You Can Do it, Put Your Back (Brace) Into It

Monday, June 13, 2011

I have a lot of stories, I guess. After I wrote that post about shaving my head, I realized I have plenty of interesting stories to tell - and what better outlet?

This is the story of the time I was a turtle.

I'm not kidding, really. Of course, I was never an ACTUAL turtle (sad), but I had a lot in common with them - namely, a hard outer shell. At age 10, I had x-rays to determine whether I had bronchitis. "Well, you don't have bronchitis," the doctor told me, "but you do probably need a back brace."My scoliosis was so severe & my spine was so twisted that if it wasn't addressed, I could expect to be deformed by... well, age 26 or so. (Cue retrospective gratitude.)

Less like this...
If you've ever read Judy Blume's "Deenie" or seen Rumer Willis in "The House Bunny" (wow, those two references are different...), you probably have a mental image of nerdy, glasses-wearing, stringy-haired me wearing a metal contraption complete with headgear. Though having a back brace sucked, I was fortunate enough that by 1996, technology had advanced such that headgear has never been a part of my life, & at no point could you stick magnets to my torso.

The crappy parts of wearing a back brace were as follows:

  • I started sixth grade, the time when two area elementary schools came together for the first time, as The Girl With the Back Brace. In case middle school isn't difficult enough.

  • I had to wear it 23/7, which left me just an hour sans plastic, designated for showering. At this time, my home was not air-conditioned, so I spent summer nights sleeping in sausage casing in 90-degree weather. Ideal, I know.

  • The brace sometimes squeaked when I breathed, which was particularly awkward during tests & in homeroom, when absolute silence was required. Though I often used this as an excuse to request that I be allowed to remove my brace (rebel!), my homeroom teacher instead asked me to sit in the lab, sequestered from the rest of the class, so I could squeak in solitude.

  • There were airholes in the brace, designed to help keep me stay comfortable (ha). My friends, the tricky, middle-school-aged devils they were, memorized the locations of these finger-sized holes &... stuck their fingers in them. And their pencils. (This sounds sadder than it is, I swear. They are still my friends.)

  • I had a bad habit of getting my armput region stuck between my brace &... whatever else was around. My bed, the wall, class desks, you get it. This resulted in constant bruising of my back-fat area (though I was, at age 12, thin enough to be sans back-fat - ah, those were the days). Also, rashes. Enough said.

  • I've fallen & I can't get up. No, um, really. I once fell on the ice & slid underneath my mom's van & had to do my best not to choke & die on fumes while I waited for my mom to discover me & help me up. So back to that turtle reference. Get it now?

...& more like this.
In 1996, my orthopedist determined that my back brace wasn't working. COOL! A year in a back brace for no reason! Over holiday break, I underwent spinal fusion surgery to surgically straighten my spine, thus banishing the back brace to the corners of my closets &, eventually, to the trash can.

I'm straight now, mostly, though I have a two-&-a-half foot scar & still suffer from chronic back pain. Perhaps most astonishingly, the Girl With the Back Brace turned out to be pretty normal, not a traumatized former freak of nature. I can't say I remember that back brace fondly, but in some twisted (no pun intended) way, I'm thankful for the experience. How many people can say they've literally come out of their shell?

But I still hate turtles. Those bastards.


    1. Yikes! You fell under an idling car?? That's so dangerous, I'm so glad your mom found you. And spinal surgery, WOW. I can't even imagine. I'm a wimp about the *dentist*.

      I like your label "do not like" lol. 

    2. Wow, a whole year of that for nothing. Bummer! At least it (hopefully) made you a better person, or built character, or something like that? 

    3. Oh my goodness, what a story! I really felt for you while reading was like reading a book or watching a glad things got figured out and you are ok now! xxx

    4. You forgot to mention how useful it was at times- like for smuggling midnight snacks from the kitchen during our sleepovers! It was interesting to read this in retrospect- back then I don't think I really grasped how difficult that time was for you or how freakish you must have felt. It just became so normal to me and you were always the same Katy- I guess I just didn't really think about it, you know? That said, I have a new appreciation for what you went through- just one of the many things that makes you  wonderful!    

    5. I know how you feel, my mother suffered from scoliosis all her life. My sister and I have forms of it too, but not nearly bad enough to need a brace.

      I'm sorry to hear about all the pain, but wow, you've got a great attitude about it all. Keep that up!

    6. It sucks that those things happen during the time of your life when peers are the least understanding, you know?  I never had anything that severe, so I'm not even gonna try & be all "I know what that's like blah blah blah."  It's great that you can look at it & find something to be thankful for, that's the cool part of the story. ;)

    7. I remember that we were always checked for scoliosis in middle school, but it wasn't until high school that I knew someone with a back brace.  I wouldn't have even known if she didn't tell me, and I don't think I ever really considered how uncomfortable it probably was.

    8. oh my gosh i had to have a back brace too! i refused to wear it to school so i wore it at home and to bed but ended up ripping it off in my sleep. i probably should have had surgery but never did. i don't even know what my curve it, buts its pretty severe. i want to have the surgery now but idk. just thinking about it makes me feel sick :( did you have to have any rods placed?

    9. Yes, I have two rods, neck to tailbone, around my spine, held in place with
      a bunch of stainless steel clips. The surgery was, honestly, terrible, but
      it has improved my quality of life so much that I can't help but be grateful
      that I had it. It's definitely worth looking into, if you still have back
      pain. The recovery is awfully painful, but life is so much better for me
      with the rods in!

    10. Goodness. I can't imagine having to wear a brace in middle school. I imagine if you can live through that you can live through everything! The story about you sliding under the car is funny & sad at the same time!

    11. Everything I learned about scoliosis, I learned from The Baby-Sitters Club. (Abby, or maybe her twin sister had it, I think.) I couldn't imagine having to wear a brace, much less being in middle school! Middle school was tough enough for me. Add a back brace and I think it would've been unbearable. You are a strong person to get through that! I love the lessons you've taken away from having scoliosis and I'm just glad you are somewhat healed from the effects, even if you did have to wear a back brace for a year for nothing!

    12. I can relate to this. I never had a back brace but, in grade 6 I got glasses and braces within a 6 week period. I too am grateful for the experience. I had braces for almost all of high school. The moment when they came off (a few months before graduation) and I actually realized I had teeth under there was one of the best moments ever. For the first time since I was 11 I smiled with my teeth in my photos!

      However, as an adult I developed degenerative disc disease & also battle with chronic back pain isn't perfect but it could be worse.

    13. Oh goodness, that sounds painful, the idea of having spinal fusion surgery with rods. I think that having a back brace would be incredibly awkward. Anytime someone says that they wore a back brace it makes me think of Romy and Michelle. I'm glad though that the surgery helped and banished the back brace forever.

    14. Oh my gosh, HOW could I forget the "Romy & Michelle" reference? Really, I
      went with Rumer Willis?! What a missed opportunity...

    15. What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger. Getting stuck with a back brace, or a retainer, or braces during those awkward middle-school years is never fun, but you came out better from it, I imagine, mentally and physically.

    16. So glad you shared this! I first started following you because of the comment you left on my post on Stephanie's blog about scoliosis (and I'm so glad, because you're awesome!) It's really interesting to me to read about someone who was in a similar situation and took the other road that I didn't. I have back pain pretty much every day too. Scoliosis is the pits.

    17. You are hilarious. I'm glad your back is straight now :)

    18. Whoa. Things you never expect to hear from your friends. This is a good story. You are full on interesting. 

    19. Wow - I would have never known. I love that you're sharing stories from when you were younger! I feel like it gives me more credibility when I talk about you - like "my friend Kate who's hilarious and cool - and remember that time she was in a back brace? What about that time she shaved her head?" (For real though, that surgery sounded intense - glad you're okay now).

    20. Wow, I can't believe you had to wear one for that long! I'm glad your back is straight and you're right...damn those turtles.

    21. 23 out of 24 hrs/day = lots of arguing with your mom about putting it back on after swimming with CZ at Crystal Lake. Also, going to Disney World & your mother having to carry a special bag to slip it into so you could ride the rides. And boy were you good at slipping in & out of it behind the bushes! <3

    22. This is the first time I have ever heard of or seen a back brace. Wow! I didn't know such a thing existed. Yeah, I may be living under a rock at times. I am so glad you are better now!


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