That afternoon we went to our local clinic to see a doctor. The doctor asked me to bend forward to touch my toes and he immediately said that it looked as though I had scoliosis. He said that my spine absolutely needed to be looked at further by specialist. He advised that first we go get an x-ray that day and that he would put in a request to get an appointment at Children’s Hospital with a spinal specialist. Being a kid, I really didn’t understand what a twisted spine meant for my health. It was more confusing than concerning to me at the time. And it also was a huge inconvenience in my mind, I mean – it cut my play-date short, and now I also needed to get an x-ray? How unbelievably boring.
That afternoon we were off to get my x-rays done, and it didn’t take long for us to get the results. My spinal curve was estimated to be around 48 degrees, and I would be needing to see an orthopedic specialist at BC Children’s Hospital as soon as possible.
During our initial visit to the clinic, we had been told that seeing a specialist could take months. Severe cases took priority so I may have to wait.
But, within a few days, we received a call-back letting us know that our appointment was just 3 short weeks away. Being called in this quickly put my family into a panic. It signified that this was more serious then we had thought.On September 17, 2002, I had my first appointment at Children’s Hospital. We initially met with another doctor, but I honestly can barely remember this appointment and I think that’s because it was so traumatic for me. The first doctor we saw said he would fuse my spine from the base of my neck to my hips. It would mean I wouldn’t ever be able to ski, never really be able to dance, do gymnastics – do so many things that I loved. It was a complete shock to me. I was a really timid kid, so chances are if my parents had felt confident with this doctor then I would’ve gone ahead with him and his surgery plan – regardless of my fears deep-down. I didn’t want to give up all these things I loved, but if they hadn’t of spoken up on my behalf then I probably would’ve had to.I’m so glad that they were both such strong advocates for me, because I wasn’t a strong advocate for myself always during this process. I asked questions and those probably showed my hesitancy, but I’ve never been very good at pushing back to authoritative figures. At some point in the next few days/weeks, I met my doctor, Dr. Reilly.He informed me that I was originally misdiagnosed about my x-ray results. Rather than the curve being 48 degrees, it was actually 54 degrees. He explained that all curvatures higher than 45 degrees were usually beyond the point of being corrected by spinal braces and that my only viable option would be to undergo spinal surgery. He went on to explain that the surgery meant placing two titanium rods along my spine to straighten it and then fuse the rods in place with screws. He was extremely patient with me and my family, answering all the questions that we had – and let me tell you: we had plenty. But, hearing about the actual surgery set me into a state of shock, and panic. I had heard the word “surgery” tossed around a lot since finding out about my scoliosis, but hearing what it really entailed terrified me. I remember thinking that it sounded painful. I remember wondering if it would always be painful. I had never heard of someone having titanium rods along their spine, and that just sounded painful to me. Aside from being nervous about the pain of the procedure, I was also scared of the social and lifestyle repercussions. Remember, I was like 12 – your friends and upcoming high school experience is all that you (or I) really think of. I knew that my entire high-school experience – scratch that, my entire life would have to be lived a bit differently than everyone else. It was already made so clear that I would always have to have a focus throughout my life on my spinal health. I would need to strengthen my core (seriously, imagine how boring that sounds to a 12-year-old), I would be missing the first few months of grade 8, and there were activities I wouldn’t be able to participate in – some for the next year, some forever. It was all too overwhelming to take in. In my mind, it felt like my life had changed so much in just a few short hours that day. I knew the surgery was inevitable, and I just had to come to terms of what that meant for me. That day, I went from being a normal 12-year-old girl who was excited about leaving elementary school to start high-school to a girl who would be spending a majority of her grade 7 year in doctors offices, kicking off grade 8 with a major surgery, and missing her first months as a high-schooler because she would be training her post-op body back to normalcy. After Dr. Reilly explained his surgery plan, which was to fuse my back from the base of my neck to just below my rib area, he then took some time to address my top concerns. I feared I wouldn’t be able to dance, run, play with friends, that I wouldn’t be able to have kids one day, and time and time again he would reassure me that I would be able to do all these things. I just needed to take care of my physical health and be sure it was a priority for me for the rest of my life. Looking back, I am really just so thankful that Dr. Reilly was my doctor.Having a doctor care as much as he did really make the entire process a bit less scary. I appreciate so much now that he always tried to prioritize and address the things I considered a priority. I think him taking that time to hear out my concerns really made me feel so much more confident going into the surgery. For example, when it came to dancing – the other doctor said they would fuse in a way that would’ve made it pretty much impossible to move my hips. Because Dr. Reilly knew I loved to dance, he decided to place the rods so that my hips would have more mobility to them. Over the next year, there were countless appointments, blood tests, x-rays and of course, and let’s be honest: it sucked. But, nothing sucked as much as the teasing I endured at school.My Grade 7 year was not at all what I had expected – I had never experienced teasing quite like this. Girls were especially mean, even girls I had considered friends.Now, you have to remember, this was the year most girls began straightening their hair, playing with makeup, and wearing clothes that no longer sported Mickey Mouse or Cinderella. They were all beginning to take more time to stand out and enjoy fashion and makeup. But, while they were primping themselves, I was taking more time to hide. I stuck to my oversized gap sweaters to hide my ever increasing “S” shaped spine. Unfortunately, it seemed that everything I did to hide it just made it all the more noticeable. I was no longer “one of the girls”, in their eyes I was an outsider that was weird, different, and deformed. Certain names were thrown around quite a bit, “gimpy” was one of them that seemed to stick well around my classmates. I know it doesn’t sound like the worst name I could’ve been given, but for a 12-year-old it was completely crushing. One thing I’ll never forget is the last day of Grade 7 before the summer break. We all finally “graduated” from Grade 7, all the girls were running around crying, and hugging one another – as if we wouldn’t all see each other in just a few months at high school. I remember one of my good friends turned to me and was completely baffled that I wasn’t upset. She was all teary and sniffly saying “aren’t you sad at all? It’s all over!” – but I couldn’t be happier it was over. It was the worst year of my life yet, and I was ready to say goodbye and move on from that entire experience. Summer 2003 seemed to drag on.I was so unbelievably uncomfortable in my own skin by this point that I spent the majority of the summer indoors. Aside from the immense discomfort that my scoliosis ensued physically, it also meant that I was subject to speculation wherever I went. Going outdoors – to a store, to the pool, to the movies – meant that people would stop and stare, wondering what exactly was wrong with me. Frankly, I preferred when people just came up and asked rather than just stare gawk at me.Finally, September 2003 rolled around and I attended my first day of high school – also known as Orientation day.Orientation day was the only day of school that I would attend for another 2 months. In my first class, sewing, a girl sat next to me and we began to chat. She didn’t seem to notice my back, or at least it didn’t concern her – and we began to chat about hanging out during lunch. At the end of the hour, she asked to hang out again. When I replied “actually no, I won’t be here tomorrow. I am having surgery” it really began to dawn on me that I was going to be missing a few very vital months. These first few months are the ones where no one knows each other yet and people are beginning to forge new friendships, groups, and cliques. I would be coming back to school just in time for those circles to be built and friendships to be made. It meant that I would be coming back just to be an outsider again. The night before my operation, I spent what felt like hours scrubbing myself down with a strong antibacterial soap in preparation for my surgery. It was so intense that it even dyed my skin with an orange/yellow colour. By my surgery date, my curve had progressed to 84 degrees, and the curve was violently disfiguring my body. No over-sized sweater could cover up just how twisted my spine looked. It looked angry, and it made me feel weak. I had trouble breathing because my ribs were crushing my lungs, and I was always sore.I remember every moment of the night before and the morning of my surgery. My mum and dad were running around the house worrying about all of the last minute to-do’s, and I was watching TV with my brother. At some point my parents joined us and we just all stayed up late (well, like 11PM – late for me, at the time) together. That night, I remember going to bed thinking I wouldn’t be able to sleep. I thought I was going to be terrified. After months of worry, I had figured this would be the ultimate moment of panic and fear. But, I slept fine. And, when I woke up the next morning – I was calm as can be.I suppose part of the calm is knowing that the surgery was inevitable. I have always been someone who finds some level of peace in inevitability. If I can’t change it, I can’t panic about it. Anyone else like that?
That morning was a busy one. I remember how nervous my family was. They kept asking me if I was worried, or scared, but I just wasn’t.
After getting the IV in my hand, I was then ready to be wheeled into surgery.
As I was being wheeled in, my mum was at my side. She saw my panic set in, and also got a glimpse of the operating room and it scared her. At that moment, I guess because she was scared and feeling bad for me, she asked me if there was anything I wanted as a gift after the surgery/when we got home.
Hilariously enough, in my nearly knocked out state, I became alert and quickly said the one thing that I wanted most… Mario Party 3 for N64. Looking back I am always surprised about this, why wouldn’t I have said Mario Kart? Such a better game! Just kidding.