Revenge of the Midnight Oil

(updated: January 7, 2008)

Below is an X-Ray image of Cliff’s five lumbar vertebræ. The second one down (affectionately known as “L2” — for “second lumbar”) shows a wedge compression fracture of about 75 percent.‡


“Youch!” said Cliff in the understatement of the year!

“Chick — chick-chick-chick! Ka-chink — ching!” heard the owners of the cantankerous MRI machine.

“They’re all paranoid, every one of them!” muttered the Twelve Stepper with a license to practice medicine, each time a pain management patient objected to being pigeonholed as a criminal drug abuser.

Painting the Car

Comic and social critic Lenny Bruce used a short skit to discredit and dismiss those who let stigma prevent them from obtaining proper treatment for venereal disease. (This was 1960.) Instead of visiting the family doc for some penicillin, our antihero “goes to some guy who sweeps up a drug store:

“‘Pssst! Hey, man, I got the cla-a-ap!’

“‘Oh? How’d you get that?’

“‘From paintin’ the car, schmuck! Never mind that, I got it, okay?’”

So Here’s How it Happened

A very sleepy Cliff was standing in front of his computer terminal. He nodded for a moment, lost his balance, and fell backwards. Both buttocks shared the impact, transferring the energy directly to the pelvic bone. Being connected via the spinal column to the rib cage, something had to give. It wasn't a rocket scientist, you'll recall, who designed the human backbone.

There likely would have been little or no damage except that Cliff carries about 100 extra pounds of water from five years of lymphedema. Also, since Cliff had fallen asleep and did not awaken until impact, he had no time for moves to break the fall or disperse the impact. (He’d studied Judo as a child.) The know-less-than-nothing medicine men blame an electrolyte imbalance, which makes for good show, as we all know. But Cliff says he’s got only himself to blame for not getting enough sleep!

This fall took place on August 29, 2006.

The Interim

For the first three weeks or so, Cliff leaned on some pain pills he’d had laying around, and leaned very heavily on his walking stick, a familiar ornament that has helped him maintain balance for six or seven years, now. The balance problem comes from the various symptoms brought on by a malady known as lymphedema. This condition came out in full force in late 2001, forcing Cliff to quit publishing the print edition of Positive Atheism.

Lymphedema is marked by such a severe swelling of the lower legs and feet that the skin often shreds, being unable to keep up with the expansion. It comes from a degeneration of the lymphatic system and a sensitivity to sodium in foods. (Try reducing your sodium intake to less than 1000 mg per day!)

Cliff's long-time doctor suggested waiting to see if the vertebra might heal itself, with large doses of pain medication to help Cliff maintain a correct posture. When this doc left the clinic, his replacement withdrew the medication and mandated that Cliff undergo the controversial Vertebroplasty procedure. Cliff's body immediatrely buckled under the severe pain, his torso hanging parallel to the floor. Three months of this removed any hope of a quick recovery from the posture problems it caused, and this condition may well be permanent no matter how much work Cliff does in the gym. Only time will tell.


The Vertebroplasty procedure utilizes “bone cement” in an attempt to rebuild the damaged bone, with a full healing of the bone itself, they tell us, within four (4) hours!

Incision To Bandage: Ten (10) Minutes

In Cliff’s case, he will need extensive physical rehabilitation to rebuild the important muscle tissue that atrophied during the time that the injury went unaddressed. Among other things, the pain was too intense to allow him to stand upright. (During this time, about 90 days, Cliff stood and walked with his torso almost parallel to the floor.)

Cliff had hoped it would heal on its own. This healing had been moving right along until Cliff’s (temporary, now former) primary care physician coerced him onto the operating table by refusing to treat the pain and by threatening to withhold other medical services if he did not comply with her wishes regarding his health care.

Ahem! Whose body is it, lady? Who feels the pain? Whose life goes on hold because of almost complete helplessness?

Cliff is now six inches shorter than he was before the fall. He will prolly spend the rest of his life in a power chair.



‡ This originally said “25 percent” as that was what the doctor was told over the telephone by the radiology company. This is the only copy of the X-Ray he has actually seen, and on seeing it, reports that the fracture was 75 percent. — June 1, 2008