‘A crunch. A rip. Pain spread like a stain’: my lifetime of back trouble | Maggie O’Farrell

After living with a spinal injury for years, Maggie O’Farrell reflects on our capacity for denial

It is one of those static, chill days you get in Edinburgh towards the end of winter. Ice sheets the pavements and roads; no wind stirs the blackened branches of the trees; the fallen foliage from the now distant autumn is frost-gilded and crisp underfoot.

I am swathed in multiple layers of merino wool, a scarf covering half my face, and I am holding myself stiffly upright on the very edge of a stool in a small and glaringly lit room. Despite the wool, despite my mittens and sheepskin-lined boots, I am unremittingly, unavoidably cold. Chronic pain, I am discovering, is tiring, draining, domineering: it absorbs all your energy and focus; it drives other thoughts from your head. My body seems unable to keep itself at a livable temperature, so preoccupied is it with the extreme discomfort of my back.

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‘A crunch. A rip. Pain spread like a stain’: my lifetime of back trouble | Maggie O’Farrell