A personal (and rambling) scoliosis history.
It is 1989. I am 13 years old, have 20/20 vision, can run a mile in 6 minutes flat, and read at an 11th grade level. I listen to Guns N' Roses, wear red leopard print tights, and sport wall bangs and too much blue eye shadow. One day in gym class a nurse comes to check us for abnormalities in our backs. Two weeks later my hyper color, hyper cool image is shattered when I am fitted for a back brace to correct what appears to be a rapidly progressing case of scoliosis.
The brace looks like a medieval torture device. It is a thick plastic mold of my body that stretches from my collar bone to my pubic bone. Small holes are cut out around the brace for ventilation and a large hole is cut out in my breast area in the unlikely event that they ever show up. There is a slit down the back of the brace that I slip through to put it on, and three Velcro straps to fasten me in. I know the brace is tight enough when I feel short of breath. Underneath the brace I wear a ribbed boy's undershirt, and when I remove the brace for the two hours my orthopedic surgeon has allowed there are deep vertical grooves running the length of my torso.
I wear the brace for three years. It is worn under clothing, but it rises to my collar bone and I am forced to wear high cut shirts to cover the plastic. An inspection of my 9th grade closet reveals a rainbow collection of turtle necks. There are mock turtle necks, there are turtlenecks both with and without sleeves, there are turtle necks made of cotton, others are heavier sweater material. Some turtlenecks are covered in geometric patterns, others are graced with stripes, and some are even fake turtlenecks, with just the neck and a bit of material hanging down around the sides to wear under sweaters. At 14 years old I am an undeniable connoisseur of the turtleneck, and I vow in my adult life to never wear one again.
In the summertime I want to die from the heat. I spend every second that I can in my family's backyard pool. When I am underwater and weightless gravity ceases to affect my spine. Underwater time doesn't effect my brace removal allotment. I am given the nickname Mermaid.
During this time I also make the cheerleading squad. During practice, one teammate in particular likes to punch me in the stomach. I suppose while shrouded in plastic I come off as invincible, and I know she means no harm, yet it takes my breath away when she hits me. Whatever the case, our friends find this hilarious, so I smile and laugh with them. It is horrible to be different at 14.
At almost 16 years old I stop growing. I have made it to 5'5¼". During the period of bracing my S curve has grown from 36 degrees over 19 degrees to 46 degrees over 32 degrees. My doctor tells me that we will need to keep an eye on things, but that it seems we have avoided the need for surgery. I am to come back for regular checkups. He tells me that I would be 5'7" without the scoliosis. I am just happy to be out of the brace and able to enjoy life unhindered.
When I graduate from high school I attend the University of Kansas. While at school my back hurts occasionally, but overall I am young and healthy and drinking and smoking and skipping enough classes that scoliosis is the last thing I bother to think about. I graduate with a Creative Writing degree, and decide to go to Korea to teach English. This, I predict, will provide me with excellent life experience. Before leaving I consider getting a scoliosis check up. It's been years, and I have minor issues, but the world is beckoning and who am I to keep it waiting?
I move to Seoul. While there I take a Korean hip hop dance class that not only wastes my knees, but begins to hurt my back as well. When I try and see a doctor I learn they have gone on strike (doctors on strike?!). When the strike ends a Korean friend helps me make the appointment and comes with me to translate. The doctor wants to do acupuncture, and I, suspicious of all things doctorly to begin with, decline and bow my way out of his office. I decide to hold off on doctors until I go home.
After a year of teaching I wind up working at a carnival in Sydney, Australia. There's a lot of standing, and most days after work I feel what I imagine to be twice my age. From here I head to London where I try my hand at bartending. More standing, more achey back, but I am young and abroad and I ignore it as best I am able. Eventually I surface in New York City and work as a promoter for different clubs around Manhattan. This is fun, but I begin to think that it might be nice to have a real job, with benefits, like insurance. You see, my back has taken a downward turn and has actually begun to ache regularly. I decide to move to Florida where I go back to school (this time graphic design, much more marketable!) and manage a clothing store where I stand all day in heels. When I come home from work I cry some days because I hurt so badly. I want to go to the doctor. I need to get my back checked out. The problem is that I'm broke and back in school and I decide to wait it out until I get a real job. The kind with insurance.
When school ends I move back to New York and get a job at an online design agency. I love my job. I am healthy. I go to the gym three times a week. I walk all over the place and am in good shape. I finally get insurance and I get x-rays taken. My back pain isn't severe, but it is chronic, and yet I stall at finding a specialist. Part of this is being in a city where I don't know anyone who can give me a recommendation. The larger part is plain fear. I can recognize that my torso is scrunched together, though no one else ever notices. One hip is a quarter inch higher than the other. I wonder if I am simply more aware of my body as I have gotten older, or if I really do look shorter through the torso than I was in my early 20s. The idea of surgery petrifies me and I never seem to find the time to make an appointment. Finally it gets bad enough, and my boyfriend makes enough ultimatums (no more back rubs until you see someone about this!) that I find an orthopedic surgeon specializing in spinal surgery. His name is Daveed Frazier, and I like him as soon as I meet him. He's charismatic, he's engaging, and more importantly he takes the time to really sit down and talk to me. Before we discuss my x-rays I am measured and weighed. I weigh 115 pounds and am 5'4". This can't be right I tell him. I am 5'5¼". I live the life of a person who is 5'5¼". It is part of my identity. He shakes his head and tells me that my curve has progressed significantly. I am shrinking. My curvature has progressed 12 degrees since I last got it checked. I am now 58 degrees over 47. I need surgery. Fuuuuck.