I logged on to Amazon.com not long ago, searching for book titles containing the words back pain. I pulled up 299 possibilities18 more than I got with that other universal ailment, headache, though 17,381 fewer than I found with sex. In the world of suffering, it seems, not much can trump back pain in popularity, or at least prevalence.
I initiated this search not long after falling down some stairs in my house and herniating four disks in my spine. Four disks! No one, including my doctor, could believe I'd done so much damage. The collective astonishment was so great when I recited this number that I began to take a perverse pride in doing so: "Four! Four herniated disks!"
One of the people I happened to tell was Robert M. Parker, Jr., the famous wine critic, who is also, I discovered, among the legions of back-pain sufferers. Parker is lucky enough to count some of the best back men in the business as his friends. He generously offered to put me in touch with one of them, spine surgeon Hank Dudley. Parker and Dudley had met many years earlier as members of the same Baltimore wine-tasting group. Dudley, Parker told me, was also a member of another tasting group with an improbably catchy name: Wine & Spine.