For 18 months I’ve been told by a succession of doctors and physios that I didn’t have anything structurally wrong with my spine and that my bouts of back pain were simply ‘standard non-specific back pain’ – ie muscle problems that I should just take NSAIDs for and exercise more. I’d been a bit skeptical because the problems were occasionally quite extreme and seemed to be always centred on one particular location (the joint just at the bottom of my ribcage), but after getting many opinions and one set of x-rays I went along with it.
Things have been quite good recently, up to mid-February when I had a bit of a relapse for a few weeks after doing a little too much. I raised it with my doctor again, explained that I’d been doing all the exercise and going to the gym as recommended, and yet it still flared up at what I considered to be fairly minor provocation. He scheduled me in for another set of x-rays which I expected to not come back with anything conclusive since the last set didn’t (and you can’t get into the MRI scan here unless you go through this step again first, allegedly). They took more pictures this time but I didn’t expect much given all the opinions so far.
Imagine my surprise therefore that when I got the results today, they actually had a concrete explanation for me. Apparently in my lower thoracic (ie exactly where I’d been pointing all these months) I have some disc degeneration and calcification going on, which is what is causing the stiffness and pain. This is something that happens with age anyway, but given my relative(!) youth (36) they thought it looked like it might be a result of either a trauma such as a sports injury – I can’t think of anything – or sometimes they see it in people who were child gymnasts – again not something I can attest to! Basically, something has happened to make my spine degenerate in that area faster than it should have done for my age. Too many hours spent stressed out at a desk may have been a contributing factor in that, although he thought it would have to be a lot of hours and probably combined with other factors.
So anyway, the ‘good’ news is that I actually have a reason now, an explanation for why I’m so susceptible to strains and stress on my back these days. In a way it’s nice to have something to point at. The bad news is that this isn’t fixable, it can merely be managed via careful exercise and lifestyle changes – many of which I’ve made already but I probably need to go even further. The prognosis is that I should be able to live pain-free so long as I manage it carefully over the long term to stop it degenerating further.
Following this analysis, I’ve been prompted to make a decision which I’ve been reluctantly considering for a while anyway – I’m retiring as OGRE Project Lead. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my 10 years leading OGRE from unknown personal project to where we are today, but leading an open source project requires an enormous amount of dedication, passion, and above all an awful lot of time spent at a keyboard, most often in addition to a ‘regular job’ with which to pay the bills, and I feel I just can’t give that to the level that’s required any more. It will be with no small amount of sadness that I finally take off the leader’s hat – which by now is quite battered and worn in.
I still intend to be around and involved in the project – I’ll be contributing some code, giving advice when it’s wanted, and overseeing the establishment of an OGRE Foundation to handle the donations and funding side, but the days of me living and breathing OGRE, vetting every change, and being the person with whom the buck stops when there’s a bug, will be over. I’ll basically be contributing what and when I can, but shrugging off the responsibility and expectation that is inevitably associated with being the lead developer.
We have a great team and community around OGRE and I’m sure the project will be fine with me taking a more back-seat role – time for younger and less physically challenged developers to step into the limelight