Hey, You might think it’s cool and sexy to be permanently strapped into one of the most cruel and restrictive medical braces ever invented for many years of your life. Well I’ve got news for you. It may at times feel very sexy being in contact with all that plastic, leather and metal but it ain’t cool. And it’s certainly not fun. Take it from me. I know. I was forced to wear several of these suckers for 10 whole years whether I liked it or not happily, the surgeons do use them in the UK anymore. I would have once given anything to be in anything else but the Milwaukee Brace. The braces they use these days are easy in comparison. Here’s my story and all of it is true.
To cut out a lot of bullshit and get straight to the point, I was diagnosed with scoliosis at 8 years old. I also have a rare disease in which my blood takes days to clot after a cut, so surgery was never an option for me. At the time I was in a special needs boarding school. My mother had abandoned me at birth so a nurse called Mrs Burton was assigned to me as my guardian. She delt with all of my needs out of teaching hours, i.e. putting be to bed, getting me up in the morning etc, and of course the brace.
All of the children there had their own rooms. There were many spastics there who be strapped into chairs for hours on end after school had finished because the place was very under staffed. Indeed, Mrs Burton, looked after many others as well. I was fortunate because I could get around freely. That was until my introduction to the Milwaukee Brace.
When it was decided at the hospital that I needed to wear a Milwaukee Brace, I was sent for a plaster cast making. The Milwaukee Brace took about two weeks to make, but instead of me going back to the hospital for it fitting, They sent it straight to my school because we had experienced physiotherapists here which regularly repaired other types of braces for the school. This was never a good idea, because they didn’t know how to trim bits of the pelvic girdle etc, during fitting so it was made even more uncomfortable for me when bits started to stick into me.
I’d never seen one of these suckers before although I had it described to me. And it did nothing for the shear horror I felt when Mrs Burton came to collect me from my class one morning and walked me up to the physio department. I looked round and noticed it straight away. It was sat on a chair at the side of the physio’s desk in a clear polythene bag. The physio was discussing something with her two colleagues at the other side of the room then she came up to us. “Hum” she said, “You’ve come for your new Milwaukee.” As she picked the bag up and tore it open, my stomach nearly fell through my arse. Mrs Burton held both her hands onto her cheeks in shock and horror. She said “Oh my word, am I really going to have to make him wear this thing for 23 hours a day?” “I’m afraid so” as the physio un tightened the bolt at the back of the collar and examined the Milwaukee brace with a delightful smile on her face. She ran her eyes up and down the metal bars whist turning the brace around.
The whole appliance had been perfectly hand crafted. It had a pink plastic pelvic girdle that was crinched in very tightly at the waist, making a clear outline where my hips were going to be. I remember that the front bar was a lot thicker than the two back ones and protruded outwards a lot more. There was no way I was ever going to hide this away from my classmates. The collar looked even more frightening. The two white leather head rests at the back and a rough, gray and very high chin pad at the front.
The physio stood in front of me with the Milwaukee brace and opened the back up. I remember thinking that it must be the most awkward device ever invented. Why wasn’t the leather girdle straps at the front so you didn’t have to have someone else put it on and take it off? “Your Brace awaits you!” said the physio. “Oh, let’s see now. Put you arms through the bars. OOOHHH that’s right my darling” as the Milwaukee brace came towards me and I could feel the chin piece sliding under my chin. The pelvic girdle wrapped around my waist and pelvis as the physio let go of the brace. She then walked round to the back of me where Mrs Burton was. At this point I noticed the very strong smell of new leather, plastic and glue.
The thing wasn’t even tightened up yet and I was already feeling claustrophobic. My chin was so high that all I could see was the top quarter of the wall and most of the ceiling. The physio spoke softly to Mrs Burton as she fiddled about with the two leather straps. “Now, the Milwaukee brace must be worn tight and high to have any benefit. It’s no good just being carried around. Before you strap the pelvic girdle up tight, we must get him to breath in, then hold his tummy in. That way we will get a nice snug fit”. “Oh right” Mrs Burton replied. “We’ll have to do some practising on this. It’s quite a contraption isn’t it”. The physio replied “Oh yes. But you’ll both get used to it. Right then darling, breath in”. So I did. “Hold your tummy in”. So I did. She moved the girdle up a little bit so it was around my waist. “Come on lovey, you can do better than that.” So I pushed by tummy is as far as I could get it. “Your not even trying my darling, don’t try my patience”. I replied “I’m trying” just as I could feel the pelvic girdle being wrapped around my waist very tightly. The vibrations of the thick leather straps being pulled through the buckles were transmitted to all over the brace. As I let out my breath and relaxed, The reality of sheer awkwardness and discomfort of the brace hit me like a ton of bricks. I was stood up staring at the ceiling with tears in my eyes. My mind went numb. All I could feel was an intensive hugging feeling wrapped around my waist and my chin being pushed up by a hard chin pad. The physic messes around a little more with the straps, trying to get the girdle to close an inch or two tighter until she was satisfied. Worse was to come.
“Now were onto the next stage of the strapping up procedure,” said the physio. “We must slacked the bolt off a little like this, then slowly push the collar closed like this, right up to the clamp.” As the collar slowly closed, the neck pads forced my throat into the chin piece. It induced a slight choking feeling and my chin was pressed up further.” The brace felt so uncomfortable that I knew I would never be able to tolerate it. It is the most natural feeling in the word to want to turn your neck and look down. But when you are in this thing, the only feeling you have is a extremely tight hug around your waist and hips and an unpleasant strangling metal frame wrapped around our neck, pushing your chin up the ceiling and pressing on your throat As I felt the clamp lock shut, the phyio said “Then just tighten the bolt finger tight and were finished”” As the physio let go of the brace it seemed to lean me heavily to one side. I felt like the leaning tower of Pizza.”Now, stand up straight,” said the physio, so I had to work really hard against the brace to keep straight. “Do you think you can cope with this?” said the pysio. “It’s a little bit daunting, but I’m sure we will both get used to the procedure” Mrs Burton said as she pulled and prodded at various parts of the brace. At this point, with tear still in my eye’s I said, ” I can’t cope with this, take it off. Take it off now. I’m not going to wear it. At that point, the physio pulled me round to face her and she had a very serious look on her face. “You can wear the Milwaukee. You will wear the Milwaukee. Mrs Burton is going to make sure you wear the Milwaukee. You have no choice in the matter”. The physio grabbed hold of my hand and walked me to the mirror. She turned me round to the mirror and stood behind me with her arm round me so that I could see her. ” This is you now and this is how you are going to look from now on. So you had better start getting used to it.” I was shocked and humiliated. I looked like a walking scaffolding site. I started to cry, knowing that this was it. There was no getting out of it. “The physio replaced my tracksuit top whilst chatting to Mrs Burton. “Give him an hour in the Milwaukee brace today, then he can come out of it. Tomorrow, I want him in it for at least four hours. The day after he should be in it 23 hours a day and be sleeping in it as well.” “Right then,” Mrs Burton said in her soft voice whilst nudging me with her elbow. “We will follow your instructions faithfully won’t we darling?” The physio said finally “If you have any problems at all with the strapping up procedure, please come back to see me. And don’t forget the Milwaukee brace must be worn tight, high and don’t tolerate any excuses for not wearing it. The brace is a good fit and is conformable for him”. “Don’t worry,” said Mrs Burton. “I’m sure we will be able to sort any problems out on our own”.
As I walked down the corridor back to my classroom, every step was an effort. With my chin raised high into the air, I was holding into the front bar with my hands, trying to relieve the pressure on my throat. Mrs Burton was walking in front of me. She turned and said “Take you hands off that bar dear, and stand up straight.” So I did. She looked at her watch and said, “Hum, 10’Oclock. I’ll be back at 11 to un strap you. In the mean time, I don’t want you to lean to one side, and I don’t want to see you with those hands on that bar.”
I arrived back in the classroom. Immediately, I noticed everyone staring at me. Mrs Burton told me to sit down on the straight backed, hard wooden chair at my desk. Mrs Burton quietly chatted to my teacher for 5 minutes, looked at me then left. I could not believe how awkward and uncomfortable this thing was. I had to push my bottom right out, and lean right forward to see my books. It soon made my eyeball very tired trying as hard as I could to look down. After 10 minutes I was aware of the edges of the girdle sticking into my waist and particularly into the top of my thighs. After 15 minutes I was aware of starting to feel very hot in the brace. The chin piece was also starting to rub under my chin, particularly when I tried to move my head sideways. After 20 minutes I could take no more and told the teacher. She just laughed at me and said that I would just have to wait for Mrs Burton to come back, as she could do nothing about it. All trough the lesson, I kept looking at my watch, wishing that it would be 11’Oclock. But time just went slowly while I struggled with the brace. I managed to lift my tracksuit top up behind my back with the intention of slackening the leather girdle straps, but I could only touch them, and nearly broke my arm in the process.
Mrs Burton didn’t arrive until 11:20. By this time every part of my body was aching. She took me to the changing room, removed my tracksuit top and unbolted the collar. It sprung open, immediately relieving the pressure on my chin. As she struggled to unbuckle the leather girdle straps, I breathed in and held my stomach in, hoping to help her to get it off. The girdle sprang open and an overwhelming sense of freedom went right through my body. I noticed that my vest where my girdle had been was wet through with sweat. My chin was sore. Mrs Burton removed the brace and put it on the couch. As I put my tracksuit top on I was telling her about the soreness and problems I had experienced. Her answer was “Listen to me darling. The Milwaukee brace is meant to be a little uncomfortable. That is the whole purpose of it. It will make you try to lift that chin of yours out of the brace and improve your posture. Any way, It’s no good complaining about it. You’d better get used to it because you’re going to be in it for a full four hour stretch tomorrow”.
I hated these words, and when she said the words “Milwaukee Brace”, this also started to make me cringe because I knew what it meant and I knew how humiliating it made me look. But tomorrow was another day. I was free now and that’s all I was interested in.
Tomorrow came too quickly. Mrs Burton was standing besides my bed. “Wake up darling. It’s time for the Milwaukee Brace.” Those words, I hated them. I got dressed then Mrs Burton quickly had me strapped into the Milwaukee. She had become more competent at putting the brace on, and with a little tugging, pulling and a few stern warnings to co-operate, my chin was once again looking up at the ceiling and that pink plastic girdle squeezing tightly around my waist.
During the morning class, every part of my body was aching with effort whist struggling against the brace. My waist was wet through with sweat again, and the soreness around my hips and chin became worse. My eyeballs were aching whilst trying to look down onto my desk at the books. The bottom front part of the girdle digging into the top of my thighs. I protested to my teacher at the discomfort but she just leaned over me and said “Stop moaning or I will give you something to moan about.” Whilst the teacher wasn’t looking I made several attempts to slacken the two girdle straps under my tracksuit top. On the 12th attempt, I managed to do it. It was such a relief. The chin pad lowered down a little and all the tightness, digging in, and soreness around the waist went. I could also move around in the brace a little bit more. My arms were nearly dropping off in pain as I had to twist them into an awkward position to try and relieve the straps but at least I felt a little but freer now. This was a big mistake because when Mrs Burton came to remove my brace she spotted what I had done straight away. “Oh, what’s been happening here?” she said in a stern voice. “Why are these straps not tight? Well answer me.” She slapped my bottom hard. “I want to know who’s been slackening the straps. Speak to me”. When I could take no more of her hand on my bare bottom I said that it was I. “Show me” she said. “Show me how you slacken the straps.” I twisted my arms around my back and loosened the straps. She removed the brace, turned me round and brought her face millimetres before mine. “You will wear the Milwaukee Brace correctly. Once I put it on you do not tamper with it do you understand.” As I started to protest she slapped me round the face and shouted, “Don’t answer me back. The brace will be worn properly and I’m going to make damn sure you will wear it properly.” I was sick and tired of hearing the words Milwaukee and Brace. She told me to get dressed then took me up to the physio department. On the way she was carry the Milwaukee Brace in her arms so that everyone she passed could see the device in full. I wanted her to put a cover over it but she didn’t care about my feelings towards it. Mrs Burton explained to the physio what had happened and she looked at me in disgrace. “I shall make some modifications to it so that he cannot tamper with the straps. You can pick it up later on so that he can wear it tonight.” “I thought I would not be sleeping in it until tomorrow” I said. “By tomorrow I want you wearing it for at least 23 hours a day and I think that you should be in it some of the time tonight so that you can get used to it” was the reply. My brace was left with the physio for the rest of the day, and I was free again. All that hot sweat around my waist dried up and tomorrow was another day.
That evening when Mrs Burton was putting me to bed, I turned round to see her holding the Milwaukee Brace wide open in front of her. “I thought I had to wear it tomorrow for bed” I protested. “Tomorrow you will be wearing it full time” she smiled. “So I want you wearing it for a few hours tonight so that you will be used to it by tomorrow night.” As the Milwaukee was coming closer, I noticed the modifications. There were two pairs of extra white leather straps bolted to the rear upright bars. I couldn’t work out how they were supposed to stop me tampering with the girdle straps but I was soon to find out.
The Brace was tightly strapped around me. As usual there was plenty of tugging, pulling, and stern warnings to keep still, breath in, and stand up straight. When I was securely strapped into the Milwaukee Brace Mrs Burton took hold of my arms, bent them behind my back and strapped then to the rear bars. On each arm I had a strap around my wrist and one in the middle of my arm. Each strap connecting to one of the rear upright. It is one of the most awkward, uncomfortable positions imaginable. It was like being in a straitjacket. I protested and her reply was” You’d better shut up and get used to it. I’m getting rather tired of you moaning and if you don’t shut up, I’m going to give you something to moan about.” She laid me down on the bed face down with a pillar under my chin.” Then I felt me ankles being strapped to the bottom of the bed, then my elbows being strapped to the sides. I could not believe she was going to make me sleep like this.” Uncomfortable or what. She said “I’ll be back in 2 hours to take you out of it.”
By 20 minutes I was so uncomfortable I shouted and screamed at the top of my voice until Mrs Burton come running back into the room. Immediately I felt my pyjama bottoms being pulled down roughly then she began to smack my bottom repeatedly very hard. “Shut up, shut up, shut up shut up,” she shouted whilst doing this. “If you don’t shut up moaning I am going to leave you in it all night.” I was crying and kept shouting at her to take the brace off. “Right that’s it!” She said. “Milwaukee on all night” I kept protesting so she unstrapped my ankles and elbows from the bed and dragged me up into a sitting position on the side of the bed with my hair. Her face came close to mine and her lips were nearly touching mine. I could feel the heat of her face. “The Milwaukee will be worn,” she screamed into my face. “Won’t it?” She slapped me hard around the face but I was determined not to give in. “Get the f**k out of my face” I screamed. There was a moment’s silence then she grabbed hold of the front bar of the brace and pulled it down to her waist level. I slid off the bed and was stood up in a bent forward position. She dragged me out of my room and along the corridor whilst keeping me in this position. I was face down looking at the floor. The brace was so hot and uncomfortable. I could not see where we were going but I knew from memory we were entering the medical room.
I was pushed into a hard wooden chair with straps on it. Mrs Burton quickly tugged at the straps until my body; ankles and legs were fully secure. My arms still strapped to the rear uprights between the brace and the back of the chair. She rummaged around in the drawers and cupboards before coming back to me. I could not see what she was carrying because the rubbing chin pad was pushing my head up in the air. She straddled the chair and sat on my thighs. By this time I was sweating excessively and having her on me as well did not make things any cooler.
“Open wide” she said as she roughly pinched my nose so that I could not breathe through it and tried to pull it even higher into the air. She brought what looked like a pair of medical pliers up to my force them over my tongue my tongue. In a split second I felt the most terrible pain. My tongue was being pinched tightly so that I could not drag it away. Then she yanked it out of my mouth, pulling it towards her so that my tongue was stretched out of my mouth. My head was also pulled forwards towards her but because straps round the chair was holding the brace back into the chair my throat pressed even further into the chin pad so that this time I really was choking and finding it very hard to breathe. I was making choking noises but Mrs Burton tightened the pliers and pulled them even further forward. “I will get some respect around hear” She said softly. At that moment she looked down, fiddled around, then brought a needle into my view. I froze with fear as I could not speak and tell her how sorry I was. She slowly pushed the needle into the tip of my tongue whist saying “ooohhhhhhh”, mocking my pain. I was crying in agony and she told me to “shut up and stop being a baby”. “You will wear the Milwaukee won’t you?” I tried to nod but couldn’t. “I can’t hear you?” She pushed the needle in further. “Won’t you?” I wanted to scream out in pain but the choking chin pad would not let me. So tears just filled up my eyes instead.”Won’t you?” she said again. I worked hard against the chin pad and just managed to make a small movement that would signal that I would wear the brace. She saw it but continued to press still further onto the needle whilst pulling my tongue out harder. “You will wear the Milwaukee?” she said whilst nodding to me. I nodded back and she twisted the needle up and down to increase the pain. Then she pulled the needle out very rapidly and let go of the clamp like instrument. Immediately I cried and so she slapped me around the cheeks very hard whilst telling me to be quiet. “I need to know how much you love your new Milwaukee Brace or the needle is going back in,” she said. She put her hand up to her ear. “I love my brace and I am going to wear it all the time” I said. She made me repeat that sentence seven time’s, each time saying that she couldn’t quite hear me and to shout louder whilst waving the needle in front of my face. She moved her hot little body off mine and walked to the other side of the room, picked something up, then came back. She pulled my pants down, placed something round my dick then grabbed my balls and squeezed them tight until I let out a scream in pain. “Wee in the bottle” she said calmly whist pressing her chest into my solder. She wouldn’t let go until she was satisfied I couldn’t wee any more. She then took hold of my nose again, lifted it up whilst saying “Open wide!” then made me drink the lot. It was disgusting. It was hot with a salty taste and made me want to me sick. “The next time you say the word f**k to me, I’m going to mix some of my shit in this”. I was taken back to my room, strapped to the bed and the door was slammed shut as she left the room. The night was long, hot and extremely uncomfortable. I did not sleep at all.
The morning afterwards, my waist and hips were ravaged with soreness from the girdle. My chin was worse from rubbing against the front pad. My arms were aching and so was the rest of my body from being held rigid in the mass of metal, plastic and leather. I had headache from sniffing in the fumes of the glue in the brace and my waist was soaked with sweat. Mrs Burton got me ready for the day ahead. First she un strapped my legs then my arms from the side of the bed. My wrists of course were left strapped to the Milwaukee brace and for the first time the Milwaukee brace was not going to come off. She got me dressed, washed whilst wearing the brace and it was from then on how I realised how difficult ordinary tasks would become. I was marched down to the dining room and was sat in another upright uncomfortable chair surrounded by spastics in wheel chairs and walking frames. There was 1 care assistant between two to feed each of us. Mine was a stroppy short dark haired woman who barely looked out of teenage years. Eating food in the Milwaukee was is a hard task. Every time you open your jaw, it presses further onto the chin pad your head is raised even higher. It is very tiring and your jaws have to work harder. Swallowing is just as difficult with the metal collar trying to choke you at the same time. No sympathy from my care assistant. She forced the spoon too far into my mouth which made me want to be sick and just as I was halfway through one mouthful, another heaped spoon was coming up to my face. “Please eat more quickly”, whilst looking at her watch, “we haven’t got all day you know”. I think she must have had some prior experience with someone else in the Milwaukee Brace because when I told her how difficult it was to eat fast her reply was “Yes. And it’s going to get even more difficult when the brace is adjusted. So you’d better start getting used to it or else I’m going to make it higher for you today!” And she was right. Every time I just got used to the height and restriction of the brace after a few weeks, my physiotherapist would higher the collar to make it even more uncomfortable and sore. Some days, Mrs Burton would sometimes announce that she didn’t have enough time to mess around with the brace so often it would be on 24 hours a day and I never got a rest out of it. In fact, at time went on, the hour I should have had out of it quickly turned into half hours and then even fifteen minutes a day. Only being allowed the freedom whist she was showering me. Then I had to go back into it straight away.
There were lessons, which I particularly hated at school. English was of them. As my hands were always strapped behind my back, I had to some how communicate on paper in other ways. One of the most popular ways teacher used which way developed for spastics were the dreaded “Possum”. This consisted of an electric typewriter, a lit up screen mounted on a frame and two pads. All were contained on a mobile trolley. The teacher strapped a type of helmet to my head, which had a long pointed rod coming out from the front. To select a letter you had to advance the light on the screen until the correct letter was highlighted by moving the pointer with your head to press the left pad, then when you wanted to type that letter you pressed the right pad. Writing one sentence using this method was particularly laborious and the hard abrasive chin pad trying o keep the head still made things more difficult ten fold. All this being done whilst I was strapped additionally in the possum standing frame. The possum had the added delight that if you didn’t type at lease one letter every 8 seconds, the machine would automatically administer an electric shock to electrodes strapped to your feet. There was also no delete facility on the possum so any mistakes and the teacher would usually add them up and cane my bare thighs at the end of the session.
Then there was PE or physical Education for short. You guessed it. There was no coming out of the brace for this either. My P.E teacher was a blonde longhaired woman who was ver fit. The lessons would last all afternoon and care assistants would be there to assist the teacher. The teacher aim was to get my torso to be able to move in the brace. She would stand in front of me and make me try to move my body inside the brace. She would make me swivel my head from side to side whist pushing her fingers between my chin and the chin pad to get some more movement. She would try to get her fingers down inside the girdle too whilst trying to get some visible movements inside the bottom part of the brace from my hips. She would make me sweat on the treadmill, bend me into all sorts of positions. She would over heat me that much that sweat would pour from my body. When at the end of the lesson she had managed to get me loosened my joints up a tiny bit more, she would then insist that the brace was too loose and would try to get an extra inch out of the girdle straps to get the girdle tightened in more and would get the physio therapists to come and higher the chin and neck pads. She was very cruel and would punish laziness using her birch on my legs and bottom.
The social worker was a wicked piece of work too. Her job was to make me accept the brace. “Think of this brace as just another part of your clothing” she said “and not a portable prison.” Easier said that done. She used to make me stand in front of the mirror and give me line to read out aloud. “This is me in my new Milwaukee Brace and I am going to wear it full time for my own good” I had to read out repeatedly. It I slowed or stalled, the cane would come out.
I spent 10 whole years in the Milwaukee brace and with every day, the discomfort, humiliation and pain did not get any better. In fact when I had been out of the Milwaukee for an hour and I saw it being pulled towards me for another day of torture I was brought to tears. But my teachers, therapists and nurses were determined not to give in.