Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at
Posted 06.07.11
Stanstead, Quebec


This one's a bit of a strain

I've never broken a bone, and I see this is an indictment of an overcautious life. Not that I desire pain and injury, but it seems to me that, statistically speaking, I should have busted something by now.

Certainly, I've done my share of stupid things. I've fallen into pits and out of trees. I've flipped over handlebars and failed to read instructions. There have been far too many occasions when alcohol has come into play...

And yet, here I am, intact, all original parts, vintage. Have I played it too safe? Or could it be that I'm simply overdue for injury (which is why I stay away from trampolines and nail guns)?

There's no fun in getting hurt, but one of the sole perks is this: there's usually a good story to tell.

Imagine Indiana Jones describing his various injuries: "I got this scar from a one-eyed Nazi with a chain saw. In '37 I broke four fingers when a Persian swami (who was collaborating with the Nazis) crushed my hand with a copy of the Koran. And ever since I was nearly dragged under the blades of a rototiller at a sacred Romanian burial site (disguised as a Nazi daycare), my ankles swell up every time it rains."

But I bet one thing Indie never did was strain his back. Back strains don't make good stories.

I've strained my back several times. I've strained my back raising a window; I've strained my back sneezing -- not exactly riveting tales for the grandchildren. ("Gather round, kids, and I'll tell you about the time I rassled a 20-pound bag of pataters!")

This past weekend, I strained my back again, possibly while scooping leaves out of the pool, maybe while spreading bags of manure in the garden, but definitely not while repelling Nazis from the gazebo.

Back strains don't include visible signs to elicit gasps from strangers and inquiries from friends: no crutches or slings, no hemorrhaging blood. Just a grumbling middle-aged man awkwardly waddling along like he's wearing a diaper, and a full one at that.

There are no get-well cards for a strain. "Strain" may be just one letter away from "sprain" but it's far less compelling. "Strain" is something one does to spaghetti or peas.

And yet, if you've ever strained your back, you know that it can be a constant, debilitating source of distress. It's exhausting, it's irritating and you just wish it would end -- it's like listening to John Baird in Question Period.

Whereas many physical injuries can be described as a brush with death, back pain is a brush with decrepitude, a chance for those of us who still consider ourselves young to get a sneak peek at what getting out of a chair will feel like in twenty or thirty years.

And it's a serious problem. According to one website, the annual cost of chronic pain in the United States, including health care expenses, lost income, and lost productivity, is estimated to be $100 billion. In Canada, the cost is only $16.4 billion, which is surprisingly low, considering all the shovelling and the curling and the shrugging.

Back pain is also one of leading causes of work absenteeism after the common cold and nail gun mishaps. (See? Told ya...)

Many famous people have suffered from back pain. Ernest Hemingway wrote standing up because of back pain. President Kennedy suffered back pain all his life. And there is strong evidence suggesting that Ivan the Terrible was actually just Ivan the Uncomfortable.

When back pain does flair up, there's not much you can do but limit your activity: no sports, no heavy lifting, no marauding and only limited pillaging.

For me last weekend, that meant no cleaning the pool, no hoeing the garden or mowing the lawn, no cleaning the windows. In fact, I had to spend most of the long weekend just relaxing.

Hey, I didn't say having a good story was the only perk...

Ross Murray's collection, You're Not Going to Eat That, Are You?, is available in Quebec in area book stores and through He can be reached at