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A Personal Perspective on Living with Scoliosis

By Aurelie Sheehan

It wasn’t just the Scoliosis diagnosis and the brace that altered the course of my life, but the fact that, after I’d worn the brace for two years, the orthopedist announced that it hadn’t done any good, and he recommended surgery. The operation involved the cutting open of the back and the insertion of a Harrington Rod, a pencil-like metal piece attached to the spine. I would be in a cast for months, bed-bound and out of school for a year. (Today’s surgeries are still extremely serious matters, but if the surgery is successful, which is not always the case, the recovery time is now markedly less.)

In a case of serendipity, my mother received a call that very day from a friend, extolling the healing methods of two reverends giving classes in herbal medicine in the basement of a nearby church. We made an appointment, and before long my parents and I were shaking hands with a young man who had a chiseled, gentle face, and his wife, a round woman with fluffy blond hair and intense eyes. We explained the situation to them, even brought our X-rays. After hearing us out, they suggested a regimen of healthful eating supplemented by vitamins and herbal supplements, exercise (yoga, as well as a few back aligning movements), “laying on of hands” healing, and prayer. Because we were open-minded or because we were desperate, or some combination of both, we decided to follow their recommendations. We found a new orthopedic surgeon willing to monitor my curves as we followed this course. Soon I began to wear the brace only at night. My back didn’t straighten, but it didn’t get worse -- or that much worse -- either. Essentially my condition stabilized, and the doctor approved my taking the brace off completely within the next year. I’ve lived an active life, enjoying sports and most activities, giving birth to a child, and not suffering any chronic discomfort, these three decades since.

Because there was no control experiment -- with the brace, or with the “natural healing” -- it’s impossible to know what really helped and what didn’t. What I do know is that the natural healers gave us the faith we needed to look beyond the initial recommendation for surgery and trust a more conservative approach.

Writing about scoliosis has made me aware again of my back -- literally. (In fact, if I sit here right now and think “scoliosis” my back seems to get more curved -- by far!) What is true is that I came right up against the mystery of many things by having to deal with this -- by the nebulous area between Western medicine and natural healing, by the relationship between faith and wishful thinking, by the stretch between who I thought I was and who I had become, because of circumstances beyond my control. While I wrote that first poem out of need, I wrote the novel not really just for me but also for the others out there. As Alison says inHistory Lesson for Girls, “I think of the girls with me in the waiting room in New York -- ten girls in braces like ruined circus giraffes. That’s part of history now, but there are other girls, new girls, to remember.”

Copyright © 2007 Aurelie Sheehan
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