Tuesday, April 20

Unfurling the Flag of Freedom in My Spine, Pt. 1

Scoliosis.  The word entered my ears in terror and fear as a young girl, about age 6, my daughter Ruby's age.  My grandmother was one of those overprotective women who's body had survived The Depression of the 1930's but who's innocence had been stripped away by lack - the fear of not having enough, and the loss of her father to spinal meningitis at the age of five. 

Her early childhood trauma combined with very little familial nurturing created an adult that knew best how to operate within the realms of fear and high drama.  As her only granddaughter, I was her focus.  She taught me to plan for the worst so that I would be prepared for the worst, for that is how she learned to survive. 

Scoliosis, she told me, was a curvature of the spine, and I would probably get it because my mother had it and her paternal grandmother had it.  My grandmother did not have it because it was from her husband's side of the family, she reasoned, not hers.  She had me regularly checked by a doctor and told me it was important to catch it right as the curve begins because if it is not treated properly - either by back brace or by - God forbid - surgery, I would end up all twisted over with a big hump on my back. 

Surgery.  The thought sent chills of terror through my body.  Having rods placed on either side of my spine sounded like torture.  Yet I dwelt on the thoughts, just in case they happened. I imagined differing degrees of severity and how they would effect me and my social life.  Would this person still like me? Would that person make fun of me?

I thought about how, depending on it's severity, advanced stages of the disease could affect me early in life - for the rest of my life.  With this information, the good Girl Scout I was wanted to be prepared so I imagined myself with a big old hump on my back, just in case it did happen. I thought how I would not be one of the ancient old ladies hunched over in church; I would be more like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, only female, coming down from my tower immortally grotesque to ogle boys that would only spit back at me.

Like Ugly Betty I persevered.  Before too long it came to pass -  I was wearing a back brace.  Mine was the first back brace fitted at Scott & White hospital in Temple. It was clear the doctors there did not have much experience treating scoliosis. They molded a back brace cast onto my body many times before they made one that fit me properly. This took many weeks of my family driving me the 2 hours to the hospital for the fitting and hour after hour of grueling skin tear and bleeding.