It’s been exactly ten years since I had my spinal fusion surgery.
Not many know this about me, but I was diagnosed with scoliosis around the age of 14. Because I continued to grow, the curvature worsened, as did the pain, eventually to a point where I couldn’t walk up stairs without crying or collapsing, and there would be weeks that I couldn’t play soccer. After countless appointments with chiropractors, acupuncturists, and my orthopedic surgeon, the severity of the curvature and pain finally reached a point where the only option was surgery. I vividly remember sitting in the surgeon’s office and my mom crying when he said the word surgery, but it strangely didn’t worry me. The worst part for me was missing important club soccer games where college coaches were scouting, and the possibility of being out for the entire season of my senior year in high school.
I underwent a spinal fusion on December 19, 2007, a procedure in which two stainless steel rods are fused to the necessary vertebrae to straighten the spine. I stayed in the hospital for a week post-op (but I don’t remember 90% of it because I was deep into morphine dreams, though my mom has some hilarious stories). For the next two weeks, I was bedridden on the couch in our family room, because I couldn’t make it up to my bedroom on the top floor. Throughout those two weeks, my mom took time off from work to take care of me, feed me (I couldn’t even do that on my own), make sure I was taking my antibiotics and any pain medication that I needed, and watch all ten seasons of Friends with me. My dad and my brother also kept me company (Justin also has some great stories from when I was on pain meds), and they all stayed home with me on Christmas Day.
After the initial two weeks back at home (no pun intended...?), I was allowed to get out of bed and begin to relearn how to walk. Yes, I had to relearn how to walk. Yes, I had a cane. Yes, I still have it somewhere, along with all of my ACL braces. I had to do laps around the house every day to regain strength and build up the muscles that had atrophied from essentially being horizontal for three weeks straight. Fortunately, being young and extremely active with soccer throughout my childhood really helped in my quick recovery. So much so that in late January, I began light training with my dad again. Because my high school season had already begun, it was my main motivation to get back out on the field to play at least part of my senior year season. In March, I was subbed in against our rivals, MA, to see how I felt. Of course within the first minute, I slid tackled a girl, and I could hear the gasps from the parents, but - don’t worry - I got up immediately and was “totally fine”. That season, we won the Conference Finals. That summer, my club team won one of the biggest tournaments in NorCal against our rivals, Mustang SC, and at the end of summer, I was off to Swarthmore College for preseason.
I oftentimes forget that I have rods in my back. The only time that I mention it is if someone points out my great posture (because I can’t bend my upper back, so duh) or if they too had scoliosis or a spinal fusion. While I still have a few lingering but minor muscular issues resulting from the scoliosis, something that I always remind myself of is to never take your health for granted. People often ask why I stick to certain diets, why or how I workout as often as I do, or how I find the time for it. And it’s because I know what it’s like to not be able to workout. Or to even walk. I’ve had to relearn how to walk four times in my life. And so when you’re capable of walking, moving, running - do it. Don’t take that for granted. Embrace what your body can do, and treat it well.
Shit happens. To everyone. Life is full of stresses and trying times. But you’re dealt these cards because you can handle them.