Tomorrow, I will be 2 years post op from a spinal fusion for scoliosis.
I waited 2 years to have that surgery. It’s quite strange to now be 2 years on from it.
Prior to the surgery, I wore a back brace at ages 13-14. I was only meant to take 2 hours a day out of it. That meant wearing an ugly, heavy, constrictive lump of plastic to school and sleeping in it. I did ok with wearing it to school (thank god for polo shirts and blazers), but I never managed to learn to sleep in it.
It made me terribly unhappy, as it would most 13 year old girls. It’s a difficult age to start with. You’re meant to be forming your self concept, getting interested in looks and boys. Bracing makes that nigh on impossible.
So, oddly enough, that didn’t work out so well. It looked for a long time that I would escape needing surgery though. In fact, when I had just turned 17 I was told it looked like I would only need to be seen once more, as it appeared I was going to be ok.
On that once more appointment, I heard the total opposite. My curve had jumped from 35 degrees, to 45, and now one vertebrae was beginning to slide off of another. I had to have surgery, there was no choice anymore.
In some ways this made things easier. Previously it had been a case of ‘you might have it and wish you hadn’t. You might choose not to, and regret that in your 60’s’. That was a terrifying choice at 14, knowing that even the world experts didn’t know what to do.
In other ways though, it opened up a whole new load of fear. The week prior to finding out, I had been quite manic. The week I found out, I had already plunged into a fairly severe depression. From that point on my moods went totally haywire. It was these events that led to my eventual diagnosis of rapid cycling bipolar II.
This all happened in my A2 year. It is thanks to a very wonderful vice principal that I even got my A levels, as she ended up sorting out aggregate grades for me, after I had failed to attend an exam.
In the end however, the surgery got delayed as I had an infection and my surgeon refused to take the risk of it spreading to my spinal implants. This was for the best, as I would have become very, very unwell had I had surgery during 2008.
So, surgery ended up being the 14th September 2010, at 7am. Why anyone wants to get up to perform major surgery that early, I don’t know. I certainly didn’t! Thankfully I was given a nice dose of some benzos and calmed down enough to be literally wheeled down (the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital is built along a slope, with the OR right at the bottom) to surgery. That was the strangest sensation.
Unfortunately I had severe issues with pain control after the surgery. I seem not to respond to natural opiates (nor ketamine) and spent a lot of time in a lot of pain. Normally, they get you walking after 2 or 3 days to prevent blood clots and sores. It took me nearly a week.
However, once I was up, I was up. It started with needing a shower after being quite ill. From that, I sat up for 12 hours straight, as I was so sick of lying in bed. The next day, I was taking my first tentative steps up and down the ward. A few days later, I walked back from my post op x-ray, which was a good 200 metres. After that, I basically spent as much time as I could moving.
The next big step was swimming. Pre-op, I managed to swim a mile in just under an hour. I was given permission to swim again on my month and a half post op appointment, and as soon as was possible, I was back in the pool. I did not however, swim anything like a mile. Instead, I found it difficult to even allow myself to fall back and float on my back. Over time though, I adjusted to the feeling of my new now rather rigid back in the water, and I can swim normally by now.
The restrictions post op were just not fun. No bend, no lift, no twist. It’s not a good moment when all of 3 weeks post op you realise you have just twisted 45 degrees round to pull a top on. I spent 6 months in a back brace. They got me up at 7am to get casted for it (another surreal experience) and then asked me to choose the colour I wanted it to be. Not what you want when you have to wear it for every day for the 6 half a year!
All in all, I am glad now that I did it, despite the way it aggravated my bipolar for a long time. It is really tough at first, but much like they said at the time, my spine is no longer in the front of my mind anymore. I have a slight restriction in my range of movement, but it’s nothing I can’t work around. I can still dance, and swim, jump up and down (and believe me, I did so as soon as I was allowed on my one year post op date) and be as active as I please.
Images after the cut:
This is my spine before my operation:
This is my spine, after an hours prep work, and 3 hours of anterior spinal fusion:
And these are my pre-op and post op braces:
And because I know most everyone worries about what it will look like, my scar all of a month post op:
It’s a more silvery colour now, and has healed really nicely.