After my failed attempt to return to the restaurant business, chapter ten of my book Get Back Up finds me back in sales. Unlike selling real estate and life insurance, however, this sales endeavor was made much easier by the fact that the product was liquor and beer, and unlike other products, I didn’t have to start out by selling the need. Restaurants and bars obviously already had the need for my product. Another thing that made this sales job easier was the state law in Florida that gave exclusivity of certain brands to a single liquor company. One of the brands my company had the exclusive rights to sell was Bacardi rum. So, if you were a restaurant or bar that wanted to sell Bacardi rum, you had to get it from me.
Another product that we had exclusive rights to was Molson Canadian Ale. While this was yet another product that was easy to sell, it was also the product that would change my life forever, and not in a good way. It was a customer’s need for this product that would not only end my career as a liquor salesman, but it would also give me my biggest and most difficult opportunity to get back up.
Prior to that epic event, Suzie and I were enjoying our new life. After a few years of making little to no money, I finally had a salary, and a very good one at that. We not only had the money to easily pay our bills, we had plenty left over to go to the movies and out to dinner. It finally looked like we were on our way to having the life I could only dream of as a child growing up in the projects of South Philadelphia.
Everything was going great until that afternoon call that brought it all to a screeching halt. One of the restaurants I sold to was out of Molson Canadian Ale. I told them I would have the truck bring some tomorrow, but to hold them over, I’d drop off a couple of cases on my way home. I had the guy in the warehouse put two cases in my trunk, and I stopped by the restaurant to deliver the beer. I reached into my trunk and, without bending at the knees, grabbed both cases and lifted them out. As I did, I felt a slight pull in my lower back. I thought nothing about it, and I carried the beer into the restaurant and then went home. The next day I couldn’t move. My back was killing me, and there was pain shooting down my right leg. I called in sick, put on a hot pad, and hoped it would get better.
It didn’t get better, and after a few days I decided to go to the doctor; after a few visits and plenty of pills, the doctor decided to take some x-rays and do an MRI. The tests revealed that I had ruptured a disc in my back and I would need surgery. The doctor assured me that it would be a simple procedure and I’d be back on my feet in a few weeks.
This was in the early eighties, before arthroscopic surgeries with their one-inch incisions that barely touched the muscles in your back. When they were done with me I had a massive scar that looked like they’d done the surgery using a machete. I was in the hospital for over a week and in physical therapy soon thereafter.
I didn’t get better in a matter of weeks like the doctor said I would. In fact, I continued to get worse. The doctor told me that some people take longer to heal than others and he prescribed me muscle relaxers and opioids. While these drugs did dull the pain, they dulled my brain as well. I’d hoped that I could at least read and maybe study some new subjects while I was healing, but instead all I could do was sleep.
After a while the doctors finally agreed with me that I wasn’t getting better and re-ran the imaging studies. They found out what I already knew: my back was still damaged. In fact, they said there was even damage to the disc above the one they’d operated on and they told me I’d need another operation. They also said I was young and in good shape, so I’d probably be back on my feet in a few short weeks. I didn’t really believe them but I didn’t think I had much of a choice.
So, only a few months after my first back surgery I was having a second one. Soon after that I was back in physical therapy and on some serious drugs. I did everything the doctors told me to do but I didn’t get any better. Over time the drugs became less effective and the doctors just increased the dose. My father was addicted to alcohol and pain killers, and I really started to worry if that was going to happen to me as well, but what choice did I have? I was in too much pain.
Soon, however, the doctors told me that I did have another choice, and it was to have a third surgery. They explained that each surgery I’d had so far had fixed the problem with the disc they were working on but that doing so put more pressure on the disc above, making the subsequent surgery necessary. This time, they would remove the two discs above the ones they’d previously worked on, and then fuse my entire lower back. They didn’t have titanium rods like they use in fusions today, so they would fuse my back using bone that they would auger from my pelvis.
This was a much bigger operation that took eight hours to complete, and I lost a lot of blood during the surgery. I was in intensive care for a couple of days and in the hospital for a couple of weeks. I would spend the next few months in bed as the pieces of bone from my pelvis fused together, and, of course, I was taking a lot of drugs.
After a while I was back in physical therapy, and, as was the case with my previous surgeries, I didn’t get any better. I was also taking so many drugs I couldn’t think clearly enough to do anything but go to PT and sleep. I told the doctors they had to do something but they said they’d done all they could do. They told me I now had failed back syndrome. I told them it sounded more like failed doctor syndrome to me, but it didn’t matter, as they said I was 100% disabled and I should file for Social Security disability. Even the worker’s comp people said they would stop paying me, and instead gave me a lump sum settlement that at the time seemed like a lot but in hindsight was very little, considering I would never work again.
Things could not have looked more bleak. Was I really 100% disabled? Was I about to become my father, living off disability checks and hooked on painkillers? I really felt lost, and for the first time I thought my dreams of success would never be realized.
For the next few days I got more and more depressed, and then one day as I was lying in bed, ready to take my pain pills, I turned the TV to the financial news network, and there was a segment playing about the life of some rich person. I lay there and watched it, thinking, I was going to be one of those rich guys. Now here I am, going in the opposite direction. That’s when I suddenly decided: I wasn’t going to be my father. This wasn’t the life I wanted, and nor was it the life Suzie deserved. I wasn’t ready to give up. So, I called Suzie into the room. I gave her my mountain of pills and told her to flush them. If I wanted to have the life I’d promised to myself and my wife, I was going to have to get back up.
- Always lift with your legs. You only get one back.
- Save surgery as a last resort, especially when it comes to your back.
- Always get a second opinion before undergoing any medical procedure, especially surgery.
- If you need to take drugs to relieve your pain, do so for as short a period as possible. Otherwise, you may find that you’re trading your brain for your pain.
- Even when others give up on you, including the so-called experts, don’t ever give up on yourself.
George A. Santino helps people who want to break down barriers, including self-imposed barriers, to success. Check out his Amazon bestselling book, Get Back Up: From the Streets to Microsoft Suites.