(Photo from Camp Jeep in Nelson County, VA, in 2004)

The drive to see my mother is 33 miles from our driveway to the parking lot of her assisted living facility. It’s one that I’ve made dozens of times over the past few months, both in my Wrangler or on my motorcycle.

Wednesday’s drive, however, was my first since a back flareup put me down five days ago. It was also my first venture outside the house.

Getting into my Wrangler is tricky even without a back problem. You don’t get into a Wrangler. You climb in, and up, to an upright seat.  Lifting one leg over the high sill aggravated one of the nerves pinched by the bad disk in my back and sent sharp stabs of pain through that leg. I grabbed the hand strap at the bottom of the roll bar and into swung myself, cussing all the way, into the seat.

Mission half accomplished. Getting my right leg into position required lifting the calf with both hands and pulling it into place, accompanied by stabs of pain and an few choice words from my ever-growing library of profanity.

Once in place, I found the usually simple act of putting my seat belt on was now a careful exercise of pulling the belt and straps into place without too much pain from the still sensitive back.

Then came the hard part: Pushing in the clutch to start the car. The Wrangler has a safety switch that prevent starting the vehicle without depressing the clutch pedal. Halfway down, the muscles in my left leg spasmed and my foot slipped off the pedal.

Ouch.

Tried again, more carefully this time, and managed to hold the clutch in place long enough to start the engine.

Next obstacle: Looking behind me as I backed the Wrangler into the narrow area between our tractor and our motorcycle trailer at the top of the driveway. Turning my head to look sent more spasms of pain down my back and legs but I managed to back up without hitting anything, slipped the transmission into first and starred down the steep driveway. A few new ruts left by Tuesday’s rain deluge rattled my spine enough to send pain to every extremity.

Finally made it to the intersection of Harvestwood Road and U.S. 221 and discovered that the normally simple act of turning my head to the right to see if any traffic was coming around the semi-blind bend.  My head did not want to turn without a lot of effort and pain. Gritted my teeth, made sure the road was clear and let the clutch out (more agony) for the left-hand turn onto 221.

Now a Wrangler is not the smoothest-riding car in the world and my back’s sensitivity to movement made the 4.1 mile trip into Floyd a study in masochism. Made it though Floyd for the longer drive to mom’s facility while discovering that a comfortable driving position could not be found.

I arrived to find my mother had had a bad morning with a lot of pain and she did not recognize me through the fog of medication needed to keep her aches and pains under control.

Managed to get back to Floyd without incident, started u the driveway before hitting one of the new ruts at about five miles an hour. The jolt sent pain radiating from my lower back to the end of hands and feet.  She sudden onslaught left tears in my eyes before I turned left at the top of the driveway and drove to garage.

Turned the engine off and sat in the car for nearly 15 minutes, waiting for the pain to subside before I could begin the slow, methodical and painful process of getting from the out of the car and up the flight of steps that leads from the garage floor to the back door of the house.

Once inside, I took a muscle relaxer along with two glasses of water and collapsed (gently) onto the couch. Amy said I was out cold in under five minutes.