Look at her. Look at the brown hair sprawled out on the crisp white pillow case, look at her fragile broken body
layed out on the hospital bed, look at her pale arms making love with the needles and lines that pump drugs into her veins, drugs that are slowly putting her in a deep lifeless comatose.
Her big brown eyes flutter up to look at the face staring down at her; her mother. A tear escapes her eyelashes and rolls down her colourless cheek.
“Is this the last time that I’ll see my mothers face? Is this the last time that I’ll be able to tell my mother that I love her?
I don’t know how to do this..”
And then she slips into the darkness. Her body will never be the same after this.
There is no going back.
The date was 6th of July, 2009. I was 15 years old.
You see, that girl was me. I was the girl on the hospital bed, about to have the operation that would either save, or end my life.
And fuck, was I scared.
During a routine physiotherapy procedure, it was first noticed. My spine was not the straight line down my back like it should have been, instead it had turned into a slithering snake, curling and hissing its way down my body. No one had ever noticed it before. Had it always been there? Or was this a new dot to add the list that enslaved my life. Another curve ball life had thrown at me. I was later crushingly diagnosed with scoliosis.
When viewed from the rear, the spine usually appears perfectly straight. Scoliosis is a lateral (side-to-side) curve in the spine, usually combined with a rotation of the vertebrae. While a small degree of lateral curvature does not cause any medical problems, larger curves can cause postural imbalance and lead to muscle fatigue and pain. More severe scoliosis can interfere with breathing and lead to arthritis of the spine.
Approximately 10% of all adolescents have some degree of scoliosis, though fewer than 1% have curves which require medical attention beyond monitoring. Scoliosis is found in both boys and girls, but a girl’s spinal curve is much more likely to progress than a boy’s. Girls require scoliosis treatment about five times as often. The reason for these differences is not known.
Many months of doctors poking and prodding and ordering x-rays and painful tests followed. The doctors were hoping that I would stop growing soon, therefore hopefully so too would the curve. Careful monitoring and keeping all of our fingers and toes crossed proved unsuccessful, and at 65 degrees and with a lung crushed against my twisted rib cage, there was not much time left before my lungs packed up and failed me, the decision was made to attempt an operation called a ‘Spinal Fusion’.
There are several approaches to scoliosis surgery, but all use modern instrumentation systems in which hooks and screws are applied to the spine to anchor long rods. The rods are then used to reduce and hold the spine while bone that is added fuses together with existing bone.
Once the bone fuses, the spine does not move and the curve cannot progress. The rods are used as a temporary splint to hold the spine in place while the bone fuses together, and after the spine is fused, the bone (not the rods) holds the spine in place.
Of course, every surgery comes with its risks, but the doctors warned my family that there was a huge chance that I would not wake up from this dark nightmare. Once I was under, I may not ever open my eyes again. I could thank my disintegrated lungs and faltering heart for that. Normally this would be a pretty text-book operation, but when you’re already in lung failure and have a leaky heart valve, routine surgery becomes a lot more life threatening. The operation that was meant to save my life, would most likely end my life.
But, what is life without risks? I was not going to give up without a fight, and somehow, I won that fight.
After what hat seemed like a lifetime, I finally opened my eyes and saw the exhausted faces of my Mother and Grandmother. I had made it through the surgery, which wasn’t without its complications, but I was alive.
The next few weeks were a blur. I can’t recall most of the time I spent in hospital, days rolled into each other and I didn’t understand what was going on most of the time. Nothing passed through my eyes, I relied only on my hearing to try to make sense of what was going on around me. I was log rolled every few hours, to help stop agonizing bed sores, I had drips and lines thrust through every accessible spot on my broken body.
I was fed through a tube that snaked down my nose and into my stomach, I was too weak to even hold a spoon. Not able to leave my bed to even go to the toilet, bed pans became my best friend. Doctors and nurses buzzed in and out of my hospital room, and my Mother and Grandmother took rotating shifts at my bed side, so I was never alone.
Time seemed to be irrelevant, like it didn’t exist, not in the way it usually did.
Once I was strong enough, it was time to relearn how to how to walk again, how to dress, how to live. Finally, after two exhausting weeks in hospital, I was allowed home to begin my journey of recovery. 3 months of wearing a metal back brace any time I was out of the safety of my bed, 6 months of being showered and dressed by my Mother, many dressing changes and infections and countless prescriptions of mind numbing pain killers later, I was finally starting to become my old self again, minus the snake that had made its home in my spine.
And today, here I am, sitting on the floor with a laptop, telling you this story. I cannot bend my spine, and I have a scar the races its way down my back, but this is my story. I am who I am today, because of it. And even though it’s completely changed my life, I am proud of how far I’ve come, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
This is my life now.