Today’s Essay

A pain in the….

I went swimming today. I don’t swim often because of my acute germaphobia, but I was forced into the water by a recent bout of sciatica. Swimming, or more accurately, floating, takes the pressure off of my back and hip and for a few blissful moments, I am relieved of my pain.

            I take up a full lane, on my back swimming the most relaxing elementary backstroke, back and forth at a leisurely pace. I was quite a swimmer in my youth. Any body of water would do; a river, lake, the ocean and most often, the irrigation ditch near my dad’s house. I was born for the water.

            There’s another old man in the lane next to me, swimming in the same fashion as I. I decide that he is my competitor. In my Walter Mitty mind, we are Olympic champions. He is Russia and I am….Mexico! I vow to stay in the water until I lap him by one complete length of the pool. After a while though, I lose track of where I am in the race. I float lazily on my back studying the blue painted ceiling above me, counting the sprinkler heads (26) and wondering why no one has done anything about the rust on the air ducts.

            After about a half a mile, I realize that I am in the pool alone. I’ve won my heat and the other swimmers have made their way to the jacuzzi. I finish my lap and float upright at the edge of the pool for a few minutes. Everything seems perfect. Eventually, I make my way to the stairs and begin my ascent and the moment my foot hits the stair, the pain begins again. I gingerly move up the four steps, stagger over to the towel bar and retrieve my belongings. Every head in the jacuzzi swivels toward me trying to guess my affliction.

            Later, as I dress, I work gingerly to put my shoes on. Another man, about my age, comments lightly, “It doesn’t get any easier, does it?” My COVID mask hides my displeasure at his remark. I hope he thought I was smiling.

            On the drive home, I think about the night before. I had been hobbling about for the weekend, one day barely able to stand. As I got ready for bed, I exited the bathroom as my wife entered. I am summoned back to where she points to the rim of the toilet, lightly sprinkled with my urine and asks, “How is it that a 65-year-old man can’t seem to stand close enough to the toilet?

            I bark at her. “It’s a prostate problem. Sorry to make you life so difficult.” She gives me a look of disgust and closes the door behind her. I immediately feel regret. She of all people knows about physical pain. She’s be ill since I’ve known her. The truth is, I was in so much pain that I was leaning against the counter trying not to fall over. I should have been more courteous, but bending over just seemed impossible.

            At that moment, I felt decades older than my 65 years. I felt as if I would never walk properly again, never be able to do anything but sit and read or watch TV. Never be in control of my life.

            Eventually, my back will straighten out. I’ll be able to walk and ride and workout as I always have without wincing every time I move one direction or another, but I will always be wondering when the next affliction will make me feel closer to the end of my life than the beginning.

Copyright 2022 by Jose Antonio Ponce