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Tonight I aimed the shower at my lower back, at full-blast, as hot as it would go. As far as my back is concerned it's been a bad day, and a bad week for that matter. I remembered that it has been almost a year since my back injury. There are times when it hurts so much that my legs get wobbly. There are times when I can barely stand to stand up. I avoid lifting heavy objects sometimes because I know I will not be able and sometimes because I know I will pay for it later. I don't twist or turn very well. Tonight, my legs wobbled under me under an unsatisfyingly lukewarm shower stream. The furnace and water heater both suck where I live. Heat causes relief if you have a muscle injury; but there is this suspicion in the back of my mind that I don't have bad muscles. I think this is a deeper kind of injury sometimes. Sometimes I think this was an injury of bone and gristle that never got healed or diagnosed.

This is because of the way that the injury happened.It was not an injury of bending or twisting or picking something up wrong. On black Friday of last year I was injured by loading a gun safe onto a trailer. At my previous place of work, a large, big box retail sporting goods store filled with taxidermy, I worked in the stock room where it was very common for me to spend an 8 or 9 hour day wrestling with very heavy objects. Among my expected tasks was lifting gun safes into pickups and onto trailers by hand. The reason that we did not use machinery is that the retailer did not want the liability that would be incurred if a forklift damaged a customer's vehicle in the loading process. We would use a pallet jack to back a gunsafe up to the tailgate of a customer's pickup, tip the gunsafe, and then deadlift it from the bottom. Sometimes there would be two of us lifting the safe. Sometimes we could call over the radio and hope that enough people strong enough to lift the safe would show up. Sometimes there were a lot of people, sometimes it was not enough. The safes varied in size, from just two feet across to bigger than refrigerators and made of steel.
On black friday of last year I was loading gun safes onto trailers and onto pickups nonstop with less help than we should have had. The injury happened when a man pulled up with a trailer that was low to the ground.

So rather than being able to tip the gunsafe onto the tailgate of a pickup which cuts the weight of the safe as we tip it and deadlift it in, the fulcrum was lower and therefore much closer to us. When we tipped the gunsafe, it had a longer distance to fall. I was on the right-hand side, on the corner of the safe, with four or five other strong males helping. The only problem was that there was no one behind the safe to stop it from falling as no one had climbed up onto the trailer to slow its descent onto its back. I did, thinking I would be accompanied by one or more of the other guys, several of whom were working a second job while serving in the military. The joke was on me, however. I was the only one who went around behind the safe. All of that weight, of a steel gunsafe the size of a refrigerator was held up by the vertebrae of yours truly. My back injury happened at that moment, as I stood there, desperately making eye contact with an airman who was there working a second job. One idiot supervisor kept yelling to me that I had to lower it down. There was no way to do this without letting it fall. My back held it up for several seconds. Eventually I got help as the off-duty airmen finally made their way up onto the trailer to help me. I didn't even really feel it as I worked the rest of that night. I joked with other employees. Once or twice I may have put my hand on my lower back because I was starting to feel a twinge of something. Mostly I was exhuasted and wanted to go home, as I had given two weeks notice two weeks before and looked forward to ending my time there.

That my back was very badly damaged became more and more apparent over the next few weeks. Why I never got workman's comp is an entirely other story, and one in which I do not display the best judgment. I guess I wanted to demonstrate that even though I possess a graduate degree and am most of the way through earning another I still have the fortitude to work humble jobs. I have been criticized in Rapid City as though the injury was my fault - that I could have asked to work in another department at the store. The problem with this is that the store likes to hire people they believe to be experts in a certain area of the store - camping, for instance was staffed by supposedly knowledgeable camping experts. The stock room was one of the few jobs a person without a deep, demonstrable level of expertise could do. Transferring to another area of the store involved taking tests and writing essays about these areas of expertise.

I never got a doctor in Rapid City to X-ray my back. I was always told that it was muscles and dismissed. The pain in my back sometimes feels like twisted muscles, but it also feels like a downward, heavy pressure in my lower back. It is almost exactly like the same feeling I had when all of that weight was transferred down my spine from that gun safe when I was the only one holding it up. That sense of crushing downward weight has been there for a year now. I still don't know what exactly is wrong with it and I have little hope that I will get a diagnosis, much less treatment, any time soon. Socialized medicine in the US doesn't seem to be working out all that well.

I am writing none of this to garner sympathy. My back won't get any better because someone feels sorry for me. What I am suggesting, here, in this winding narrative of a back injury, is that when something is consumed in excess there is always someone, somewhere, who pays a price for it. I know many people will be lining up for black friday shopping; across the country we gape at news stories about people committing atrocities as they surge forward into retail stores at 4 AM. I will never find it cute or funny.

For as long as my back is injured, I will associate black Friday with being very badly hurt. I am not saying that buying gifts for loved ones is a bad thing; gift giving is a great way to create and strengthen bonds between people. But did the person who bought that gun safe need storage space for 50 guns? If the safe was bought so that a few guns could be stored along with family heirlooms I might be more OK with that. But it's still excessive. The greed of my former employers mattered more to them than the safety of their workers. It mattered more than following OSHA safety guidelines. Someone, somewhere, always pays for it.

I just wish people could stay home on that day. Discourage some of the greed by big box retailers by choosing to do holiday gift shopping at some other time on some other day. Memorialize the strong back I once had by making the choice to not join the herds; make the choice to not do something just because everyone else is. Maybe you could just think about staying home.

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matthew_wright

March 2015

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