Bionic Women: 6 years post Spinal op



Yesterday was Scoliosis Awareness Day. Scoliosis, for those who aren’t aware is a spinal condition which means the spine abnormally curves into an S or a C shape. I got my Scoliosis “corrected” 6 years ago, meaning two titanium metal rods were drilled into my spine, forcing the spine to realign itself overnight. As you can imagine, the pain was at times unbearable, and I depended on morphine a lot for the first few days. Having major spinal surgery was probably one of the most difficult things I endured, from having to learn how to walk again, take the stairs and even walk in a straight line. I remember often feeling angry post op. It was my final year of A levels and an important one but it meant missing four months of school to recover at home. 6 years on, I’m so glad to have met my hospital partner Martha who is always so comforting when I’m having a bad day because of the back pain. Nothing is as reassuring as having someone who lives with your very condition. Below, Martha has written a beautiful post about her Scoliosis journey which I’m sharing, hoping that it benefits anyone who deals with any sort of pain, be it physical or mental.

“I met my dear friend Chaimaa after my surgery. I remember being pretty out of it as it was the first time I had been on general anaesthetic. I had come out of the High Dependency Unit after a day of staring at a ceiling with a T.V. on it (thought it was cool, but was way too out of it to watch anything). My family were being very positive and supportive at the time, I specifically remember my sister singing the Nando’s song at 1am on the first night, which was a fantastic distraction strategy. After moving to the Adolescent Unit, I was sipping on a juice carton, and on a lot of drugs when my mum returned to my hospital bed with Chaimaa and her mum. I remember being bombarded with questions but just sort of casually saying ‘yeaaaaaaaah it’s going to be FINE’. I think it was the drugs, but it’s true, it was going to be fine.

The week inside the hospital following the surgery was one of the hardest challenges I’ve had to face so far. You can’t ever really be prepared for major spinal surgery, and the things that you didn’t think much of before such as walking, turning in bed, getting into bed, even sitting down would suddenly take a lot of effort. But I got there, in a new uncomfortable and rather awkward way, but pretty damn courageously for a 16-year old. I haven’t been the same way since my surgery, it’s been an experience of accepting a new normal. A new way to move, a new way to bend, and new way to see things, like the invisibility of some conditions.

Scoliosis is not always invisible and I have seen some examples of where it definitely isn’t. However, it was for me and still appears that way now. I only discovered I had two large curves in my spine through trying a dress for prom. It was a question of an unevenness of my shoulder blades which led to a very quick process of seeing physiotherapists, doctors, surgeons, taking MRI’s and X-rays and figuring out that what I had was pretty major and in need of an urgent correction. This was a lot to take at that age but there was little time to really digest it all. Not having surgery within the couple of months could mean a further and unpredictable growth of my spine and instead a need for two surgeries, not one. So, by September, at the start of my sixth form years, at almost 6 years ago, I had no choice but to take a chance and hope for the best.

Over the years, I have noticed that within the scoliosis community there is some stigma around spinal fusion surgery for scoliosis. In some cases, it is argued that there are ways to avoid it, and others that it is not always necessary. Some of these arguments have legitimacy, but in my own personal experience, due to the timing, surgery was my safest option. I’m definitely thankful to have the treatment I had within the time period, and under the NHS with the greatest care I could have asked for. This is not a treatment all are lucky enough to have across the world. Surgery might be the last resort, but for some, it’s absolutely a saving grace.

So, with greater awareness of scoliosis, a condition that is quite common but not always a risk, this should be a condition that, for many like me, should be able to recognised and caught early enough to explore a variety of treatments. It can certainly be a scary thing, but it’s so worth it to encourage anyone around you to be aware of the possibility of having scoliosis. There are not currently any tests or mandatory screenings for scoliosis, but a simple way of checking for the possibility is the ‘Adams forward bend’ test. Look that up if you are curious!

Experiencing scoliosis and still living with it (surgery has not completely corrected my spine!) comes with further challenges, mentally and physically, and will probably affect me for life. But with a supportive network of people around me and a determination to be able to manage it in a healthy way, I know I’ll be okay. Meeting Chaimaa is a big part of my surgery experience and afterwards, we still kept in touch.Having someone who has gone through a similar journey to you is so powerful. We are always curious about our conditions and sometimes angry, impatient and sad about it, but mostly we are proud of our new normal.”

-Martha Babbs

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June 2019
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