My Spinal Fusion

  1. I wrote this for my Medical Terminology class. I got to choose my topic, and I decided to write about this.

    On May 25, 1999, which was a Wednesday, I had a spinal fusion to correct my scoliosis. They fused nine thoracic vertebrae (T4 – T12). The night before, I remember watching the series finale of Mad About You.

    I had finished dinner and was not allowed to eat anything else because they wanted me to have a completely empty stomach the day of the surgery. I was allowed to drink liquids up until a specific time. After that, I was not allowed to have any more liquids.

    It was a mixed blessing for me, because after the surgery I would finally have a straight spine, but it scared me a little because it was major surgery.

    I had to donate four units of my own blood a couple months before the surgery. I went to college in Rhode Island and my parents live in Massachusetts, so my father would pick me up from school, drive me to the hospital so we could donate blood (we found out he has the same blood type as me, and he decided to donate blood, too) and then he would drop me back off from school. The first time was a disaster. They could not cleanly get into the vein. They must have at least nicked it because I wound up with a big bruise on my right arm. I kept joking to my friends that I looked like a drug addict until someone corrected me by saying that drug addicts had track marks on their arms, not bruises.

    After a while, it got to the point where I would get so used to it I would be reading a magazine and squeezing a ball until they got the quantity they needed. Afterwards, we would have juice (apple for him and cranberry for me) and split a package of Lorna Doone shortbread cookies.

    For donating blood, the blood bank gave us matching turquoise “Give Pints for Half-Pints” t-shirts. My dad still plays tennis in his.

     
  2. Every visit they had to test my blood for iron and I had to answer various questions about my lifestyle to determine the cleanliness of my blood. I understood it was necessary for the blood bank because they did not want to take contaminated blood, but I thought it was strange, because I was donating the blood to myself and it was not like I was going to do all those risky things in one week. At one point, I gave up and said, “You know what? No on all the sex questions.” They told me I could not do that, so I had to say “no” about twenty times, as I had been doing the past couple of weeks.

    The night before the surgery, it was difficult for me to fall asleep. I remember dozing off for a couple of hours and then waking up. Unable to get back to sleep, I noticed that I had about a fifteen minute window until liquids were off limits so I had a small glass of apple juice before going back to bed.

    The day of the surgery, my parents and I drove to the Children’s Hospital in Boston where the surgery was taking place. I knew what to expect because we all had a pre-op appointment a week before the surgery. That was where they went over my family history, what was going to happen, what I was going to go through and whom I wanted to make decisions for me in the event I was unable to make them. I chose my father first, and then my mother.

    When we toured the floor where I would be recovering, I remember seeing a clown (I found out later it was a doctor in a clown suit) going in and out of children’s rooms to cheer them up. I remember muttering to my parents to “keep that clown out of my room.” The other special instruction I had for my parents was to watch out for Halo, my Beanie Baby. I brought it with me, but was afraid because I read a newspaper article that told the story of a nurse getting reprimanded for stealing that exact same bear out of a little girl’s
    hospital room. Looking back on it, I do not think I had much to worry about because I always cut the tags off of my Beanie Babies as soon as I brought them home, and apparently you are not supposed to do that.
     
  3. I changed into my ‘surgery ensemble’: a hospital gown, what looked pajama / hospital scrub pants and socks with no slip grips on them. All my clothes and glasses were inventoried and placed in a bag.

    I remember talking to my orthopedist in his full surgery regalia before they gave me the anesthesia. After they gave it to me, I was listening to Celine Dion’s “Let’s Talk about Love” on my CD man while I drifted off. I think I got through about one and a half tracks before I fell asleep.

    When I came out of the anesthesia, it was a blur, but I remember being in immense pain and I let the nurses and my parents know that over and over again.

    The next thing I remember was receiving my own button to the morphine drip. Whenever I felt pain, I would press the button and morphine would dispense every seven minutes.
    At some point I remember being extremely thirsty, and apparently I figured out that the cool washcloth my mother was wiping on my forehead was filled with water so I would suck water out of the washcloth. My mother asked the nurse if it was all right, and the nurse must have told her to wring the washcloth out first, because at some point I remember not getting as much water out of it as I used to. I got upset with her for wringing it out. This was the first moment where I realized I would start hyperventilating every time I got upset. The second time I hyperventilated was when I woke up in the dark, I did not know where my morphine button was, I could not find my parents and I did not know the nurse’s name.
     
  4. The way my parents worked out being at the hospital with me was that my mother would spend the day with me and my father would spend the night.

    It was such a wonderful moment when I was told I was allowed to have a Popsicle. I got to pick a flavor and I chose cherry. And when I was told I was allowed to have another one after that, well, that just made my entire day.
    I was soon moved into my recovery room. I shared it with someone else. I knew it was someone who was injured playing sports, but I was not sure, because the curtain was closed the entire time. My side of the room had the window and the bathroom. Her side had the door and the television was mounted high on the wall in between the two beds.

    I stayed in the hospital for three days. At least, that was what people told me. I think I lost all concept of days or time.

    Gradually, I was taken off the morphine drip and given Vicodin with apple juice and graham crackers. I was relieved to not be taking morphine any more, because it made me itch. Later on, when I was out of the hospital, I looked in the mirror and saw these red scratch marks across my stomach from where I was scratching myself. I also had the strangest dreams where I was driving around or moving at an extremely high speed. And just as I was about to wake up, each dream would end with a ‘fade in’ where I would be conscious that I was not in a car anymore, I was in my hospital bed.

    They removed my catheter and I learned how to go to the bathroom on my own. (At night, it was such a pain, because whenever I had to use the bathroom, my dad had to unhook me from the ECG and then hook me back up again. At some point my dad gave up and did not hook me back up, which alarmed some people.
     
  5. They gave me the rest of ‘my’ blood. My appetite slowly started coming back and it got to the point where I would eat oatmeal in the morning and I would pick at a half a piece of buttered toast and a cherry Italian Ice in the afternoon. Sometimes, I could drink some Diet Coke, but I had to wait until it was a little warmer and a little less fizzy. Once, I even had chocolate ice cream!

    They removed the devices that were massaging my legs (to keep the blood flowing while I was immobile) and I was walking farther and farther with help. It started with me getting out of bed to sit in the chair then it was walking down the hallway until I felt tired. Finally it was climbing a set of stairs.

    When I left the hospital, I got so used to waking up early, because at least one morning, I would open my eyes and see my orthopedist along with a number of med students looking at me from the foot of my bed. I could not very well go back to sleep after seeing that, so I would automatically roll over so he could examine my bandages.

    One morning, I woke up, thinking I had to stay in the hospital for yet another day, when a nurse came into my room and told me I was free to go home. By that time, I had traded my hospital gown for one of my t-shirts from home. I missed home and was excited to be going back. I had not seen outside for so long that I had my father describe to me, in detail, what was going on outside the window.

    It was way back in gym class in eighth grade when I first became aware that I might have a problem. The school nurse noticed a curve in my spine when she administered the Adam’s Forward Bend Test[1]. The Adam’s Forward Bend Test is when a student is asked to stand with their feet together and to bend 90 degrees at the waist. When the student does this, the person doing the examination can see anything about the spine or the torso that is uneven[2]. My parents were notified. They did not think it was that big of an issue but it was something they would keep an eye on. My spine gradually started getting worse, until finally they had to do something about it: we were referred to an orthopedist, who told me I had scoliosis, or curvature of the spine. The curve was in my thoracic vertebrae, and it was such so that my left shoulder was higher than my right one. They also told me I needed to wear a back brace. I was also told to do stretching exercises, as those would help my spine as well.

    [1] iscoliosis.com

    [2] iscoliosis.com
     
  6. I got the brace the spring of my junior year of high school. One school day, I had two all-day appointments: one was to get fitted for my back brace and the other was with a physical therapist that would give me exercises to do. I remember being done with everything and having just enough time to make my last class of the day: chemistry. But I was so emotionally drained; I just wanted to go home. I also did not want to have to explain to my friends and classmates where I was all day. At the time, it was not something I was ready to talk about.

    My back brace was a Boston Brace, or a Thoraco-Lumbo-Sacral-Orthosis (TLSO) Brace[1], which means it was made of molded plastic with Velcro straps and is worn under my clothes. I did not have to wear it to school, but I had to wear it for twelve hours every day. I had to keep wearing it until I stopped growing.

    I grew to hate that thing. It was always the worst fight between my parents and me to get me to put the brace on. I learned how to take it off myself, because sometimes my mother would not be awake when it was time for me to take it off and I did not want to wait for her. When I had it on, I would do everything I could possibly think of to make it less torturous: While wearing the brace, I would lean backwards as hard as I could, making the straps loosen or I would set my alarm early so I could take it off and go back to bed and sleep for a few hours without it. Actually, my mother put a stop to the ‘taking it off early’ thing. She found the brace in my closet and she knew I did not wear it for the entire allotted time, because it was cold.

    [1] wikipedia
     
  7. I stopped wearing it the spring of my senior year of high school. The plan was, I would go to college, and then have another orthopedist appointment over Christmas break. It was the day before Christmas Eve of 1998 when the doctor told me the brace did not do any good, and that he recommended I have a spinal fusion.

    According to Dr. John Emans, my orthopedist, his criteria for recommending a spinal fusion are as follows:
    1. a large curve which will continue to worsen even after the end of growth unless stabilized.
    2. a curve shown to have worsened after the end of growth.
    3. a curve which causes pain not relieved by other means and so clearly caused by the curve.
    4. a terrible cosmetic deformity[1].

    By the time Dr. Emans recommended the surgery, my curve was about 45 – 50 degrees, and still worsening despite my year in the brace.

    It took me quite a long time to recover. I had my surgery in May, and I went back to college in August. Even in the fall, I had to take a pillow with me when I had to sit in one position for too long. I started that when I would go to movies, because it was painful for me to sit in the theatre in one position for too long. My teachers understood that I would sometimes have to stand up when I needed to if my back got achy from sitting for too long. I still get achy if I stay in bed for too long or sleep in one position. I still have to be careful about lifting heavy objects. The surgery was worth it, because I finally have good posture. Before the surgery, it was work for me to stand up straight and now it takes work for me to slouch.

    I am so grateful I do not have scoliosis anymore, and I wear my scar like a badge of honor.

    [1] Dr. Emans
     
  8. I just realized the font was way too small. I'm reposting it so people can actually read it.


    On May 25, 1999, which was a Wednesday, I had a spinal fusion to correct my scoliosis. They fused nine thoracic vertebrae (T4 – T12). The night before, I remember watching the series finale of Mad About You.

    I had finished dinner and was not allowed to eat anything else because they wanted me to have a completely empty stomach the day of the surgery. I was allowed to drink liquids up until a specific time. After that, I was not allowed to have any more liquids.

    It was a mixed blessing for me, because after the surgery I would finally have a straight spine, but it scared me a little because it was major surgery.

    I had to donate four units of my own blood a couple months before the surgery. I went to college in Rhode Island and my parents live in Massachusetts, so my father would pick me up from school, drive me to the hospital so we could donate blood (we found out he has the same blood type as me, and he decided to donate blood, too) and then he would drop me back off at school. The first time was a disaster. They could not cleanly get into the vein. They must have at least nicked it because I wound up with a big bruise on my right arm. I kept joking to my friends that I looked like a drug addict until someone corrected me by saying that drug addicts had track marks on their arms, not bruises.

    After a while, it got to the point where I would get so used to it I would be reading a magazine and squeezing a ball until they got the quantity they needed. Afterwards, we would have juice (apple for him and cranberry for me) and split a package of Lorna Doone shortbread cookies.

    For donating blood, the blood bank gave us matching turquoise “Give Pints for Half-Pints” t-shirts. My dad still plays tennis in his.
     
  9. Every visit they had to test my blood for iron and I had to answer various questions about my lifestyle to determine the cleanliness of my blood. I understood it was necessary for the blood bank because they did not want to take contaminated blood, but I thought it was strange, because I was donating the blood to myself and it was not like I was going to do all those risky things in one week. At one point, I gave up and said, “You know what? No on all the sex questions.” They told me I could not do that, so I had to say “no” about twenty times, as I had been doing the past couple of weeks.

    The night before the surgery, it was difficult for me to fall asleep. I remember dozing off for a couple of hours and then waking up. Unable to get back to sleep, I noticed that I had about a fifteen minute window until liquids were off limits so I had a small glass of apple juice before going back to bed.

    The day of the surgery, my parents and I drove to the Children’s Hospital in Boston where the surgery was taking place. I knew what to expect because we all had a pre-op appointment a week before the surgery. That was where they went over my family history, what was going to happen, what I was going to go through and whom I wanted to make decisions for me in the event I was unable to make them. I chose my father first, and then my mother.

    When we toured the floor where I would be recovering, I remember seeing a clown (I found out later it was a doctor in a clown suit) going in and out of children’s rooms to cheer them up. I remember muttering to my parents to “keep that clown out of my room.” The other special instruction I had for my parents was to watch out for Halo, my Beanie Baby. I brought it with me, but was afraid because I read a newspaper article that told the story of a nurse getting reprimanded for stealing that exact same bear out of a little girl’s
    hospital room. Looking back on it, I do not think I had much to worry about because I always cut the tags off of my Beanie Babies as soon as I brought them home, and apparently you are not supposed to do that.
     
  10. I changed into my ‘surgery ensemble’: a hospital gown, what looked pajama / hospital scrub pants and socks with no slip grips on them. All my clothes and glasses were inventoried and placed in a bag.

    I remember talking to my orthopedist in his full surgery regalia before they gave me the anesthesia. After they gave it to me, I was listening to Celine Dion’s “Let’s Talk about Love” on my CD man while I drifted off. I think I got through about one and a half tracks before I fell asleep.

    When I came out of the anesthesia, it was a blur, but I remember being in immense pain and I let the nurses and my parents know that over and over again.

    The next thing I remember was receiving my own button to the morphine drip. Whenever I felt pain, I would press the button and morphine would dispense every seven minutes.
    At some point I remember being extremely thirsty, and apparently I figured out that the cool washcloth my mother was wiping on my forehead was filled with water so I would suck water out of the washcloth. My mother asked the nurse if it was all right, and the nurse must have told her to wring the washcloth out first, because at some point I remember not getting as much water out of it as I used to. I got upset with her for wringing it out. This was the first moment where I realized I would start hyperventilating every time I got upset. The second time I hyperventilated was when I woke up in the dark, I did not know where my morphine button was, I could not find my parents and I did not know the nurse’s name.
     
  11. The way my parents worked out being at the hospital with me was that my mother would spend the day with me and my father would spend the night.

    It was such a wonderful moment when I was told I was allowed to have a Popsicle. I got to pick a flavor and I chose cherry. And when I was told I was allowed to have another one after that, well, that just made my entire day.
    I was soon moved into my recovery room. I shared it with someone else. I knew it was someone who was injured playing sports, but I was not sure, because the curtain was closed the entire time. My side of the room had the window and the bathroom. Her side had the door and the television was mounted high on the wall in between the two beds.

    I stayed in the hospital for three days. At least, that was what people told me. I think I lost all concept of days or time.

    Gradually, I was taken off the morphine drip and given Vicodin with apple juice and graham crackers. I was relieved to not be taking morphine any more, because it made me itch. Later on, when I was out of the hospital, I looked in the mirror and saw these red scratch marks across my stomach from where I was scratching myself. I also had the strangest dreams where I was driving around or moving at an extremely high speed. And just as I was about to wake up, each dream would end with a ‘fade in’ where I would be conscious that I was not in a car anymore, I was in my hospital bed.

    They removed my catheter and I learned how to go to the bathroom on my own. (At night, it was such a pain, because whenever I had to use the bathroom, my dad had to unhook me from the ECG and then hook me back up again. At some point my dad gave up and did not hook me back up, which alarmed some people.
     
  12. They gave me the rest of ‘my’ blood. My appetite slowly started coming back and it got to the point where I would eat oatmeal in the morning and I would pick at a half a piece of buttered toast and a cherry Italian Ice in the afternoon. Sometimes, I could drink some Diet Coke, but I had to wait until it was a little warmer and a little less fizzy. Once, I even had chocolate ice cream!

    They removed the devices that were massaging my legs (to keep the blood flowing while I was immobile) and I was walking farther and farther with help. It started with me getting out of bed to sit in the chair then it was walking down the hallway until I felt tired. Finally it was climbing a set of stairs.

    When I left the hospital, I got so used to waking up early, because at least one morning, I would open my eyes and see my orthopedist along with a number of med students looking at me from the foot of my bed. I could not very well go back to sleep after seeing that, so I would automatically roll over so he could examine my bandages.

    One morning, I woke up, thinking I had to stay in the hospital for yet another day, when a nurse came into my room and told me I was free to go home. By that time, I had traded my hospital gown for one of my t-shirts from home. I missed home and was excited to be going back. I had not seen outside for so long that I had my father describe to me, in detail, what was going on outside the window.

    It was way back in gym class in eighth grade when I first became aware that I might have a problem. The school nurse noticed a curve in my spine when she administered the Adam’s Forward Bend Test[1]. The Adam’s Forward Bend Test is when a student is asked to stand with their feet together and to bend 90 degrees at the waist. When the student does this, the person doing the examination can see anything about the spine or the torso that is uneven[2]. My parents were notified. They did not think it was that big of an issue but it was something they would keep an eye on. My spine gradually started getting worse, until finally they had to do something about it: we were referred to an orthopedist, who told me I had scoliosis, or curvature of the spine. The curve was in my thoracic vertebrae, and it was such so that my left shoulder was higher than my right one. They also told me I needed to wear a back brace. I was also told to do stretching exercises, as those would help my spine as well.

    [1] iscoliosis.com

    [2] iscoliosis.com
     
  13. I got the brace the spring of my junior year of high school. One school day, I had two all-day appointments: one was to get fitted for my back brace and the other was with a physical therapist that would give me exercises to do. I remember being done with everything and having just enough time to make my last class of the day: chemistry. But I was so emotionally drained; I just wanted to go home. I also did not want to have to explain to my friends and classmates where I was all day. At the time, it was not something I was ready to talk about.

    My back brace was a Boston Brace, or a Thoraco-Lumbo-Sacral-Orthosis (TLSO) Brace[1], which means it was made of molded plastic with Velcro straps and is worn under my clothes. I did not have to wear it to school, but I had to wear it for twelve hours every day. I had to keep wearing it until I stopped growing.

    I grew to hate that thing. It was always the worst fight between my parents and me to get me to put the brace on. I learned how to take it off myself, because sometimes my mother would not be awake when it was time for me to take it off and I did not want to wait for her. When I had it on, I would do everything I could possibly think of to make it less torturous: While wearing the brace, I would lean backwards as hard as I could, making the straps loosen or I would set my alarm early so I could take it off and go back to bed and sleep for a few hours without it. Actually, my mother put a stop to the ‘taking it off early’ thing. She found the brace in my closet and she knew I did not wear it for the entire allotted time, because it was cold.

    [1] wikipedia
     
  14. I stopped wearing it the spring of my senior year of high school. The plan was, I would go to college, and then have another orthopedist appointment over Christmas break. It was the day before Christmas Eve of 1998 when the doctor told me the brace did not do any good, and that he recommended I have a spinal fusion.

    According to Dr. John Emans, my orthopedist, his criteria for recommending a spinal fusion are as follows:
    1. a large curve which will continue to worsen even after the end of growth unless stabilized.
    2. a curve shown to have worsened after the end of growth.
    3. a curve which causes pain not relieved by other means and so clearly caused by the curve.
    4. a terrible cosmetic deformity[1].

    By the time Dr. Emans recommended the surgery, my curve was about 45 – 50 degrees, and still worsening despite my year in the brace.

    It took me quite a long time to recover. I had my surgery in May, and I went back to college in August. Even in the fall, I had to take a pillow with me when I had to sit in one position for too long. I started that when I would go to movies, because it was painful for me to sit in the theatre in one position for too long. My teachers understood that I would sometimes have to stand up when I needed to if my back got achy from sitting for too long. I still get achy if I stay in bed for too long or sleep in one position. I still have to be careful about lifting heavy objects. The surgery was worth it, because I finally have good posture. Before the surgery, it was work for me to stand up straight and now it takes work for me to slouch.

    I am so grateful I do not have scoliosis anymore, and I wear my scar like a badge of honor.

    [1] Dr. Emans
     
  15. Thanks for posting this! I have scoliosis too.. found out when I was in Gr. 10. My curve is double major (bout 40 degrees each), so it's not too noticeable through clothing. Just that I hate the look of my uneven hips. I guess by the time it was discovered I had already stopped growing and the severity of my curve puts me at the cusp of whether surgery was needed. My parents opted the non surgical route.

    Do you still have any ill effects from the surgery?