Blast From the Past,  Deep Thoughts,  Scoliosis,  Spines & Livers & Bones, Oh My!

Strength From Way Back

My therapist has been paying me all sorts of compliments lately, telling me that I’m a strong woman with a well-defined sense of right and wrong.  I figured that was just good business sense on her part.  With the economy in free fall, a therapist who makes her patients feel good about themselves, (but not too good), will ensure herself a decent income in the coming months.

But then she asked me where my strength came from, and I realized she wasn’t just buttering me up.  She was truly curious.

I was diagnosed with scoliosis, or curvature of the spine, on the first day of sixth grade.  Within a couple of weeks I’d seen an orthopedist and was being fitted with a Milwaukee brace for my back.  Over the course of the next eighteen months my doctor tried another type of brace and put me on a strict exercise regime.  My mom woke me up at five each morning to help me go through a workout designed to strengthen certain muscles and prevent my back from curving further.

I did all the exercises. I never took the brace off for more than the allotted hour a day.  I suffered through the hurtful comments my classmates made.  I had a crush on a guy a grade ahead of me, and one day his sister told me he thought I was an ugly dog.  It was one of the only times I remember crying, but I sobbed all afternoon over his cutting remark.

My mom wasn’t impressed.  “It’s just words.  Ignore him.”

I tried to tell her that it was impossible to just ignore someone you’d been fantasizing about kissing, but she wasn’t listening.

I thought I couldn’t endure any more, but I was wrong.  The curvature progressed, and I had spine surgery during seventh grade.

My doctors inserted rods on either side of my spine, and took chunks of bone from my hip to graft the rods into the vertebrae.  My scar runs from the bottom of my neck to the top of my butt.  I was in the hospital and then home for weeks, captive in yet another brace I’d have to wear twenty-four hours a day for nine months.

My surgery was in January.  The brace would come off in November.  Most importantly, tryouts for the high school dance team, known for its high kick line, were in March.

I spent those months catching up on school work and learning how to walk and move in a strange body that was anchored by a stiff spine.  My physical therapist assigned me exercises to do once a day.   I did them all, and sometimes I went through them again, hoping I could achieve greater flexibility. I could bend from the waist and the neck, but not in between.  When I reached over to touch my toes, my back looked like a tabletop.  Arching my back was out of the question.

Some of my most wonderful high school memories involve the years I spent on the dance team. Twenty-nine years and another spine surgery later, several of my former teammates are now sweating with me at Jazzercise.  Sometimes I close my eyes when I’m dancing and pretend I’m in a stadium during half-time.

The other night I was at a restaurant and I saw the guy who’d called me an ugly dog.  I ignored him.

I told my therapist that my strength comes from the fact that I’m a bit like a superhero, a woman equipped with a titanium spine reinforced with screws and bolts. You can’t see them, but in my mind I’m wearing bright gold boots, and I’m confident that they can kick anything that gets in my way.

One year ago in My Tiny Kingdom: Prank O’ The Day


  • Laura

    Thanks for this reminder that no one’s life is ordinary. Some people are tested and crumble; others dredge up the strength to survive and become better people. They’re the ones who make the world go round.

  • Jenni D.

    OK, so I’ve gotta ask: How did he look? Was he bald and paunchy and hitting on women half his age? Did he wear a pinky ring? Gold chain? I hope so…

  • Staci

    I am the friend to whom Jamie at referred your blog. I, too, was diagnosed with scoliosis (an S-curve) in sixth grade and, subsequently, had to wear a Milwaukee brace for about five years in an effort to avoid the need for surgery. But, like you, I found myself confronted with the need for surgery anyway when my curvature continued to progress (even after I stopped growing at age 18). I’ve had the same grueling surgery – rods and all (but I was considered “old” when I had surgery at age 21 in 1995). And I have the same scar to show for it (even the one on my hip). I just want to say that I applaud you for your inner strength and beauty. It is fueled by an experience to which I can relate all too well.

  • Lee

    Anne, you are right you are a tough lady. I guess I needed to read this post today. My seventh grade son has an 11% and 10% S curvature. Right now, they are just watching it. He had Xrays in October and will have more in April to check it. He grew nearly 6 inches in the last year. The doc is hoping that is the cause and it won’t get any worse. Apparently 20% is the mark for a brace.

    He thinks his life is over, and fears having to wear a brace. A friend has endured much teasing for a brace already this year. I am afraid the thought of surgery would really put him over the edge. Encouraging words seem to do no good and we are on pins and needles until April and try not to bring it up.

    You looked good as a Dorian. Sadly, Every time I see a pic of a Dory girl now, I only think of Natalee.

  • Erin

    Your strength has inspired me ever since I discovered your blog. I’m glad someone who knows you so intimately commended you for it. We should all have gold boots to boost our confidence.

    Erin’s last blog post..DSC04867

  • Karin

    I wonder how much physical pain you had to endure through all this. According to your pics you have posted, you were very cute.

  • Amy in StL

    Wow, I can remember being checked for scoliosis in gradeschool and not really understanding what it was. But I’m left wondering: Do you have awesome posture now? So not only are you cute, you probably stand up straight and in my experience that always makes a woman look better!

  • Haley

    I was diagnosed with scoliosis in 6th grade. Luckily I had stopped growing by then. I believe I only have a 5% curve or something. It’s benign enough that I’ve never needed a brace or anything and doctors have long since stopped worrying about progression. But it’s enough that I feel like my whole body is unbalanced. I cannot imagine going through your ordeal. I would feel like a superhero, too!

  • Magda

    I also have Harrington rods, from surgery in 1996. (My sister calls my scar my “zipper.”) I recently went to the doctor to have them looked at (climate change), and he was all, “Oh, by the way, this technique is obsolete. Good work, but obsolete.” Not really what I wanted to hear. Thank you for reminding me to sit up straight!

  • Lizzie

    Just reading about the boy calling you an ugly dog almost made me cry. Your mom would not be proud of me. But that’s such a hard time in most kids’ lives anyway, nobody needs harsh (just) words piled on top of that.

    But I do love this post. You rule.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.