November 12, 2007

Compression Fracture
By James Castwell

Standing on the scales at the doctors office I smiled as the nurse moved the fifty pound weight to the left of the bar. That meant I was going to come in under one-fifty at least. One forty three, fully dressed. "Yes", I said to myself. I had been laying off of the ice-cream in the evenings for a couple of months and it worked, I dropped eight pounds. It was my back that was giving me problems though now. There was strip of something in front of me on the wall with a short rod on it that they measure how tall you are. She slid the rod up, then swung it out and down to the top of my head. "You about five foot seven?" Yikes, I used to be five foot ten. Have been for years, even a bit over that. Where did I go. I was shrinking? Part of me was gone? I have gotten shorter! No wonder I weighted less, I was going away!. Oh well, on with why I was there, the test.

Whatever was wrong with my back started while we were in Idaho on the second day (September 24th) of the 'Fish-In' this year. We arrived late on a Monday evening, unloaded our gear into our cabin by the river and ambled over to the main campfire for a while. About eleven my wife and I ambled back to our cabin and turned in.

The next day we organized our gear, bought fishing licenses and met for breakfast with a few of the fly angling gang. When we got back to the cabin I went out along the side and for some lawn casting with a new rod and lin I was anxious to try out.

It seems that for some reason I am expected to give assistance to anyone who has courage enough to ask for it at the events. Actually I really love to do it. Very rewarding. I am also expected to be able to outcast, for distance at least, every one who shows up. We even have a sort of' distance contest. Even a contest using a broom-rod I made up sometimes too. This day I was particularly interested in a new very slick and fast fly line. I tried it at short and medium distances and loved it. I had tried it on a cane rod the week before at home but had not really 'wrung it out' so to speak. The next day I was scheduled to put on a 'Superman' costume and give a casting demonstration and some distance stuff as well.

I put the new line on a fast rod, the fastest one I had with me. This would be, I hoped, the combo I would use the next day. Now, the double-haul is a given at this point. I chose a time when I was alone outside the cabin and started to 'stretch 'er out'. I had plenty of room for my back-cast, out over the Lochsa river, and enough cleared area in front if I stayed to the right of a big gnarly tree of some sort about ninety feet in front. If I was careful I should be able to shoot the backing knot through the tip-top and 'have a little string hanging', as the say.

It takes a few casts to get the coils out of the fly line that are closest to the center of the reel. You work the line out in stages and pull on the line as you lay it on the ground to your left side. Out it went. At least eighty feet. More line on the reel and I tugged it off and dropped it to the ground leaving a few turns on the reel for the time being. I had paced off the distance to a few things in front of me. Figuring I can usually pace three feet if I set my mind to it I had roughly measured how far it was to the far edge of the gravel road I was casting over, the edge of a side walk beyond it, the edge of a cement patio and a picnic table at the far side of that.

After a couple of pumps I was at the edge of the patio which I had judged to be about eighty-five feet. Still there was line on the reel. I pulled it all off and stretched it some as I laid it to the ground. Right here I must make a confession. I am not as young as I use to be and sure am not as strong as I once was either. So, for about three weeks before, I had been working out at home with some hand weights. Toning up my biceps and back and stomach muscles. What, stomach muscles? Yes. Here is the second part of my confession. When I am in competition for distance, if I am really trying to win, I change my double-haul. So far I have not been caught. At the Michigan event I hit over one-hundred ten right after the contest and do have a witness. But, I don't like to switch my style in friendly competition so I had not. Anyway, here is what I do during my last two or three casts to give myself an edge. Remember, I am up against kids of all ages, this old man needs every advantage he can get.

Well anyway, here is what I do and have not been caught at yet, as I said. The normal method of casting using the double-haul is to, presuming you are right handed, pull and feed line into the front and back cast with your left hand. This sort of follows your right hand as you cast, sometimes even coming close to it. I may start out this way, but once I have sixty or seventy feet of line in the air and I am figuring on casting the whole line with out hurting myself and or, 'tearing my shorts' they call it, I move my left hand way to my left side. As I am doing the haul, I pull and feed with my left hand going clear over my head and to the back. I call it 'stepping through' cast. This method puts the strain on my whole body.

As I come forward with the cast I pull hard with my right arm and also with my left hand and my stomach muscles and my back. This happens because I am standing perfectly square to the cast at the time. The normal caster only has his arm to cast with, I use my whole body. In fact, when I am practicing this style, if I am a bit out of shape, the next day I can feel it in my stomach muscles. Okay, so much for how I cheat. It works for me when I need it.

Back to the lawn by the side of our cabin in Idaho. I really lean into it. It does not all go. It felt good. Screamed thru the guides, but there was some left on the ground. That was a surprise. I was determined to get the backing knot out the end. On the next cast I did and the 'pink fuzz fly' on the end of the leader went over the picnic table. I felt something tweak in my lower back but no problem.

A bit tired but satisfied I could handle the combo the next day, I put it away for a while. Later in the afternoon a few guys came over and we all played with several, the new fast rod being one of them, but I did not really lean into it like I had earlier. Superman would look fine on Wednesday, or so I hoped.

Tuesday evening, after diner at the café across the river from the lodge, we settled into our cozy log cabin by the river and started to watch a little television. I noticed that my back was hurting. Then some more. Then, a lot more. I even asked my wife to kind of rub it a bit but that didn't seem to help it any. About an hour later I was on my hands and knees on the floor trying to find any position that would give me any relief. Panic was one of the things I considered but decided to try to get some sleep and see what it was like in the morning.

The next day it was sore but I took a rod outside and did a little casting and I figured I could do my presentation, help a few with their casting and make Superman a roaring success. I got through the day with some pain but said nothing to anyone, didn't even really let my wife know how much it was bothering me. We stayed the entire week and returned home on the weekend. Monday morning found me at my chiropractor. I have known him for several years and we get along fine. I told him I had sort of strained my lower thorax doing some long distance casting and he worked me over.

A week or so didn't seem to produce any favorable results and I went to my 'health provider'. She said 'Oh, good grief, what did you do to your back?" After my explanation she wrote me a prescription for some muscle relaxers and some pain pills. I gave these a couple of weeks and still did not see any improvement. In fact on a Saturday, I went to a 'Urgent-Care' type of clinic; this was getting ridiculous. Within a couple of minutes he had me in the x-ray lab. Sure enough, I had a broken back. Really. It showed that one of the vertebrate was scrunched on the end. Busted. The real term for it, I was to find out a few weeks later is, 'compression fracture'. And, yes, I had pulled so hard that I had broken my own friggin back.

Now, one does not get right in to see a good back doctor. It took over three weeks for an appointment. When I did meet with him he said he needed an MRI, which is kind of a very detailed sort of x-ray thing. That I got the next day and the day after that I met again with the doctor. Confirmed. I broke the thing. Now what? Well, I had a choice. He asked me if it was getting any better at all, I had to admit that I thought it might be, as much as I might have liked milking the sore back for all it was worth. There is an operation where they inject a tiny balloon into the crushed bone, and pump it up, then, pull out the balloon and squirt cement into the now expanded bone. My choice. Do it and the pain will be gone instantly and I will be half an inch taller. Or wait it out and let it heal. In six weeks or so it will be fine he says. Tough it out and try not to do anything very stupid.

Sitting at the computer is one of the things that really does not feel too good. In fact not much does, but it is getting better. With the help of a very few of the pain pills and hopefully some good judgement I will be fine. Six more week will tell. Elective back surgery is for the mentally challenged in my opinion. Oh, here is a picture of my busted back now. I can't believe I did that Superman thing with this. Oh yes, remember, it has been healing for six weeks already!

~ ~ James Castwell

Till next week, remember . . .

Keepest Thynne Baakast Upeth

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