Indignity struck without sound or strain, just a white-hot burst of pain that sent me backwards. Stretching from my right shoulder blade to my neck, the pain arrived, fully formed, in one massive instalment. I yelped and stumbled backwards to the wall before crumpling dramatically to the floor. From a distance it must have looked like I’d been shot, but I’d just walked into my son’s bedroom to pick out his favourite socks, since the ones previously offered were causing a stalemate in the daily drudge toward getting him off to nursery. I’d barely crossed the threshold when the pain announced itself with all the grim inevitability of a council tax bill.
‘Daddy, what’s wrong?’ my son asked blithely from the landing. I reassured him everything was fine, while simultaneously calling out to my wife to insist that everything was not. ‘What a trooper,’ I thought, as he returned to his toys obliviously, leaving me with that odd combination of relief and hurt that comes from knowing your child is suffering zero emotional trauma from the sight of their father in extreme physical distress. This was a familiar pain and, for my wife, a familiar series of humiliating noises, and soon she was tramping upstairs to greet the floundering, swearing pretzel that had once been her husband.
Sometimes I question my choice to write gently humorous articles for a living. And never more than when I find myself temporarily paralysed by the indignity of back pain caused by spending 12 hours a day hunched over a keyboard. My sedentary lifestyle, and an attitude to back health which might best be described with a shrug emoji, means I get one of these back attacks about once a year. They only last 12 hours or so, during which ibuprofen, codeine and bed rest sort them out and I say I’ll do something about it, but forget and go back to the same habits all over again.
You’d think I’d have learned something from the last such attack I had, which was so bad I rang the NHS 111 phoneline to see if I needed proper care. The operator convinced me I was probably having a cardiac arrest and called an ambulance. I made my way downstairs to a pair of bemused paramedics. They politely informed me that people having heart attacks rarely meet them at the door, leaving me strangely disappointed that I was not, in fact, dying.
This time out, the only emergency service vehicle involved was my son’s fire engine, which he conscripted to help get me off the floor and into bed, making siren noises all the while. I was touched by this until it became clear he was re-enacting the scene from one of his favourite story books, in which the fire service are called in to rescue a beached whale. I mean, there’s indignity and there’s offence.
Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? by Séamas O’Reilly is out now (Little, Brown, £16.99). Buy a copy from guardianbookshop at £14.78
Follow Séamas on Twitter @shockproofbeats