The Back-Bending Surgery That Changed My Life

On August 11, 2022, my whole life changed. I did my everyday things. The only thing I did differently that day was to get an x-ray for the first time. I sat in the waiting room, and the only thing I thought of was, “What am I going to eat for lunch?”. When I left the exam room, the only thought in my mind was, “Is my life over?”. When the nurse called me to do my x-ray, I was fine. In those two seconds when my x-ray was over, she said these three words, “This is surgical.” in those two seconds, my life completely changed. I could feel my heart beating out of my chest, and when I realized it, I had tears running down my neck. The doctor asked if I wanted to see my x-ray. My spine was the shape of the letter S; subconsciously, I straightened my posture. As I sat in the yellow room on the long blue cushioned bed that I will never forget, the doctor explained my condition and the surgery procedure, but I couldn’t hear anything. I look over at my mom, crying as the doctor explains the surgery to her. They ask me if I have any questions. I shake my head. I take off the blue nightgown and change into my regular clothes. I got into the car; it was the quietest car ride of my life. My mom takes me to my favorite restaurant and buys me my favorite pasta and dessert, but I don’t eat any of it. The only thing on my mind was every nerve in my back and the aperture of my spine. I realize there is a chance these nerves can be nicked, and these crevices can be damaged if I do this surgery.

The days passed, and everyone in my family counted the days and pitied me. My boyfriend researched my surgery every minute of the day. On the other hand, I did not want to know anything. I had no questions or curiosity about the surgery. I tried to get over it. I was not too fond of every second of it. I wouldn’t say I liked the pity and the worry like a dying patient. I wanted to pretend like everything was fine and nothing was going to happen; having to take about nine pills a day before the surgery was the worst. I had to take specific vitamins before entering surgery. My mom got a call from the doctor that there was an opening for my surgery on September 9 at 7:00 am. I remember when she told me. I was sitting on the couch with my boyfriend, Maven.

I digested the news and realized September 9 was only three weeks away. I sat there and said, “Okay.” I wanted to be strong. Primarily for my mom. My mom loves me dearly, and any small thing that involves me freaks her out. My mom was driving herself insane with surgery, but I was the only thing keeping her calm. I have had back pain for years but never spoke up about it to not worry my mom; I guess these were the consequences. I always felt this job to be strong for her, she’s the most muscular woman, person, and human I know. It was the least I could do.

September 6, 2022. My last day in school before going into surgery. I captured every moment in school that day. I had this fear that it was going to be my last time there. I did not tell anyone how I felt about the surgery, especially my mom and Maven. When I returned home that day, I walked into my house with this hole in my stomach because of how I felt. I had another doctor’s appointment the next day. September 7, 2022, I went to take some X-rays to make sure nothing had changed. I was so tired of seeing the hospital, knowing it would be my home for the next few days. It made me sick to my stomach. Those last few days, I cherished every moment like it was my last. This surgery was freaking me out, and I felt like I would never be my usual self again. The next day I had to go and take off my nails because I was required to before surgery. I then had to take a moment, walk to Barnes and Noble, look for a book, and order Starbucks. I needed a few moments to myself to connect my thoughts. A feeling I can’t describe yet; I couldn’t shake it. Maybe it was nerves or fear. I sat in Barnes and Noble with my heart beating out of my chest.

I didn’t know what was happening, but I got up and left to get some air. My heart was racing, and I couldn’t catch my breath. I had to go home. Maven came over as soon as he left school. I lay with him, and then my mom walked in with this face I couldn’t read. She then says, “The doctor called…”. I knew then and there this was going to be horrible. Originally they were going to operate on my lower spine. My x-ray from the day before showed that the curve on top of my spine had gotten worse; therefore, they had to operate on my entire spine. This was the last thing I needed. My mom saw my face completely deform, and Maven was speechless. I thought, “This was just my luck. I knew something like this would happen.”. The day passed, and I just spent it with Maven. When he noticed it was getting late and decided it was time to leave, things just started to sink. His leaving that night equaled the next thing to do: sleep and surgery. I sat with Maven, just crying for the longest time. I could not fathom that this might be the last moment with him as my usual self. I appreciated him throughout this whole process. He was there the entire time and was the biggest helper. I calmed down, and he left, called on his way home, and consulted with me. When it was time to go to bed, I fell into this silent panic. I tried to shake it off, but it took me a while to calm down. I finally got to sleep but woke up again at 4 in the morning to prepare for surgery.

The day I had been avoiding had come. September 9, 2022. A date I will never forget. I called Maven, letting him know I would be there to pick him up soon since he was going to my surgery. I showered with this disinfecting soap I was ordered to wash with. I put sweatpants on and a hoodie and headed to the car to pick Maven up. The car ride to the hospital felt so unreal. I couldn’t place in my head that I would be cut half open in a few hours and have strangers drill into my spine. The car ride was cold and quiet, and long.
The most painful car ride one can ever experience. Once I saw the tall building that said “Nikolas Children’s Hospital,” I knew this was it. I walked out of the car with chills down my spine, holding Maven’s hand. I walked into this reception room, and my mom gave the nice woman all the information on where to go. We waited for about two minutes until they called my name to go to the pre-op room. I walked in, and they immediately made me change into a medical gown. As I was changing, I was trying to calm myself down because I was getting that heart-racing feeling again. They laid me in a bed and started putting IVs on me that was supposed to make me calm down, but no drug was going to make that feeling go away. My mom and Maven were staring at me with this empty look. The man that was going to slice through me walked in and told my mom that he would take good care of me. I didn’t believe a word he said. About ten doctors there with me came and told me I was going into surgery very soon. It scared the crap out of me. They injected something in me that made me very dizzy and drowsy. When they first injected it, my head went to sleep, but I woke up again immediately. I was unconscious of my family’s goodbyes, but they say I was fully awake. My mom said I signaled to Maven to come where I was and kiss me. I thought it was hilarious that I did that. I remember them rolling me into the operating room when I was conscious again. I remember looking around, trying to see the OR. I remember thinking, “Wow, nobody said bye to me before I left.”. They made me breathe into this mask, and I was out.

I was probably the loudest in the recovery room. I woke up immediately screaming and crying from the pain. The nurses quickly went to get my mom. I remember my mom coming, and I was asking for Maven. Maven and my mom say that my face was completely different when I got out of surgery. My face was extremely swollen because the procedure was 5 hours, and I was facing down the entire time. I remember faintly seeing Maven and seeing him leave crying when he saw me. I was in so much pain. They rolled me into my room, which I would stay in for three days.

I remember nurses walking in, checking on me, and telling me that starting tomorrow, they would make me walk. All I was able to eat were ice chips. I remember crying so much, pressing the morphine button every time it lit up, that it did nothing. I tried to sleep, but it took me a while because the pain would not let me. Maven was sitting in a chair beside my hospital bed, holding my hand. He said every time he tried to move his hand while I was sleeping, I would grip his hand and wouldn’t let him leave. He slept in the chair and ate with one hand in the chair because I wouldn’t let him. I remember the first night of my surgery when it was time for him to leave. I was crying uncontrollably. I couldn’t stop. Crying would make me lose my breath and would then cause my back to hurt even more. I couldn’t sleep that night. My night nurse was amazing. She came in every hour to see how I was doing. I know my mom did not get any sleep that night. I didn’t, either.

Day 1: attempt to walk. My dad woke up early that day to pick Maven up to come to the hospital. Luckily, I got my period that morning and had a catheter in. The nurses put underwear and a pad on me while I was lying down, but it didn’t bother me. The physical therapist came in, and I got extremely nervous. I was scared to get up and walk because I could not feel my back. Parts of me still can’t. She came in and started to get me to sit straight up. When she lifted me to sit straight up, I immediately vomited.

I felt horrible, I had no food in my stomach, and the morphine nauseated me. When I stood up to walk, I passed out. I couldn’t walk. They had to lay me down flat on the hospital bed because no blood was going to my head. The thing is, something happened with my catheter; I think my pad and my underwear moved it, so when I quickly regained consciousness after I had this excruciating pain. To this day, I say that the pain was worse than the pain in my back. I was screaming, telling them to take off my underwear because something was happening. They took so long to take it off it wasn’t excellent. I remember Maven walking out of the room and saying he heard my screams from outside. When I laid back down, I was exhausted. That drained me. The physical therapist told me she would come earlier to try and walk again.

When she came in earlier that day, I was still unable to walk. I was extremely nauseous and couldn’t stand it. She told me not to worry about it and that we would try again tomorrow. It was getting late again, and Maven left, making me extremely sad again. Luckily, my friends came to visit me later that night and saw me. I was finally able to eat some food without it coming right out. The back pain started to worsen as the day passed. Everyone left, and the pain just got worse throughout the night. They gave me this medicine, the only thing that helped me sleep.

Day 2: last attempt to walk. I woke up that morning with the motivation to start walking. I wanted to go home and couldn’t be in that hospital room any longer. The nurses told me I wasn’t allowed to leave if I didn’t walk. The physical therapist came to my room early morning to start walking. My motivation was everyone waiting for me back home, my little brother, my grandma, and Maven. When the physical therapist sat me up, I didn’t feel nauseous. That was the first good sign. I got up and walked around the entire floor and up and down a flight of stairs. It was challenging, but I wanted to show everyone I could do it and go home. When I finished walking, I sat down in a chair for the first time and just cried. I was crying happy tears because I couldn’t believe that I had just walked the whole floor. I thought I was never going to be able to walk again, so doing everything I did make me very emotional. I also had to do some x-rays that day before leaving as well. That part was difficult because I had to stay still during the x-ray and couldn’t keep still. I did everything they asked me to do. When I returned to my room, and my nurse signed my discharge papers, she came up to me. She told me how incredibly strong I was. She said that many patients don’t even consider getting up from bed. Someone telling me they were proud of me just brought me so much joy. When it was finally time to go home, I got in my car with a bunch of pillows around me, but I had never been more comfortable than at that moment.

Being home after surgery had its difficulties. Although I was in the comfort of my home and not in a hospital bed, I had many rough moments. I felt frustrated because I could not do anything by myself. All my life, I have been a very independent child. I started doing things myself very early on. This surgery made me feel like I was aging backward. I couldn’t walk by myself, use the bathroom, lay in bed, turn around, and so much more. The anesthesia shut down my intestines so that I couldn’t use the bathroom, and I was highly bloated for a week and a half. I couldn’t lay in bed and find a comfortable position. I spent over a week without showering because I could not get my scar wet. I noticed that I made a drastic change after weeks 3 and 4. I was able to sleep by myself and get up by myself, and do most of my usual things again. To be fair, I was already trying to get up by myself after week two because I wouldn’t say I liked having to depend on someone every day. It’s just not in me. I couldn’t even feed myself. I had to be provided. It was my worst nightmare. I still don’t know if I recommend the surgery or not.

Maybe once I get older and wiser, I will say, “It’s for your good!” but as of right now, because of everything I went through in that surgery, I am not sure if it’s worth it. I am 1-month post-op as of right now. I am back to school and my routine, but I am still restricted to many things—the most simple thing like bending down. People might think I am self-conscious about my scar. I don’t see it that way, though. My scar reminds me always to keep fighting. Never give up, even if you think it’s the end of the world. We’ll be alright.