WHAT IS SCOLIOSIS?

This was first published in 2011, but I felt it was worth republishing for those who may be suffering from scoliosis.  In addition to the other helpful blogs that I have done on scoliosis, I am planning to include our daughter’s 1980 scoliosis experience.

This series starts with the Diagnosis of Scoliosis, then to my personal story from 1958.  There will be many links to click on regarding “scoliosis” information, videos and resources.  

We would greatly appreciate your input and personal experience and hope that you find this and the links and video helpful in learning more about scoliosis.

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PART 1

This is the first of a Series of Blogs on Scoliosis.

“What is Scoliosis?”  Scoliosis is a medical condition in which the spine is curved to one side. The thoracic (chest) or lumbar ( lower back) regions are the most commonly affected.  Viewed on an X-Ray it may be a curvature which appears as an “S” curve or a “C” curve.  Scoliosis is typically classified as congenital (abnormality at birth) or idiopathic (unknown cause).  Scoliosis can be diagnosed by a physical exam of the spine, hips and legs along with X-Rays of the spine. It is very often diagnosed at about age 10-15 and the progressive type seems to be more prevalent in females.  There are also Neuromuscular and Degenerative types.  There is more information on these different types of scoliosis on  WebMed.

Scoliosis is often discovered through school screenings at 5th or 6th grade or through a routine Pediatric Appointment, which then  will often require X-Rays of the spine. One indicator is one shoulder lower than another with opposite hip slightly raised.   If the curvature is minor it may just need to be watched and may not requre any agressive treatment.

Sometimes excercise, Pilates or other Therapies will help keep the curvature from increasing and may help with actually treating the curvature and/or pain involved.

Another great reference is MayoClinic

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You may wish to read my personal story of having severe scoliosis at age 13 and what was then called “a complete spinal fusion” in 1958 and the protocol used at that time.  Methods have dramatically changed.

Problems and Suggestions for Scoliosis and Spinal Fusion

  Part 6—Problems and Solutions-Living with a Scoliosis or a Spinal Fusion  (a continuing series) Video at bottom of page

  Problems will be in GreenSolutions in Blue   

 

 Back Pain is probably the biggest issue for both those with scoliosis or a fused spine?

  • Water Therapy, Swimming, Exercise, Massage Therapy, Pilates, seeing a Chiropractor , Physical Therapy, Relaxation techniques & Ibuprophen can be of help.  Each person must try to find what works best for her/him when in pain.  
  •   HYDROTHERAPY –water therapy can be the absolute best as it provides weightlessness and relaxes tense muscles.  There are many Recreation Centers, Community or School pools that offer different types of water therapy. (I prefer swimming laps and then relaxing in a therapy pool. )
  • Keeping at a reasonable weight for your body type is important as extra weight stresses the back and legs, which may cause additional pain.  That is why excercise and eating a good diet are so important.
  • Getting enough sleep, but not staying in one position for long periods.

You cannot bend or stretch much because of a fusion or pain.

  • Purchase a “reacher or grabber”.    There are also businesses that carry special medical equipment or small items that can benefit you.
  • I find that using a Heating Pad at night helps with back pain, although purchase one that has an auto-shut off.
  • Hot Tubs–We have a personal theraputic hot tub that I use daily, usually in the morning to help with back stiffness after rising.

You may be limited on how much weight you can carry.

  • Try using smaller purses and back-packs. Be cognizant of the amount of weight that you lift or carry.

Feeling “Different” or restricted.  Teenagers or young adults may feel “different” from their peers.

    •  First of all, explain to others what your health issue is about–people are very accepting if they know that you are not overly sensitive?
    • Join groups and activites that you enjoy.
    • Find physical activities or sports that you can participate in and that may help your physical condition. (You should discuss with your Doctor regarding which activities are best for your condition)
      Please see the following video about a young lady who has pursued her interest in Gymnastics while undergoing treatment  for scoliosis.

   

  

  • ATTITUDE—keep a positive attitude and have supportive, positive friends.
    For me –swimming is foremost–it not only helps relieve back pain, it lifts my spritits and gives me the needed excercise.
    Massage Therapy as 2nd, which I have done for an hr. every 2 weeks for about the past 15 years. It can be expensive, but can really ease some of the pain.  It loosens the muscles and scar tissue around the fusion and relaxes the tenseness caused from the lack of movement in the fused area.  In the case of scoliosis, deep tissue massage helps the muscles relax  in the back.  I prefer really deep tissue massage and can move with much more ease after a session.

Part 7–Our Daughter’s Scolioisis story starting at age 5.
(She became a professional Ballet Dancer)

 

Growing up with a Spinal Fusion

Part 5: Growing up with a Spinal Fusion


During my teen years, I pretty much did what other teens do, although I was unable to participate  in Gym Classes.  I could ride a bike but with a very rigid posture.  Although I was very small boned and had large breasts, which made me quite self-conscious with my very erect posture, I was a happy teen.  I became quite outgoing and always befriended the underdog.  I dated quite a few nice guys and attended most dances and activities and never really felt uncomfortable about others knowing of my spinal fusion.

I had been told because of the extent of the fused spine that having children might cause a problem.  This did worry me some as I loved kids and was a camp counselor at age 15 ½ at the YWCA for 2 yrs. And then spent 2 summers with girls who had been placed in a special school.  We had camp at a Lake in MI even though the girls were from Toledo, OH.  I enjoyed this camp and loved living and working with the girls, primarilily in crafts and swimming, along with day-to-day activities and a few outings.  My back always gave me some pain, but staying active helped. Swimming was my favorite sport and still is.   More on my past.

I met my husband, John, in college and we got married after our sophomore year.  I took some time off of college to work full time at a State Home for the Physically and Mentally Challenged  individuals doing Arts and Crafts and Occupational Therapy.  I loved the job and the residents.  Mentally challenged individuals are now rarely institutionalized and are mainstreamed into society  if possible.

I did not get pregnant for over 3 years and we thought it might be becasue of my spinal fusion.  We applied for adoption and then I found out that we were pregnant.  Just 2 weeks after our 4th Anniversary we had a baby girl, then a boy and another girl about 2 years apart. I was considered a “high risk” preganancy and advised to gain only about 15 lbs. with each pregnancy.  I only weighed 122 lbs. when I delivered our first girl.  I did not seem to have much difficulty carrying the babies, but labor was all in my back and they could not do an epidural as there was no spacing between my vertabrae.  We were very happy that we had been able to have 3 children.  It was suggested that we stop with the 3 as each baby was larger.  Read more on spinal fusions.

Part 5 — Growing up with a Spinal Fusion

Part 6–Problems and Solutions living with a Spinal Fusion

Part 7:  Our Daughter’s Scoliosis Story

Part 8:  What Angelie is doing now

Part 8–RESOURCES for SCOLIOSIS

Spinal Fusion Home Recovery

Part 4    Scoliosis Surgery Home Recovery

An ambulance type vehicle took me home in Dec. 1958.  I was placed in a hospital bed that was donated by The Shriners.  I was also given prism glasses donated by The Optimist Club.  I was flat on my back and could be turned once a day onto a wedge pillow which left my face about 4 inches from the sheets. Although striped sheets were not my favorite, being so close for an hr., the change of position was welcome. 

Finally I was fitted for a body cast that was heavy plaster.  It was from my chin to the base of my torso, front and back.  A large hole was left mid stomach for air.  I would remain in this cast for 10 months without getting up.  A visiting nurse would stop by periodically to check for bed sores.  A Junior High girl friends’ Dad made me a desk type structure that fit over my cast.  While wearing the prism glasses I was able to see the shelf of the modified desk and was able to read, write and paint.  One of my Mom’s cousin had brochures from each State sent to me to look at and I loved Colorado the best.  We now live in Colorado. 

In the photo, my prism glasses can be seen on my forehead.  I was hooked up to my 8th grade classroom by a telephonic speaker so that I could hear my classes, winter semester, while being confined to bed.  From the Kalamazoo Gazette: “Thanks to Easter Seal funds and generous neighbors, Martha Kay’s long absence from her Oakwood Junior High School classes have ended even though she remains flat on her back”.   The article was written in early 1959 by Easter Seals, during their fund raising. 

I passed the time with schoolwork, friend’s and family visits, painting, reading and praying.   It was hard when Spring came and I could hear my younger brother, sister and friends, playing outside.  I did get to see a Robin build a nest, lay eggs and the hatching of the baby birds right outside my window in a forsythia bush.

When I had my final check up, again transported by ambulance to Blodgett Hospital, where the cast was removed.  I had ¼ “ of dried skin underneath the cast and I fainted from the odd feeling of having the cast removed.  I had worn it for 7 months and had not been in an upright position. I then needed to learn to walk again, which although sounds easy, was a bit challenging at first.   I spent that summer in a removable type body brace, which I wore for 6 months into my 9thgrade year school year.

Part 5 — Living with a complete Spinal Fusion done in 1958

Part 6–Problems and Solutions living with a Spinal Fusion

Part 7:  My Daughter Angelie’s Scoliosis Story

Part 8:  What Angelie is doing now

Part 8–RESOURCES for SCOLIOSIS

 

 

 

MY SCOLIOSIS SURGERY

Part 3—My Scoliosis Surgeries

On Sept 24, 1958, I was wheeled in for my first surgery for Scoliosis. This surgery was to straighten from the last Thoracic vertebra (T-12) to the last Lumbar vertebra (L-5).   See Spinal Column  This was the longest and most painful of the two surgeries.

Cadaver bone chips were attached a section of my partially straightened spine section and would hopefully grow into my own bones, which meant many bedridden months.  At that time the Harrington Rod was not yet used in most spinal fusions.

The surgery took about 5 hours.  I vaguely remember starting to come awake during the procedure.  I was then given Ether, (an older anesthetic), which they had not planned on using.  I was put in Critical Care, (ICU) although really not sure what it was called back then.  I guess I kept asking to take the terrible smell away, which was the Ether smell.   I think my parents applied some kind of perfumed cream to my arm to help cover the smell of the ether.  (To this day, I do not like perfume).  I was in critical condition for about 8 days and my parents were told that I might not pull through.  One of my worst memories is that a new Dr. came into my room and sat on my bed to speak with me.  It moved my back enough so that I was in so much pain that I lost consciousness.  My parents said that every time that Dr. would pass by the room, I would scream.  I was told that he felt terrible and had not realized that he should not sit on my bed.

I believe that I was in the hospital for 10-14 days and then moved back to Mary Free Bed to await the next surgery on my thoracic/lumbar area. I was back in the Milwaukee Brace.  During my hospital stay, I had several roommates, unfortunately all in critical condition suffering from broken necks, brain tumor surgery and one having a spinal fusion. My folks kept telling me that following surgery each had been transferred to a different room, but several months later told me the truth, which was they did not survive their surgeries. 

My next surgery of the thoracic spine was scheduled for Oct. 28th.  I was most reluctant to have another surgery, but knew it had to be done.  The second operation was from Thoracic 12 up to and including Thoracic 5, again with bone grafts.  I recovered more rapidly from this surgery back in Mary Free Bed and was transported home in Dec. shortly after I turned 14. 

Surgeries today are done much differently.  For a personal story from the new way to treat scoliosis read Michelle’s story.

Always laugh when you can.  It is cheap medicine.

Part 4—10 months  at home in bed

 

 

 

SCOLIOSIS–Personal Story

MY STORY of SCOLIOSIS in 1958

Part 2   Diagnosis

My scoliosis was suspected at the end of my 7th grade school year on a routine Doctor visit.  My Mother had been saying to me ”Martha Kay, stand up straight”.  I thought I was standing up straight, but had noticed that my hip was raised on one side of my body, but just thought it was part of puberty and I was developing a waist. (I was just 13 and scoliosis screening was not yet done).

After a summer of daily sessions of PT and the curve continued to progress, I was sent to Grand Rapids from my home town of Kalamazoo, MI. for evaluation.  It was determined that I had a 40-degree thoracic and a 60-degree lumbar “S” curve.  My Orhtopedist, Dr. Charles Frantz, (see 1962) was considered the best in MI for treating scoliosis.

Milwaukee Brace

That August I was admitted to Mary Free Bed  Convalescent Home and placed in a Milwaukee Brace. (At left). The brace was routinely moved up under my chin as they began stretching the spine to straighten it as much as possible, prior to my first scheduled surgery on Sept. 24, 1958. It had been a shock to me that I was now bedridden, which I had not been told prior to my appointment in Grand Rapids. I began to become a talker, mostly to keep myself occupied and to entertain others in various medical conditions at Mary Free Bed. (Definitely not a free bed). When any of the staff would see that I could move my head, the chin part of the brace was moved up to stretch my spine. I thought I would be looking like a giraffe before I was done. I had relatives visit about once a week. When I reached about 5’5″, surgery was scheduled for Sept. 24, 1958 on the lumbar area from thoracic 12 to lumbar 5.

See Diagram of  the Vertebral Column.

If you have a story about your scoliosis or spinal fusion, please leave it under “comments” or email me at marty@lawnexpressions.com.

Part 2–Surgeries—next in series