My Experience with Scoliosis

‘Okay, you may sit back down.’

I obey my doctor’s command, awkwardly pulling my top back down and cooling my flushed face with the back of my cold hand. Crossing my arms over my chest, I stare at my doctor, expecting there to be nothing wrong with my body.

‘I think that you have scoliosis.’ He finds a small figurine of the structure of a spine on his desk, holding it up to show my mother and I.

My doctor is old; his hair has been greying for a while. Since my mother was pregnant with my brother, Dr. Blake has been present in my life. His kind nature is likely the reason my mother has continued seeing him.

‘I’ve heard of that,’ says my mother.

From my blank stare it is apparent to him that I am unaware of what he is talking about.

‘Your spine is curved slightly. It’s quite common for young women and fairly detectable at your age. You’re going to need x-rays to determine how serious it is,’ he explains, his fingers manipulating the spine of the figurine to show me its spine on a curve.

‘What happens if it’s serious?’ I ask.

He leans back in his chair. ‘Most people just need to wear a brace for several months. It depends on the severity of the curvature.’

‘Seriously?’ The thought of wearing a brace is embarrassing.

‘It really depends on how severe the curve is,’ he reiterates. ‘I’ll book you in for an x-ray across the street.’

Conveniently, there is a vascular imaging medical centre parallel to where my local doctor is located. It’s where I find myself a few days later, leaning against medical equipment wearing only a hospital gown. The results take at least a week to process, where it doesn’t phase or plague me, continuing on with my regular routine. It is when I arrive back at my doctor’s that I become concerned.

Dr. Blake opens the seal that contains my x-rays, pulling the sheet out and holding it up to the light to examine it. There are measurements written on the photograph of my somewhat deformed spine, but I have no medical understanding of what they mean. From looking at the image, thought, I can see that my spine is definitely not straight, looking abnormally like it is in the shape of an “s”.

‘So, like I said last time you were here, people with a curve in their spine between 25 and 50 degrees need to wear a brace,’ he informs me, and I nod. ‘However, those with a curve of over 50 degrees require surgery.’

‘Okay,’ I say.  Surely I do not need to undergo an operation.

‘Your curve is quite serious.’ Dr. Blake gestures to different parts of the photograph. ‘There’s a 54 degree curve here and a 38 degree curve below.’

‘She needs surgery?’ says mum distantly.

‘She might. But to be certain I’ll refer you to a spinal surgeon.’

The problem with my back wasn’t supposed to be serious. Although I recently spent two weeks on holiday in the United States walking everyday and finding it oddly painful afterwards, I mostly dismissed it due to the amount of excitement the experience had brought. My back doesn’t look straight, but I was hoping it would fix itself once I entered adulthood.

My mother and I meet with doctors at the Royal Melbourne Children’s Hospital, prompting me to get even more x-rays and photographs of my back and spine. My surgeon, Dr. Turner, is a busy man and can only meet with us for a short period time before leaving for another appointment. He tells us that yes, surgery is needed, as a brace will take a very long time to fix my problem. The waitlist for the surgery is long, potentially taking at least six months until it can be performed. Dejected from the news, my mum and I leave the hospital to wait for more news.

***

Several weeks later, I am travelling home from school with a heavy backpack. There is only around five weeks left until the end of school in October 2012. In the warm summer breeze I walk the twenty-five minute journey home, cursing my back because it has worsened since finding out about the condition. Rounding the corner to my street, I receive an urgent text from my mother. I halt to a stop in the middle of the sidewalk after reading the text. It reads: I got a call from Doctor Torode’s office. There’s been a cancellation. Do you want to have surgery on Monday?

It’s Thursday. Hands shaking, I text back: Yes. Days of waiting has to be better than months of waiting.

I will not be able to attend the last few of weeks of school, therefore making my summer holidays extended by over a month. Not being able to think about anything else, I email my teachers and message my friends the news once I get home. I’m secretly pleased that I get to miss out on the end of year exams. Because I am in Year 10, they aren’t even that important anyway.

The next day I have a line of appointments that I need to endure. I spend the entire day -from 11am to 5pm – at the hospital doing various check-ups, including an MRI, blood tests, and a cardiograph. Being surrounded by children all day makes me feel out of place, but I am informed that I will be spending the week after the operation at the Alfred Hospital, rather than the Royal Melbourne Children’s Hospital. Although a patient needs to be sixteen to be treated there, I am only two months shy of sixteen, and happy that I am granted an exception. I figure being surrounded by kids will make be feel out of place.

To prepare for my two months of bed rest, I obtain various TV shows and movies to binge watch during my boredom. On Sunday afternoon, along with my mother and her partner, I check into the hospital. Arriving two hours early, we eat some lunch at a nearby restaurant, and I am wearing my white hospital nametag that I start to notice on others who are right outside of the hospital as well.

Although I spent seven nights in hospital in severe pain, the most difficult night is the night before the surgery. The knowledge of the procedure and the pain makes me anxious. To help me sleep, I am given a sleeping pill. Nonetheless, it still takes me an hour to fall asleep, and I wake up half an hour before I am supposed to at 6:30am. The hour leading up to the event is stressful, as it involves a lot of waiting around without having much to do but get prepared by nurses and doctors.

One thing before I went in for surgery that is on my mind but shouldn’t have been is the 99% chance of survival. That leaves a 1% chance of my legs possibly becoming paralysed, and even though it seems petty, I worry about it. When I wake up from the four-hour surgery, my first thought is to urgently voice my concern.

‘Am I paralysed?’ I say to the anaesthetist, sitting my head up and looking at my legs.

‘Can you move your legs?’ she says, touching my foot.

I can, and stop frantically moving around. This is the only thing that I can remember from the immediate experience afterwards, when I was essentially still loopy from the drugs. The pain is severe and intense when I wake up next in my hospital room. I forget the time before when I first woke up outside the surgery room and am confused about why I am back in my hospital room. My mother is present and nurses are coming and going.

‘You’ll need to press this button every five minutes for morphine,’ a nurse explains, thrusting an oval, plastic button in my hand. ‘You can’t drink any water for the next few days, so when you’re mouth is dry you can suck on these sticks.’

The nurse hands me a packet of sticks, informing me they taste like lemon. I use one out of curiosity even though I don’t need it, and find the taste to barely resemble the fruit. I press the morphine button periodically throughout the day, slipping in and out of consciousness regularly. At one point I ask for the big TV in my room to watch a movie that I had put on a USB stick, but fall asleep during the first ten minutes.

By Wednesday I am getting used to lying down in a hospital bed all day. I watch the season finale of a reality TV show and text a friend asking about my school’s social dance that I missed. Throughout the night I wake up and feel the harsh pain in my back, quickly pressing the morphine button to try and subdue it. The aftereffect from surgery is difficult to handle and I’m often groaning out loud and complaining to my mum.

When my nurse, who is different every day, comes in, she routinely asks me on a scale of one to ten how bad the pain is.

‘It’s an eight,’ I tell her.

She nods and checks my blood pressure.

I am taken off morphine and instead given medication to take every four hours, but I need permission from a nurse to take it. I can start eating food, which I mostly enjoy because of its variety. Things like bread and butter, soup, rice, meat and vegetables, and a tub of custard is provided for just one meal. Most of the time I can’t finish it.

My physiotherapist comes in to see me the next day to show me how to sit up for the first time. Her friendliness makes me aware of how rude I have become during my four-day stay in hospital, and I make an extra effort to smile and nod at what she tells me.

‘Go on your side and I’ll help you up like this,’ she instructs, her tone pleasant.

She helps me move onto my side so that I can sit for the first time in several days. It’s humiliating for me do and very strenuous for me to perform. I am able to sit up, but the weight on my back is hard for me to handle. The physiotherapist is very young, appearing like she is in her first year since graduating. Her eagerness to her job is welcoming, yet I still let the pain take over my attitude.

‘And how was that? Out of ten?’ she asks, smiling.

I have heard it many times before, previously resisting the urge to say the highest number. This time, however, I speak before thinking.

‘Ten.’

It’s the truth. It’s unnecessary for me to say, but it is the worst pain that I have ever encountered. It feels like a brick wall has fallen on my spine, only to have it worsen by sitting upright. In the past I haven’t needed to go to the hospital for any reason, unlike my younger brother who broke his arm when he was nine. Once I chipped my front tooth by idiotically sliding down the outside stair rails at my Primary School when I was eight, but that was hardly painful.

‘Well, okay,’ she says. ‘I understand that it was pretty challenging.’

I immediately feel guilty. Being aided back onto the bed, I say goodbye to my physiotherapist, who will take me for a walk the next day. The things I have to look forward to are two of my friends coming to visit and finally leaving on Monday.

On one of the last days a different nurse comes to check on me. ‘And what do you think your pain is?’ she asks.

‘Probably a seven.’

‘Are you sure?’ She looks at me. ‘Out of the worst pain you’ve ever experienced, how would you rate your pain right now?’

I reconsider my answer. ‘I guess it’s a six.’

Through my pain I remember what I’m experiencing is only temporary, unlike that of what others are going through just closely around me. On Monday I leave the hospital in a wheelchair, and curse every speed bump that my mother drives over on the forty-minute journey home. The two months I spend at home recovering is tough, because I cannot sit or stand for over an hour at a time. I spend my two months getting in the show Parks and Recreation, which is now my all time favourite series.

When I go to my local doctor for random check ups now, I am asked routinely how my back is going.

‘It’s fine,’ I say. ‘It gives me no trouble now.’

Note: This was an assignment for uni in 2015 (2000 word personal non-fiction piece), and I didn’t do as well as I had hoped, so I don’t mind if anyone wants to give me some critiques or feedback.

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