North student shares her experience with scoliosis

Shannon O'Brien, Contributor

Scoliosis is a medical condition in which the spine has a curve or multiple curves. Scoliosis is considered harmless until the curve reaches above 45-50 degrees. It can be passed down hereditarily or can be completely random. The reason for the curvature of the spine is unknown.


When I was thirteen at a doctor’s check up when my pediatrician instructed me to touch my toes. She saw my spine and immediately exclaimed, “she needs to see an orthopedic doctor as soon as possible.” I was instantly terrified. At the time I had no idea what scoliosis really was or how it would affect me. I saw my orthopedic doctor and got x rayed and discovered that I had a twenty degree curve in my lower spine and an eleven degree curve in my upper spine. Since I was so young and just beginning my growth spurts, the doctors shrugged it off and said to just wait, it might end up not progressing like my sister’s had done. We waited a few months and when I went back in for a checkup, they discovered my curve had grown to 24 degrees and 14 degrees.


It was then that I was told I needed a brace to prevent further curvature growth. When I found out I was to be encased in plastic for at least six months for 18 hours a day, I was heartbroken. Being in an already insecure and awkward period of life, I was not looking forward to feeling even more awkward and out of place. I was fitted and formed for my brace and dreaded its delivery. For three months of 7th grade, I wore that plastic shell daily – or at least tried to. I don’t know how to describe the uncomfortableness of the brace, considering it wasn’t all too bad, just annoying.


I was called a couple names like “turtle” and ‘iron woman’, but I laughed them off. I tried to make the best out of my situation, making jokes and using my brace to prank people.


In the summer I had rarely worn my brace out of a personal hatred for the thing. Not everyone’s brace is like this though and each brace is personally molded for each individual’s needs and body shape. For me it wasn’t painful, just uncomfortable.


In the beginning of 8th grade, I had another check up. My x rays showed my spine at 28 degrees and 14 degrees which meant the brace had worked a little to stunt the growth of my curve, but I still had a little bit left to grow. I was told to be wary and wear my brace occasionally. At the time I was overjoyed by this news – I thought I was done! The brace had worked in my mind and now it was life back to normal.


Six months passed by and I had my routine spine check up. They took x rays and found that nothing had really changed. It had grown to 32 degrees, but that still wasn’t enough to call for surgery, and my growth plates were pretty much closed so there wasn’t a use for a brace. I figured I would be fine and that I would stop growing soon, and therefore my spine would remain as is. My doctor was as optimistic as I was and scheduled our next appointment not for six months, but a year.


A year had passed by and I noticed the chronic soreness and pain my spine had started to cause me. It changed my day-to-day life immensely. I was always fatigued, napping after school until 9 o’clock at night then doing what homework I had and going back to sleep at 11. I went back in for yet another check up during February and discovered that it had only progressed to around 38 degrees. I was given a disheartening “there’s nothing we can do until it gets worse” and scheduled another check up again for a year.


During this year I noticed not only a change in the way my body felt at the end of the day, but a change within every aspect of my body. Walking felt different, my own legs seemed to betray me at times. My balance was impaired and I began to find myself losing balance just standing still. My body shape made my curve extremely noticeable – one side of my waist being like a straight, vertical edge and the other side being extremely indented.


I was always relatively comfortable with my body shape. I never cared what other people thought. My spine changed that for me…at first. I used to get so bothered when I would be wearing a swimsuit and someone would ask “what happened?” or the more rude individuals would say “what’s wrong with you?”. Since then, I’ve grown used to the new and changing shape of my body, and my maturity has made it so I don’t really care what anyone has to say about it.


Recently I went in for what I thought was going to be my final appointment. Instead, I was given an x ray that showed my spine had finally progressed to 50 degrees and my smaller, upper curve had progressed to 30. This immense change was caused by me continuing to grow in height, but not any taller. Instead of the height going to my legs and upper body, it went to my spine causing an 11 degree increase in size.


It was decided: I need the surgery.


I met with a renowned orthopedic surgeon in Madison. After I had done a series of tests and x-rays, the doctor measured my spine at only 40 degrees. He told my parents there’s no need for surgery, and then he was off on his way. Just like that, I was crushed. My parents, however, were not so quick to write off that this man had measured my spine nearly 13 degrees differently from my other doctor. We went to another specialist in Milwaukee at Children’s Hospital.


In Milwaukee, we did more x rays and found that the doctor who is the supposed expert, was wrong. My spine is now at 53 degrees which made me more than eligible for the surgery.


My surgery date is June 2nd. Everyone around me, except for the doctors, expects me to feel nervous – my parents especially. After all I am getting metal rods put in my back. But the thing is, I’m not scared at all. If anything, I’m excited. I’ve dealt with this condition, slowly progressing and getting worse – bringing me down in the process since I was in 7th grade and I’m ready for it to be done with.  


The surgery will improve my quality of life, and I would be a liar if I didn’t admit that I’m excited someday soon, I’ll be able to say I’m part cyborg. The early summer vacation is a plus as well.  


Don’t be scared if you have scoliosis and you’re told there’s nothing they can do. But I also don’t recommend just depending on the surgery instead of attempting bracing first. If you can avoid surgery, avoid it, but don’t give up if you know you need proper help. Another thing this whole thing taught me was not every expert can be trusted and sometimes even the most credible should get a second opinion.