I was only seventeen and I wanted to die. I couldn’t believe it, I had never had to take such bad news in my life. I thought that living with this thing for the last four years had been bad enough, but this, how was I going to face it. Surely things couldn’t get any worse. I couldn’t believe that this was happening to me.
When my problem was first discovered it seemed cool because of all the attention I was getting. I seemed to be able to put up with the discomfort then. How things change, it was no longer cool, it no longer seemed to be jewelry. All of a sudden it was a prison sentence and I was the prisoner.
I had come to terms with wearing a Milwaukee brace to correct my problem as a kid but when you become conscious of your body image all of a sudden you want to hide it. How did it all happen anyway? I always wore baggy clothes and anyway I couldn’t see my own back, so I suppose it went unnoticed for ages.
Then one day we went swimming as a family and I was just about to dive into the water when my mother noticed that my back was all twisted. Well the shock and panic that this caused was unbelievable. All of a sudden I was wrapped in cotton wool and treated like an invalid. Appointments were made for the doctor and eventually the orthopedic specialist.
When I had been poked and prodded, bent and twisted X-rayed and examined we were sat down before the specialist who proceeded to tell my mother, as though I wasn’t even there, that I had a developed form of scoliosis and it would need to be corrected. A long explanation followed that totally confused me all I heard was that either I would need to wear a support or that I would have to have an operation. There were risks to the operation and my mother who is a coward made the decision on the spot that I would be treated without the operation.
This started a whole new lot of prodding and poking before it was decided that they wanted to take a cast of my body ready for the support to be made. I was made to wear a vest that went from my bottom right up past my ears, I had to sit on this chair and be strapped to it. Then they put these straps on the top of the vest and hung me from a frame in the roof. I thought I was going to snap in too. It hurt me, my back was killing me. All of a sudden my history lessons came flooding back, now I knew what it was like to be tortured on the rack. I wanted to confess to anything to get out of this. They left me there for ages and ages, mother was fussing around me and driving me quite mad.
After an eternity they descended on me, they were covered in plastic overalls and started to wrap me up in plaster bandages, it felt so tight I could hardly breath. I couldn’t move, I was trapped, imprisoned in this white hard shell. After about half an hour they undid all the straps and I though that it would let the tension go off my neck and back but still I couldn’t move this plaster cast was holding me completely rigid. I was told that I would need to keep it on for two hours whilst it set completely and I was sat in a chair which had arm rests to stop me falling off and left staring straight ahead. I couldn’t look up or down, I couldn’t turn my head at all. Was this what the support was going to be like, I had no idea.
Soon I started to relax and felt very sleepy, I suppose it was because of the strain. I found that when I relaxed I stayed in exactly the same position, but I noticed that the pain and ache in my back that I had lived with for the last 2 years was no where near as bad. Maybe this wasn’t so bad after all, if the pain would go away, then maybe the support was worth putting up with.
Then the two hours was up and it was time to be free, I had mixed feelings, I wanted the freedom but I didn’t want the pain in my back again. They said it wouldn’t hurt but the saws that they used looked able to split me into pieces. Eventually they had cut me out of my shell and I felt as vulnerable as a tortoise without its shell. It was time to get cleaned up and go home. We would have to wait until the support was ready before we next came back to hospital.
Looking back on it that seemed to last for ever. I was filled with all sorts of feelings. What was happening to me, why was it happening to me, what had I done wrong to deserve this? Did I want to have the pain go away, would it be worse in the brace. All the time my mother was fussing over me, I couldn’t do anything for myself, I felt like a china doll.
It was almost with a sense of relief that we were told to go to the hospital for a fitting, the waiting was over, maybe I could get on with life now. I was ill prepared for what was in store. We were taken to the specialist and told to sit down, he went into great detail of how important it was to wear the support for 23 hours every day and not to make any adjustments to it. He was so serious that I started to get very frightened at what was coming next. I was right to be frightened for he produced this mass of shiny metal and leather with straps and pads all over the place. This was the support!!
Once again I had to put my dignity to one side and strip to my undies whilst the thing was put on me, or rather I was put inside of. It seemed to swallow me inside it. There was this plastic shape that fitted round my waist and down to the top of my legs, it was strapped tight then the bars were attached to the bit they called the corset. These went right up to my chin and the back of my head. By the time they had finished I was trussed up so that I felt like I couldn’t breath. I certainly couldn’t move.
I sat there looking straight ahead, my field of vision was limited to how far I could swivel my eyes. By this time my mother was fighting back tears at what was happening to her ‘baby’. I was told that I could get dressed, things that had seemed easy and natural suddenly seemed impossible. I couldn’t see where my clothes were I had to bend forward from the top of my legs to look down and turn round using my feet if I wanted to look round. I was so glad that my clothes were big and baggy, eventually I was dressed and exhausted.
My mother had composed herself and been told what she had to do whilst I was getting dressed. The consultant said that we should go out now and spend 2 or 3 hours getting used to it and then to come back in for a check up. So mother took me to the local shopping mall to buy some clothes and have something to eat. Where was the floor I couldn’t see where to put my feet, going down steps seemed impossible, I had to plan ahead looking out of the bottom of my eyes before the steps vanished from my view.
Next it came to crossing the road, this was scary looking right and left used my whole body and then off the curb and across the road. Every step jarred my head, my chin was bumping on the pad under it, the back of my head was rubbing on the pad that went up from behind my ears up into my hair. Every step jarred my teeth and soon I had a headache. It was equally difficult getting into the car, instead of sliding in as normal all of a sudden I was a stick that didn’t bend in the middle, after banging my head on the way in I was sat down. I tried to turn round to find the seat belt but, no this was it, looking straight ahead and fumbling for the straps that were out of sight. This was going to be difficult to get used to.
When we got to the shops I was dreading bumping into some one I knew, this was going to be difficult to explain. We went shopping for clothes with my mother fussing all over me and the shop assistants trying their best to help but getting nearly as embarrassed as me. Finally the ordeal was over, we had stretch waistbands and oversized blouses etc. mother was happy.
By this time I was quite thirsty so we went to the café for a drink and something to eat. Everything was fine until I sat down, I couldn’t see the table let alone the food. I had to push my chair back and lean forward and reach out for the food while leaning forward at this precarious angle. Then I opened my mouth, or at least tried to, the pad under my chin and the pad on my head were clamping my mouth tight shut. I had to sit up straight and tilt my head back to get my mouth open enough to eat. This was going to take some getting used to, I would have to watch what I chose to eat in the future.
In no time at all we were having to go back to the hospital for a check up and adjustments.
I was asked if there were any sore spots and was I in pain. I realized that my back had stopped aching, but I hadn’t noticed because my jaw as still hurting. When I mentioned this they said that they could do something about it if it continued to be a problem. My mother was instructed on how to take me out and strap me in to the brace and was reminded that I had to wear the brace for 23 hours every day. This was going to be difficult to cope with my life had changed overnight.
How was I going to sleep in it, how was I going to eat in it, what would my friends think, would I get taunted at school. Could I face 2 or 3 years of wearing this. So many things were going through my head.
When we got home I went to my bedroom and locked the door and cried and cried. I must have laid down because I fell asleep. I was woken by my mother banging on the door and shouting if I was OK. I tried to sit up, I had forgotten about the brace, I didn’t move. I was stuck there. How was I supposed to get up. I had to roll over until my face was buried in the bed clothes and then wriggle around until my legs were hanging over the edge of the bed. I knelt on the floor and then pushed myself upright and struggled to my feet. This was going to be a challenge.
It soon came round to bed time and it was time to take my clothes off to go to sleep. This was the first time I had chance to see myself in the brace. I stripped off and stood in front of the full-length mirror in the bathroom at this figure dressed in shiny steel and leather straps, it was a mixed feeling because it didn’t seem like it was me. But this was the ME that I would be living with for the next three years.
I had this shiny metal bar about an inch wide running from my pubic bone to my chin, it followed the shape of my body and went between my breasts. It was bolted to the corset at the bottom and to the chin pad at the top. In the middle of my chest it was joined together by bolts through some holes, there were a lot of holes that looked like they were for making the bar longer. The chin pad was a smooth soft leather pad fastened onto a stiff metal bar that followed the shape of my chin and kept my head fixed looking forward.
If I lifted my chin I could just lift it off the pad but it was not easy when I was standing up. Round one side of my rib cage was this big pad shaped to fit my chest that was strapped to the bar at the front and to one of the two bars at the back. I could only just see the bars at the back over my shoulders, they came up past my ears and finished at this pad which rested against the back if my head. Between the chin pad and this my head was firmly locked into place. I found that if I got hold of both sides of the ring that joined the chin pad to the bars at the back and pulled myself up I could open my mouth quite wide. As soon as I let go I dropped back inside and my mouth clamped shut.
I was fascinated and yet scared at the prospect of being inside this brace all the time. I decided I had seen enough of this and put my nighty on to hide it as much as I could. Then I went to bed. I could read if I sat up in bed but my arms soon ached with holding the book at eye level. I was going to have to make a lot of changes to the way I did things if I was going to cope with this.
My mother decided that it would be best if I got used to having the brace removed in the evening. This became a ritual of removing the brace, doing the exercises that we had been given, having a bath and then 10 minutes to do what ever I wanted. All too soon it would be time to be strapped in again.
I found that before long I was able to do most things as long as I thought about it first and it was time to think about going back to school. Fortunately my best friends had all been round to see me and had got used to me being in the brace so I didn’t think it would be too bad going back to school.
On the first day mother started fussing over me again and I wanted to shout at her to leave me alone, but it would have done no good. Like I said it was no problem, in fact it was good to be the center of attention.
Time went by and I got into the habit of wearing the brace all day and all night with my hour of freedom every evening, this went on for about a year. I said earlier that it was cool wearing the brace it did become something that helped me be different and to get noticed.
The only real problem I had was when people, mainly lads, came up behind me and grabbed the bars at the back of my neck and used them to steer me around. I couldn’t turn to see who it was, I was completely out of control and just had to walk wherever they wanted. It used to get me very annoyed but I could do nothing about it. Until one day this lad called Ben came up when it was happening. He shouted at them to stop and they ran off. He asked me if I was OK, he was very shy at first but we soon became good friends.
Ben would look out for me and make sure that no one did anything horrible to me. He was the biggest help that I had in that first year. We became good friends and he hardly mentioned my brace at all, he just treated me as though I was normal. It made things so much easier.
After a year at one of my check ups they noticed that my teeth had started to become a problem and that they would have to do something about it, my jaw had been hurting and this was my only real problem. I was taken out of the brace and seen by an orthodontist who took X-rays of my mouth and then made me bite into this minty flavored plaster that left bits in my mouth. I was put back into the brace and the visit was all over.
Two weeks later we got a card from the orthodontist asking for us to attend his clinic in 2 days time. When we got there my mother was told, I was getting fed up of them talking to my mother as though I wasn’t there, that to prevent my teeth from being permanently damaged I was to wear a bite plate in bed and when walking or sitting for a long time. He pulled out this piece of clear plastic and wire that looked like a set of false teeth with no teeth in it.
He told me to sit up straight and to grab the neck ring and pull myself up as hard as I could, he popped it into my mouth and said to relax. I did and then found that my teeth all fitted into the plastic shape and they didn’t want to move. I found it difficult to talk, I could only mumble words from the back of my throat, I felt like I was gagged. I came to know it as the Gag and dreaded having to put it in even if it did stop my teeth hurting
This was really the worst thing that had happened, now I felt crippled by this thing I was wearing. I started to look at my brace like a prison instead of it being cool and I couldn’t wait for it to come off of an evening.
I had to wear the Gag on the way to school and coming home again because this was when I did most walking, I would go into the toilets to put the Gag in and then hurry home, hoping that no one saw me and wanted to talk to me. It was difficult because to get it out I had to sit down and pull myself up by the neck ring before I could spit it out. I tried to do this in private whenever I could to avoid embarrassment.
It was at this time that I started to hate the brace and the Gag and all the restrictions that it brought with it.
I started to take some risks, I lied to my friends that I was allowed to go to school without the brace now. My mother went out to work before I had to leave for school so I would wait until she had gone out and take off the brace and hide it in the cupboard in my room. As long as I made sure that I was home before my mother got in from work there was no problem. If I couldn’t arrange it then I told them at school I was having a bad day and was having to wear my brace that day.
This went on for nearly a year and I though I had got away with it completely. The specialist had said that I might only have to wear the brace for two or three years and the time was almost up. Then disaster struck, mother came home early and caught me without my brace, I said that I had only just done it and that I didn’t do it very often, but I could tell she didn’t believe me. She started to check up on me more often and it was difficult to find the freedom that I had been enjoying.
I was convinced that she would tell the specialist at the next visit, but I didn’t need to worry because as soon as he examined me he knew straight away. He challenged me and I burst into tears and admitted it. He said that I had set the program back and that I would need to wear the brace for longer now. He said that I was to have a fresh plaster cast that day because I had grown so much in the last 2 years that I had used up all of the adjustments.
You know now what being stretched and plastered is all about although it was easier this time because I had been stretched for the last 2 years.
When it was time to put the brace back on there had been some modifications but nothing had been said about them so I just assumed it was part of the adjustments.
That was OK until the next day when I tried to take my brace off to go to school, then I found out what the modifications were, I was locked in. I couldn’t take the brace off. My neck ring wouldn’t come apart and my corset was locked at the front and the back. I really was a prisoner. Was this my mother’s doing, I blamed her anyway.
Now I was going to have to go to school in it ever day again, what was I going to say to everyone? I had started to grow up and think of the lads by this time I couldn’t believe that anyone would want to look at me wearing this thing all the time. It was OK at school but could you imagine going out to a disco or the cinema or for a meal with a boy wearing this contraption. I hated it; I couldn’t do anything about it. I searched all over but I couldn’t find the key that my mother used to let me out of my prison.
Almost without realizing it, it was my third anniversary. I had been wearing a Milwaukee brace for three whole years. This was a fifth of my life. It was time to visit the specialist again. I had forgotten all about the cast that they had taken of me a month ago, I was soon to find out what it had been done for. We were told that the Milwaukee brace had served its purpose and was not going to contribute any more. Before I had chance to breathe a sigh of relief thinking it was all over he said that it was time for me to wear a new brace called a Lyonnaise.
I was not sure what this was and he didn’t seem to want to tell me or show it to me. This time I was told that I would have to strip off completely, no dignity left at all, because this brace was to go next to my skin.
I soon found out why he didn’t show me it, it was just a big pile of bits and pieces, they were going to build it onto me, I didn’t like the idea of this at all. If it was this difficult to put on how difficult was it to take off!!
They started at my hips again and fastened two halves of a clear plastic shell round my body. This really fitted like a glove. I was perched on a little stool with my feet just balancing me on the floor. This really gripped me tight, it went round the cheeks of my bum and came down to the bone at the front. Then the building started A metal bar was screwed on at the front and at the back, they both came up to the top of my chest. Big bits of molded plastic were tried round my body in different places.
Sometimes they took these away and brought them back having made some adjustments. I was pushed and pulled and bent and twisted until I ached all over. At last it was all over. The biggest thing I noticed was that my head was free, there was no chin pad there was no pad at the back of my head. This was going to be heaven. I could twist and turn my head I didn’t need the Gag. I could look down and see the ground in front of me. This was going to be OK. So I couldn’t move my body at all but I could endure this, or could I, I remembered how it had been assembled onto me. How was my mother going to take this one off?
When I had got dressed we were taken back into the specialist who was very enthusiastic about the new brace, after all he wasn’t having to wear it. He said that this would control my body more than the Milwaukee as it could push and pull in the right places. It was pushing and pulling, one side of my chest was being pushed one way and my waist and stomach was being pushed the other. One armpit was being pushed up and the other side of my shoulder was being pulled back into my chest. It was most uncomfortable. It finished off in a ring, which followed the line of my shoulders and joined the front bar to the back bar. .
I was told that after a while this would settle down as my body took the shape of the brace. I would need regular check ups and regular adjustments to make it do its job properly. Then the bombshell was dropped. I was to wear it all the time. I couldn’t take it off. My mother couldn’t take it off. I had to bathe in it sleep in it do everything in it. Now I really felt like a tortoise. This was my house, my home, my shell, my prison for the next 12 months.
The brace was heavier than the old one but because it was such a good fit it was not the same restriction as before. I could wear clothes over it without anyone seeing it, this was a big advantage because in the last few months I had become very conscious of people staring at me.
The biggest problem was eating, if I ate too much or drank too much my stomach swelled up. But the brace didn’t, I thought that I would burst when this happened the first time.
When it got hot I sweated a lot, I needed to use a lot of deodorant so I didn’t smell. When I was wet if I made any big movements the trapped air made some very rude noises until they drilled air holes in strategic places. Having a shower was a problem, my mother could release something at the back with a key that let me open the brace up enough to wash most of the bits that were hidden. I had to take care of my skin, it was so soft where it was protected by my plastic shell. Drying myself was the biggest problem, half an hour with a hair dryer was the only way. Then she locked me in again.
This became the new ritual except it was just an hour of hard work struggling with the dead weight of the brace hanging loose round my neck by the neck ring. I began to realize how much this was supporting my body. I couldn’t bear to have it open for too long it made my back hurt like hell, it had been bad enough supporting my weight but now I had the weight of the brace on my shoulders as well.
Every month I went into the hospital for ‘adjustments’ to be made. Each time I came out taller, straighter, stiffer and tighter than before. I had to console myself that this must be doing some good. At this time my breasts started to develop and I had to have my brace modified. It became the trendiest bra you could imagine, I think not!! The part that wrapped round my chest was changed for a new part that was shaped under my bosom. I had a plastic half cup bra bolted to my chest, my breasts just sat there sticking out over their plastic shelf.
This was the time I started to get really interested in boys. I thought without my big neck collar, chin pad and head pad I didn’t look too bad and I started to go out socially more with my friends. I had no Idea what I would do if any boys were interested in me. I was sure that one touch of my shell would send them running and I was right this is just what happened most of the time. It scared them off. I began to look forward to the day that this thing would finally come off and I would be free. It couldn’t last much longer could it?
You can get used to anything I suppose, this is what happened the daily routine was always the same, at least I didn’t need to do any exercises with my back it was impossible I was held so rigidly. Even the visits to the torture chamber for my adjustments each month became a routine. This was beginning to settle into a pattern that seemed to have no end.
I celebrated my 17th birthday in my brace. In my head I felt like a woman but in my body I felt like a useless cripple bolted into this metal and plastic contraption that had become part of my body. It was some party, with all my friends there my mother was fussing around as usual and generally embarrassing me, as if I couldn’t do a good enough job of that on my own.
Anyway back to where I started I am sat in the specialists office just after my birthday waiting for him to tell me that the treatment has been a success and that I am about to be released from my prison. When it happened, I still cry when I think back to this point in my life, I was sitting there and inside I was quite excited although I had learned not to show it, as most of my life had been disappointments. Nothing in the world could have prepared me for what came next.
He calmly sat there and said that I had got a problem that he was not able to cure and that in the last year my body had become dependant on the brace. He pointed out how I found it difficult to support my self when my brace was undone for cleaning. Then he dropped the bombshell, I would have to continue to wear the brace to support my back and he didn’t say for how long.
I think that I was just subjected to a life sentence. He said that I had stopped growing now so they would be able to make some changes to the brace to give me more independence and to help it to last longer. I thought to my self how can I be more independent with a brace on my body. I thought how long does it have to last, it seemed to have done well enough over the last year.
I was to be subjected to yet another plaster cast. This was the first time I had been out of my shell for a whole year and I was quite frightened. This time I had a rubber suit like a tight diving suit to wear I couldn’t understand why it went up to my chin again but I was past caring by now. I was helped into it and helped into the chair to be strapped in I don’t think I could have managed on my own I felt like a bag of jelly. Again the stretching and pulling preceded the plastering. I was told that I would need to continue to wear my brace for now while the new one was made. I was put back into the brace and allowed to get dressed again. I was taken to the orthodontist again, what for this time, was it just a check up or was they’re something more sinister.
He took an impression of my teeth again and I hoped it was just for comparison. I was allowed to go home and told that I would have to wait some time for the new brace to be prepared. I suppose that this should have prepared me for what was coming.
Nearly three months later I am back at the hospital for a trial fitting of the new brace. As it turned out it was more like a suit of armor. The whole thing was stainless steel from top to bottom. Again it was a big pile of bits that I faced, I knew that my ordeal was far from over.
I got the feeling this was the last time that I would ever be stripped completely naked, from now on I would live inside this armor plating that was being assembled round my body. At first it all seemed to be going the same as before, except that the parts seemed to be riveted together not bolted and the plastic bits were thin highly polished steel sheets that fitted the contours of my body perfectly.
That was until they came to my chest, I had the same half-cup bra, with the edge curled outwards to let my breast sit snugly in place. Then they started to build upwards, it wasn’t going to stop at the neck ring which was about 2 inches above my shoulders it was going up each side of my neck behind my ears. Now I started to become frightened, what was coming next? Then they produced a stainless steel plate like a top denture, it was just like the Gag except that it was clamped to my top teeth and glued into place.
They asked me to open my mouth and they slid a rod into the Gag and before long this was being attached to the bars behind my ears. I had this rod sticking out of each side of my mouth and once again my head was fixed in position. The shock of it finally hit me I could contain it no longer I broke down into hysterical tears and no one could console me. This was it I was locked into this brace for the rest of my life. They didn’t need to tell me it was obvious.
They showed me how to do things for myself. I could release the rod at the frame on the back of my head but I couldn’t take the Gag out of my mouth. I would need to do this they said when I had a shower because the brace was designed to open only slightly at the hips. When this happened the whole thing dropped until the neck ring sat on my shoulders, if I hadn’t got the Gag detached it would have bent my head down onto my chest and probably broken something. I couldn’t leave any of it undone for very long because of the discomfort so most of the time I was just locked in.
It was a peculiar feeling with this rod sticking out of each side of my mouth, I could open my mouth and eat properly but I could not lift my head or lower it. I could not turn it at all to the left or the right. At least when I wore the Milwaukee I could skid my chin on the chin pad a little bit, this time I was stuck pointing in the direction my body was facing. I was left facing straight forward. When I stood up to walk about all of the movement of my hips was transferred to my head, the frame to the Gag acted a bit like a shock absorber but every step bounced my head, it was a most peculiar feeling.
When I got dressed the only thing that showed was the bars up behind my ears and the frame that came alongside my chin to support the Gag. This was going to be impossible to hide, I could grow my hair long again to hide the metalwork at the back. The rod in my mouth and the frame to support it were in full view to everybody.
This was my new image and I felt terrible. Here I was just 17 years old and looking like a freak and going to stay like this for a long while. How was I going to get used to it? The time had come to go in to see the specialist again and re-join my mother who hadn’t seen my contraption yet. I don’t think anything could have prepared her for what she saw and how she reacted. She just stared at me and then started to sob, I don’t know if it was pity or shock but it was the last thing I wanted.
The specialist finally was able to tell us that my back had become so weak and my spine was just collapsing, this is why I had been given this type of brace. I would wear it all of the time, it was not possible to take it off without the use of specialist equipment. I would have to learn to live with the restrictions that it imposed because, unless there was a significant medical breakthrough, I would have to wear a brace for the rest of my life.
I just wanted to get home and hide forever, I never wanted to go out again. I had been given a life sentence at the age of 17, there was no justice, what had I done to deserve this. I never wanted to see anyone again.
It took me a month before I would let any of my friends come and visit me. I was so scared to face them with the fact that this was ME for the rest of my life. I didn’t need to worry they were very supportive and before long had made me realize that I couldn’t hide away for the rest of my life. I slowly started to go out for short trips to places where I didn’t think anyone would know me. I got used to people staring at me eventually.
I yearned to meet up with Ben again, I hadn’t seen him for nearly three years, he was the only one who really understood.
One day I had plucked up courage to go out by myself. I ordered a Taxi and took a ride to a shopping center on the outskirts of the town where I was sure I could be private. I had been walking around for a while when I saw this man in the crowd ahead, there was something familiar about the way he walked, could it be Ben. I wanted to run after him, ’run’, it isn’t something that you do in a brace especially one like mine. I lurched along at my top speed, trying to look where my feet were going and hoping that nobody bumped into me from the side, but I lost him. I was very disappointed. I spent the next hour walking around twisting my body around to scan the horizon looking for him, I didn’t care what people thought. Then I saw him, he was in a café, and it was Ben. Now what was I going to do, could I still face him. I had to do it, I needed to know how he felt towards me now.
So, I went in and walked up to his table, before I could say anything he jumped up and through his arms round me. I thought this is it, the ultimate turn off, as he clashed with my steel shell. This will be the end of it, he was just going to be like everyone else as soon as they felt my shell they reacted like they had received an electric shock. I prepared myself for the inevitable. It didn’t happen, He bent down and was going to kiss me on the cheek. He stopped himself just in time before he crashed into the frame supporting the Gag. There was only a moment’s hesitation, however, before he planted a kiss right on my mouth. This was the first time that anyone had done this since I had been in my new suit of armor. I was taken aback, but at least it meant that things hadn’t finished between us.
We were both full of questions where had we been, what had we done. Eventually the question came round to me and my brace. At last I had someone to talk to I wanted to tell him everything, but this was too public a place. He was a student at the University and had his own student flat, he invited me back to have a coffee and a chat. I said yes straight away. All of a sudden I felt human again, he wanted to talk to me and not just stare at my brace, this was just what I needed, I had been so depressed lately.
When we got there he asked me to sit down and offered me a firm upright chair, he was being very considerate, because when I sat in a soft chair it was very difficult to get out of. I couldn’t wait to tell him the whole story. I wanted to show him my brace but I didn’t want to push him, I didn’t want to lose him so soon. The time flew by and before long I said that I must go because my mother would be worried where I was. We made plans to meet again and I couldn’t wait for it to happen.
I must tell you about some of the problems that I face, it will help you understand what it is like.
When I have a shower it is quite a complicated task because I have to get everything ready before I undo the brace. Then I have to release the levers on each side of my head behind my ears, this will let my head stay up when I undo the brace. My gag is still fastened to the brace with some sort of hinge. Then I have to reach down to my hips on each side and pull a lever out on each side to release the bottom of the shell round my hips. It only opens a little bit, just enough for me to wash. When I release the levers the whole brace drops down until the neck ring is hanging on my shoulders and I am supporting all of its weight on my weak back. I can only stand this for a very short time and I am glad to be fixed back in to the brace to be supported again. I have to make sure that I dry myself properly or I get very sore.
When I sleep I have to be very careful to have a pillow for if I am laid on my side, but no pillow if I am laid on my back. I don’t really need a pillow but it feels most peculiar with your head on its side hanging by a rod from the mouth. Rolling over in bed is a big task and if the bed clothes are too tight I can get trapped in the bed. I still have to roll off the edge of the bed onto my knees to stand up. I have a rope loop hanging down from a frame above the bed head to help me pull myself up the bed.
I have to be very careful with oral hygiene with the Gag secured in my mouth, I have to make sure that no food gets lodged in it because it would soon destroy my teeth. I have to make sure my lips don’t get sore where the rod comes out.
I have to be careful how much I eat and drink, I have to have a little and often or I blow up inside the shell and there is nowhere to go.
If drink too much my bladder presses onto the shell and makes me want to rush to the loo.
When I walk all of the jolts from my legs are transferred straight from my hips straight to my head, it affects my vision and can give me headaches. I have developed a way of gliding along to limit this shaking about.
I can’t see to the sides or up and down, I just stare straight ahead. I have to swivel my eyes or turn my whole body to look around. I can lean back so far to look up but with all my steelwork I have to be careful not to lean too far or I would overbalance and land flat on my back and be stuck like an overturned tortoise. If I want to see anything below eye level I have to lean forward at the hips and can only reach the ground by squatting on my heels. I can’t bend down and look down at the same time so everything is done by memory or placed at a convenient height for me.
Driving a car is going to be impossible and any sporting activity even tidily winks seems to be out of the question.
All in all there is not a lot left I can do. I had been wearing the latest brace for about a year when I had an accident I fell over and landed awkwardly on my side I crashed into the ground. There is no easy way to fall when you can’t bend or twist so you just have to try and protect yourself as best as you can. At least the body shell stops my body from being damaged but it doesn’t do much for the clothes. I was helped up by some passers by and thought I was going to be alright, except my head was at a funny angle It was all twisted and the rod was broken near my mouth at one side. What was I going to do, I said I was OK but when I tried to stand up I couldn’t control where my head went and the rod was digging into my cheek.
They decided to get me an ambulance and took me to the hospital. I said that there was nothing wrong with me it was only my brace. I was still taken to hospital anyway. When I got there they realized that I was OK and that it was my brace that needed some first aid. So I was transferred to the orthopedic department. They all knew me there and straight away saw my predicament. It was not as simple as I thought, I had broken something in the bar to my Gag. They said that they would have to take off my brace to carry out the repairs and that I would probably have to stay in hospital while it was done. I asked them why? Couldn’t I just wear a temporary brace or something while they repaired it.
When they took the brace off me I knew why. I couldn’t sit up or hold my head up for very long at all. I had become completely dependent on the brace to support my body. I could wear a cast if I wanted but it would have to support my head as well. Anything was better than lying on my back for the two weeks that it was going to take to fix it. They said that they could make a jacket splint that fitted my body completely from my bottom to my neck and that it would extend up to a ring round my head at the top. This didn’t seem too bad so I opted to go for it. I would be allowed to go home wearing this cast until the repair is completed. It felt strange to be restricted in the same way but without the Gag. The cast was very bulky and being white was very obvious with my head half encased in plaster. At least it looked like I had been in an accident and not escaped from a freak show.
When I got home my mother panicked, what had happened etc. etc. I calmed her down and told her that it was in the body shop for repairs and that I was OK.
This lasted for nearly two weeks, two weeks without a shower. I was glad when they called to say my brace was ready to be fitted. I suppose glad is too strong a word, but I couldn’t manage without it now.
When it was re-assembled, this was quite an ordeal with my body being so floppy, I noticed that when they put the Gag back in it was different the bar that came out of my mouth was thicker and shorter. When the bars were fastened from the back of my neck alongside my cheek they were a different shape. They were more streamlined and followed the line of my jaw. It was just like I had been given a steel lower jaw. This was attached to the bar and I was shown how the new attachment worked. The same as before when I lifted a latch behind each ear my head was free to move, only it would only go upwards this time.
This was so that when I released my brace for it to drop onto the neck ring my head would stay looking forward when the brace dropped down. When I fastened the brace by sitting down and forcing the brace back up again my head would lock back into position automatically. And that is how it has stayed since. There was no way I was going to break it again it was so strong.
The Gag and its bars sticking out of my mouth are a constant source of interest I am stared at all of the time. The worst is that I can’t close my mouth completely and I am always dribbling from where the bars come out of my lips at the corners of my mouth. I just have to put up with the stares all of the time as there is nothing I can do about it.
It was at this time that I had to decide if I was going to go on to University or start earning my keep. I didn’t think that I was ready to face working for now and I thought that if I could get into the same college as Ben at least I would be safe again. I would have to talk to him about it when we met up again. I knew my mother wanted to keep me at home to protect me but I also knew that I didn’t need her any more especially now my brace opened at the sides. I was ready to escape but I didn’t feel that I could do this by myself. What should I do?
I asked Ben if he would check out courses at the University that he thought I could do, I am quite clever, but I suppose that comes from having lots of time on my hands while everyone else is enjoying themselves. He said what would I do for accommodation as I lived way over the other side of town and it would mean two busses and all the stares or the expense of a Taxi every day. I didn’t know what to do or say so I said lets find out if there is anything suitable first.
To cut a long story short I have started a degree course in forensic law, I have moved in with Ben and got over the problem of breaking the daily tie with mother. This was the biggest relief that you could imagine. I didn’t think she was going to let me go especially when I was moving in with a man.
That was interesting to start with, we kept our privacy and treated each other like any other friends at first but it was not long before I needed some help. I easily get into difficult situations and I was bending down to pick something up in the kitchen when I slipped and fell and ended up wedged between the table leg and the cupboard. And try as I did I could not get myself back up. Ben came rushing to my help and just picked me up in his arms, well our friendship took another direction from this point. We kissed and he wanted to hold me. This was going to be the end or the beginning, he would see my brace in all its glory for the first time. It would either turn him off me forever or he would take it in his stride.
I didn’t need to worry. He carefully carried me into the bedroom and gently removed my clothes. Until I was completely naked. Well as naked as wearing a suit of armor can be. It didn’t feel like he was staring at me, it was not unpleasant. In fact I was enjoying it. It seemed like he was looking straight through the steel and looking at me. It was so natural, I just longed to lay in his arms and feel wanted. If you expect me to go into all the details you have another think coming. That is private between me and Ben, you will have to use your imagination.
We stayed together all through University and I was dreading the day that we graduated I was sure that he would go off and start his new life and new career elsewhere and I would be left stranded with my mother again. I didn’t need to worry he had been applying for jobs during his last year and he came back from an interview and asked me to marry him. I knew he had got the job and that he wanted me to share my life with him. I said yes, yes, yes.
We had been married for three years and I had been pursuing my career when I suppose the inevitable happened, I got pregnant. What were we going to do? I couldn’t even eat a big meal let alone have my belly get big enough for a baby. I panicked, I didn’t know what to do. My doctor made an urgent appointment with the specialist. Two days later we went into the specialists rooms and told him of our predicament, I didn’t want to lose the baby but what was I going to do. The specialist just smiled at me and said not to worry, he had been waiting for this to happen. He then told us that he had planned ahead and already made a special brace for me to wear.
What a relief, this was going to be OK after all.
He explained that new technology was now available to allow them to vacuum form thin titanium sheet. Titanium is used in aircraft, he told us, it is very strong and very light. The bonus is that it does not irritate the skin or rust, so it is perfect for making permanent braces.
He said that he had designed this brace and used my last body cast to make the brace and that it was ready now for fitting. I wouldn’t have to wait at all.
He was obviously very proud of the brace and wanted to show us his handiwork before it was fitted. He brought it out to show us and it was just like a metal swimming costume, it was shaped exactly to the contours of my body. It had a back and a front half that were hinged at the shoulder. The back was just a full shape of my body from the cheeks of my bottom to the back of my head. The front was where he had concentrated. There was a big hole at the front that extended over the full area of my stomach, my breasts would be supported as before but the best was that there was no neck ring. The frame came down from the shoulders and plunged in a vee down between my breasts to join the front of the shell. The supports for my armpits were also attached to this frame
There was no attachment for my Gag but he said this would be similar to what I was wearing at the moment.
I couldn’t wait to have it on. This time I was taken out of my old brace laid down. They brought in the new brace and laid it alongside me, the top half was lifted up like a big mouth. I was lifted in and my head guided between the bars of the vee. The shell was closed onto my body and some clips fastened at the side. It immediately felt very comfortable. Next they attached the top part of the frame to the back of the shell where it came up my neck and re-attached the Gag.
This was it, they helped me sit up. It felt so very different. It wasn’t heavy at all. In fact, if it weren’t holding me so firmly I wouldn’t know it was there. I had chance to see myself in a full length mirror and for the first time I would be able to wear dresses with a lower neck line without revealing all my steelwork. The specialist explained that I would need to wear an elasticized panel across the big hole at the front to support the front of my lower body and stop me bulging out but, as the baby grew, this could be extended. This felt so good I cried with pleasure for the first time.
The pregnancy went according to plan and the baby was born by cesarean section through the hole in my brace. The specialist came to see me and he said that I would be able to continue wearing this brace because it was working so well. He said he had a surprise for me. If I were prepared to undergo some surgery I would be able to go without the Gag forever. This was the best news I had ever been given. The Gag was the only part of the brace that I hated. He described the operation and the result to me. I said yes, I wanted to go ahead with it as soon as possible. He said I would need to wait about 3 months before the parts could be ready but that he would need to take some accurate measurements of my headfirst.
I came in two weeks later for my measurements to be taken. My head was clamped into a frame and probes pressed against my skull from my cheekbones right round the back of my head. When it was all over I was told that I would be contacted when they were ready to operate.
The three months passed quite quickly with the demands of the baby and everything else. At last the specialist explained what he was going to do. He was going to peel back my scalp and insert a titanium plate that would extend from one cheek bone up over my ear round the back of my neck and up the other side the same. This was to be permanently screwed to my scull and the skin and scalp stitched back into place. This plate would then be attached to the back of my brace. I would be able to train my hair over it and it would be invisible. He promised me that when I came out of the operation the Gag would be gone forever. I couldn’t wait.
When I woke from the anaesthetic the first thing I did was to reach up to my mouth to feel for the Gag, sure enough, it wasn’t there. My head was bandaged so I couldn’t feel what had been done, but I couldn’t move my head at all. I couldn’t wait to have the bandages off and see the final creation. Three days later the bandages were removed and I was given a mirror to look at myself. I couldn’t see anything at all. Apart from the titanium shell up the back of my neck there was nothing near my face at all. The steel jawbone and the Gag were gone forever.
I was shown how to release a catch that allowed my head to tilt forwards and backwards slightly. I would be able to lock it in the up position or the down position as well as looking straight ahead. I could lock it looking up or down as well as straight forward. This meant that I could see what I was eating for the first time without leaning right back. Some things were a compromise. If I locked it to look down then I had to look up from the top of my eyes to talk to people. But it was so much of an advantage. I wanted to have a shower, they said that this was OK but to remember to release the catch before I released the latches on the shell.
This was fantastic, if I had to wear the brace all the time, this was as good as it was going to get. I could look like a woman now for the first time. With my hair trained down the back of my neck and onto my shoulders no one would know that I was wearing the brace until I had to turn round or look up and down. I could wear daring clothes with a plunging neckline, I even had some clothes specially made to follow the contours of the bars as plunged between my breasts. Life had started to take on a new meaning at long last. If I was to live in the brace for the rest of my life it might as well be this one.
That’s how I am now ten years later still wearing my suit of armor and knowing that this is it probably for the rest of my life. My shell fits like a glove now, I think that my body has just molded itself to the shape of the Titanium. I can’t go anywhere and it won’t let me. It is part of me now forever. I feel like I have no bones and that my shell has become my bones. I think I know how a crab feels.
I can’t stand with the brace open without help now so showering has become more difficult. Sometimes Ben helps me, other times I have the shower in the shell and then open it to finish off the rest laid down. I am dependent on Ben for so much now, I don’t know what I would do without him.
I can lay down with the front half of my brace lifted right up against the wall, I can’t get out of the back of the shell because my head is bolted to it and I am not strong enough. It makes me feel so free just to lay there without the brace clamping me so tightly. It has become a regular routine to be released for a couple of hours in an evening, but I know I will always have to be fastened back in eventually. Because my head is fastened onto the shell of my brace so securely I have come to accept that I will never be separated from the brace and I will have to face the rest of my life with it securely holding my body in its metallic embrace.