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A letter to... the surgeon who fixed more than my spine,
It didn’t even hurt, I didn’t even notice the difference, but it was there, steadily growing as I did. My Mam was worried, thought it was abnormal to have a hump on one side of my back, I thought she was stupid but went along with it anyway, and so the steady flow of doctor’s appointments began. We started small, the GP, she was Australian, her cold hands felt along my spine making the muscles squeeze and contract. She said I would need and x-ray and an MRI scan, I was terrified. She demanded to know if I was pregnant, fear turned to shock, I was only 13, but she kept asking anyway.
The fear began to grow, an MRI scan was serious, I didn’t know what to do with myself, it became a waiting game. They advised that I should bring a CD so I was distracted while in the machine, of course I forgot. It was a choice between The Backstreet Boys or Razorlight, I thought they were joking. I had to lie completely still, a hard task when my hands were shaking uncontrollably. It sounded like there were road works right above my head, I tried taking deep breaths, tried to listen to each note of the music, but it didn’t help. The longest 45 minutes of my life.
That’s when I was referred to you, you were worse than the Australian woman; you were arrogant and condescending. You showed me the numerous x-rays that had been taking plus the MRI scan; I thought it was pretty cool. You could see the curve of each blood vessel, the size of the heart and the dominant present of each lung. You drew attention to my spine, I was confused, there was an abnormal s shape, pushing my ribs to the side. “Severe thoracic idiopathic scoliosis” were the words you uttered next, the words, that for the next three years, turned my world upside down. You started speaking lots of medical jargon I couldn’t understand; I caught snippets of sentences; misaligned hips, spinal cord, correctional surgery, paralysis, death.
I cut off, I refused the surgery, at 13 surgery meant imminent death. I refused to talk about it, pretend it wasn’t there but I could feel it now; in the shower, when I was getting ready, the way I held myself became different. I was always aware of it.
I was encouraged to return to see you after a few months, monitor the progress of my curve; you were still arrogant, still condescending. You told me the news I had been dreading, it was getting worse. It would affect me, not now, but when I was older, chest problems, mobility problems. It was all too much to handle, surgery was inevitable. You assured both me and my parents that you were more than experienced; you had yet to have someone die on you. I don’t know if you were trying to be funny, but I was not amused you had said the taboo word; death.
I was left for months, the waiting game began to cause me pain, I was constantly running my hands down my sides, willing the hump to go away, praying the surgery wouldn’t be necessary. The operation date came, 13th December, I had to go for more tests; injections, blood, lung capacity tests, x-rays, heart monitoring, anesthetic. You were making sure my body could handle it.
I was due back in hospital the day before the surgery; prep is the word you used. I met the people that would be involved in the process. There were hundreds. Towards the end of the day you came to see me, I had made myself at home, created my own space in the hospital ward. You came to wish me luck and said you would see me tomorrow, then your faced turned serious, you produced a piece of paper which I had to sign, “Just for any complications,” you said yet your body language was saying so much more, “I’m assuming you’ve been told about the risks, paralysis or death” I knew what you had meant, there was no need to elaborate. I kept it in, the sting behind my eyes, the rush of blood to my cheeks, the slight shake of the hand. You continued to speak -- spoke about my ribs, you had to break them but then the risks were increased, my lungs were in danger of collapse. I signed and you disappeared, I cried and cried. The past two years of emotional turmoil caught up with me. I was distraught.
I picked up a book, but the first words mentioned a death, I threw it across the bed. I couldn’t go for a walk, I was surrounded by sick people, I was trapped. My Dad came later on; we watched T.V, my stomach became the soundtrack to whatever we were watching at the time; not eating for forty-eight hours was physical torture on my insides. The T.V. got cut off at 9pm. I felt about 5, at 15 it was unusual to be set to such an early curfew.
The morning came; I had an early appointment with the anesthetist. He spoke very highly of you, said I had nothing to worry about. I wasn’t sure if his words were truly soothing or if the anesthetic was beginning to kick in. I refused to close my eyes, I tried not to cry, I thought I was imagining the drowsiness that was hanging above me like a dark rain cloud. Eventually I succumbed.
15:15 was the time I woke up, disorientated and thirsty. It felt like no time had passed, I begged for water but your colleagues simply wetted a cotton bud and dragged it over my lips, I savored every drop. I lay there incessantly wiggling my toes. I was ecstatic, I was alive and had full mobility. My earlier worries seemed pathetic and meaningless now. I remember seeing my family’s faces; they looked how I felt; happy.
The following days in hospital were unbearable, the morphine drip became my best friend, there were permanent tear stains on my face, the pain was unbearable. But you surprised me, I didn’t expect to see you again yet there you were, everyday, checking to make sure I was coping, telling the nurses the medication and amounts of oxygen that I needed. They got me walking after four days; I walked repeatedly down the corridor loving the feel of being on my feet again. They stood me in front of the mirror, my neck was caked in blood and my hair matted to my head but I was standing straight and the scar was amazing, perfectly straight. Things began to look up, I sat up watching Friends to all hours in the morning, the only thing I was crying about now was my inability to eat the apple pie due to the amount of medication I was on.
The months after the operation I slowly recovered, the reasons for your arrogance became clear, you were good, an excellent surgeon. I grew a few more inches and so did my confidence. At sixteen I was healthy and happy and couldn’t thank you enough for it. You gave me so much more than a straight spine, you gave me a decent quality of life, you gave me the ability to wear heels, you gave me heaps of confidence and you gave me healthy future. Two years ago I hated you for what you were about to put me through but now, well now I couldn’t be more thankful.