It was my first year at uni, and I was standing in line waiting patiently to make my way into the Winter Wonderland fest my school was putting on when a stranger touched my back, tracing the line of my scar with her fingers.
“Hey, how’d you get this scar?”
Whenever I have my hair up, wear backless tops, or bathing suits, people always ask about the thin scar that races down my back, and depending on my mood the answer varies. “I was mauled by a bear,” “I fell out of a tree,” and “I was attacked by a samurai,” are some of my favorite explanations, but the truth is, I have scoliosis.
Scoliosis is best described as an abnormal curvature of the spine. Usually, the curve happens from left to right (and vice versa) and it forces the spine into a “C” or “S”, the shape of which is given a specific degree.
During a medical exam in middle school, I discovered that my back curved in an “S” shape at a 30 degree angle which to the untrained eye didn’t mean much until my early highschool years. Unfortunately, that curve progressed and shifted my hips and shoulders into a tilt, as well as forced my ribs to twist and bend their shape making one protrude more than the other.
As horrid as that sounds, keep in mind that my scoliosis is not an extreme case, but it was something to worry about especially after my doctor suggested immediate operation upon inspection.
So there I was, about to go into my sophomore year of high school, with nothing on my mind but my impending doom. The summer before I became a sophomore was supposed to be lit with new hobbies, friends, and experiences but, instead it was a summer that I spent a lot of sleepless nights thinking about how by the end of it, there was a high probability that I would be paralyzed from the waist down.
Before my surgery, I spent a lot of time preparing myself for my entire life to change. I googled a ton of shit, and scared myself more than was necessary. I asked questions, and devised “what if” scenarios to prepare for. What if I had to be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life? What if I couldn’t ever walk again? How would being paralyzed change things with my friends, my peers, and my family? What if people didn’t like me anymore?
These, and many more were questions I asked myself and they were all very valid questions. Going under the knife to do anything related with the spine is horrifying risky, and every though I received a lot of reassurance that everything would be okay, I was still worried. Above all, I kept asking myself: “What if something went wrong?”
The morning of my surgery, I was shaking as my family and I went to the hospital, and the last coherent thought I had before the anesthesia kicked in was “Please, God, let me get through this…”
And I did. One long rod, and thirteen screws later, I was laying in the recovery room. Everything hurt and the pain was indescribable. The worst part was, I couldn’t feel my legs, and for a few hours, I thought my worst fear had come true… But it hadn’t. I was alright. For the next few months, my life revolved around pain, medication, and learning how to do things again.
On my worst night, I woke up from the pain but couldn’t move or call out for help… So I just lay in the dark, cried, and let it put me back to sleep – and that’s no exaggeration.
Three months later, when my doctor gave me a list of things I shouldn’t do (like skydiving and riding roller coasters) I made it my mission to do all of them.
I played football, I rode roller coasters and I got into yoga which helped more than it hurt. I did everything I could to feel normal because I was. Scoliosis doesn’t change you and having it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re different. What it means is what you make of it. To me, it means that I’ve conditioned myself to be afraid to bend certain ways because of pain association and it means that I’m numb in certain areas of my back.
It also means that every now and then, I feel achy when it rains. It means I get to buy extra comfy mattresses and make up thrilling stories of how I got my scar. Having scoliosis has been a challenge, but it has also been a blessing. It has helped me learn to live my life the way I want to regardless of my condition.
So for anyone out there who is scared about their upcoming surgery, take a deep breath, and be positive about the outcome. No matter what, you’re still you.