Sunday, 22 May 2016

My Experience with Scoliosis

Illustration: Shanna Murray

This is something that I've been thinking of writing about for a long time, but I was never quite sure. I actually wrote the first draft for this post back in August last year, but sort of put off posting it. I guess I've been a bit worried. Would anyone want to read about it? Would it be too personal? What would I even say? But you know,  here goes. 

If you don't know what scoliosis is, basically it means that your spine curves sideways. A lot of the time it'll shape itself like an S, with a smaller curve to make up for the larger, original curve. It is much more common than you would think, with about 1-2% of adolescents suffering from it. Most people only get mild scoliosis, however, and can live well without having to do anything drastic about it. For some, the curve can get too big and cause problems with pain, physical limitations and even heart and lung problems. Usually it develops during the teenage years, and if discovered early there are preventive treatments. 

My scoliosis was discovered when I was fourteen, during a health check at school. I was referred to a specialist, and then to another specialist, who suggested that I should try a back brace. I was still growing, so chances were they could stop the curve from developing further. So for about a year, I had to wear a back brace for 22-23 hours a day. A back brace is a sort of plastic corset that holds you upright and presses the spine together, forcing it to straighten. Honestly, that was quite possibly the worst year of my life. It was uncomfortable, especially during summer when it got hot and sweaty, and I got blisters that I still have scarring from today. It also made my breathing limited and made me really clumsy and stiff. This was also during my most awkward teenage years, so having to wear a back brace that made me walk funny and looked strange underneath my clothes wasn't only physically painful, but also mentally exhausting. My heart really goes out to all the teenagers out there who have to go through the same thing. 

After about a year and a half (which is a relatively short time - I know a lot of people wear back braces for several years), the specialist decided that the back brace wasn't helping enough. Sure, without it my curve might have been even worse, but it was still pretty bad. I had a spinal curvature of around 40 degrees (I can't remember exactly), which is quite serious, so my doctor suggested I go through surgery. When you're fifteen, the prospect of going through a massive surgery is incredibly frightening. Especially when the alternative is a spinal curve that would gradually get worse, causing a lot of pain, deformity, limitations, and so on. I'm just so thankful I have such a wonderful, supportive family. I don't think I could've done it without them. 

I had to wait quite a few months for the surgery, and meanwhile I wore a back brace only at night time. Then, in the spring of 2011, I had spinal fusion, which essentially it means they inserted metal rods along my spine to straighten it. I had to stay in the hospital for a week afterward, and then spent a couple of weeks at home, slowly recovering. Thankfully, I had no complications to speak of. I do have a long scar down my back though, but I honestly don't mind it much. It's sort of like a sign of what I've been through.

Although having surgery was really scary, I'm so glad I did it. My doctor, who I visited a few times during the years following the surgery, was absolutely fantastic. He was understanding, supportive and professional. Being lucky enough to get him as a doctor, and to have a fantastic supportive family, did make things easier.

Today, I barely have any issues with pain at all. I do have to be careful with carrying heavy things, I can't really bend down properly (I always have to squat awkwardly), there are certain exercises I can't do, and in general I'm the least flexible person on Earth. I've also had some light problems with sciatica recently, which might be related to my Scoliosis, but it's manageable. But in general, it's all good. My spine is more or less straight, I have a great posture (hehe), and in everyday life my Scoliosis isn't anything that really bothers me. So even though it was initially quite bad, I've been relatively lucky. 

Well, that ended up being quite a long and rambly post, didn't it? I really hope you found it interesting to read if you persevered through to the end.

Do you have any experience with Scoliosis, directly or indirectly?

Love, Mimmi