Weird Wednesday: The silent crippler

I had scoliosis as a kid. Yeah I was one of those kids with curvy backs that couldn't stand up straight. I was also pigeon toed, but I'll save the glory of that health issue for another post.

At about age 12, the doc made me start wearing a back brace. I say "made" because I was not at all interested in increasing my already pervasive awkwardness. I'm not sure what your middle school experience was like, but mine was reminiscent of the Lord of the Flies.  Evidently the brace was supposed to straighten my back. It was this big plastic thing with huge velcro straps that kept it on. It went from under my arms to my butt. I already had a pancake butt so there was no loss there. There was an oval cut out of the front for my boobs. I think I would have been fine without the oval--I did not want my developing body revealed. I had to wear an undershirt with it or the brace would chafe my skin. I won't even go into the way I got fitted for a new brace every several months because that is something I wish I had blocked from my memory. The brace created multiple levels of awkward.

I was already a geeky kid with weird glasses so the back brace did little to increase my confidence. Here's a pic of me from that period of time.

Bless my heart. You can see why I was picked on. Luckily my brace/armor protected me from getting beat up.

I wore the stupid plastic shell for 23 hours a day for a year or so. I had been sleeping, swimming, living in this stupid turtle shell for far too long, in my opinion. To top it all off, the brace failed to prevent my curve from getting worse. My doctor recommended I have surgery to straighten my spine. He said if I didn't, I would end up in a wheelchair. In addition, he warned I'd probably die young because the curve would stretch out some organs and squash others. Around this same time, I had to do a presentation in school. I decided to do mine on scoliosis. As I learned from my doc--the scoliosis could cripple me so I called my presentation "Scoliosis: The Silent Crippler." I continued to use this same presentation for many years in school. I'd mold it for the latest assignment, but I stuck with my dramatic title.

Prior to the surgery, the doc and nurses explained all the dangers. This was in the early 1980's when surgery was a big deal. The medical folks stated that the surgery was as dangerous as open heart surgery. It would take about 4 hours and I would have a long recovery. I remember them telling me that there was a risk of paralysis. But then again, the doc said I would probably end up in a wheelchair if I didn't have the surgery, so I was willing to take my chances. All I really heard was "NO MORE BRACE." If I had been a dieng kid in the Make a Wish foundation, I'm pretty sure not wearing a brace would have been my wish. At that time, people had to wear body casts for about 6 months afterwards while they healed. I wondered if they would cut a whole out for my boobs. Of course, I didn't ask. The whole thing was so awkward.

My parents worried about me having the surgery. My Mom has scoliosis as well. The doc tried to convince her to have the surgery but she didn't want to. I remember the doc taking these awkward photos of me and mom bent forward to show our scoliosis. The doc said he would use our case for some paper about genetics and scoliosis.  The doc also told me he wanted me to be the first at the hospital to wear a brace rather than a cast afterward. I felt like a celebrity of sorts--suddenly my curve made me cool. I liked the doc trying out new stuff on me. The doc even taped my surgery. I fancied I would be the kid who beat the silent crippler.

In the surgery, I had 2 Harrington Rods implanted along with some clamps, screws, and wires. The doctor took some bone from my hip to put along my spine to fuse my entire upper spine from my shoulders down to the first vertabrae of my lower spine. My back kind of looks like this:

I had to wear a brace for about 6 months after the surgery so the bone from my hip would fuse with my spine. I couldn't stand up without the brace, or I'd have crumbled and possibly croaked. When it fused, my upper back became one solid bone. I've considered donating my body to science so maybe I could be on display somewhere with my nifty skeleton.

Luckily, I came through the surgery with flying colors except for some infections. Compared to past patients, I spent the least amount of time in the hospital. In your face, silent crippler!


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