On Pre-Existing Conditions and the Zombie Apocalypse

I’ve been working from home the past two days, lying on the living room floor because of a lower back injury I got when I was sixteen.

I was at crew practice when it happened. I was on a rowing machine, coming into the last stretch of a 1500m sprint, and I had a really good split going, so I was pulling my heart out in the last leg. When rowing, you always go “knees, back, arms,” not only because it’s more efficient, but also because you can really hurt yourself if you don’t. In my excitement, I momentarily lost coordination and went, “back, knees, arms” and ripped the muscles in my lower back. I didn’t finish the sprint. I could barely unhook my feet from the stirrups, the pain was so shocking. I couldn’t walk for about a week, and I couldn’t walk right for another week or two after that.

Lower back injuries are awful. They never really heal right. It’s one of the few types of injuries where homeopathic remedies are the only options. Ice and heat. Ibuprofin for the swelling. Regular massages to break up the scar tissue. Despite these things, my back would go out at least once a year, and I’d be out of commission while the scars reknit themselves. The only thing that’s helped in the long term is yoga – building up the rest of the core muscles and stretching my too-tight hamstrings so there’s less strain on the fragile scars that hold me upright.

It’s strange to be 17 with debilitating back pain. It’s strange to be 23. 25. Asking friends to help you get up off the floor to go to the bathroom.

One of the important lessons you learn from an injury like this is that you can’t curl up with it, no matter how uncomfortable it is. You can only indulge the pain for two days, nesting on the living room floor with everything you might need within arms reach, before you have to suck it up and start moving around again.

So this morning I hobbled over to the coffee shop a block from my apartment to get some coffee. I walked past an 80-something year old woman with a walker. We were walking with the same short, shuffling steps.

That, along with a conversation I had this morning with some of my VPeeps on twitter got me thinking about pre-existing conditions and the zombie apocalypse. As an intellectual exercise, preparing for the zombie apocalypse is one of my favorites. What you would take, where you would go. They’re ways to explore those dark places of your heart. We all want to pretend to be noble, to promise our friends we’ll shoot them when their time comes. That they’ll promise to shoot you.

But would you really? There’s a moment in the thoroughly mediocre 2004 version of Dawn of the Dead where a character is waiting to have his head blown off before he changes, and he keeps asking the shooter to wait because he wants “every… single… second…” It rang out as true for me. I’d talk big before, but when the moment came, I’d want every last second.

I have asthma. And a bad back. They’re two things I try not to think about when having these arguments with friends. Because they’re one of the few times I get to pretend I’m unaffected. That I wouldn’t have to worry about making it in and out of a zombie-infested pharmacy to steal medication so I can breathe, where I can run away from a horde without blacking out from lack of oxygen. Without being able to worry if I pushed myself a little too hard in case my back goes out and resets any progress I’ve made. I want to be able to make it to the end of the game. Because I see that woman shuffling by and see a bit of my future. It’s only a matter of time. There’s only so much albuterol to go around.

I’m a guaranteed casualty in the zombie apocalypse. If the zombies don’t get me right away, the dwindling supply of medication or a tweaked back would eventually do me in. I don’t get to answer the question, “What’s your plan for survival?” Instead, I’m forced to face an entirely different question: “How would you die?” Would I throw myself to the horde to buy my more able-bodied companions more time? Would I try to take as many down as I could before the end? Would I be able to do myself in if necessary? Would I even join up with a group of survivors, knowing I would be an impediment? Or would I steal as much medication as I could, some to extend my life, others to end it quickly, and find a place to nest with everything I need within arms reach, hoping for the problem to take care of itself?

I don’t know the answers to these questions.

But I see that old woman, shuffling past me on the street, and I stand up a little straighter, wincing at the pain, knowing I’ll be back on my feet by Sunday, and I ache to instead be the kind of person who has a survival plan.

In the meantime, I’ll dream about going back to yoga when my back’s better and pull my inhaler in a little closer.

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1 Response to On Pre-Existing Conditions and the Zombie Apocalypse

  1. ernestwhile says:

    As a long-time low back pain sufferer (and a distance runner with too-short hamstrings) I completely sympathize. I was once dropped to me knees by a spasm that hit when I was picking up a piece of litter. It is no bueno.

    I think the key to the zombie apocalypse is to realize that it’s already here, and we’re all guaranteed casualties. Live your life as fully as you can, and when the end comes, it comes. Not as exciting to think about, but much more reassuring.

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