Adapted from a short story I wrote back in January 2010 – I tried to play it off as fiction, but this is the real story about what I went through back in 2007.
Attached are pictures from the morning of my surgery through to going home from the hospital.
S … the first letter of my name and the first letter of my medical condition. My name is Samantha and my spine is “S” shaped because I have scoliosis. I was diagnosed as a child and for 2 years I had to wear a ridiculously shaped brace at night. At overnight camp, I used to wait until the lights went out so no one could see me as I put it on. I got my best friend (the only one who knew) to help me tighten the velcro straps as quietly as we could, hoping no one would notice. Putting on the brace was not an easy task, especially when you try to do it discreetly. The purpose of the brace was to prevent the curve of my spine from worsening. It did not do its job.
It’s now 2007. Four deep breaths and I got into the car to drive to the hospital. This was the day. I expected fate had already decided the surgery was necessary. I sat in the back seat, drawing on the frosted window to distract myself.
Once we arrived at the hospital, we headed straight to the radiology section to get another x-ray. This was nothing new to me as I’ve needed to get x-rays twice a year since the diagnosis. About an hour later we were finally called in to see the doctor.
“Comparing the x-ray from last January to the one from today, the curves in your spine have progressed at a exceedingly fast rate.” he said.
“So does this mean I need the surgery?”
“Well,” he took a dramatic pause. I started to regret asking. “Let’s just say it’s the best option for you. The brace clearly hasn’t been as effective as we hoped. You can see here,” he said pointing to my x-ray, “that the top curve is now 47 degrees and the bottom is 41 degrees. They will most likely continue to increase and potentially cause severe medical issues if we do nothing.”
“So, the answer is yes?” I inquired.
Ever since I took dance class in elementary school, I noticed a difference between myself and all the other girls. I used to compare myself to each girl, trying to see what was wrong with me. It was easy to distinguish in the mirror when we stood in formation wearing our purple leotards.
When I got home from the hospital I went straight to my room, opened my closet door to reveal the full length mirror, and stripped down to my undergarments. Looking at my body in the mirror, I couldn’t help but despise my flaws; there were just so many. I appeared disfigured. My shoulders were lopsided, and my right shoulder blade stuck out. My left hip stuck out of my side like a chunk of bone was just glued on, and my overall posture was appalling.
I had always been self conscious about my body. Having scoliosis is somewhat like a life sentence to never have the perfect body everyone dreams about. Sure no one has a perfect body, but most have a spine that is shaped the way God intended. Out of anger I slammed the closet door shut, hiding from the mirror. I could not look again. I would not look again.
I used to fear little things like needles. I never had a minor surgery or a broken bone, so being months away from a major spinal surgery was terrifying. My mom used to tell me constantly, “the best way to calm down is to close your eyes and imagine the relaxing waves of the ocean.” I then closed my eyes and rocked back and forth to simulate the feel of the ocean. As the water appeared in my mind, I imagined floating. I continued to rock back and forth and my mind continued to wander, unfortunately a little too much. Before I knew it I was imagining the surgery. The sharp knife was inching closer to my skin. I was stuck in a hypnotic state that I couldn’t escape. Suddenly the knife penetrated through me and sliced the flesh along my back. Visions of the surgery overflowed my mind.
At yet another appointment, I waited in a hospital room for an hour when the doctor finally appeared. He was looking through my papers on his clipboard.
“So, I hear you are still pretty scared”, he uttered.
“Ya, I’m not ready to die,” I mumbled under my breath.
“Maybe I should go through the details of your surgery again,” he continued.
To be honest, I didn’t feel like another description of the surgery.
“So,” he continued, “the main idea is to straighten your spine. To do this we are going to place two titanium rods along each side of your spine. We will then insert a number of screws to complete the attachment. In addition to that, we will need to fuse your spine. To do this we can either use bone from a cadaver (dead person!) or we can take bone marrow from your hip; approximately the size of a golf ball. Then we sew you back up and call it a day. Simple?”
“It’s not really that simple, but I appreciate the attempt.” I replied.
“As discussed, you’ll also need someone to donate blood, as you will be losing quite a bit during the process” he continued.
“I’ll be donating,” my father pipped in. “Our blood test showed that we are both A positive.”
“Great. And for the bone marrow, I can give you time to decide but what are you thinking?” asked the doctor.
“I’ll use my own. I’ll already be under the knife and having bone from a dead body creeps me out. Don’t want that person haunting me for the rest of my life” I replied.
It was comforting knowing that the bone marrow and blood would not be coming from a stranger. This was a family matter!
Months had passed and I actually started looking forward to the surgery. I don’t remember when the switch flipped, but suddenly I felt prepared and I trusted that my doctors would do a good job. Countless appointments with all the doctors involved showed me that I wasn’t going to die. I was actually reveling in all the attention I got over it. I was a scoliosis superstar showered with gifts.
The morning of the surgery I was all smiles; calm and collected. I even watched Napoleon Dynamite during my prep. Then finally, my bed was wheeled into the hallway outside of the surgery room, waiting to go in. It wasn’t until my parents said their goodbyes that I started to tear up. Nothing sparks tears faster than seeing your own parents cry. A nurse walked up to the hospital bed, released the brakes, and wheeled me into the operating room.
“You ready?” she asked.
“I hope so” I cracked smile.
“Don’t worry, before you know it you will be sound asleep and when you wake up it will all be over.”
Once the bed was in place she left me in the room. I could see a male doctor in blue scrubs. He was handling a needle, likely to be used on me. Most people say that when they are put to sleep their mind and body slowly doze off until they are out of consciousness. Not me. My mind was running like a lunatic, until the snap of a finger and I was out.
I peeled my eyes open to reveal a dark room. There were wires all over me and machines beeping at a constant rate. In the distance, I could see a blurry figure.
“Is it over already?” I slurred, oblivious to the obviousness of the question.
“Yes, you are all done” said the nurse as she approached me.
“Water?” I asked, dehydrated more than ever. The nurse must have been new to the ICU because she gave me water, as I asked, instead of ice chips to chew on. Immediately my body started rejecting it.
“Turn your head to the side!” she started yelling.
I did so, and regurgitated the water. My eyes then slipped to a close.
Due to some sort of healing miracle, I only needed to spend a week in the hospital and a week at home. The doctors kept saying how good I was without medicine. I remembered pressing the morphine button a lot, but I guess it was less than the typical patient. I don’t remember feeling nauseated from the medicine, but I did feel sick when I had to swallow 6 pills twice a day. My stomach could hardly handle the pills or the disgusting hospital food (there used to be a day when I loved Jell-O).
There were countless wires and tubes attached to me; around my toe, in my arm, in my back, … even a tube that went through my nose and into my stomach (I was awake when they took it out, it felt very weird). I had a few stitches besides those from the main surgery. The most noticeable ones were on my neck. I would play with those stitches the same way you would pick at a scab – not a good idea.
I had a great physiotherapist. She started with helping me to sit up, which was quite painful at first (seen above), to eventually helping me walk again – in just a couple of days. It was important that I was able to walk unassisted on flat surfaces and stairs (since my bedroom is on the second floor) before leaving the hospital.
I wore loose clothing for the first month. Before the surgery, my mom and I went shopping for cute clothes that would be comfortable to spend the day in. I’m not really a sweatpants-at-school type of girl so we found a good compromise. It’s better not to struggle while changing into clothes; not a nice feeling with a sensitive back!
When I got back to school I took it slow, starting with half days. My school had a student services room with comfy couches. I had special permission to leave class to sit or lie down on the couches whenever my back was sore. I still couldn’t stand up or sit for too long, but I was fine walking from class to class. My friends offered to carry my books for the first few weeks, I repaid them by asking the teacher if I could have company when I went to sit on the comfy couches. Everyone was kind and supportive during my recovery process.
There are still slight curves in my back but they’ve really been reduced. After the surgery, I finally started to feel comfortable in my skin. I’ve come to a realization that I’m never going to be perfect. I can either sit and mope about it, or I can move on with my life. Yes, I do have noticeable scars on both my back and hip, but they make me unique.
To be honest, 8 years after the surgery, I often forget it was something I even went through. The only time it comes up is if a fitness instructor asks if I have any medical limitations, or if people comment on how my posture is so impeccable all the time (pssst … the titanium rods are helping me cheat). Ultimately, the only thing scoliosis has prevented me from doing is crunches, and frankly, who likes doing those anyways??