Suffering in Secret

April 4, 2008

I have worked with pharmacists who admit that their backs hurt. Does this happen to other medical professionals?

I was sitting on a yoga mat on Monday morning, waiting for my practice to begin. I was looking down at my legs. They are skinny legs. There is significant muscular atrophy from the late effects of polio. I had an apology for my legs. “You have done a very good job of getting me through my career,” I thought. Sitting down at work just did not seem right. I rubbed my legs and noted that the neuropathy fire ants pain was controlled by 1500mg of gabapentin daily, but the muscle pain just lingered on, dull and constant, hardly noticed.

Pharmacists brutalize their legs by standing on them for up to twelve hours straight, day after day after day. The only relief for some is to go home at 10:00 PM and wash down three Aleve with a couple beers and have let themselves be entertained by some mindless distraction about the best slam dunk of the day or shots at some cute penguins in Antarctica.

I suspect that this is not exclusive to pharmacists. Suffer in secret. Is that what we do? I know that is what I did. For over forty years, I rarely said a word to anyone when my legs hurt. The discomfort affected my mood at times. I tried to keep it hush-hush. There was a concealed guiltiness to allowing anyone to know about my legs. Telling would make me a lower-grade member of the medical professions. There are nurses and doctors who stand up all day, aren’t there?

I guess that I have been fortunate. Essentially, I am a small man. At five-foot 10 inches, the heaviest I have ever been is 180 pounds. The load that my legs have had to carry has been a relatively light one. I can’t imagine the problems if I was overweight.

I had an appointment with a neurologist a couple weeks ago. The nurse who weighed me and took my blood pressure was heavy-set. She limped.

I asked her, “Your legs bothering you?”

She smiled. “Not my legs, man, my hips.” She gave me a doleful look. “I don’t need one side done, I need both hips replaced.” She shook her head and gave me a gallows grin.

Legs are not the only body parts that seem to go after many years on your feet. You can look in the mirror and see hunched over shoulders from bending over the counter or desk all day. Your heart space gets squeezed and constricted. That can’t be good. Your poor heart has a big job to do. Give it room. I have worked with pharmacists, mostly women, who constantly have their hands on the small of their backs. None of them have been complainers, but, when asked, they admit that their backs hurt. Does this happen to other medical professionals?

I do not know if all of this discomfort is necessary. I do not know if our jobs will ever change. Your Porsche and nice house come right out of your hide. What we do are not jobs for sissies.