My Scoliosis Story

July 10, 2018

It’s funny, I’ve had this blog for nearly a decade and I’ve never shared my Scoliosis story in this space. I guess I never wanted it to completely define me, or shed light on the 8” scar that runs along my spine. But the older I get the more I realize that the tough stuff in life is just part of the ride and without those struggles we may never tap into courage, love and valuable knowledge. And talking about the not-so-perfect elements of our life should be honored just as equally. 

So what is scoliosis? Remember as a kid how your Dr. would have you touch your toes to check your spine in a physical check up, to make sure it’s straight? Well, mine started growing like an “s” at age 11. By the time I was 15 I was told that surgery was needed for the 56 degree curved spine I was sporting. At that age all I cared about was the scar I would be left with. A small concern compared to the potential complications I could have faced, which my parents probably lost sleep over, but thankfully my surgery went well and I recovered smoothly. The fusion was T4 to L3 (that’s 11 vertebras) and I had two titanium rods with screws implanted to hold my fused spine—they’re still in there today. I’ll never forget standing up for the first time after surgery because I gained about a full inch in height when I was straightened out. Ironically my dad also happens to be a spinal surgeon, he didn’t do the surgery for a handful of reasons, but he made sure we took the right steps the whole way through, including various back braces for years leading up to the inevitable surgery. While it wasn’t anything as bad as Joan Cusack’s neck brace in Sixteen Candles, it was like throwing a wrench into my middle school angsty social life so I found every hiding spot to rip it off and hide it the second my parents dropped me off. Needless to say it wasn’t effective, especially when I shot up like a weed at 14 and the curve got worse overnight. 

The actual surgery wasn’t bad looking back. I was too young to hold on to the fear and went into it feeling like I was in good hands—today I’d probably be a mess. But I bounced back, as any 15-year-old would and gladly opted for home schooling for a couple of months while I healed. 

Life from that moment on was definitely different, which all turned out to be good different. I was forced to quit ballet, my passion since I was 3-years-old, but on the flip side I started picking up a camera, dove into my teenager social life and learned how to sneak out of my bedroom window—translation I started having more fun. Had I not been forced to change course, I think I would have missed out on a lot of growing up and truly finding myself.

Today I hardly think about the surgery or scar, which you can barely see thanks to my mom who put Egyptian Magic on it while it was healing. The only way it restricts me to this day is not being able to rigorously work out. Running on pavement will make me uncomfortably stiff and sore in my spine so I stick to things like yoga, hiking and swimming. I also am super particular when it comes to my pillow, mattress and avoid sleeping on my stomach, which leaves me tight the next day. If I’m struggling occasionally I’ll sleep with a rolled up towel as my pillow and a pillow between my knees on my side. I’m always trying out new sleep remedies that can support my spine better. 

Pregnancy. The one thing that I thought I’d struggle with the most was actually not so bad. I had one of those body pillows that was AMAZING and only had issues with my hips aching towards the last trimester. I wasn’t sure if my body could even deliver naturally and was fully prepared for them to wheel me in for a c-section but it was quite the opposite. A speedy labor and delivery that was all too quick for any epidural—read more about Elin’s birth story.

In my life I’ve met a lot of people who have various degrees of scoliosis, which is why I wanted to share my story. Because my curve was so severe, surgery was my only option after wearing a brace for years and it drastically corrected and improved my overall pain. When aches and pains do surface I rely on a few things: yoga, acupuncture, massage (I go at least once a month) and heat compresses.

Curious if any of you have struggled with back pain or have had spine surgery?

Photography by Arna.

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