As a child, I went through the usual childhood illnesses but one rainy, windy day changed my young life forever.
I knew something was wrong with my back because when I sat in chairs, I was lopsided. I thought, as a child does, that it would go away. Nightly I slept with my right arm extended over my head, held in place by a bandana, because it flattened my back and I felt normal.
Since I had long hair, my secret was hidden for many years, until a huge gust of wind blew my waist-length hair upward, revealing my grossly misshaped right shoulder blade. I will never forget the look of fear on my Mom’s face.
She immediately took me to our doctor, who diagnosed me with scoliosis, which is a curvature of the spine. We went to Children’s Hospital and because of the degree of severity, surgery was the only option. Dr. Godfrey and Dr. Weiss, then team doctors for the Buffalo Bills, would be my surgeons.
My parents were with me through the entire long, very scary, painful process. For two weeks before surgery, I was in traction to stretch my spine. The doctors put a heavy plaster halo on my head, where weights were attached, and a girdle around my hips, with more weights at the foot of the bed.
Surgery followed, and a Harrington rod was attached to my spine. I felt bionic! I had to remain on my back for an entire month. Many bedpans were spilled, which only added to my misery. Finally, I was allowed to get up. I was as weak as a kitten and very dizzy, but my Dad patiently helped me slowly walk down the hall. It was a relief to escape from my hospital room – I felt such victory.
Soon after, I was led into a large room and a very handsome young guy fit me with a body cast. Unfortunately for me, for vanity sake, I sucked in my belly a bit too much and when the plaster dried, I couldn’t breathe. Cutting a hole in it didn’t help, so the cast had to be redone. This time, I let it all hang out while my Mom and I laughed.
My stay at Children’s had some enjoyable moments, especially when one of my many roommates popped wheelies in her wheelchair just for my enjoyment. I also was treated to a new food – dandelions. And to this day, Irish Spring soap reminds me of my hospital stay. Perhaps because I was bed-ridden so long, I needed this strong scent? The weekends were my favorite time because my siblings and their families visited.
Much to my delight, I left the hospital on Father’s Day. Wearing the cast through the summer was a nasty, hot, itchy, uncomfortable nightmare. After six months, it was finally removed. I was shocked at the appearance of my back. It still looked the same, and I was heartbroken.
In my young mind, I thought the surgery was going to give me the perfect back I dreamed of. In reality the rods reduced the curvature, provided stability to the spinal fusion and stopped any further curvature, which was far more important than my insecurity. To this day, I still have back envy, but I have finally accepted my uniqueness because it defines who I am.
When I think back on my experience, I realize that I never could have gotten through it without all the love and support of my family. They all went above and beyond to make my terrifying journey a much easier ride. As poet George Santayana said: “The family is one of nature’s masterpieces.”