Finding a Surgeon
And setting the date.
Obviously finding the best surgeon possible is critical. But there are other things to consider too, and not everyone's criterion is the same when it comes to finding the surgeon who is right for you.
  1. You need to find out exactly what your surgeon is proposing. To begin with, what levels will be fused? I was fused from T4 to L1. This means from about my collar bone to around where my belly button hits. My surgeon didn't fuse my entire spine because it was decided that my lower curve was compensating for my top curve. This is called a compensatory curve. There's a surprising amount of flexibility that I still have because my fusion didn't reach too far into my lumbar region (lower back). In addition, will your surgeon be using any part of your hip bone or ribs for grafting purposes? Will any of your ribs be removed to correct a rib hump? I didn't need to have any ribs removed, and my surgeon didn't cut into any of my other bones for grafting, thankfully. Instead he used DBM (demineralized bone matrix, a bone graft extender using treated cadaver bone). There are plenty of horror stories out there of people whose backs were fixed by their scoliosis surgeries, but because of grafting develop hip or rib problems.
  2. Find out the surgeon's approach. Will it be a posterior cut, or both posterior and anterior? Will the surgeon use titanium rods? Will there be screws or hooks or a combination of hardware used? Will your spinal cord be hooked up to a monitor to check for possible paralysis (if the answer is no it's time to run)? What kind of grafting will be done?
  3. What's the surgeon's estimate of correction? Fifty percent? Sixty? How has your surgeon arrived at this number?
  4. How many scoliosis (not just back surgeries) does the surgeon perform a month? Out of that, how many are similar to your case? If you are an adult female then ask about other adult females, etc.
  5. Get a second opinion, and a third. Doctors perform surgeries like bakers bake cakes. The process is different, the ingredients are different. Dr. Frazier would have used bone from my hip for grafting. It's possible that this could have created hip problems for me in the future. Then again, many studies show that your body is more likely to accept your own bones for grafting than cadaver bone. Both approaches are certainly valid, and come with their own set of plusses and minuses. It was Dr. Frazier who actually recommended I see Dr. Moskowitz when I mentioned that I would be interested in going to Kansas for the surgery. It is an amazingly small world when you get into the realm of specialitsts. You can also get an idea of a doctor's reputation by asking around, and doing some online sleuth work. You might even consider calling a physical therapy clinic near you. The therapists work with all sorts of people, and they can probably tell you a thing or two about your local doctors. Keep in mind that it's all well and good to have a doctor with a great bedside manner, but what's more important is that doctor's skills.
  6. Realize that you are going to need help from friends or family. This surgery is going to be difficult. The nice thing about scoliosis is that it progresses slowly, so you have time to shop around for different surgeons. You also can choose the time of year (Winter sucks - you are going to want to take walks, and the cold will not only tense up all of your muscles, but if you slip on ice you will consider overdosing on your pain pills). The other thing to think about is who is going to take care of you and when will be the best time for them. I'll get into talking about my surgery soon enough, but you need to understand that for at least the first week you are going to want around the clock care. I live in New York City, but had my surgery done in Kansas because I knew my mother would be able to take care of me. Because of initial complications with my surgery my boyfriend rushed to Kansas as well, and stayed for the next ten days. I was a train wreck for the duration of my stay in the hospital, and I positively needed them both there to take shifts caring for me.
  7. Request to speak to someone your surgeon has done a similar operation on. You will find that most people who have gone through something as intense as scoliosis surgery will actually want to tell you about it. My surgeon put me in touch with a girl my age that he had operated on 8 months prior. Her name is Jenny and she has been an absolute inspiration to me. Not only did she reassure me of his skills and reputation, but she has become a friend in the process. Even if it is just an email exchange or phone call, there is nothing as reassuring as live feedback from a fan of a potential surgeon.
Looking for more information?
Scoliosis Surgery: The Definitive Patient's Reference provided helpful reading for me and my family.
My Flickr Photo Gallery. X-rays, before and after shots, and even physical therapy.

Other helpful scoliosis sites:
The Mayo Clinic provides a thorough scoliosis overview.
If you are near the Wichita, KS area, Dr. Alan Moskowitz can be found at the Kansas Joint and Spine Institute.
Or, if in New York City, Dr. Daveed Frazier can be found on the Upper West side.