Alive – August 19, 2013

SantoriniI’ll never forgot that moment.  Lying down in bed, inhaling the scent of night blooming jasmine wafting through the room, and feeling unbelievably content. It was the end of one of the most challenging weeks in my life.  One that you could not pay me enough to re-live.

In 7th grade my school had a screening for scoliosis.  I was in choir and all the 7th grade girls were ushered to the gym.  A few of the 8th grade girls yelled out as we shuffled out, “They’re going to make you take your shirt off and feel you up.”  Dread plagued us all as we walked to the gym.  I didn’t even know what scoliosis was, but I knew I didn’t want to take off my shirt, even if it was behind a curtain.  Finally, my turn came and I stepped inside the curtained area.  I leaned over and the woman lifted up my shirt from behind.  She stopped and then called another woman over.  “Look at this” she said.  I began to get nervous.  They conferred and decided that yes, I did have scoliosis.  I didn’t know what that meant really, but was immediately terrified.  I’d read once about a girl having to get surgery on her back from scoliosis.  What an awful thought!

Sometime on the walk back to choir, I began to cry.  Everyone asked me what happened.  The 8th grade girls felt guilty.  Amidst the fear, their guilt gave me a small sense of superiority.

I learned more about scoliosis and began to receive chiropractic treatments; however, after a while, the treatments stopped and the scoliosis was forgotten.  At the end of my 8th grade year, my mom took me into the doctor’s office to have my back checked out.  I remember seeing my X-ray.  I was shocked.  My spine was clearly in the shape of an S.  In that moment, I knew that this was no trifling matter.  It had gotten much, much worse.

Being in junior high, I dreaded the idea of having to wear a back brace, one of the common treatments for scoliosis.  When the specialist walked in the door, I proclaimed, “I am not going to wear a back brace!”  The doctor quickly replied, “We wouldn’t even consider bracing at this point – you’re going to need surgery.”

I was stunned.  Shocked.  Speechless.

At some point, I began to cry.  I didn’t know much, but I did know that back surgery was a big deal.  Mom took me out to Claim Jumper (hey, it was the 90’s and that’s where you went in the 90’s for a special meal).  I remember demolishing a piece of their ice cream pie.  An impressive feat for a 13-year old.

The doctor gave us a summer, asking us to come back in early fall to check on the progress of my spine.  We asked for prayer at church, begging God for healing.  Fall came, and the curve of my spine had gotten worse.  Surgery it was.

The night before my surgery I was at church.  I was petrified.  Being one who tried so often to contain her emotions, I was overwhelmed by the unknown of this surgery.  I remember one of the youth group leaders being surprisingly blasé about the prospect of this surgery, acting as though it was no big deal.  Even amidst my emotional denial, I knew that having an 8-hour surgery on one’s back was incredibly serious.

I went in for surgery the next day.  I don’t remember much about that morning.  The last thing I saw was my family as the drugs took hold and I passed out of consciousness.  Being out for that long was strange.  I didn’t dream.  The closest I can describe it to is dying and then coming back to life.  Nothing, absolute nothing, then suddenly back. I remember waking up and the breathing tube was still down my throat.  That was awful, but the tube was quickly removed.  Then, I was asleep again.  The rest of that evening was a blur.  I was groggily awake, then asleep again.

One moment stands out to me though.  I had a male nurse that first evening, who was incredibly kind and caring.  The care culminated in a single moment, when he offered to brush my teeth.  It felt like heaven.  I can’t explain why, but it was the most refreshing, comforting moment.  Even thinking back to that right now, I find myself tearing up.

The next day was especially hard.  I’m allergic to penicillin and the alternative antibiotic that was used made me nauseous.  That evening I got sick and experienced the worst pain of my life (I’m not saying that to over exaggerate, it literally was the worst pain in my life).  Being sick and retching when your back is freshly operated on is awful.

Each day was a bit easier and I was increasingly more present.  My days were filled with lying in bed, watching tv, with the big event of getting out of bed.  It was a huge ordeal for me to get up and walk around.  I learned how to get out of bed in a new way.  Roll to my side, then use my arms to push myself up into a sitting position.  I’d rest for a moment, then use the walker to slowly stand up.  Each day they’re try to get me to go farther on the walker, but my body proved slow to the challenge.

My surgery took place the week of Thanksgiving.  On the evening of that holiday, my aunt stayed with me to give my parents a break (who had been with me around the clock since Monday that week).  My aunt was trying to turn down one of the lights over my bed, when she started hitting a big blue button.  All of a sudden we heard over the intercom, “Code blue third floor, code blue third floor!”  We looked at each other confusedly as we were on the third floor.  My aunt went to the door of my room and opened it, shocked by the team of doctors and nurses running towards my room, complete with crash cart (just like in ER).  She called them off, saying “False Alarm…I just wanted to make sure you were all still on your toes.”  What a laugh we had in that moment.

After five days in the hospital, I was released.  The hospital I stayed at was just across the street from my parent’s house.  It was a quick trip home, but it took a long time for me to slowly walk (with the aid of my trusty walker) back to my parents’ room, where I would be staying while I recovered.  By the time I was finally settled in I was exhausted.  I laid on the bed catching my breath, when I smelled the flowers outside.  That moment of beauty, such a simple moment of beauty, brought me deep joy.  It had been an incredibly painful week, yet in that moment I was overwhelmed by the goodness of God and with gratitude to be alive.  I cried, which really, was all I could do in that moment.  My tears were my prayer that day.  Words could not communicate all I felt.  Only my tears would suffice.

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