November 26, 2001
Back To Work


Monday morning, 9 a.m.

I am kneeling on the floor of the Dirt Company file room, trying to figure out the best way to fit 43,897,621 Environmental Assessment Reports into a file drawer large enough to accomodate 300.

This is not one of my regularly assigned tasks. At least, not yet. No one has asked me to overhaul the filing system. But my boss called in sick this morning ... both my *In* and *Out* baskets are emptier than the frozen turkey bin at Safeway, the day after Thanksgiving ... and I'm feeling antsy and ambitious and at dangerously loose ends. I've already made my mind up that one of the things that will be different about this job is that I'm not going to sit around, waiting for somebody to give me interesting stuff to do. If I see a task that needs doing -- a phone list that needs updating, a fax cover sheet that could use a redesign, an outdated filing system in desperate need of my particular brand of love and attention -- then I'm just going to take the initiative and do it, with or without direction. I figure the worst thing that can happen is that I'll screw it up somehow and have to do it over again eventually. But in the meantime, I'll be earning valuable *get-up-and-go* points with my boss.

But I'm wrong. Screwing up the filing system is not the worst thing that can happen.

As I'm reaching behind me to scoop up another stack of reports -- a minor physical maneuver requiring only modest amounts of dexterity on my part -- I suddenly feel something go *sproing-oing-oing* in the middle of my back, on the right-hand side, just below the shoulder blade, in the approximate spot where a large feathery wing might sprout if I were a bird or a butterfly or a Victoria's Secret model. This is accompanied by an interesting pulling/tearing/ripping sensation. It's not painful, exactly -- at least not very -- but it's clearly not a good thing that's happening here. I stand up slowly, with great care, holding onto the file cabinet for support. Then I stand there for a minute or two ... not moving, not blinking, not breathing very hard (or at all, actually), tentatively raising and lowering my arm, twisting a little bit at the torso, trying to figure out if I'm badly hurt. And if I am: whose fault would it be? Mine, for doing a job that I wasn't assigned to do? Or The Dirt Company, for dangerously overloading the filing cabinet?

(And if it's The Dirt Company, do I want a Lexxus or a BMW?)

Eventually I determine that I've pulled someoranother muscle in my back, but that it probably isn't going to require a trip to the emergency room and/or groovy prescription drugs and/or a crackerjack personal injury attorney. If I'm very, very careful for the rest of the day and don't do anything to exacerbate the injury -- no touch football at lunch, for example -- I'll probably be OK. I hobble over to my desk and gently ease myself into my chair, briefly considering my options. Should I take something? I've got three kinds of over-the-counter meds in my purse -- ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and a few of those little blue thingamabobs -- but no clue which is the appropriate medication to take for back sprain, if any.  So I take three of each, just to be safe.

(OH I'M JUST KIDDING. Since I'm not sure what to take, I don't take anything at all. I'll figure it out later.)

For the rest of the morning I am motionless, a virtual SecraMannequin, sitting ramrod-straight in my chair ... carefully answering the phone, chatting stiffly with my co-workers, doing a little cautious typing (although that is actually somewhat painful: I can feel the injured muscle squeeze a little, every time I hit the "enter" key). I resist the temptation to tell anybody what happened. How would I explain myself, anyway? "Middle-Aged SecraTerri Injured In Tragic File Folder Misshap?" I am surrounded by 23-year-olds who routinely haul forty pound boxes of dirt up and down four flights of stairs every day. I don't want to seem like a total wuss. They're already laughing at me because I listen to KFOG: I don't want them to think I'm any uncooler than they already do.

By the middle of the day I'm in mild pain -- especially when I do anything really strenuous, like dialing the phone or scratching my nose -- but I still don't think it's anything serious. Mostly it just reminds me of the time I threw my back out, lifting a struggling toddler from a wading pool ... or the time I threw my back out, hoisting a wooden pallet onto a warehouse shelf at the telephone company ... or the time I threw my back out, sneezing and laughing at the same time. In other words: I've been down this road before. I've lived to tell the tale. I figure that once I get home tonight, I'll take an obscenely hot shower and then roll myself up in four or five electric heating pads.

(OH I'M JUST KIDDING. I'll put ice on it, and then I'll pay my husband a dollar to give me a back rub.)

By morning things should be more or less back to normal. It's just getting through the rest of today that might take a little bullet-biting.

Shortly after noon, my boss calls from home. Her sinus infection is clearing up nicely, she says, and she expects to be in the office within the hour ... as soon as she runs a few personal errands, picks up some lunch, puts gas in her car, has her nails done. "I was thinking," she says, just before we hang up. "If you don't have anything else to do this afternoon, you might want to go into the file room and take a look at the filing system. I think maybe we might need to clean it up a bit."

"That sounds like a great idea," I say, wincing slightly. "I'll go take a look at it right now."

Cleaning up the file system. Gosh. Why didn't *I* think of that?



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