Friday, August 15, 2008

The decision to have back surgery.

I remember growing up I always complained to my mom about my back. She would usually say "oh, you must have slept wrong" or "it's because your backpack is so heavy". I always believed what she said because it always fit. And plus, what mother would suspect that their preteen daughter has back problems? The doctors now tell me that I was born with a deformed vertebrae in my spine. Of course this wasn't discovered until many years after my birth.

In 7th grade my school was doing the routine scoliosis test in the nurse's office. They had me bend at the hips and point my hands towards the floor. Nothing new, I've done it many times before. The lady seemed a little concerned but after "re-testing" me she said that it must just be that my right shoulder and back are stronger and therefore had more muscle in them, making them bigger (or making the slight hump on that side of my back). So off I went back to class.

I was tested ever year and still the same responses came from the people conducting the tests. That was until my sophomore year of school the lady told me about scoliosis and was concerned enough to refer me to a specialist. I remember thinking "That's it! That's what I have." Even before seeing the specialist I knew. It explained everything. But how did everyone else miss it for all these years?

I had x-rays taken and my mom and I sat in the doctors office while he pointed at my back and explained why it was not straight. He pointed out on the x-ray that there was a vertebrae that was deformed. He said that it has been deformed since birth (but only an x-ray can show something like that). So as I got older and I started growing this vertebrae was in the way. It was wedged in there, therefore not allowing my spine to grown straight. I mean of course I got taller since birth, but when I went through my growth spurts in my teens it was just too much for my spine so it started to curve to one side. I had reached my maximum height and would not go up anymore. The doctor showed me on my x-ray how he knew that I was pretty much done growing (apparently you can tell by the density of the bone on the hips). Luckily my maximum height was 5'1" and no shorter. He referred me to Shriner's Hospital in San Fransisco (that was the nearest one at the time).

I loved Shriner's but I always felt out of place there. For one, all of the kids there were very young, most of them babies. And for two, most of them had casts or physical deformities and I felt like I was taking advantage because I just walked in looking totally normal (well maybe not normal, but you couldn't really tell why I was there). I just didn't fell like I belonged there. But the doctors wanted to get x-rays and see me there every six months to they can track the progress. They told me that there's not really much they can do. It's too late for a brace because a brace doesn't actually help the back get straighter, it just keeps it from getting more curved. They needed to continually check it though because if the spine starts to rotate (sounds fun, huh?) then they will have to do surgery. So I was checked every six months until I turned 18. Since it was a children's hospital they only treat kids under 18 so I was referred to UC Davis in Sacramento. This was good news for me.

I remember the first time I saw my doctor at UC Davis, we'll call him Dr. B. I looked at my mom in horror and thought "This can NOT be my doctor. He's got to be 100 years old". I'm telling you if you could have seen my face. Or him for that matter. This old guy walked around the halls looking like he was lost. He could have been someone who escaped the psych ward. Really!
And the first time I took my Dad to one of my appointments we were sitting in the room waiting for the doctor and Dr. B walked by, looking lost as ever, and I turned to my dad and said "Did you see that man? That's my doctor" Oh my gosh, the look on his face. He actually didn't believe me at first. That whole appointment was funny.

Dr. B told me that the only way to "fix" my back would be surgery. And even surgery isn't a miracle fixer, I'd still have problems. He explained that sometimes the problems caused by surgery outweigh the problems I could potential have if I decide not to do the surgery. He said that at any point in my life my spine could start to rotate, which would mean they'd have to do the surgery. And even if that doesn't happen it's pretty much guaranteed that when I'm older I will start to hunch over and I'd more than likely have trouble breathing. He said that if I wanted the surgery than he could arrange it for me, but it was necessary that I have it. Major back surgery is a lot to think about, especially for a 20 year old.

Over the next couple of years my back started hurting more and more. I was having problems sleeping and sitting for long periods of time. I didn't like to go to the movies anymore because it was so uncomfortable to sit for that long. Surgery was always on my mind as an option but I was scared.

Finally I had had enough of the pain. I couldn't take it anymore. Even rods in my back would be better than the pain I constantly went through. I called in December 2003 and scheduled an appointment to met with the doctor to tell him that I want the surgery. My appointment was scheduled for January 15th.

Even though I had finally done it, I had made the decision, I still doubted myself. All of my friends and family supported me 100%. My mom went with me to my appointment to speak to the doctors about surgery.

I couldn't believe it when just 10 minutes after I arrived in their office they said that they can schedule the surgery for the beginning of February. Were they crazy?? That was just two weeks later and I had just decided to have the surgery a few weeks before that. No! That's too soon. My mom and I picked a date for early March instead. That was a little better.

So then I got to wait for a month and a half while every day I questioned if that was the right decision. I was scared, nervous, terrified and excited all at the same time.

That's the store before my surgery. Stayed tuned for Take 2!


Kaci said...

Look at you leaving us hungry for more!! LOL! :) I remember some of this I didn't realize you went all the way to SF though! I'm glad you had the surgery though, being in pain 24/7 is so not cool.

Kaci said...

Nina you have something on my blog come claim it :)