Life With Scoliosis
What exactly is Scoliosis?
Scoliosis is a curvature of the spine. It generally occurs in the teen years, and in some rare cases can occur earlier or later.
This condition is found more often in girls than in boys, and its cause is still unknown.
WebMD has a good description of scoliosis: what it is, who gets it, and what treatment options are available.
When I was diagnosed with scoliosis, I was 14 years old. I suffered a lot of shoulder and back pain, and you can imagine that hauling a backpack with a mountain of textbooks and binders wouldn't help at all.
I was in my dreaded P.E. class when it happened. My teacher took me aside and asked me to bend and touch my toes, and so I did. She said, "Well, my dear, I think you have a problem with your back. When you get home today, talk to your parents about seeing your family doctor to have a conversation about scoliosis."
When I got home, I talked to my parents, and we Googled "scoliosis" together to learn more about the condition. We pored through every article, every scientific breakthrough, and every horror story we could possibly find. You can imagine that we got more and more freaked out as we went.
That is why I am writing this article. DON'T FREAK OUT!! (Because that's totally what you tell someone when they are diagnosed with anything.)
Doctors and Hospitals and X-Rays. Oh, My!
The next day I saw my family doctor, who asked me the same question as my P.E. teacher. "Bend down and touch your toes." (For the person living through all this poking and prodding, YES, this becomes the standard question every doctor is going to ask you on your scoliosis adventure). From there we had a conversation about a referral to the local children's hospital, which for me was Vancouver, BC. We called and made our appointment to see how bad exactly my condition was.
When the day finally came (gosh wait-lists are so fun), my height and weight were taken, as well as three x-rays. Then the surgeon, Dr. Miyanji, came in.
He was very informative on my condition, as well as the challenges ahead. He explained that my curvature at the time was 86 degrees. It wasn't the worst he'd seen; however it was bad enough that my spine was starting to press on my right lung and stomach. If I didn't get in on the already long wait-list for the surgery, he couldn't even begin to speculate on how bad my back might get, and how much worse of a situation I might be in, in the future.
The goal of the surgery would be to straighten my spine with Harrington Rods, which would be bolted into place with cobalt bolts. The expected outcome would be that my spine would be significantly straighter, but still have a slight curve. I would potentially be in much less pain, and I would be able to lead a normal, healthy lifestyle.
My First MRI
So, let's skip ahead a few years. The wait took 3 years, and I was now 17. The hospital called and informed me, "Your surgery date is a month from now. Here are all the things you need to prepare for in that time." At that point, I handed the phone off to my mom and zombied my way into my room.
For the 24 hours prior to the surgery, I had to fast and could not drink anything but clear liquids. My parents and I stayed up all night watching movies and enjoying our time together. We went to the hospital at approximately 6 a.m. I adorned myself in one of their beautiful blue gowns and lay down in a stretcher to have electrodes glued to my head. These would monitor me throughout the surgery.
After that I got to meet all the people who would be operating on me. I was then taken to operating room, with my mom close behind. As they were starting everything up and starting to administer various things, my mom was able to stay with my and hold my hand. Then they placed a mask over my face and told me to take deep breaths. Count out loud from 10...9...8... and I was out like a light.
- New Procedure to Treat Scoliosis at BC Children's - YouTube
This is currently the newest type of scoliosis surgery available.
Waking Up, and Recovery
I finally came to after my 14-hour surgery. At that exact moment, my nurse had come in to check on me and was happy to see me awake and looking around. He checked to see if I could feel all my fingers, toes, and everything in between. I could feel them—and was very happy I could.
The next time I woke up I was in a different room for my hospital recovery. I had to be taught how to sit up again so I didn't injure myself until I was completely healed. I took my first shuffling steps, which felt like a semi truck driving into me at full force. The surgeon came to see me, and was pleased to see I was as stubborn as ever on my first day out of surgery, demanding that the nurses let me figure out this walking business.
I was on a daily physio regime to strengthen my muscles and get used to moving. Now that the curvature of my spine had been corrected, it was pushing on my other lung, which had gotten used to having all that extra room. All of my insides now had to essentially re-position themselves after being crooked for so long.
After a week of regaining my balance and confidence in my new height (I grew 3 inches), I had mastered walking around the nursing station 5 times, and up and down 10 stairs. My surgeon came in for a final visit and cleared me to go home.
The car ride home was awful. I swear I could feel every little bump in the road with how sensitive I still was. When we finally arrived, I had to get help to climb up our steep stairs to get into the house.
The first thing I did when I got to plop down in my bed was read a book. I managed to fumble it and it landed on the floor. This is something most might over look, that no matter how hard you try, you just cant pick it up. I kicked that book all the way across the house till I found someone to pick it up for me. This is only a small thing on the scale of embarrassing things to deal with during a surgery recovery.
After 3 months doing recovery at home, I was able to go back to school for the first time. I was so afraid of tripping and falling down stairs, of getting nudged the wrong way, of what could possibly go wrong and how much that it would hurt. It took me over a year to regain all of the feeling in my back, and to feel comfortable with people being anywhere close to me.
Where I am Now
Today I am nearly 24 years old. I still have a 23 degree curve left out of my original 86, which means that my ribs are still a little crooked, and I still deal with daily pain. However, if I'd never had this surgery, it could have been much, much worse.
For people who have been diagnosed, or know someone who has, show them my article and tell them not to freak out. Yeah, things might be difficult for a bit, but they will get better.
You are still capable of doing anything you want. You'll still have to work hard, and it might hurt while you're doing it. But never give up on your goals and dreams just because you've been given an extra hoop to jump through.
Good luck on all your adventures!