As the Quad City holiday season gears up for a lively selection of concerts and musicals, one local actor and musician says he’s grateful to be back on stage after suffering debilitating back pain. You’ll find Mark Ruebling, 57, Davenport, playing the guitar in the family musical comedy, “Big Rock Candy Christmas” at The District Theater, Rock Island. “It’s a sequel to the wildly popular ‘Big Rock Candy Mountain,’ a fun show that takes place when five escaped convicts hiding out in an old Kentucky theater have to impersonate a musical band that doesn’t show up for their gig,” explains Mark. “In ‘Big Rock Candy Christmas,’ the band is back to help save the day after Velda, the theater owner’s ex-wife (played by Linda Ruebling, Mark’s wife) tries to ruin Christmas for everyone.”
Mark’s joy and exuberance for musical theater is a lifelong vocation. “I’m probably on stage more than off,” as he has plays almost every month in music and theater productions for The District Theater, the Quad City Music Guild, as well as a host of other organizations, including Davenport’s First Presbyterian Church. While not acting, he owns and operates a used musical instrument business in the Quad Cities, called “Music Go Round.”
He credits his ability to withstand his demanding performance schedule to successful back surgery, following a painful experience that compelled Linda Ruebling to physically assist her limping husband off stage during the play, “A Christmas Carol,” in 2012. “The memory I have is astounding. I was portraying Marley, Scrooge’s dead partner who warns Ebenezer to repent before it’s too late,” recalls Mark. “I was also playing in the show’s ensemble. I would change scenes in less than five minutes. Linda basically held me up and helped me off and on the stage. She had her arm around me to keep me from falling down.” Mark says his back pain had worsened after raking leaves the previous fall.
Dr. Myles Luszczyk ordered an MRI that revealed a severe case of spinal stenosis. Spinal stenosis is characterized by the narrowing of the space in the spinal column, which puts pressure on the spinal cord. “Normally, we explore non-surgical options first, but in Mark’s case, surgery was his best option to restore his quality of life.” In addition to the pain, Mark was experiencing numbness in his right leg. “He told me if I didn’t have surgery, I could start losing the use of my leg.” Dr. Luszczyk performed a multi-level laminectomy. “The procedure takes a few hours. Patients are up and walking in hours. Rehabilitation usually takes about six to eight weeks.
The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) reports that degenerative changes of the spine are seen in up to 95 percent of people by the age of 50. Spinal stenosis most often occurs in adults over 60 years old. Pressure on the nerve roots is equally common in men and women. In Mark’s case, Dr. Luszczyk believes it was congenital. The AAOS says a small number of people are born with back problems that can develop into lumbar spinal stenosis. This is known as congenital spinal stenosis. It occurs most often in men. People usually first notice symptoms between the ages of 30 and 50.
Now, three years later, Mark is back up under the footlights, celebrating the holidays, and entertaining Quad City audiences as he has done most of his life. “The surgery was definitely successful. There are times when I still have some pain, but it’s probably because I’m too active, working six days a week. Both Linda and I live a demanding schedule, but it’s what we do!”
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