For the past 18 years I have spent approximately 150 days a year traveling around the world. My travel pre and post ex-pat assignment has stayed quite consistent. In January, I spent a week in Japan, visited my daughter in LA, made a domestic trip to visit customers and took several people to Argentina for a week. I managed to play 4 rounds of golf on three continents. Business as usual... and then I threw my back out hitting practice balls on the driving range near my home. I am not prone to back problems and fully expected to take some Ibuprofen, skip a day of exercise and be fine the day after. No such luck. By the evening of my injury, I knew I would be working from home the next day since walking and to some extent breathing was difficult.
I stayed home a couple of days on my back - pecking out emails on my IPad because it was too hard to sit up and type on my laptop. I put heat on my back initially when I should have used ice. Fortunately my wife was kind enough to suggest that I "Google" how to treat my back - she already knew the right answer but also knew it was better for me to hear it from Google especially in the grumpy state the bad back put me in. My condition got worse on day 3 (I foolishly spent 35 minutes on an exercise bike and went to the office only to return in extreme pain). As a result, I spent a couple more days at home alternating ice packs, heat and ingesting more ibuprofen then the bottle recommends.
It has been a week since the full swing with a 4 iron reduced me to a teary, kneeling mess on the driving range but the experience has taught me many things besides stretching my aging body before hitting golf balls. The first thing is to appreciate my health. When it is hard to walk and draw a deep breath - little else matters. Fortunately, I had no travel planned for last week. I could still communicate with customers in Sydney, Singapore, Tokyo and New York as if nothing had happened but I kept coming back to the thought of how I had rarely missed a day of work in the prior 25 years. Like many, I took an occasional "mental health" day but as I lose about 15 to 20 weekends a year to travel, the "one off" mental health day still seemed like the company was getting the better end of the work bargain. From the back of mind came the thought - what if I got a permanent injury and could no longer live the type of life I live now?
As the painful days passed, I vowed to appreciate my health more and to try to do more to ensure I stay healthy. I have always exercised, sometimes probably as much for my head as my body. It was much harder for me not to exercise than not to go to work. Despite decades of daily exercise, I never took time for stretching, cooling down or slowing down when my body was telling me to take a day off.
Reflecting on what you would do if you lost your health leads to other questions - am I making the best use of the time I have? When you look in the mirror and the answer to that question is probably not - then it is time for more reflection.
My back is now at about 85% of normal - good enough to go to the office tomorrow and hopefully good enough to get on a plane Wednesday. The question I really need to go "back" to is would I be happier making a change.