One turn was all it took. I yelped out loud as a twinge of pain shot through my neck and down my shoulder.
It was four o’clock yesterday morning. I had been sleeping in the same position for a while and wanted to turn over. But movement triggered the pain; that much was clear. If I stayed as I was, lying on my back without moving my head, then I didn’t really feel any pain at all, just a little stiffness in my neck.
“Oh well, then, I’ll just stay still,” I said to myself.
But I soon got restless, the rest of my body growing increasingly uncomfortable from remaining in the same position. I moved my head very slightly, experimentally. Miniscule turn … okay … and a tiny bit more … okay …and a fraction of an inch more … BURNING BURNING MY NECK IS BURNING MAKE THE BURNING STOP.
“Oh well, then, I guess I’ll just stay still—forever, ha ha!” I said to myself.
It was not actually an especially funny thought at that moment.
I decided the best thing was to go back to sleep.
Sleep! The great healer!
I closed my eyes and tried to relax but instead found myself consumed by anxiety at the thought that I was, in all likelihood, PARALYZED FOREVER. In addition, I was worried because I knew that at some point SJ’s daughter would be creeping in to spoon with me as she had every morning of my visit.
“I’m completely unspoonable!” I thought. “This is a disaster!”
After thinking these thoughts for quite some time, like, an hour or so, I decided that I would worry about the permanent paralysis issue after solving the more immediate spoonability crisis.
To make myself spoonable according to SJ-the-Younger’s criteria (she likes to be on the inside of the bed but the outside spoon), was simply a matter, I reasoned, of flipping my body onto my side without moving any muscles in the upper shoulder or neck vicinity.
Gingerly I twisted my torso and, eventually, like a gasping fish flapping helplessly on the deck of a small boat, managed to flip myself from my back onto my right side, which turned out to be extremely painful, so painful, in fact, that I decided that spooning of any kind was out of the question.
I rolled onto my back again and contemplated my fate.
(And while the duck-rabbit of yesterday is busy doing that, I’ll take this opportunity to remind you, indulgent readers, that the duck-rabbit has a serious weakness for desert island stories. This quarter alone, so far, I have taught Utopia and The Tempest. The next thing I’ll be teaching is Robinson Crusoe. See what I mean? The plight of the marooned subject is never far from the duck-rabbit’s mind.)
Somehow, an hour and a half had passed and I now actually needed to get up in order to pack my suitcase; after a lovely visit with SJ and family in Toronto, I was catching a flight back to Los Angeles later that morning.
As the need to get up became more urgent, I wracked my brains for inspiration. It was perfectly clear to me now that any method for propelling myself off the bed that depended on my exerting myself was in no way viable.
No, I was going to need to use gravity.
Still lying on my back, it was easy enough to swing my legs off the bed until my feet touched the floor. Then, inch by inch, I fairly slithered, if one can be said to slither slowly, off the bed on my back, in the manner of a slow-moving and extremely cautious snake, my bum slowly creeping down the side of the bed until it finally made contact with the hardwood floor. The bed, just as I had surmised, was tall enough that my neck was supported throughout this maneuver. Once I was sitting upright on the floor, it was fairly easy to get up and I discovered that, when not lying down, it was much easier to avoid moving my neck in the ways that caused the stabbing pain. Hurrah!
Given that I woke up so early on Sunday morning, and that I was traveling westwards, it won’t surprise you to learn that I was very sleepy last night. I was so sleepy, in fact, that I fell asleep in bed, on my back once again, without making any sort of contingency plan as to how I was going to get out of my own, very low bed, if my neck was still stiff again this morning.
Being stranded once in this way is understandable! But twice? On two consecutive nights? Without making some kind of plan, possibly involving a pulley system?
Now that is simply poor planning.
And so it was that I found myself at four o’clock this morning awakening with a horrible sense of deja-vu.
I am lying on my back. When I turn over I experience a spasm of pain. The only difference is that this time I am alone in the house; no-one will be coming in to spoon with me and therefore discover my plight. AND my bed is so low that I can’t snake down the side on my back with my neck supported.
But: aha! I had an idea.
This was the idea: I would use my core muscles to heave my upper body off the bed, lifting myself to a seated position in the manner of a crunch. I would then get up.
It seemed like a workable plan. And so I attempted to clench my abdominal muscles with the notion that thinking the thought “activate core” would cause my upper body to rise up in one fluid motion.
But I remained completely prone. It was like I had no mind-body connection at all.
What the fuck? Seriously? Had I, like, strained my pineal gland? 
No, it could not be that. There was no way that Descartes was right about the bloody pineal gland. No. Way. But I did, at this moment, have a profound realization, dear readers. All those times in my life when I have done crunches thinking, smugly, that I was using my abdominal muscles to lift my head and shoulders off the ground?
I was actually using my neck muscles.
And this explains how you can take a class called “core barre” for two years without it having any discernible impact on your core muscles.
At this point, I went full Crusoe. I started talking to myself. I started plotting. Functional pineal gland or not, I would just use my neck muscles to sit up, I decided. Through sheer force of will. Yeah, take that, Descartes, you fucker.
Yes, it would be agonizing, but it would just be for a few moments, I reasoned. Probably. And I could use the pain-relieving techniques I used in childbirth. When I was in labor with the younger I had a “stress ball,” a kind of squishy rubber ball that I would squeeze really hard when I was having an especially bad contraction. That could work, I thought to myself, except that I didn’t have a ball of any kind close to hand.
Jesus fucking Christ.
But just like Crusoe, under pressure, I also became resourceful and prepared to use what I had to hand.
“Well, my thigh is kind of the texture of a stress ball,” I reasoned. “I will just squeeze my thigh hard while I heave myself up. And if I squeeze hard enough the pain in my thigh might distract me from my neck pain. So it will be even more effective than a stress ball!”
I squeezed my thigh experimentally and tried psyching myself up to do this but in the end I was too scared both of the pain and of the possibility that heaving myself so violently might actually injure my neck even more.
Because I need my neck, you see. It’s one of my best body parts. It not only holds up my head, it also houses my voice box, enables me to eat and drink, looks pretty in necklaces, and smells good when spritzed with perfume. I mean, it’s just not one of my expendable body parts, like a toe or something.
By this point I could tell, just from looking at the light, that quite some time had now passed. My resourcefulness turned to despair.
This is precisely why people do not live alone, I thought to myself.
“Well, I’ve made my bed and now I must lie in it,” I thought to myself, grimly.
“Literally,” I added, mirthlessly.
“Forever,” I added, dismally.
Finally, I had another idea. I couldn’t slither down the bed. But maybe I could throw myself off the bed. I envisioned this as a kind of feline move … I would flip and land in a tensed, crouching position.
In the end I was more like a somewhat lethargic, self-tossing pancake, but it did the job.
Readers, my neck still hurts. And I genuinely feel a bit scared about going to sleep tonight.
But, assuming I make it through the night and am up and about tomorrow, please do bear in mind the following: if we are walking and talking and I look straight ahead, rather than making eye contact, do not take offense. Also – and this is important – do NOT let me drive you anywhere under any circumstances. I mean, this is good advice in general, but especially while my neck is injured. I was running late for therapy today and ended up having to drive the few blocks to make it on time. As I was hurrying over to the car, I counseled myself, “Oh, it’ll be fine. There would only be a problem if there were something I needed to see BEHIND me, but how likely is that?!”
Also: please send complete meals. Also codeine. Also gin. Also an easy-to-use pulley-system with instructions.
Much love &c,
 “The part of the body in which the soul directly exercises its functions is not the heart at all, or the whole of the brain. It is rather the innermost part of the brain, which is a certain very small gland situated in the middle of the brain’s substance and suspended above the passage through which the spirits in the brain’s anterior cavities communicate with those in its posterior cavities. The slightest movements on the part of this gland may alter very greatly the course of these spirits, and conversely any change, however slight, taking place in the course of the spirits may do much to change the movements of the gland.” (Cottingham, J., Stoothoff, R., Murdoch, D., 1984, The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, 2 vols., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. I: 340).
4 thoughts on “Day 97: my head, turned”
Yikes! I hope you feel better soon. Please let me know if I can help at all!
Thank you, Andy, and I DO feel better this morning! My neck is still stiff and difficult to move but the pain is definitely less intense! I slept well! I am attributing magical healing powers to the gin & tonic, glass of red wine, rare cheeseburger, and fries WITH SPICY MAYO that I had with B & J when I went out for dinner with them last night.
If you are not getting better you should see a physician..
Thank you so much for your concern, Dr. Anonymous! The internet (and Dr F) told me to do the same if it didn’t start to improve within a few days, but I am happy to report that it is definitely better today than yesterday. I am optimistic that it will be more or less healed within a week.