The Odyssey of a recovering patient of the Orthopedic and Spine Specialists (OSS) hospital in York, PA; January 2019. (My hospital experience could not have been better. Surgeons, nurses, aids, therapists, and dietary personnel are all first-rate. But my body’s reaction was another matter.)

My L-five, S-one fusion done,
This convalescing ain’t no fun!

Canto I
I went down to the OSS
My vertebrae to coalesce.
I hope this thing is a success
But I must certainly confess
That horrid heaps and hefty tons
Of biting pain above my buns
Do slice and slash my humble flesh
Asunder, searing my nephesh,
My heart, my soul, and rendering
Me feeble and engendering
A host of speculative fears
That oft have brought my eyes to tears.
Without my Norco this damned curse
Would be indefinitely worse!

Canto II
But worse it waxed when new pains came
Into my legs, I did exclaim
With groans and screams that juxtaposed
My agonies with dreadful woes.
My sore afflicted, tortured great,
With hurt that did excruciate
Upon each nascent foundering
And floundering foot-fall. The thing
Was beastly so I shrieked. I cried
And prayed the torture would subside.
Sciatica did mobilize
Its troops and seize its fated prize!
Petitions would not dare abate;
Was this, methought, my endless fate?

Canto III
That’s what I thought when I was sad
And pain was my only comrade!
But then (whence came a magic spell?)
The hurt retreated fairly well
When entered Gabapentin dose:
Before too long a grandiose
And glorious tranquility
Ascended, as an apogee,
And I reposed in peaceful bliss:
A day (or was it two?) of this
Euphoria that quelled my fears.
But it was days, not months or years!
Just days I said, until the dregs
Of hurt and ache entered my legs!

Canto IV
And did that stark and stinging strike?
It did indeed! And nothing like
The trauma having gone before.
“My dearest love, I now implore,
Give me a break before I die
And when I tell you, do not sigh:
Oh, there’s a clot of blood, beware,
Just like the former one, I swear!
It hurts the selfsame way,” I said.
She said, “I doubt it, but let’s head
On out and see what malady
This is.” Guess what! Not one but three
Blood clots intruded on my bliss,
For which I now chow Eliquis.

Canto V
But then I waited long and hard
Whilst my poor psyche, scuffed and scarred,
Was scarred some more until the clots
Would dissipate. But that took lots
Of blessed time and many nights
With little sleep and many fights
To occupy my waking time.
I paced about. No sleep sublime
Did put my weary soul to rest.
I was downtrodden and oppressed
Severe through each new day, and each
Nightfall befell me like some loutish leech
Until sweet Melatonin saved
Me, gave me respite that I craved!

Canto VI
Instead of hours two or three
Repose relented not for me
For four or sometimes even five—
Enough methought to stay alive.
But morning now bewitches, while
Awaking muscle twitches vile,
Befouls my body’s rolling out
Of bed. And so without a doubt
When I awake and quiver for
A moment, shake and shiver more
Than fellows ought, I think, “The nerves
Are nervous!” But the drug that serves
To stop this stuff when I convene
It, fails, by name, Tizanidine.

Canto VII
My twitching in my quaking back
Is not a jingoist attack.
It isn’t even quite a pain,
A nuisance just, a tiny bane.
But tan me hide!—Beneath the site
Where surgeon’s scalpel once did bite
Into my flesh, my vertebrae—
The twain made one that martial day—
Them selfsame bones did weep and wail,
“Mehurts again, me does!” “Curtail
This suffering!” I said that too!
This strangest of the strangest brew:
My back still hurts despite my dose
Of Norco. Isn’t this morose?

It’s not morose; I know I’ll heal,
But healing is a thing surreal!



Jeff Kemper has been a biology teacher, biblical studies instructor, editor, and painting contractor. He lives in York County, Pennsylvania.

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21 Responses

  1. Mo

    I am so sorry for your pain. Here’s hoping for a pain free life for you very soon. I can tell, it’s already been too long, but heal well.

  2. jd

    Additional sympathy from me, Jeff, and the hope that since you are able to write about your
    experience with occasional flashes of humor means you are on the mend.

    • Jeff Kemper

      Thanks, jd. Actually (and most thankfully) it has been two years.

  3. Paul Freeman

    To write about physical pain in such a jocular and entertaining way is testament to your strength, Jeff.

  4. Sally Cook

    I find it remarkable that you are able to get outside the pain and describe it as you have. I pray you will soon be better, and pain free.

    • Jeff Kemper

      Thanks, Sally. There were times during this ordeal when I mistakenly thought things were improving – many times. And then they improved for good.

  5. James A. Tweedie

    Jeff, as one scheduled for an L3 vertebral fusion in July, I can’t say that I was inspired by the otherwise delightful poetic account of your painful post-op ordeal! There is always risk involved in such things but I am am hopeful nonetheless!

    I am curious, however, if things have improved now that 2+ years have passed since your surgery?

    If I write a poetic account of my upcoming surgical experience I will be satisfied if it turns out to be half as amusing and well-written as yours!

    • Jeff Kemper

      Thanks for your kind words, James. My surgeon was top-notch. I’m happy to report that I can run (short distances), lift things (with knees bent!), work in the garden, etc. There were 6 weeks or so of hell, but you might not have the fortune of experiencing sciatica as dreadful as mine, or the blood clots, or yet the sleeplessness. I hope you experience none of those, but even though I did, it was worth all that discomfort and more. I sincerely hope all goes well and expect to read about it in verse!

  6. Jeff Eardley

    Jeff, I have just read this out loud to my wife who suffers with back pain and was nodding throughout. Never mind operating theatres, this belongs on the stage of real theatres. I look forward to your one man show tour of English provincial venues, with a finale at the RSC in Stratford. I really hope that things have improved for you and thank you for this most enlightening piece on the horrors of back pain.

  7. Jeff Kemper

    Thanks, Jeff. You’re too kind! Life is much better than before surgery, and worth every groan, of which there were too many to count.

  8. Margaret Coats

    As well as the frolicking rhyme and rhythm, the poem has an amusing structure of short cantos, and couplet prologue and epilogue. This suggests an imposing work in the grand manner, but follows through in an entirely different way. Cantos I and II get you fearfully set for the fateful struggle, then there is a drug or supplement to star in each remaining canto. Brilliant! I especially like Canto III, because I recall a long-ago time when I was prescribed a narcotic. It really is bliss the first time you take it, but not nearly as good on the second dose (and that was all I had). So glad you have healed from a successful surgery!

    • Jeff Kemper

      Thank you for your kind words and your analysis. I didn’t want to let that crisis go to waste, as is the practice of certain political creatures, so I wrote a little memoir.

  9. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Jeff, I winced, grinned and journeyed along with you in the lines of this humorous, heart-touching, and thoroughly engaging poem. I am sure that your excellent humor and admirable attitude helps you on the road to full recovery… and I wish you well. Thank you for being an inspiration as a poet and a patient.

    • Jeff Kemper

      Susan, I am quite well and have been, thanks to the excellent care I had in this wonderful hospital, where, by the way, my wife worked at the time. Even the food was excellent! Thanks for your encouraging words which mean a lot, coming from a witty kitty of a poet! (Am I allowed to say that in an ever-offended world?)

      • Susan Jarvis Bryant

        Jeff, I’m very pleased to hear you are hale and hearty, and that you had first rate treatment with excellent hospital food… what more could one ask for?! I love the term “witty kitty of a poet” – I’ll wear that purrrrfect badge of honor with pride…

  10. David Watt

    Jeff, I’m so glad you’re much improved after your surgery and lengthy
    recuperation. Thanks for being able to pen a lighthearted and entertaining account of your painful experience.

  11. Lois

    You have my empathy. Been there! Glad you’ve come through. You nailed the experience, I recognized it all! I enjoyed learning a few words I hadn’t run into despite being fairly well read. Bravo!

    • Jeff Kemper

      Thank you, Lois. I’m glad I captured the experience for you! Life is ever a stream of experiences, unique, yet similar to those of others. That one was horrid, but the outcome was worth every groan I uttered. And there were hundreds of them!


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