I was working in Barcelona Thursday and Friday of this week. It’s something I usually look forward to as I get some time in one of my favourite cities, work with great clients and arrange travel set to a very human schedule.
Thursday went well and I landed in some lovely Barcelona sunshine. I even had time for a coffee in the sun and enjoyed the walks I had to and from the hotel I was staying in. All in all, one of those work days that reminds me that setting up my own business was one of the best decisions I’ve made in life.
Friday? Not so good.
I woke up in my hotel to the sound of some guy out on the street screaming “Mario!” over and over again. That was at 5am. And I was staying on the seventh floor of the hotel. I have to admire his lungs and projection technique, but still – it was 5am and I had sleep to be getting.
By 6am, I’d had enough (he was still screaming at the sky) so I swung my legs out of bed. I felt a twinge of back pain, reminding me how I’d pulled something in my back simply by putting on some socks. A very physical manifestation of my creeping age, ironically taking place the day before my 41st birthday.
But I carried on gamely, making my way across the room to make some coffee and then watch some news on TV. After a shower and gathering up my belongings, I headed downstairs to check out of the hotel and start the very short walk to my client’s offices.
Then it hit me.
About five minutes from the office, my lower back spasmed in a way that made it almost impossible to breathe. It was as if someone had stabbed me either side of my spine, just above my buttocks. Every breath was an effort.
I had to stop in my tracks, drop my bags and wait for the spasm to subside. There were literally tears in my eyes and as I turned my head to look in the window of the cafe next to me, I saw eyes as wide as saucers looking back in my reflection. I looked shook.
I then gingerly took a few steps – no pain – and then picked up my bags, kicking off a second, even worse, back spasm. Now these bags were not heavy. A small Jack Spade messenger back and a slightly larger overnight duffel bag containing a change of clothes and some toiletries. I was traveling extremely light.
But still. The lifting was so very, very painful.
There journey into the office was slow and agonising. I shuffled along, braced for yet another knife in the back and dreading the day ahead of me – sitting through a series of one to one meetings.
And so it was. Painful, long and exhausting. I made it through, despite occasional and unpredictable repeats of the spasm – the worst was when I was standing at a urinal in the bathroom and couldn’t find anything to lean on – fuelled by coffee and grit. I had to walk slowly and gingerly, basically looking like I’d shat myself while doing a John Wayne impersonation.
I got to the airport by 5:30pm, after a taxi journey that seemed to hit every bump on the road between the city and the airport. And I will freely admit that the only thing I could think of was getting an upgrade to business class and dealing with the pain with a couple of large glasses of champagne.
So, dear reader, I made the executive decision as a company director to pay for that upgrade (don’t ask), use ‘fast track’ security and get my broken little body into the lounge for a sit down and a rest. Major mistake. The comfy chairs were all too low and so getting back up was an absolute mission. The way I was shuffling along was definitely getting looks from other travellers, but frankly I didn’t care.
By the time I made it onto the flight, I was exhausted. From the walking/shuffling, from the carrying of my bags and from the tear-inducing pain every time someone bumped into me.
Take-off was painful, but at least my business class seat gave me more room and nobody banging my elbow. Minutes after we hit cruising altitude I had glass of champagne in my little hand and a slightly ‘softer’ back. The delightful cabin crew team kept my glass full for the remainder of the flight and I began to relax a little.
I even started to visualise being home again, luxuriating in thoughts of my own, comfortable bed. However…
Seconds – literally seconds – from touching down at Heathrow, the plane’s engines screamed into action and we veered upwards into the sky again. The entire plan gasped as one and the crew made an announcement that another plane on the runway hadn’t moved fast enough so we had to do a ‘go around‘.
Well that set my relaxation back to zero! I tensed up, my back tensed up, and I even got a very pitiful look from one of the crew who made eye contact with me. I must have looked petrified, where I was really just in a massive amount of pain.
All the champagne-based analgesia evaporated in a moment and I was once again a little meat-bag of jingling, raw nerves. After eventually landing, I was first to exit the plane and before I did, I handed out the British Airways ‘golden ticket’ I keep in my travel wallet to the cabin crew member who kept my glass full the entire flight. I’m not sure exactly what he gets for this, but I hope it’s something nice. He deserved it.
I weighed up the options for getting home: taxi or public transport. I went with the latter, as the thought of a bumpy taxi journey across London felt like too much to bear. The Heathrow Express was there within moments and I had an uneventful tube journey back to Canary Wharf. Except it took me at least twice as long to navigate the interchanges and then shuffle home from the tube station. Definitely the lesser of two evils…
What followed was a very broken night of sleep, punctuated by pain every time I unconsciously turned my body. A heat patch, thoughtfully prepared by @FrankDJS, helped for a little while, but ultimately detached itself at some point.
I’m now in bed, bracing myself for navigating the bathroom and a shower. I have guests coming over this evening and need to be in top form. I’m thinking I need to avoid lying down for too long, but as soon as I’ve had something to eat, I’ll take some nuclear painkillers and keep moving around. Albeit gingerly.
And so that it the story of how mystery back spasms made me wish I was at home. Now that I’m 41, I fully expect this to be a weekly occurrence, as my body starts to rebel against me. Slippers and a pipe can’t be far behind…