Tonight we were sitting in a restaurant that had a big TV screen across the room. On TV was a rodeo event: bull-riding. We saw riders being bucked and thrashed violently. All I could think about was, “Their backs! Their backs!”

For me, this is new. As you may recall, I had a serious episode with my back going out in early September. The back got better, but in October, I re-injured my back much worse. It has mostly healed, but I’ve recently had a setback. The thing I’m learning is that when you have had a back injury, you walk around thinking that any small thing — a false step, a too-quick turn — will be the thing that makes the whole stack of vertebrae fall down. It’s an incredibly tense way to make it through the world, I’m finding. These days I’m walking like an old man, and understanding why old men walk in that stiff fashion. One is always aware of the pain, even if it’s at a low grade (as mine is right now), and always aware that things could get much worse instantly.

It has been a gift in one way, though. My wife suffers from degenerative discs in her neck, and has been in near-constant low level pain for 13 years (except on occasions when she’s in terrible pain). This is all new to me, and the upside of it is it has given me a lot more empathy for her.

My advice to everybody these days is: don’t do anything to screw up your back. It’s miserable. I can’t watch any athletic event on TV without analyzing it in terms of how badly the athletes are likely to screw up their backs.