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Articles > Health July, 27, 2021

TWISTED – no, not my mind, my spine!

Katherine Blakeman
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5.86 / 10

It may have been five years ago, but I still remember it as clearly as the day itself. The chiropractor took one look at me and very kindly said, “You’ve got scoliosis, and it’s quite severe.”

TW: mention of surgery and medical procedures.

Those words are etched onto my brain, and always will be. Because looking back on it now, it signalled a turning point in my life. Summer 2016 should have been one of the best summers of my life. I was a newly-turned teenager, with plenty of friends, fit as a flea and sharp as a tack. I didn’t realise it at the time, but that diagnosis would land me with rather a lot of problems.

According to the UK Scoliosis Clinic, around 3-4% of children develop scoliosis, most commonly when adolescents.

Despite this, awareness is shockingly limited. Before diagnosis, I had noticed a strange gap between my left arm and my left ribcage that was absent on the right. I’ll even out, I reassured myself, and carried on as normal. If only I had known about scoliosis. I could have caught it earlier, and the pain of the following twelve months might have been avoided.

As it was, I was pinged back and forth between a number of baffled doctors until I got to the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital five months later. There, I was told that I would need surgery –a lot sooner than I’d expected –and in the meantime, a brace to stop the 73-degree C-shaped curve and twist in my upper back from progressing. Within two months, I had an enormous plastic brace for twenty-three hours a day and my life, as I knew it, was over for the time being.

That’s not to say that I didn’t have some laughs about it…

The brace was rigid, and proved to be something of a weapon in the crowded school corridors. Before, I would be jostled and pushed around by the older, taller kids, exacerbating the pain that I had started to get, but now I had armour. In fact, it often caused them more pain than it caused me –you try being shoved into a plastic shell! When questioned about it, I would more often than not deadpan, “Oh yeah, that was just my rock-hard abs. Sorry!”

But that was during the day. At night, the thought of what was to come terrified me. I researched voraciously. YouTube videos, Instagram profiles, blogs –you name it, I devoured it. My poor parents didn’t want to. They just wanted to take it as it came, which is fair enough. And soon, the day arrived.

Well, I say day, but it would be more accurate to say days. I was to have a two-stage spinal fusion. The first stage was an anterior release. I am told that they made a six-inch incision into my side and deflated one lung in order to take two things from me: a spinal disc and a chunk of rib. They then reinflated the lung, put in a chest drain to stop fluid getting in there, and put me on complete bed rest for a week. Then, a week later, they did a bone graft, putting the piece of rib where the spinal disc was, and at the same time straightening my spine and securing it with two metal rods, fifteen screws and some hooks.

Just one’s average day…!

I won’t go into the details of the recovery, because the days were honestly pretty monotonous. But suffice to say I recovered well. Four years on, I won’t say I’m completely back to normal but I have adapted and live an almost normal life. Sure, I get a bit of pain now and then, but nothing extreme. I do have the battle scars, three of them, but they don’t bother me, although the biggest one itches now and again. And I have a multitude of funny stories from the experience to make my friends laugh. For someone who loves to make people laugh, what more could I ask for?

PLEASE take this opportunity to research the symptoms of scoliosis. It could just change a life.

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  1. Sophie Francis

    I have Scoliosis too!
    10 hour surgery 90 ish degree curve!

    Let’s be curve buddies!

  2. Sarah

    Hi there. I had Perthes disease as a toddler (there was no blood supply to the head of my left femur for a while, it came back, but left the head of the left femur underdeveloped). This resulted in a change of the angle of my left hip: leaving it lower than my right.
    This wasn’t initially a problem, but as I grew, I started to notice that my left leg seemed somewhat shorter. Turns out that I actually have levoconvex scoliosis (meaning that the curve goes to the left) in my lumbar spine. It’s not severe, but it is frustrating and I will probably have to get a hip replacement sometime later in life. So I feel the frustration at hearing that diagnosis!