“You’re going to be surprised when you see the X-rays,” said the doctor.
The x-rays of my spine showed what looked like a literal S, instead of the straight line your back is supposed to have. I was only eleven years old when I was diagnosed with idiopathic scoliosis — idiopathic meaning, they don’t know the nature of the curvature of my spine.
It started out when I was having pain in my body. Now for pretext, I was a chubby yet healthy kid; always played sports. Never had a problem with my health, never got a flu shot, would get sick only once a year. But then, for no more than five minutes at a time, I was in excruciating achy pain. It didn’t matter if I was sitting up straight, standing, walking, lying down on my back — I was in pain.
After the doctors realized I had scoliosis, I had two options: either to wear a personalized brace for two years, even when I would sleep, or to get surgery to correct the curvature. I could have also done neither of the two options, but the curve would get worse overtime. A brace would only sustain the curve, as it was so progressive. My parents didn’t know what to do, but they knew they had to do whatever it was for me to not be in pain anymore. From there, we decided upon meeting a spinal surgeon.
The first surgeon we met had me leaving the office in tears. His examination felt rough, and his bedside manner was poor. He basically rendered me handicapped had I done the surgery — meaning, he gave me no possibility of having a family, a normal job, no more working out, etc. My dad gave me hope to trust another surgeon. Lesson learned, always trust your instinct and reactions to people, for there is always someone better in some way.
The second surgeon I met was the sweetest and gentlest yet most professional surgeon I ever met. Well, only one I knew since my knowledge on medicine or health before my diagnosis was nonexistent. They had me take x-rays from every angle to understand the assessment of potential surgery, and whether anything else in my body was being affected by my spine. He examined me well, and gave me the option of surgery, while also pushing forth that I did not have to have the surgery.
He assured me that if I did go through, how my life would not change and everything the previous physician said was to be disregarded; thank goodness. Recovery would be a year-long process, but my back would be straight and I wouldn’t be in as much pain anymore. He even said I could play sports again in a year, which was great because I was hoping to play soccer in high school and college.
I felt so confident in my doctor and agreed on setting a date for spinal fusion surgery. My mother wasn’t happy because anything could happen meaning, any slight movement and I had the chance of being paralyzed since your spinal nerves are right there where I would be corrected. For me, I was just happy to spend a few nights in the hospital since I never got sick!
We didn’t do the surgery until the summer, about nine months after I was diagnosed. It was tough going through the school year being in pain, but the day finally arrived and I couldn’t have been more excited. We woke up at six in the morning and drove to the hospital. I was gowned, had a catheter and IV in me, and the push of the anesthetic waved a warm blanket through my body. The next thing I knew, I woke to nurses pulling a tube out of my throat.
I was hooked up to what seemed like dozens of machines and had a nasal tube in my nostrils to sustain my breathing. The surgery was to be eight hours long, but my surgeon did it in four hours, fusing a total of eleven vertebrae out of the thirty-three we naturally have as humans. My metal rods and screws run from thoracic vertebrae 3 to lumbar vertebrae 1 (T3-L1). The biggest challenge I faced was having to stand up only a few hours after the surgery was conducted. It felt as if I was a puppet on strings, with the nurses pushing me over and pulling me up. Instantly, I doubted what I had gotten myself into.
I stayed about five days in the hospital, two of those in the ICU. I sustained a high fever as my immune system was kicking in from everything that was going on inside. I couldn’t eat well because the tube scratched my throat. The heavy narcotics I took nauseated me. I commend my family for their positivity and dedication because they not only forced me to constantly get up and move but also spent time with me in between their heavy work schedules.
After those five days, I was on a journey for the rest of my life of recognizing my limitations. Now, nearly ten years after the surgery, I’m sustaining pain once again only instead of within a five-minute span, I get pain in two hours of doing anything. I began questioning the very things the first surgeon ever told me — having a job, kids, working out. Maybe he was right, but I also realized I have no other figure to look up to because there wasn’t another individual I met with the same case as me. I felt very alone with the recurring pain, and my parents began to worry whether the surgery was the right decision.
What I’ve learned is this: my surgeon was awesome and did his job. The rest is on me in that, I have to routinely take care of myself, such as go to the chiropractor, get massages, stretch. Running isn’t much of an option, so I do pilates instead. I have limitations, but nothing is impossible. My life is different for various reasons, and it’s okay that I can’t do what I could before.
It’s normal to be shocked at nothing being the same before something traumatic happened. It’s like when a person who used to do gymnastics in their twenties cannot do a backflip now; it’s not so much that there’s something wrong with you, it’s just things change, your body changes, and it’s okay. You have to adjust instead of being hard on yourself, especially in a comparison mind.
I take it day by day. I’m writing this right now in a coffee shop, sitting in a chair with back support and a straight posture, and yet I’m in a lot of pain. But I can’t beat myself over it. I’m doing my best, and I hope this is what you, as the reader, gets out of my story. I don’t know what the future holds for me physically, but I can only sustain my positivity through it all.