Fifth grade is supposed to be a time when eleven-year-old girls go on their first group trips to the movies with boys, experiment with make-up, and dream about junior high. For me it was all that and more. By June I had perfected the art of applying grape-flavored lip gloss. I was obsessed with the New Kids On The Block, and ready to kiss elementary school good-bye. My summer was going to be the greatest ever, and I was going to rule sixth grade in September.
Instead, it all changed. My physical education teacher sent a notice announcing that we were going to be examined for scoliosis. I had no idea what this meant, but all my classmates were getting checked, so it was fine with me.
Our teacher explained that scoliosis is when your spine is curved. Scientists don't know exactly what causes it, but it can become so severe that bones can shift and damage internal organs.
Although this sounded horrible, she explained that most kids don't have it that severely. Primarily girls have scoliosis, which is inherited.
One by one we pulled our shirts over our heads and bent over with our arms dangling in front of us. When I was examined my teacher didn't say anything, and finally told me to go, but gave me a yellow slip. A week later, I was called to the nurse's office and examined by a pediatrician, who told me that I had scoliosis. I thought I was going to die.
I saw a bone specialist who said it was "minor, nothing to worry about." But the x-rays showed he was wrong. My spine closely resembled a backward AS.' I had not one, but two curves.
Within a week I had seen a brace specialist and was wearing a thick, insulated brace. The hard, white, plastic monstrosity covered my chest down to my hips. The worst part was that I had to wear it 23 hours a day. This was the first week of my "greatest summer ever."
That summer I learned to hate my brace with a passion. But the doctors promised it would keep me off the operating table - they were wrong.
Shopping for school clothes was a nightmare, since the clothes had to fit over my brace. This is when I realized everything in my life was going to change. No longer did I worry about lip gloss. Now I had to worry about strapping my brace tight enough and doing all my physical therapy exercises.
Sixth grade began and I realized I was no longer like other kids. I longed to play field hockey but couldn't. I began to hate everything I couldn't take part in. I hated the kids at school because I was not a part of their cliques. Aside from two close friends, no one would talk to me except to ask what was wrong.
Every two months I had a check-up, and every two months the curves had progressed. The brace was not doing its job. By the beginning of eighth grade my doctor estimated that I had completed skeletal growth, so the brace would no longer be necessary (the "brace specialist" I had seen had had her license revoked). But he was wrong.
Ninth grade was a new beginning. It was the first year I could buy regular clothes. I came out of my shell, started making friends, and things seemed like they were getting back to normal. But I began to have chronic back pain and an examination revealed that my curves were still progressing, more rapidly than ever. My rib cage was on the verge of puncturing one of my lungs.
That January my doctor told me I would have to have an operation. On a scale from one (toe surgery) to ten (brain surgery) this was an eight, but it would to keep me from dying before my 30th birthday. I was in the hospital for seven days, and was advised not to engage in any sort of physical activity for a year.
I thought that the ordeal would be over when the year was up, but I was wrong. During that year my muscles atrophied and I gained so much weight that I began to feel badly about myself. I started to fail classes because I was so depressed. My sophomore and junior years were both hellish, and now I am paying the consequences as a senior who will be attending summer school.
I have come to realize that my life will never be "back to normal" the way it was in fifth grade. I have subscribed to a scoliosis e-mail list where I am able to read stories of people who have gone through the same ordeal. And though I know my life has forever been changed by something "minor, nothing to worry about," at least it can only get better from here. tf
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.