reflections on my spine surgery
When I was quite young, I sat out of gym class because I had hips that ached.
When I was in elementary school, the nurses did a scoliosis check on everyone.
I was told I had a slight curve, but nothing to worry about.
When I was in high school, the nurses checked each PE class for scoliosis.
I was asked if I played tennis or basketball, as one shoulder was more pronounced than the other.
When I was 16, I went to a chiropractor for my back pain.
He was the first person to even suggest an x-ray, which came back to show a pretty fantastic curve in my spine.
We went to an orthopaedic surgeon in South Bend who suggested a spinal fusion and rods. I got a second opinion, thanks to a referral to Shriners Hospital for Children in Chicago.
Dr. Lubicky in Chicago diagnosed me with Bertolotti’s Syndrome in 2003. Basically, the lowest vertebra in my spine was extended and fused to my pelvis. This caused my spine to curve and the muscles to grow strangely to compensate for the imbalance.
In June of 2004, mere weeks after my high school graduation, Dr. Lubicky performed a posterior spinal fusion where he removed the extended part of my vertebra and fused the bottom three vertebrae of my spine with screws. I stayed at Shriners for over a week and toured my college that summer in a wheelchair.
I can’t say enough about how great Shriners Hospital for Children is. The hospital itself is a beautiful facility but the staff is incredible. When I was feeling my most helpless and vulnerable, the nurses made me feel comfortable. (Except for the night nurse. But she didn’t realize I skipped the NICU and could still take morphine through the night.)
I started college in a back brace.
I wore that back brace for four months or so, just to ensure proper healing and to encourage my spine to straighten. Six months later, I was cast as a dancer in the college’s musical.
I’m still crooked; the hems of skirts rarely look straight on me. One hip is visibly higher than the other so I avoid tight-fitted clothes. I have a glorious scar from the middle of my back down to my pelvis, and I still have numbness is some areas. I get pain from time to time, mostly when I’m feeling stressed or have been sitting or standing for too long. Sometimes the pain is a dull ache, sometimes it manifests like sciatica, and sometimes it’s like shooting daggers. Never does it last too long and never does it keep me from doing anything.
Seven years later, I can truly say my scoliosis, Bertolotti’s syndrome, and posterior spinal fusion have not kept me from doing anything. (Except, perhaps, wearing backless clothing.) I run, I bike, I do hot yoga, I dance, I ride rollercoasters, I carry enormous trays of food when waiting tables, and I feel pretty darned good.
The audience I tell this story to is twofold.
- I tell this story because I realize there’s little information on Bertolotti’s syndrome on the web and what information is out there is quite scary.
- I also tell this story to my small blog community, because this is a big part of me. This procedure colors a lot of my decisions regarding my body: what I put into it, how I use it, and how I decorate it. I eat fairly well and maintain a healthy diet. I do my best to exercise regularly and rarely have back-related pain. But I recognize that too much extra weight might cause extra stress. I carefully choose my clothing, as I am a bit self-conscious about my wonky hip. But I take it all in stride when my coworkers call me Gimp.
I am lucky that my condition was treatable, because for many of the kids at Shriners that is not the case. I have never regretted treating Bertolotti’s syndrome surgically; if it saved my spine from curving further, then that’s enough for me.