Back Surgery

“There’s always surgery.” Dr. Duncan, our newest selection of back specialist, said it like it was nothing. It froze me and my eyes widened. He discussed several things about the process of the operation with my parents; I only heard bits of the conversation. “Bone graft from the pelvis… bone growth hormone… screws, clamps, and pins… several days of hospitalization… rehab and six to eight weeks of recovery.” My mother and father sat nodding their heads and asking questions while I stared blankly at the results of the MRI on the screen. They finished talking and shook me from my stupor. Dr. Duncan asked how I felt about it all. I merely asked if it would work, but in my mind I was quivering on the exam table petrified of the implications of back surgery at sixteen. The doctor and my father seemed sure that this was the right route. The look on my mother’s face told me she was quivering in her head as hard as I was in mine.

Eleven months after the operation, while playing baseball, I took one bad swing and knew the surgery had failed. So I went home for a few weeks, went to the doctor after an MRI, and sat in the same exam room staring at another image of my spine. As if to taunt me, the only difference between this MRI and the first one were the screws and clamps from the first surgery stared back at me from the computer screen. The obvious: the original surgery, for whatever reason, had not fixed my spine. From there, I had only two options. I could rest and endure a very long term rehab, or I could have another surgery. So on May 15th, I went under the knife for a second time and had my L4 and L5 lumbar vertebrae fused.

It has been four months since my spinal fusion, and every day since I have worried that each step I take could be the wrong one; that I will face another surgery. Yet, in spite of the constant fear of re-aggravating the injury, I have learned something very important. The experience as a whole has taught me to use setbacks as motivation rather than reasons to quit.
I have enjoyed playing baseball and football my entire life. My high school career in both effectively ended the day my freshman year when I first damaged my spinal defect at football practice. Throughout the last three years, I have tried to play both my sports again, but I am reminded every time I get hurt, playing is not something I have the physical capacity to do. To retain a presence on the teams I tried being a manager, scorekeeper, etc., but as most injured athletes will tell you, there is no equivalent to actually playing.
. My summer lacked the excitement most teens find in theirs. I lounged around doing very little while I recovered. Daytime television never seemed very interesting, I ran out of things to read at home very quickly, and writing was boring when my only inspiration was the constant whining of my dog. I didn’t have an array of fun things to do sitting in an armchair so that my back could recuperate. Therefore, I spent hours lost in thought of my goals and my objectives as a senior.
I have realized - first and foremost - my academic life is priority one. I am not the smartest student, nor the most driven, nor the best test taker, but I am strong in each of these academic areas. Thanks to my back injury, I have literally learned how to learn in an environment I would be stretched thin to handle if I were playing a sport. The focus I have gained as a student probably would not be evident had my back never been hurt. Second is my leadership. In part, my goals as a leader are due to my injury. With the seven weeks of school I missed last year, I was already at a loss with my military position. If I want to become an officer in the Corps of Cadets – and I do – I have seven weeks of effort I need to put into my platoon and my new cadets. My third goal is to get back into the condition I was before my first surgery: athletic, strong, and ready for any challenge. Using the surgery and lost time as motivation, I can and will accomplish these goals.
In essence, I think this injury has been some kind of a test. I feel as if every time I get hurt, I am becoming stronger in spite of the injury rather than set back because of it. The last few years I have struggled against this injury - specifically the last few months - have been stressful, frustrating, and disappointing, but in these months I have found a form of salvation. Without this test, I would not be who I am today, and I wouldn’t give “me” up for anything.





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