Probably the most common sight in a retirement home are back problems, meaning walking problems. The worst cases are confined to wheel-chairs. They are usually found parked in clusters, looking bored as hell while their care-givers drink coffee, tell jokes and generally have a good time. They go over to their “patients” from time to time to make sure they put the brakes on. Next in the pain line are the back-sufferers who push themselves along with “walkers”. These are easily recognizable by the two yellow tennis balls on the back feet of the (metal) walker. After that are the “caners”. They often suffer from some sort of military or teaching background.

Now we come to the “help-free cases. The worst is the shuffler where one foot remains in contact with the floor while the body slides forward. Then there is the bent spinee, the straight knee-er, the limper, the twitcher, the foot dragger and the foot dropper. I belong to the ‘sideways bent’ class. All these ailments lead to one common symptom – the pain grimace. One soon learns who has what and which twitch is which.

The other day I dropped into a couch with a huge sigh of relief at taking the weight off my feet – and thereby my back. Sitting on the couch is a lady who I know by her own particular pain brand – the walking butt clutcher.

“Are you sore when you walk?” I ask the stupid question as an ice-breaker. It works.

“Sore as all hell,” she answers.

“And when you sit?” I say, continuing the questioning.

“Not too bad,” she says, “as long as I lean to the left and the seat doesn’t sag.”

“Hmm,” I say digesting this piece of information before I make my diagnosis.

“How about when you stand?”

“That’s the worst!” she exclaims, wincing at the very thought. “I cannot stand which means I am badly handicapped. No museums or art galleries, no standing in lines at the bank and definitely no cooking!”

“Wow!” I offer in sympathy. “That’s pretty bad.”

“Any more questions?”

“What are you like in bed?”

The three second pause is followed by a loud thwack which rattles my teeth.

“Well, your back problem hasn’t spread to your arms,” I say, running for the door.