Your Mountain is Waiting

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.”
– Henry David Thoreau


Since my spinal fusion required bed rest for three months, I was forced to take online classes so I could graduate on time with my class. Home bound schooling was…well, less than desirable. I’ll try my best to describe how the process works, but I’m not sure I can make sense of it. I would log in on the school’s website and it would give me a phone number to call. When the call connected, my name would appear on the computer’s desktop screen. On the screen I could also see what my teacher was doing on her computer and I would hear her speaking through the phone. In theory, sounds like a good setup. However, my surgery just so happened to fall the week before the start of the semester, so my first day home from the hospital was also the first day of class. Obviously, I was not coherent due to all the pain medications. My mom decided that the only solution was for her, years removed from high school, to pretend to be me. She would sit next to me on the bed with the phone on the speaker phone setting so I could at least hear what was happening in class. This is one of the funnier moments of my recovery because the teacher kept called on me (aka my mom) and she would frantically look up the answer in the book.

After a month, I was able to go to my first period class a few days a week. Two months after my surgery, I had built up to about three classes a day. I was able to return to school full time after about two and a half months.

Four months after my spinal fusion I graduated with distinction from Dacula High School. Graduation was not only a milestone in my education, but it also was a symbol of the end of an era abundant with back pain.

I have to admit that I was beyond ready to leave the gossip filled, small town of Dacula, Georgia. It was not that I had an aversion to high school – I miss many aspects of it. It was not that I loathed the people – I am still very close with some of my friends from high school. You see, throughout high school I dealt with different labels. Don’t get me wrong, I know everybody faces these same issues. In high school, I was the captain cheerleader dating the football ‘star’, I got involved in everything; I was the all round “goody goody”. However, I also dealt with another set of labels. Freshmen year, I was “the girl with scoliosis”. Sophomore year, I was “the tumor girl”. By senior year, I was just “that back girl”. Needless to say, I was ready to run away to a place where nobody knew my story or the adversities I faced during high school. Even though I had looked at colleges in Georgia, I only applied to Auburn in Alabama and USC in South Carolina. At the last minute, I decided to spend my four years in college at the University of South Carolina.

From Oh! The Places You’ll Go!
By Dr. Seuss

Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.

You’re on your own.
And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go!

Kid, you’ll move mountains!
So… be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray or
Mordecai Ale Van Allen O’Shea, you’re off to Great Places!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way!

The Snowball Effect

“A strong positive mental attitude will create more miracles than any wonder drug.” – Patricia Neal

When I was thinking about what to write in this post, I was originally going to write about several different topics, neatly broken apart into an organized layout. However, as soon as I started placing my thoughts into words, stories kept overlapping and I could not figure out what to put where. That is when I realized I couldn’t separate the topics because my life has been a prime example of the snowball effect.

Snowball effect: (adj.) descriptive of an entity or situation where something once small and relatively insignificant grows exponentially at a swift pace, engulfing everything in its path.
Source: (academic, I know)

My life was pretty ordinary until I was diagnosed with scoliosis in sixth grade. It took a stranger turn when I developed the tumor. The snowball kept rolling as my scoliosis progressed into a need for the spinal fusion. Two years later, the snowball continues to grow now that I have developed rib problems. Prior to my surgery, there was great discussion on whether or not one of my ribs should be removed. Long story short- Dr. Davito felt that once my curve was corrected, my ribs would move with my spine and go back to their correct placement. However, this did not occur.

In 2008, I started having an intense pain around my shoulder blade. I like to think I have a high tolerance for pain, but this new pain would bring me to tears. The most frustrating thing about this new pain was that it struck like a lightning bolt. One second I was fine and with the slightest movement, the pain would overwhelm me. Then, within seconds, the pain would disappear. I had a very difficult time explaining the pain to my doctor because there was no exact movement that caused the pain. Sometimes pulling up my pants would cause it; other times moving my arm backwards would cause it. After Dr. Davito examined my back, he found several large muscle knots concentrated around my shoulder blade. He diagnosed the pain as muscle spasms and the required treatment would be physical therapy. So off I went to a new doctor…

(Time reference, Summer 2009)

Upon my first visit to Dr. Bob, a manual therapist, I knew he would do everything in his power to fix my pain. This made me so excited because I had lived with back pain almost half my life. For a majority of that time, I was told I would just have to learn to live with the pain. After a full hour evaluation, he concluded that my pain was not stemming from my muscles; it was due to my ribs. It turns out that two of my ribs did not move into position after my spinal fusion. As a result, they were rubbing against each other and their connecting spot to the spine – causing the intense, but short pain. The muscle knots developed as a result of my body tensing up in order to avoid the pain.

Twice a week I would go to Dr. Bob’s office and he would work on slowly moving my ribs back into place. The process if difficult to explain, but basically, Dr. Bob would check the spacing between my ribs. He was able to find the problem ribs because he could not get his fingers in between them. Next, he would apply pressure to different ribs and have me press my arms down against different levels of resistance. Slowly the ribs moved. After about five weeks of twice a week visits, he was able to successfully move the ribs and correct their spacing! While I was overjoyed, he had to sit me down and give me the honest truth. I think he did a wonderful job explaining it to me, so I will try to repeat how he worded it. For the seventeen years prior to my fusion, my body had been adjusted to having a curved spine. Then, in a matter of five hours, everything changed. Just like humans, my back “freaked out”. Therefore, just because my ribs are corrected now, they might move back. Also, because I have a fused spine, moving my ribs could not totally fix the problem because my spine does not allow for change. Your bones and joints are made to move and adjust. While some of my bones are moving, I have a spine that is held stable, so this contrast causes pain.

I have to admit, I was very disappointed by this news. Sometimes I get angry that I have been through so many x-rays, doctor appointments, and surgeries only to find out that I will always have pain. But then I have to be logical – even if I am upset or feel sorry for myself, where does that get me? No where! So that is my outlook. Yes, I will always have some level of back pain – even as I write this my back is killing me from sitting in classes, but I cannot let that stop me. As I wrote in my college entrance essay, I may not be able to ride wooden roller coasters, tumble, or even live pain free, but there are still a million things I do… so I am!


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