I set up this section of the site to give people a chance to share their stories of living with scoliosis; that can include people with the condition, or friends or family members of someone with the condition. Pretty much anyone affected by scoliosis can use this space to share their story, their triumphs and their low points, how they cope with the condition, anything scoliosis related really.
I thought I’d kick off the section with my story, but I’ve found it difficult to write mainly as there’s so much I’d like to say. I realise I’m not writing a book and have a limited space I can fill before I start to bore you.
So, here’s an abridged version of my scoliosis story; it’s as accurate as my shocking memory allows.
I was diagnosed with scoliosis at the age of fourteen during a routine check up at the doctors. I went in to the surgery with a cough that I couldn’t shift and left with an appointment to see a specialist spinal surgeon. That one escalated quickly.
I was referred to the Princes Margaret Rose Hospital in Edinburgh and to the expert hands of specialist Mr McMaster. Towards the end of my first consultation Mr McMaster broke the news that the curvature in my spine was so bad and degenerative that he recommended surgery as the best course of action. He followed that up by telling me that the alternative was to let the condition go unchecked which would ultimately lead to me being wheelchair bound before the age of 30, and more than likely suffering from respiratory problems as well. My world crashed when he told me that. Up until that point I was an extremely active boy, always out playing football or some other sport at all hours of the day. I knew at that moment that that was being taken away from me. I remember trying my best to take the news in and not cry. I left his office with my parents to go home and make my mind up and burst into tears as soon as I stepped outside; it was all a bit too much to take. However, in the short time from leaving Mr McMaster’s office to getting to the car park outside, I had made up my mind that surgery was the only real option I had.
Fast forward a few months and in the summer of 1998 I was about to go under the knife and have major surgery to ease my scoliosis. I don’t really remember much of the build up to my surgery however I’m pretty sure I must have been shitting myself because I know I would be if I was having the surgery now.
Instead, the next memory that comes to mind is lying in my hospital bed a couple of days after surgery trying to listen to the football on the radio. The game was Celtic vs. Dunfermline, it was Joszef Venglos’ first match in charge of Celtic, and Celtic won 5-0. That, incidentally, is how my mind works. Ask me to remember an important occasion and I can’t do it. Tell me that a trivial football match was played that day and I can tell you every detail of the game (almost). I have a strange mind. Anyway, I digress, the point of this story is that despite being a Celtic fan I couldn’t bear to listen to the game. I was so drugged up on morphine that seconds passed like hours and the voices from the radio were coming at me in the slowest super slo-mo ever. I gave up listening to the game after about two minutes, which seemed like a lifetime to me.
A few days after that football debacle I was discharged from hospital and on my way home with the great news that I didn’t need to wear a back brace. I can’t tell you how happy I was with that news as I really wasn’t looking forward to the prospect of six to twelve months in a brace. I had also grown a couple of inches post surgery so that was an additional bonus.
Next up after surgery was the recovery, and to be honest, that was a tough time for me. I’d been very sporty before my operation and now I had a year without being able to take part in physical activity to look forward to followed by a further six months before I was allowed to play contact sport again. I also had to adjust to being (a whole two or three inches) taller, the strange sensation of having two metal rods and several screws in my back, and more or less learning how to walk again. It wasn’t fun, but it had to be done. Luckily, I had some good friends who spent a lot of time with me and never once rubbed it in my face that I couldn’t play sport.
Once I was ready to play sport again though, 12-18 months after my surgery, I found it difficult to get back into things. Running was strange, I was unfit, and I had to retrain myself to balance while kicking a ball. We were all also that bit older and had other distractions that limited our sports time, like girlfriends or jobs. But over the next few years I gradually upped my sports participation again playing in different 5-a-side football games, and taking up running and yoga at different times for short periods.
However, one of my achievements that I am most proud in my life post scoliosis op, came in 2010 when I went on an adventure of a lifetime and walked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. I was on a month long tour taking me from Lima to La Paz, with a four day Inca Trek included. It was phenomenal. Hard work, tough on the legs, but absolutely an experience that will live with me forever. I was also very fortunate that the porters on the trek who set up camp for us every night also carried our bags for the duration of the trek; those guys are super human!!
I have also graduated from College and University, and worked several jobs before returning to University to do a Masters. I graduated from Uni for the second time in 2012 and I now have a job I really enjoy promoting sport and innovation.
I run two to three times a week, anything from 5km to 10km, and play football twice a week. I also try to fit in other exercise such as the T25 programme, some yoga or pilates, and very occasionally some gym work. I’m as active now as I was before my operation. I’ve also learned to adapt to my bodies new limits. There’s certain exercises I struggle with, but that’s OK, I just modify or do it to the best of my ability. There’s no point pushing to the point of injury.
I guess what I want to get across is that having scoliosis is tough and it’s a really shitty thing to deal with. But, it doesn’t have to stop you from achieving what you want to achieve. It can make things a bit more difficult, but that only makes it all the sweeter when you succeed.
I’m also aware that not everyone who has scoliosis is able to be as active as I am and I count myself quite fortunate in this case. And this is the reason why I’ve started #RunningWithScolios and why I will be fundraising on behalf of Scoliosis Association UK, to help find a way to ease the difficulties of living with scoliosis.
I’d like to end My Story with an anecdote from a team meeting with my work colleagues shortly after starting my current job. We were asked to share something personal about ourselves and naturally I chose to share that I have scoliosis and two metal rods in my back. I’d not really made a point of telling people this before so I wasn’t sure what the reaction would be. It was amazing. They all looked at each other a bit puzzled at first, until one of them said “Holy shit, Iron Man works for us!” I couldn’t think of a better ice breaker. The office chat about my scoliosis now goes between whether I’m Iron Man or Wolverine, and just how strong a magnet would it take to pin me (and my metal back) to a wall. Brilliant.
I’d also like to thank Mr McMaster and his surgical team for the fantastic job they did 17 years ago. My only regret regardarding my surgery is that I don’t have copies of any x-rays before or after the operation; I’ve seen a lot of people on twitter have these, so I must look in to sorting that out.
Thanks for reading and feel free to get in touch on twitter, facebook, or email.