Photo Credit: Jewish Press

None of the pain killers helped.

I had tried a whole variety, including one a friend had told me had serious consequences. “Like what?” I’d asked. “Death,” she’d responded. But my trusted pharmacist said the drug was safe, so I took two. The pills didn’t hurt me (as far as I know) but they didn’t help either.


I was desperate. I’d already seen the doctor, the physical therapist, and the acupuncturist. My lower back and leg pain just got worse.

Finally, I went to the orthopedist. He was booked solid, but the secretary said I could go and wait. I went with my husband; I was in no position to drive. I waited for over an hour. I couldn’t sit at all, and standing was almost no better. I paced, and davened as I passed the fish tank and the secretary’s desk over and over.

I was afraid I would never recover from what I had thought was a minor pulled muscle I suffered doing Pesach cleaning. It didn’t seem so bad at first, but as the weeks went by, the pain got worse and worse. It woke me in the middle of the night.

When I finally got in to see the orthopedist he asked a few questions and offered me pills or shots. The shots, he said, were more effective. I hate needles. (Who doesn’t?) I didn’t hesitate. Shots, please!

The two shots really did help. The pain wasn’t eliminated, but was much better. The orthopedist prescribed big guns pain killers. As instructed, I took one at night, and the next in the morning, both after big meals.

I got so sick to my stomach. I didn’t know it possible to feel so fiercely nauseated. I lay in bed with my dishpan nearby for hours. What could I do? I prayed. And prayed. And finally, I did a cheshbon nefesh.

I’d been reading a book about back pain which said that the real cause was pent up anger. Was I angry at someone? Well, I had a short list of people who I felt had wronged me, but… it was a short list.

I decided that this was not the time for rationalization. I said out loud that I truly forgave who I needed to, by name. Then I committed to contact them, and ask to set things straight between us.

I committed to do a little cheshbon nefesh every night, asking myself how I did that day on my ben adam l’makom, ben adam l’chaveiro, and ben adam l’atzmo (how I did on my relationship to Hashem, to others, and to myself).

I also committed to do more chessed. We have a wonderful tsedaka organization in our neighborhood, Lemaan Achai, and although I am the collector for my building, I decided that I needed to do more.

I thought, of course, of all my failings, but I thought that if I determined to never speak a word of lashon ha-ra again I would fail. I chose to do things I thought I could follow through on.

Eventually, baruch Hashem, the nausea subsided. (Here’s a hint if you must take the type of pain killer which is hard on the stomach – take an antacid beforehand.) I switched pain killers and took antacids beforehand.

I contacted the people I needed to. I got no response from two, but the third, one of my children’s former teachers, wrote a nice note back. I asked for more duties at Lemaan Achai, and was given the job of running the furniture gemach. And I started a short cheshbon nesfesh when I said Shema at night.

Don’t think that I am perfect. I am far from it. But I was so scared with the nausea and pain double whammy, I was smacked into action.

The pain changed; it travelled. I went to a craniosacral therapist, who told me I had a slipped disc. I continued with physical therapy. I stopped taking the pain killers since they did not really help. The pain was less than that night I saw the orthopedist, but was still insistent.

A main obstacle was the inability to sit for long. I felt embarrassed when I’d go to a lecture or a Shabbat meal, and after forty minutes or so I would have to stand. I cringed when people looked at me with pity in their eyes and asked if I was okay. Of course, they were being kind, but I hated being pitied.

Then, I went to the birthday party for a friend (I stood during the speeches) and met a medical massage therapist named Avigayle. Unlike the p.t. who told me that her goal was not for me to be able to sit a long time, Avigayle told me I would get all better! She lent me a book about emunah and told me that I should put my faith in Hashem more.

She stood me in front of the mirror, and showed me how to adjust my posture so that my shoulders would be even, and my knees unlocked. I was diagnosed with scoliosis as a child, and have had poor posture for years. Avigayle showed me to focus on standing properly, “So you don’t get to be a hunched over old lady!”

I think of myself as a person with a strong sense of emunah. Of course I know that everything is in Hashem’s hands. But after reading the book, I realized Avigayle was right. I really needed to put myself into Hashem’s hands, and believe with all my heart that He would heal me.

I realized that the trouble I was having was Hashem’s way of giving me a catalyst to start doing exercises to strengthen my muscles now, and to learn how to modify my posture so that I won’t be in pain when I am older.

I often talk to Hashem, but Avigayle encouraged me to talk more. So I did. I told Hashem over and over that I could be a better mother and wife and a better servant to Him if I could function better. And, in my requests for myself I added a friend who has had nearly Job-level troubles.

In addition to the spiritual work, I also did my exercises. And I saw improvement slowly, and then almost from seemingly out of the blue, I felt I was back to my old self.

I washed dishes tonight. Did you realize that takes a little bending? The p.t. forbade me from any bending or lifting; doing either had been painful. I thanked Hashem for giving me the ability to wash those dishes. I would so rather be able to do them, than not.

Baruch Hashem my pain is gone. I didn’t know if I would ever be able to say that! My pain has been replaced by a tremendous sense of hakarat hatov.


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Jolie Greiff is a freelance writer and community social worker. She lives with her family in Ramat Beit Shemesh.