My first!

I was thirteen years old when I was diagnosed with Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis. This is a condition where the spine is curved. Mine was like the letter *S*, and since it was about 38 degrees, I had to wear a scoliosis jacket. Not exactly the kind of fashion jacket you'd be interested in buying. Scoliosis might sound to you like a minor medical condition. That's what I thought  until everyone started treating me differently. The jacket was uncomfortable and hard to get used to, too, though I rarely complained about it...I figured I had no choice. 

What a way to start high school!

People treated me either like I was deformed or like I was going to break. The older kids would walk up to me and knock on my brace (the "jacket"). Some of them would crack jokes about it, too, and I tried not to let them bother me. They did, though, and it was hard to laugh along when I felt like crying. I didn't like being the object of such attention.

Even though I was feeling pretty alone and certainly different,  I kept up with sports. I ran cross country in the brace. It was my third year on the team and I was a varsity runner. I loved running, but the brace rubbed under my arms and caused burns. It also restricted my breathing. All this made me even MORE determined to do it, though!

Somehow I survived that season and moved on to play basketball. Basketball was my first love in the athletic world. I had played since I was five, joining the varsity team by the eighth grade. Now I was determined to play with the brace. Some of the players complained, but I made it through another season. 

Once the winter turned to Spring, I played softball, pitching and playing first base. Batting in the brace was hard because I lacked mobility, but I managed to make the all conference team anyway. 

I don't think I will ever forget the date of March 17, 1994... liberation day. I was freed from the brace after what seemed like an eternity (when in reality it was only a year and eleven days). It felt good to be one of the "normal" kids again. 

Can you see  how my back curves?

Bad news! My happiness was short lived ... I discovered that even though *I* had stopped growing, my curve had not and was now at 56 degrees. The doctor explained that I would need surgery ... a rod and some hooks on my spine to straighten it. The plan was to fuse the spine solid by using bone chips scraped off of my pelvis. Before surgery, I started having nasty symptoms from pinched nerves in my back. My leg started dragging and my left arm was getting weak. Doesn't seem like I'd be able to run, but I did! I started practicing for cross-country because it kind of gave me a sense of security to look forward to ameet.

Well the fateful day came, and I wasn't too nervous because I didn't know what to expect. I just remember being wheeled into the O.R. and then waking up in I.C.U. with a bunch of people standing over me calling my name. My recovery was tough, with lots of pain, but after a couple months I began to feel better and I returned to school. 

Basketball season once again, and  I learned that my life would never be the same. After ten straight seasons of basketball I finally had to sit one out. The part that hurt the worse was seeing someone else dressed out in my jersey. I wanted to play more than anything that year.But I couldn't... it felt like I was defeated. Later on I made an attempt to return but my efforts were futile. Too much pain! So I hung up the basketball jersey for good and had to be content with my memories.

By the time  my senior school year rolled around, I considered myself "normal" once again. I was captain of the girls cross-country team. I went on trips with friends, I went to parties, and I even started running again on a regular basis. Believe me, it felt great!

Unfortunately, my surgical career was not over, and I had to have another operation right before high school graduation. I was getting to be a pro! After graduation, I moved in with my sister, and was not at all happy to learn that a THIRD operation was necessary. I was so sick of being sick all the time. 

Ah, graduation!

As you know by now, I'm pretty resilient, and though I am still anemic, and I am still on an antibiotic, I'm ready to get on with my life. The guy I am dating now is incredible, and frankly, I don't think I could have made it through the fall semester in college without him. 

Now I see things differently. So many things have changed since I first started to deal with this. I am a lot stronger now as a person. I realize I have limitations. I have learned to deal with life's unexpected blows. Sometimes I find myself wondering what could have been. But most of the time I believe that it's not what could have been or what should have been. Life is what *is* now. 

And sometimes, just sometimes, I can hear the crowd roar!

Yours truly,
Rebecca Anne Wierzbic

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Joan Fleitas, Ed.D., R.N.
Associate Professor of Nursing, Lehman College, CUNY
Bronx, New York 10468

Last updated: November 14, 2004