More of What Cathryn Is Thinking About
Did it happen when you were engaged in a standard daily activity, like brushing your teeth, emptying the dishwasher or carrying a couple of bags of groceries? If the answer to that question is yes, it is safe to presume that you have not been seriously harmed, and — no matter how appealing it seems — you should not retreat to your couch or bed and wait to feel better. The spine is not a fragile body part, no matter what many stakeholders in the back pain industry would have us believe. For more on this topic, you’ll want to read what Harvard psychologist Ronald Siegel has to say in Crooked: Outwitting the Back Pain Industry and Getting on the Road to Recovery’s chapter 9, “Head Case.”
I’ve been an investigative reporter for four decades, but nine years ago, when I began to search for a solution to my own persistent back pain, I was as naive as any other patient. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this area of healthcare was especially rife with problems. The more I dug, the more I found, much of it absolutely startling. That’s why I decided to write Crooked: Outwitting the Back Pain Industry and Getting on the Road to Recovery, which is being published this week.
First, a little background and a shameless plug. I’ve spent most of the last seven years writing Crooked: Outwitting the Back Pain Industry and Getting on the Road to Recovery. The book is a hybrid, combining deep investigative reporting with a personal narrative, charting my journey as I find my way from disability to function. In the process, I learned a great deal about how treating chronic back pain, which afflicts about 70 million Americans annually, came to cost $100 billion each year. That makes it a legitimate public health crisis.
Well, it was a long time in coming — six years, conservatively — but I’m happy to announce that the book formerly known as The Fragile Column, and now (more accurately) titled Crooked, will be published by HarperCollins in April 2017.
Under pressure, physicians began to insist that their patients taper opioids. But alternatives were few and far between. The single most effective class of non-opioid painkiller, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory known as a “COX-2 inhibitor,” had its reputation blackened in the mid-2000s, just as opioid manufacturers fought to obtain the lion’s share of the market.
For more than three decades, the promise of stem cells has given hope to researchers and patients in search of a treatment for incurable diseases. But time and again, the field has been wracked by setbacks, scandals, and sometimes, outright fraud.
This book is a description of my personal journey—from decades of musculoskeletal pain and discomfort to complete freedom from chronic pain. That may seem like a sweeping, even hyperbolic claim, but this experience has changed my entire understanding of health and fitness and has utterly transformed my outlook on life.
Heavy backpacks are, of course, one culprit. Every autumn as kids head back to school, the American Academy of Pediatrics reminds parents of these backpack safety tips: Backpacks should weigh no more than 10-20 percent of the child’s body weight...
The states of Washington and Colorado have legalized marijuana. Twenty-three states (in addition to the District of Columbia) have allowed the drug’s use for medical purposes. But the Food and Drug Administration still classifies marijuana as a “Schedule 1” drug...
Memory foam, dual-air technology, cushion firm, ultra-pillow top. Picking a new mattress requires wading through a stream of jargon. But do any of these features make a difference in your back pain?
A dense fog shrouds the church spires across the street, and I’m bundled up in a blanket and warm socks as I write. In San Francisco, where I live, you wouldn’t know it was summer...
Tiger Woods announced that he will sit out the US Open next month, deferring his quest to beat Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major titles while Woods recovers from back surgery to repair a pinched nerve.
High-heeled shoes are praised and painted in the most heightened and fantastical of language, almost as ornate as the shoes themselves: Jimmy Choos are “glamorous and sexy.” Vivier is “the Fabergé of footwear.” Ferragamos are “red-carpet ready.”
Much of the backlash against the new prescription painkiller Zohydro has revolved around its lack of an “abuse-deterrent formulation,” which would prevent users from crushing pills into a powder to snort or inject for an immediate high that bypasses the slow-release formula.
Cathryn wrote a great piece for the NewYorker.com last December about the controversial new painkiller Zohydro, which was approved by the FDA despite the agency’s own advisory panel’s recommendation against it.
In this age of prolific technological development – where no matter what you need, “There’s an app for that!” – I’d been wondering how effective and accessible these apps really are when it comes to things that specifically defy digitization: namely, things that involve exercise, yoga and physical therapy.
Perhaps during a cross-country flight, boredom gets the best of you, and you reach in the seat back pocket for the SkyMall catalog. Flipping through pages jammed with products you didn’t know you needed, you are presented with options for back pain relief—from standard lumbar cushions and back supports to extravagant massage chairs to the downright wacky—a Swedish nail bed, anyone?
The more we have in our lives, the more there is that we can’t live without. That’s not a sweeping philosophical statement. I mean it literally: If we don’t bring practically everything we own when we leave the house, we’re afraid we’ll find ourselves stranded, desperate for that one thing we left behind: a full makeup kit, a change of shoes, yoga clothes and running apparel, the laptop with every bit of work we’ve done in the last five years accessible at a moment’s notice. Without these things, we feel insecure.
As a new mom, I’ve accepted the fact that my lunch will probably consist of whatever I can grab from the fridge and eat with one hand, and I now consider the day a success when I squeeze in a shower. It’s easy to forget to take care of ourselves while caring for our little ones. And our backs are often the first victims of this self-neglect. Days spent lifting and carrying that ever-growing bundle of joy can lead to spasms and aches and shooting pains.
There was a time when no one who could afford to do otherwise dreamed of carrying his own luggage. That was what porters were for. As you might have noticed, if you’re a fan of PBS’ Downton Abbey, even a couple of weeks in the country (attire for formal balls; mandatory tails for dinner) required such items as a campaign bag, a carpet bag, a dressing case, a hat box, and a steamer trunk. The last item was impossible for a single person to carry – even empty.
People with back pain frequently tell me that their number one problem is that they don’t have time to work out. They say this with pride, and then describe the back surgery they are contemplating; a surgery that is likely to bench them for weeks or months.
A book full of investigative reporting is a living thing, one that lies fallow for a long time before it buds, and finally – if you’re lucky – blossoms and bears fruit. This can take a while.
Recently, it occurred to me that writing a book is a lot like landscaping. You start with an empty lot, brimming with potential, but still lumpy and muddy, with iffy soil. (With a book, this is idea stage, where you tell yourself that your options are unlimited, and that you, being you, can do anything.)
"How do you get from here to there, what do you do?" Strangely, that little snatch of song was stuck in both our heads and neither of us could come up with the next line.
Today, May 1st, is the day by which prospective college freshman must “commit,” – that is, they must click on the box that initiates the enrollment process. Writing that deposit check is hard enough for parents, but for many ambitious students, the uncertainty continues.