which can be brought on by lifting something too heavy or too much of the wrong exercise.  A muscle relaxant, an ice pack, a heating pad and it all might go away - only to come back later, of course. Massage helps.  We've had friends have "wedges" inserted into their spinal discs and in most cases it works out OK.  In the few it doesn't... well, it is better not to have to have surgery than to assume that they can "fix" you once you are broken.

But there are more serious problems with the spine which can cause real pain and discomfort.  Discs compress and nerves are pinched.  It gets pretty ugly.  And surgery is kind of risky, as if the surgeon slips with the knife, you may be paralyzed or dead.

We abuse ourselves when we are younger.  I used to water-ski and that really wears on your spine and knees, among other things. When I see these "stunt" videos online, where some kid jumps off the garage roof on his skateboard and lands on a rock or something, I cringe - not because he is in pain now but because I can foresee the chronic pain he will be in later in life.

It can come down to such simple things as shoes.  We live in houses built on concrete slabs.  When you walk on them in bare feet, you can feel the shock wave go right up your leg and into your spine.  A good shoe with good cushioning support is essential - and we are lucky to live in an era of comfy sneakers with expanded polyurethane soles.  Yet I know so many people - women in particular - who wear tiny slipper-like sparkly "shoes" that are little more than cardboard covered with shiny material.  The soles are non-existent. I lose patience talking to people like that - who complain about back problems while wearing cardboard shoes!

So what does this have to do with finances?  A few things.

First, it illustrates the fallacy of the "I'll just work until I'm 70!" mentality.  Recently, I thought for a brief moment about maybe working part-time just to amuse myself and make a few dollars. What would happen if my back went out?  I wouldn't be able to work that day - or the next, or the day after. Eventually, they'd get tired of that and let me go. Your body wears out over time, and when you are older, you don't want to be in a situation of being in chronic pain and still having to work.

Second, it is akin to how we spend money. When we are younger, we abuse our bodies and they bounce-back, or so we think.  I screwed up my knee, water-skiing when I was 24.  The pressure, over time, was squeezing the cartilage in my knee joint.  We were out at a rope swing by the lake, and I hyper-extended my knee joint, trying to climb up on the swing platform to swing out over the lake. That did it.  The years of abuse came for a fore and bone ground against bone.  I fell - into a patch of poison ivy on the first day of my week vacation from work.  They put me in a cast and I spent my summer vacation itching with a coathanger.  Fun.

The knee "healed" but it has come back to haunt me again and again. I take glucosamine, but if I live long enough, I can foresee knee replacement surgery as a possibility - a possibility I would rather avoid.  A friend of mine had this done at age 80 and it pretty much killed him.   Yes, they can try to "fix" you in the hospital, and once you are on medicare they will suggest all sorts of treatments, as Uncle Sugar is paying.  But they don't always work out for the best.  Better off to not need them!

We assume, when we are younger, that such things will heal over time and we will be "back to normal" in no time. It kills me when the media reports about some poor bastard who got clocked on the head or some other horrific injury and they follow up with, "But he recovered in the hospital" - as if there are no long-term effects at all. There are. You realize later in life that the doctor can't "fix you up" like repairing a car.   And you realize that much of your illnesses and problems are of your own making.

Similarly, when we are younger, we assume that mistakes we make with money can be remedied down the road.  We'll just earn more, right?  And saving for later in life, we can do that later, right?  Because right now, we need a new tattoo, or piercing, or motorcycle, or a $100 haircut or $5 cup of coffee.  And that's "normal" to do these things, just like jumping off the garage roof - Hey, I saw that on Tik Tok!  I have a friend, my age, who is still working at manual labor and tells me that someday he hopes to start saving for retirement.  He will likely die in the harness.  "Someday" is already too late.

Some folks argue they are victims of circumstance - that their earning power isn't enough to save money.  Well, not enough to save money and buy the toys they want.  I recalled before about a friend of mine (now deceased) who badgered me to "loan" them $5000 to pay off their credit card.  Between stories of financial woe, they would regale me with tales of their successively leased Cadillac and how much money they donated to an evangelical church to pay for a stained-glass window.  People make choices - we all do - and often we choose to "treat" ourselves today at the expense of tomorrow.

You can spend less than you make and accumulate wealth.  That's a good thing.  You can spend every penny you make on "stuff" and enjoy yourself and never save for tomorrow.  That's pretty bad.  You can spend every penny you make and borrow from tomorrow to have even "more" depreciating consumer crap. That's about the worst possible thing you can do.  And the latter is what about 90% of Americans do - I know I did it at one time.  Most do - and then blame others for making them do it!

So what's the answer?  Well, again, there probably isn't one.  Young people are always going to think they are indestructible and that life will go on forever, and they'll "just work until they're 70!" and whatnot.  All lies we tell ourselves and it is hard to break free of that mentality.

Usually, though, around age 25, reality sets in - as the brain fully develops.  People start to realize that this is pretty serious shit and maybe being a big goofy kid isn't such a great strategy for adult life.  You realize that the game of life is one that you should want to win - not by beating others, but by beating your own self-defeating tendencies.

Sadly, today, we offer ruinous loans to kids when they turn 18, promising them good paying jobs if only they get a degree in advanced naval-gazing.  Those kids are fucked - but then again, how stupid do you have to be to believe such lies?  From a high school guidance counselor no less? It is hard to say.  You feel sorry for some of these "kids" but then again, you don't.

Some folks had quite a party for four years in college. I know because I spent 14 years there.  I delivered pizzas to kids five years my junior, who gave me $5 tips paid with student loan money.  And my classmates would regale me tales of their "Spring Break" trips to Florida - trips I never once took in 14 years of night school.  I wasn't broke.  I just didn't think that fancy vacations were in order at that stage in my life.

Maybe it is inevitable that so many will go through life, unhappy and angry - with each event in their lives seemingly to occur at random, with no cause or effect.  Such folks will end up old and poor and not in any amount of comfort.

Myself, I am grateful that I can afford to relax and take it easy and wait for my back to heal - as Liz can do.  Others are less fortunate - going to work in painful agony, re-injuring their back again and again, and taking weeks to heal.  It isn't pretty.  It isn't fun.  It is, in fact, very painful.

It is ironic, but not treating yourself to bling and crap when you are younger is, in fact, the best treat you can give yourself!