Adult Scoliosis – Prior to Surgery

I can’t remember how or when we found out I had scoliosis. It was sometime when I was 16. A long time ago after living with adult scoliosis for many years now. I can remember the horrifying first x-ray that confirmed my young body housed a spine that was bent and twisted like an ancient olive tree. I have what is referred to as a “S shaped curve.” (Some scoliosis patients alternatively have spines shaped like a “C”.) That teenage X-ray became a defining moment in my life. The beginning of visits to doctor’s and surgeons, chiropractors and physios. In the initial days, there were merely hints of the pain I would become all to familiar with in the future and recognition that there were certain physical limitations creating boundaries for the life I lived.

Scoliosis curve
A more X ray of my spine. You can see the top curve is 46 degrees and the bottom curve is 64 degrees.

Boundaries can create barriers but they need not limit achievement. It has been over 25 years since my scoliosis was diagnosed, and I have lived a productive life despite the limitations my bent spine has created. But the time has come to take action. As an adult in my early 40’s this is the eve before I have surgery to correct the curve in my spine. It was a surgery that was recommended during those teenage years, and the decision not to proceed with receiving Harrington rods was made with a great deal of thought and consideration by my parents. In the end, they were not prepared to accept the risks associated with surgery.

At the time I was relieved I would not miss large chunks of school and risk not graduating with my class. I was also a little fearful of living with scoliosis, I had been listening to the doctor’s descriptions of life with uncorrected scoliosis certainly did not sound entirely appetising for youth’s insatiable appetite for unbridled freedom. I accepted my parent’s decision, knowing they had made it in love and then got on with living.

Pain was a given, but didn’t hinder me at first. As the years marched onwards the pain weaned me to its ever increasing presence. Like all things gradual there was mute acceptance of the ever present presence of pain, just as there was acceptance of my increasing limitations due to the recurrent existence of pain, my travel companion in life. As a Christian I prayed and was prayed for that my back would receive a miraculous healing. I believe 100% that it is entirely possible that God has the power to straighten my spine and there have been countless mornings when I have woken feeling my spine to check if it perhaps had straightened overnight. I do believe that God cannot answer every prayer, if he did there would be no such thing as free will to believe Him. If you knew that God would automatically heal if you believed, what choice would you have? I also believe in God’s intricate plan for all that believe and that there are reasons that we may not understand here on earth for the answers of our prayers sometimes being “No”. I have seen plenty of my prayers answered over the years. A straight spine has not been one of them and I still think my God is a good God.

Woman early 40's scoliosis
What my back looks like from behind. Normally I choose clothes that don’t bring attention to my uneven hips.

A bit over two years ago, my back had a complete meltdown. Moving was agony. I couldn’t drive, I could hardly walk. At one stage I crawled across the room like a tortoise trying to move as little as possible in order to reach the bathroom. My chiropractor helped me recover over a couple of weeks, but it scared me thinking of how I would cope living with crippling chronic pain. It was around this time, that I realised that in one year I had lost 5 cm in height. An X-ray confirmed spine was collapsing. The degree of curvature always increased over the years, but suddenly the bends were not so gradual. It was then the realisation came that I should not accept this continual increase of pain as if it were non-negotiable.

I booked a doctor’s appointment and got a surgeon’s referral. The surgeon once again recommended inserting rods in my back. He said that it was essentially the same surgery that was offered when I was 16, but surgical procedure is always improving and instead of the one Harrington rod from the 90’s I would receive two rods that would be fused into my spine. The doctor made it clear that even though surgical methods have improved in the past 20+ years, there were increased risks operating on an adult. Even though I’m not exactly over the hill, my bones have seen degeneration and damage over the years, aren’t as strong but are more brittle and my body will take longer to heal compared to a teenager.

The surgeon is a congenial fellow. I trusted his expertise and booked myself in. He said that I should pick a time that would best suit our family, even leaving one to two years. It’s a huge operation and it will effect all of our lives for a time. I opted with getting the surgery within the maximum time frame because this co-incided with the triplets beginning school. There is no easy time to do this for our family, but I felt that once the children were not needing care from me all day it would be easier to recover.

It’s been a long wait to get to this point, but here I sit thinking of a million things before I need to leave home today knowing that this event is happening tomorrow. In simple terms, the surgeon will be making two long incisions down my back and in my side (a rib will need to be broken to gain access) to correct my crooked spine. Over 6-8 hours he will remove two vertebrae and then untwist what remains before using screws to fuse my spine to two rods. When I wake up I will be in ICU overnight in the commencement of a long recovery. It will take 12 months to fully recover. The first 3 months will be intense, and I am dreading those first few days and weeks, especially as I begin to walk again.

The surgeon said this operation is no guarantee that I will live without pain in my spine. I am hopeful that it will be lessened. The surgeon said that as he lifts the vertebrae apart, they shouldn’t be rubbing against one another anymore which should mean I won’t feel the extensive arthritis my spine is riddled with. Well that’s got to be a good start for decreasing pain! If you see me at the end of a long day, I will be leaning over to one side, throughout the day, without even realising I am constantly forcing myself to straighten up. The surgeon said that I will be surprised how much energy this takes and the new stability that the rods will bring will mean that’s one less chore for the day. Mostly I am going into this operation believing that this will help brighten my future by halting the degressive progression of my curvature.

Side view scoliosis.
Side view of my spine. Those vertebrae that rub into one another really hurt!

It’s no small thing for a mother to walk away from her husband and children knowing that I will be unable to help them for an extended period of time and will be fully reliant on others to run my household. I am blessed that I have a wonderful support network of family and friends and a supportive school who are all committed to helping us all through this time. I am ever so grateful for this as I contemplate what lies before us this morning.

If you believe in the power of prayer, I would appreciate your prayers for myself and my family over the coming days. I am awake super early today, a bundle of nerves and slightly panicked knowing the list of things I would like to get done before tomorrow morning will not be accomplished. I also know that my terrific husband is more than capable to step up to the plate and nurture the children and I and fill in the gaps, even if it’s relying on the support of others. This knowledge helps the nerves dissipate quite a bit.

So for now, I can start my day tomorrow confident that I can straighten up and fly right. This will be a difficult year, but after this year there is a brighter future to soar into.

Scoliosis front view
Front view of my scoliosis. This picture proves how careful I need to be with what I wear otherwise one hip always juts out and my clothes just don’t sit right.

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    1. I believe God does always answer prayer just sometimes not the way we thought he would! I remember the poem about the Footprints in the Sand. It is in the toughest times God will carry you through. Lots of love xx

  1. Dear Caitlin,
    Right now, you are undergirded with tons of prayer……May you feel the Presence of Christ beside you all the time and a Peace that only Christ can give.

  2. What a beautiful soul you have, the eloquence in your words and the faith in your heart shine through…. you will in my prayers… thank you for sharing your story xx

  3. Caitlin, you are the bravest person I know. I never knew just how debilitating this was for you and you have soldiered on through the pain over the years. You have sacrificed your own personal wellbeing for your children, very selfless. I hope this surgery is life changing for you and day by day your pain gets a little less. Your after xray shows a remarkable difference already. Stay strong, you’ve got this!

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