Last night Errol St Osteo was deeply asleep, dreaming of test cricket and slip and slides and huge swathes of food when the piercing beeping of a poorly chosen ringtone woke me up.
The caller was a gruff man called Nick that had ‘cooked me back mate.’
Never one to leave an injured patient in distress I crawled out of bed, cursed, washed the taste of Christmas cheer out of my mouth and headed to the clinic.
At 5am I was sat at my desk wondering if I was the victim of a prank call when there was the vroom, vroom sputter of a 1984 Holden ute from what sounded like my roof.
The doorbell rang, I rubbed the sleep from my eyes, put my best professional face on and went to get it.
Waiting at the door was a slightly overweight, middle aged man in boardshorts, a singlet and red elf shoes, clutching his back with his right hand.
He smelt slightly of brandy and there were some crumbs in his greying beard. I briefly wondered if I should mention that drink driving was dangerous but thought better of it.
“Thank the bloody heavens you’re still open young fella” he proclaimed loudly as he threw an uninvited arm across my shoulder.
As is always the case with an injury my first task was to determine the predisposing factors that lead up to the injury as well as rule out any serious conditions.
And so as I eased him into the chair next to my desk I asked what had brought on this emergency visit the night before Christmas when everyone else was as quiet as a mouse.
Rather than repeat to you dear readers his every word I may just summarise it as I remember it. Nick was one of those elongated storytellers where once you give him an inch… well read on.
He worked for a company that specialised in Christmas deliveries. They were a worldwide organisation and each of the employees had jurisdiction for a single country.
As part of his region he was expected to know the culture well. To live it, breathe it, drink it.
The organisation had been around for years but recently management had got excited about modernising it and making it more efficient.
In the past he and his colleagues were employees but would only really have to work a few days in December whilst the rest of the year they would be in training.
Training was quite rigorous by the seems of things. A lot of leaping roofs, shimmying down small spaces, moving silently and efficiently, lifting and carrying a variety of objects of varying weights.
This training was also offset by a huge dietary requirement to maintain a certain physique that management wanted all of the employees to adhere to.
But recently his employer had decided it needed to keep up with the 21st century and brought some consultants in. They were all about efficiency and a standardised quality of of service. No more individualised efforts in each country.
And so the elves were sacked. The elves? Yes the elves, you know, small little buggers, big ears always bloody smiling and always willing to make things and move things. You know; elves.
The production was outsourced to private companies. Amazon was pronounced like like a spitting sound.
And whilst he and his colleagues were allowed to keep their jobs, it was never going to be the same.
His Dutch colleague was being forced to let go his slaves, a long held tradition, a long held non racist tradition according to Nick and his colleagues.
Nick himself was being encouraged to use reindeer rather than his beat up 1984 ute and they wanted him to get rid of the singlet and boardies.
And management had even started to hire women to do the role.
Nick was particularly aghast at this. The role was physical he said, a lot of lifting, how does management reckon that a bunch of sheila’s can do it.
At this point I was holding back a chuckle not sure if Nick could appreciate the irony of a middle aged overweight bloke with a bad back critiquing the ability of someone else being able to lift things.
So now aside from an intensive training block in December he and his co workers were sat at laptops replying to letters and emails.
Ergonomics? Poor is the easy answer. As we well know ergonomics comes down to two very basic things; desk set up and moving every 20-30minutes.
Now Nick and his band of diversifying brothers and sisters were on laptops. The business consultants had googlified the office with bean bags and hammocks and there were no longer any typewriters or desktop computers.
Nor elves to do all the work.
But like a lot of workers Nick got in and worked hard for 4-5 hours before taking a short break for lunch.
And this was where the low back first started getting sore. 3-4 hours into the day he would start to get a bit achey. The bean bags gave him headaches and the hammocks motion sickness.
But the real issue came with the week long intensive training block that he had just completed before taking off on his deliveries.
Squats, deadlifts, skipping, boxing, 3km time trials. Nick said it was the worst week in his life. Had he done much of his own training through the year like he had been advised to?
Of course not.
By the end of the training block his back had felt on the edge, he was nervous coughing or putting his shoes on as it felt like there was a precipice he needed to avoid.
And then a few hours before calling Errol St Osteo Nick had been trying to shimmy through a window in a contortionist like manoeuvre and he had felt it ‘go.’
Sharp right sided low back pain. Shooting through his core with every deep breath. And he still had a quarter of the country to get to.
Without any peripheral pains or altered sensation I was confident that Nick sprained a small joint in his low back that we would be able to help with. A facet joint or zygopophyseal joint as show offs like to call it.
But we did the orthopaedic examination to make sure and then I started to do some hands on work as I explained the issues that Nick was facing, the contributing factors in his back injury.
For me the being immobile for long periods in front of a computer isn’t great. Laptops in and of themselves aren’t too bad it’s the lack of movement that was an issue.
The lack of exercise is a big predisposing factor for injuries. Exercise is vital for physical and mental health. If it could be bottled and marketed by a pharmaceutical company everyone would be prescribed it.
But also the training block of squats, deadlifts, boxing and skipping was not applicable enough to the tasks Nick was required to do.
With his job Nick was crawling through small spaces, leaping chimneys, throwing sacks of product around. None of which his training regime was preparing him to do.
And stress. The correlation of stress and injury is not debatable. I asked Nick how he was managing his stress during this period of change in the company.
He laughingly said with tinnies and the occasional brandy.
And so Nick’s back injury, whilst he thought it had come out of the blue when throwing a bag of product in the back of his 1984 ute, was the manifestation of a perfect storm.
I wriggled a few things, cracked a few things, massaged a few things and stood him back up. Painfree and over the moon he let slip a ‘ho, ho, ho’ before catching himself ‘’apologies, I’m not supposed to say that anymore, company policy’’ he muttered before thanking me profusely and high tailing it back to his ute and to complete his rounds.
And I went home to catch up on some sleep before joining the family for Christmas.
Errol St Osteo: Strongly Endorses Exercise, Stress Management and a Healthy Diet As the Best Preventative Medicine On The Market.