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Scoliosis It’s Not Just a Backache

Many of us experience backaches but with scoliosis, that's a different story. Taylorian, Denise shares her experience in light of Scoliosis Awareness Month. 

“There’s something wrong with her back..."

 

Some time around the latter half of 2012 when I was just 10 years old, my life changed with that one line coming out of my mum’s mouth. A visit to the nearest clinic further confirmed her assumption was right. There’s something wrong with my back. I was later diagnosed with an S-shaped Scoliosis. In conjunction with Scoliosis Awareness Month, I’m here to share my scoliosis story.

We’ve all done it — Googling our symptoms when we don’t feel well. And we know how Google gives us the worst case scenario when we look up what’s wrong with us — in fact any symptom will somehow be related to some sort of cancer. So imagine an innocent kid searching about a disease she’s never heard of before in her 10 years of life. Back then, I seriously thought I was going to die especially after seeing disturbing surgery images my brother showed to scare me. But, thanks to my sister’s explanation I understood what scoliosis is.

Image Source: Scoliosis SOS Clinic

If you haven’t heard about scoliosis before, it’s basically a side curvature of the spine like the image attached. So how did it happen? I don’t know...

According to Malaysia Healthcare Organisation, “People mistakenly believe that carrying heavy bags, poor body posture, playing sports or sleeping on one side can cause the spine to curve, but that is not true. In fact, approximately 80% of all scoliosis cases have no known cause.” 

In the beginning, my curvatures were not bad, about 25 degrees each. Generally, curves around 25 to 30 degrees are considered mild, whereas those exceeding 45 to 50 degrees are considered to be quite severe and often require more aggressive treatments, and eventually surgery. The specialist said it was good that we found out early, as I haven’t hit puberty, and gave us a few options for treatments such as physiotherapy, yoga, and putting on braces. 

A back brace… If you’re thinking about Joanne from The House Bunny, then mine isn’t that bad, but if you’re thinking of those back supports online, it’s not that simple either.

IImage Source: Spinal Deformities and Advancement in Corrective Orthoses

Let me explain. There are two major types of braces, the hard ones and the soft flexible ones. Of course, the soft ones cost more, but all my parents had in mind was to let me recover better, so I got the SpineCor brace. After a series of exercises and X-rays in a year, it was found that my condition got worse. My dad later found a spinal correction center that uses Schroth Method and physiotherapy. With a new X-ray scan, we met up with the center’s doctor and found out that my curvatures went up to 40 degrees, which is in the yellow zone.

With that, I started my therapy in that center and stopped going to the hospital. 2 hours a day, 2 days per week, my childhood became a little more interesting. After 6 months, the doctor told us to get a Boston brace as the soft one didn’t seem to be helping. Comparing the two braces, I prefered the hard one. Even though the soft one was flexible, I felt like the straps were suffocating me at one point. The hard brace did hurt sometimes especially when my skin itched, but wearing the hard brace was way easier than the soft one as there’s no need of memorising which strap goes which direction. Did I mention I was supposed to wear the braces even when I sleep? Thank god the doctors allowed me to not wear them in school.

Anyway, I used to be a runner in primary school, not the best, but still an athlete who loved physical activities. Scoliosis has caused me to have breathing difficulties like shortness of breath. Going up 4 flights of stairs felt like I had just ran a 100-meter race during sports day. My lungs were basically being squeezed by my ribcage. My dream to continue as a sportsperson in middle school seemed unreachable anymore. But that wasn’t the worst part for me. Just like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, whatever clothes I wore, I thought I was ugly —  I hated myself.

At one point, my condition improved and the doctor increased my physiotherapy intensity, but it was just the calm before the storm. In 2014, I graduated from primary school, which means, as a girl, puberty hit me at that time — a period when humans experience the highest growth rate. The nightmare came in late 2015, a new x-ray showed that my curvatures were more than 60 degrees each. 

MAYDAY! RED ZONE! SURGERY!

I was referred to a spine surgeon in a well-known medical centre with a better equipped reader, and my curves turned out to be 72 and 75 degrees respectively. Which means, my only option was surgery.

Image Source: Scoliosis SOS Clinic

On 20 November 2015, I was sent into the operating theater. As a young teenager, I wasn’t really scared of what was going to happen to my body. So I counted with the nurse “One, two, three, four, five…” The next thing I felt was fire, as if someone was grilling me like a kebab. I screamed for the doctor and I guess he injected something that made me pass out. Apparently, I was already done with the 5 hour surgery and the severe pain was an after effect that the morphine dosage given wasn’t enough to control it. I was bedridden for a week. I had to learn to balance myself again like a baby. I spent my December that year just in my room at home, walking only when I needed the toilet or to eat. Life after that wasn’t completely comfortable either. I had to sit out on physical activities and find a new interest other than track and field.

It’s been 5 years since, I’d say I’m used to it now but sometimes I’m still discouraged with the fact that I can’t do a lot of stuff that might hurt my back. Though I’m glad I found a new interest — the media, which explains why I’m studying Mass Communication in Taylor’s. But sitting in front of my laptop all day hurts too, worse than others as I can’t even stretch my back by the end of the day. The bright side is, I don’t need anymore treatments other than the yearly checkups.

Do you know anyone around you that suffers from scoliosis? Or perhaps, you’re the one with scoliosis? I used to think this is a rare disease, but I’ve come across quite a number of people who have it too! A reminder, next time someone with scoliosis tells you they’re in pain, never ever say “it’s just back pain!”. Afterall our insides are squeezed around by our spine!

Denise Chang is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Mass Communication (Honours) (Digital Media Production) at Taylor's University. She is also the Director of Public Relations for Taylor’s AKPK Club and Assistant Director of Events for Taylor’s Nature Club.

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