Chapter Fifteen / The Back
It was the first day of VBS in Rapid City, SD. Setting up the full production with backdrop curtains, a full sound system, and all the props necessary for the first day took an average of 7 hours.
The first step in the process was to construct the 45 foot length of velvet curtains across the sanctuary platform. This would hide all of our boxes of props, illusions, puppets, the Riddles the Clown preparation area, and the behind-the-scenes action that would take place during the presentations.
Step number two was completing the sound system placement. Faith and I would usually lift each 70-pound speaker together high up in the air and find the exact spot to place it down upon the supporting pole. I looked behind the curtains and out into the sanctuary, but she was nowhere to be found. I called her several times but did not get a response.
Wanting to continue with the setup process I determined it would be possible to lift the speaker myself this one time. I pushed the speaker toward the top of the pole and I felt an immediate incredibly sharp pain in my back. I brought the speaker down as carefully as I could without causing it any damage.
Along with the speaker, I also found myself lying down on the floor. So many thoughts flew around in my head it was difficult to process them all. "Why didn't I wait for Faith? What exactly happened? Is this a temporary thing or am I never going to be able to get up again?"
Faith appeared from around the corner with an obvious question, "What are you doing?"
"I lifted the speaker and I think I hurt my back," was the only answer I had for her question.
"Can you move? Can you get up at all?" she asked.
I was able to move, but the pain was incredible. Our wisest option was to head over to the emergency room and get some answers. Thankfully the wait was not very long, X-rays were taken and the doctor soon came forward to explain what happened and what our next options were.
"You have a herniated disk at L5. Usually a herniated disc will heal on its own over time. Be patient, and keep following the treatment plan I have outlined for you here," he said as he handed over some paperwork. "Your main course of action will be to remain on your back as much as possible for the rest of the summer to allow for healing to occur. If your symptoms don't get better in a few months, you may want to talk to your Sioux Falls doctor about surgery."
After leaving the ER, Faith and I discussed the necessity of laying on my back the entire summer. We still had many weeks booked with Vacation Bible Schools and camps. Certainly we would follow the plan where I would only get up to do the show and then be on my back again. But this would mean that Faith would have to do all of the driving and she would have to set up the entire show with the help of the girls. I would not be able to assist.
As always we knew "God's Got This" and somehow it would all work out. This would be a summer we would never forget.
Faith and the girls did the rest of the set up for that day and I came out to do the show that evening. The rest of the week was not as enjoyable as it could have been, since all I could do was stare at a ceiling until each show began. Performing proved to be very difficult. Riddles the Clown was always very active. Through the pain I kept a smile on my face and tried to do the best I could without pushing the physicality too far.
Our sponsors were notified of the situation and we're prepared to have a place for me to stay as comfortably as possible during the week. Faith continued to set up the show on her own with a little help from walkie talkies. No cell phones existed at that time so we depended on the walkie talkies having good reception.
At one event, when Faith was asking me questions, I was getting a bit irritated. I felt she should know how to do the set up with three weeks of practice behind us. My voice became a little harsh and she said there were people listening in who were volunteering to help. I then became very friendly and said I was only kidding.
Driving has never been a favorite activity for Faith. She becomes very anxious. However, with our new situation, she had to drive everywhere with the addition of pulling a trailer of equipment behind the van. I would be on my back on the bed in the back of the van while hearing her stressful comments as she drove through the Minneapolis, Saint Paul Area.
Her most stressful excursion was the time through Chicago with the incredible traffic and too many lanes. She would have enjoyed today's advanced preparation to either be on the left or be in the lane to exit on the right. We did not have a GPS so I couldn't tell her where she needed to be previous to the signs that suddenly appeared. There were many hours of becoming lost and rerouting in order to get us back on track.
An abundance of guardian angels made sure we always made it to our destination. I am sure it happened often where a guardian angel would put palm to face, shake the head back and forth, and ask for a replacement. It had to be a very tiresome job.
Thankfully I was always able to perform through the pain until the very last week. Our accommodations were right next to the church with a motor home someone let us use for the week. My location, where I spent most of my time, was on a very uncomfortable bed. I also believe all of the weeks of pushing through the pain had a counter effect to recovery. Thursday of that week was very difficult. The pain would shoot down my leg and almost bring me to the floor. Faith and I decided it would be necessary to get a pain block in order for me to perform on Friday.
We went to an ER in our location to receive an injection of medication into my back. Faith and I hoped the $200 deductible would be worth the relief I had hoped to receive. On Friday, I was able to walk to the stage but shooting pain brought me to the floor. There was no way I could perform. Faith did the program by herself and later said it went over very well.
At the end of that day we were informed by the Vacation Bible School supervisor that our fee would be less since I was not able to do the entire week. We felt this was incredibly unfair. We spent the money to try and block the pain and I did try to make it to the stage, but was unable. Faith did perform so they did not have any time when the children were not ministered to. Our plea went to no avail and the fee was less.
This was an incredible frustration on top of the difficulty we already experienced trying to continue our entire summer with this unfortunate back problem. The church did have us back another year, however, and the new supervisor felt very bad we were treated in this way. Our accommodations were in a beautiful motel with a tremendous apology from the church of our previous experience.
The back was a struggle for the next 10 years and so we worked with Chiropractic Care and physical therapy. VAX-D, Vertebral Axial Decompression, was also a proceedure that brought some relief.
It was a form of traction-like therapy that stretched my spine.
The final and best result after 10 years of struggle was the Asfora Bullet Cage® System. This was a spinal fusion procedure with a cage device used with bone graft. The surgery was a tremendous success.
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