I lay on my bed, sobbing. My mom had just dropped me off from a doctor’s appointment. The doctor said that I had “idiopathic scoliosis and kyphosis”. Put into english, it meant that my back wasn’t the shape it should be – side to side or front to back.
This quack said that I should wear a brace for a few years. That might not sound too bad to you, but he showed me what it would look like. Holy *^&%! White vinyl base around my hips? The thing would go up to my neck! Nobody’s going to hang out with me in that thing! They’ll *^&%ing point and laugh!
And if I don’t wear it, my mom is going to freak out on me again! How am I going to get out of this one? Just then, the phone rang.
I composed myself the best I could, and got it after a few rings.
“Hi Pat. Is mom around? I got a message that she called.” It was Dad!
He’s a computer salesman, and was calling all the way from Japan!
“No, she’s still at work.”
“So how are you doing?”
It just suddenly all spilled out. “Mom took me to some quack doctor, who wants me to wear this body-sized cage for years! I’m not wearing that thing! There’s no way anybody would hang out with some geek like that! I sure can’t hide something that big! I’m not doing it!”
Dad took a deep breath. He was always the voice of reason – the mediator in the never-ending war between mom and me, and he was going to do it again. “Ok. The doctor prescribed a brace, mom wants you to wear it, but you’re not going to.”
“Mom can’t force you to wear it. We know you could take it off right after she leaves for work, and put it on right before she came home. The doctor would know when the brace didn’t work. What would the doctor’s reaction be?”
I started sobbing again. “He said he would cut me open, and put metal rods up my back! I’d be scarred for life, and walk like a freaking robot!”
“It seems like your choice is to wear the brace, or go in for surgery. Sorry, but we both know that for your sake, mom has to win this one. Nobody wants you to be cut open. Surgery is”
I cut him off. “But it’s so ugly!”
“Well, search the net. Find out of there are alternatives – similar things that aren’t so bad. Remember, you have to let mom win this battle.”
As he hung up, I knew he was right. I also knew I wasn’t going to hide something this size – We live a small town in Arizona, and word gets around mighty quick. As I had to wear something under it to prevent chafing, I sure didn’t want to wear anything over it – Arizona summers are awfully hot!
Two weeks later I was back at the doctor for the cast to be made. The brace would then be made off of the cast. I was also able to talk to the doctor without my mom around.
“Um. Doc? You know the brace I’m going to wear? Can it be changed?”
He turned and looked at me quizzically. “What do you mean?” In hindsight, I realize I didn’t phrase the question clearly.
“Well, I was looking through the net, and saw other Mill Walking braces. The one you showed me had an ugly cream-colored vinyl part around my waist. I saw one that was transparent there. Can you do that?”
He was obviously surprised my request was not trying to sneak out of wearing the brace. “Sure. I can use some clear Plexiglas. It won’t be as flexible as the other plastic, but with some padding in the right spots, it should be fine.”
I was spurred on by my success. “The brace you showed me had a pad right at the top of the neck.” I gestured in a choking motion. I saw ones with the pad out at the tip of the chin. That looks a lot more comfortable.”
He smiled. “Yes, I guess in the short term, it is more comfortable, but that was in the 50’s, when we didn’t know any better. That design distorts your jaw over time, leading to orthodontic appointments. I think one doctor is enough. Don’t you?”
I was confused. I thought he WAS an ortha-something doctor. But one doctor was enough. “Yeah.” I nodded.
The doctor turned to face me. “I like it when a patient takes so much of an interest in their brace. It means they’re going to wear it. Right?”
I’m sure I looked sheepish. “Well, that brings me to my last request.”
The doctor’s smile quickly turned into a glare.
“You see, my mom really wants me to wear this thing, and I know I gotta, but I can’t bring myself to just do it – mom wants me to. After all the things she does to me, it makes sense, OK? Anyway, I saw one that has the answer.” I pulled out a printout of the website, and continued on. “Now, don’t tell mom about this. Tell her they all come like this, or you put it in ‘cause you thought I wouldn’t wear it or something.”
You see, instead of buckles going up the back, this screws together.” I started pointing them out “One screw at the bottom of the brace, another at the top of the girdle portion, one lower back, one at the upper back, and one at the back of the neck. With some tamper-resistant screws, it means my mom would put it on, and god knows I’d wear it, cause I couldn’t take it off.
But don’t tell my mom. I’m sure she’d use it against me somehow. She’s not even my real mom – my dad’s re-married, and this woman thinks I’m coming between the two of them or something.”
The doctor was closely studying the picture. I heard him mutter “I guess this is one way to ensure patient compliance.”
Four weeks later, Friday the 13th to be exact, my brace was ready. As my mom drove me to the doctor’s office, I was full of fear and trepidation. What would the brace be like? I was going to be stuck in it for the next few years, not like a bad outfit I could hide under my bed or something. Had the doctor told mom that I requested the screws? My mom didn’t show any sign of it.
“Patricia Kole?” The receptionist’s voice rang through the waiting room.
It’s show time!
The receptionist showed us into room number 3. As the saying goes, the doctor was in shortly, carrying my brace. He started to explain how it should be worn at all times except when bathing. My mom’s face lit up, and she was paying very close attention. I wasn’t going to hear the end of this one.
The doctor held up the brace. It looked scary and formidable and my fashion accessory for the next few years, like it or not.
It had a clear shell the shape of my hips down at the bottom. There were holes drilled into it at regular intervals. Extending up from there were three bars – two in the back, and one in the front. As discussed, the bars in the back had screws to hold them together. On the left, there was a strip of padded cotton that would hit around the bottom of my rib cage. There was a matching one high on the right side of my rib cage – that’s what should straighten out the side to side problem they say that I have. There was a large pad attached to each back upright that would line up with my shoulder blades. The front bar ended in a thin pad that would sit at the back of my chin. From there, a steel collar wrapped around to where it would be screwed in back.
The doctor pried apart the base, and slid it over my hips. When he rotated it up, everything else kind of slipped into place – except my chin – the neck ring was two or three inches too high. “Stand up straight.” He cajoled.
“Uh oh” I thought. I tried stretching as much as I could, and my neck popped over the pad.
From behind me I heard “Ok, so these are how the screws work. Slot screwdrivers have two sides, phillips have four. These have three sides. You can’t buy them in hardware stores, so you will have complete control over Patricia’s brace. I don’t do this in most cases, but I thought that she was a special case.” I felt the screws tightening from the bottom going up.
When they got to the one mid-back, the doctor said “These will help to straighten the back. Since they will make writing difficult, she is to wear them on weekends, holidays, and other days off from school only.” I felt two padded straps come below my armpits, in front of my shoulders, then to the back of my neck. “Pull your shoulders back.”
I strained as much as I could. I was “rewarded” by the straps tightening, and then I could feel them slip over the screw behind my neck.
When all of the screws were tightened, the doctor came around my front so that I could see him. “How does that feel?”
“Very tight and constraining” I replied.
“True, but I’m sure it’s the best posture you’ve had in years. In time, you’ll get used to it.”
“Oh, I’m sure she will. I’m sure she will.” Grinned my mom as she pulled me out the door to face the world.