Author, Michelle Spray from Connecticut, USA shares her Scoliosis Story…

Hi. I’m Michelle Spray. I was first diagnosed with scoliosis in the 5th grade during a routine screening in the nurses office. We were told to bend over with our hands pressed together and our arms stretched out as if we were going to dive into a pool. Then a nurse ran her finger in a straight line down each of our backs. After all the girls were reviewed, we were sent back to class––all except me. I had to sit and wait for all the other girls to finish before the nurse checked me again. She wrote down something on a small white notepad, ripped off the first sheet, and told me to give it to my parents. Infuriated, I thought, “What? She isn’t going to tell me what it says. Is it serious? Am I going to die?” Then I took a peek at the note. It said that I had scoliosis and that I should see a doctor. The next thing I knew, I was sitting on a crisp, white, paper-covered table in the orthopedic surgeon’s office. I felt a few little shivers as I sat there in my underwear and a backless paper shirt. I wasn’t happy.

Over the course of the next several years and the trials of wearing a back brace to school AND dancing school, my back pain increased and my self-esteem plummeted. Although I confided my feelings in my diary, I was alone. I didn’t want anyone to know. I didn’t know how to cope with what was happening to my body. I couldn’t help but feel that I was “different.” I was so insecure, but I didn’t realize that we were all dealing with our own insecurities at the same time. Let’s face it: seventh and eighth grades are hard enough when you don’t have any reason for the kids to pick on you. Everything just seemed so tragic then, whether it was a pimple or talking to boys. Puberty was the onset of the ultimate self-consciousness for me and wearing a back brace was an added adventure.

After several more months of pain and the curve progressing, I was presented with my options of continued observation versus surgical correction. Even with all the big words, I understood what it meant. I started to cry. There was no way I was having an operation and that was that. It was the end of the story as far as I was concerned.

Before I left the doctor’s office, I decided to mention that I thought I could hear something rubbing against my lungs whenever I moved or twisted. He said I was right and if the curve worsened and I didn’t have the operation to correct it, there was the possibility that my curving spine and/or reshaping ribs could actually puncture my lungs. Hmmm.

As much as I didn’t want to think about what was happening, I had to. It was unavoidable. I weighed out and brainstormed all the possibilities in one, big, steady stream of consciousness. “How many sixteen-year-olds have to make a decision like this,” I asked myself. “What do I want: The bump on my back or the scar? The constant pain of scoliosis or the temporary pain of recovery? Will I be able to make the senior class trip? Will I be able to perform in my last high school musical? I will be going to college the year after. When will I have time to do it? I don’t want to take time off between high school and college. I want to start college on time. During college? After college? I’ll have a career. I won’t be able to take time off. What about kids? I won’t be able to do it then. I won’t have time. When should I have this done? Do I want to have this done? I’ll have a flat back and a nice figure. I want that. I really want that. What should I do? I want the pain to go away. I have to have the operation. I have to have it done now. I want to have it done as soon as possible. I want to have a flat back for next summer. Yes, I’m going to do it!”

As soon as I made up my mind to have the operation, I knew it was the right decision. There was no going back and I never second-guessed myself. I felt in control of my own body at last. The scoliosis had taken over my whole body; finally I felt that I wasn’t going to allow it to cripple me and keep me self-conscious until the day I died. I deserved to have a great-looking body and now I would have it. I was ready.

I waited a few days to tell my parents my decision and that gave me time to think in private until one day I blurted out that I was going to have the operation. They asked if I had thought about it; they wanted to be sure I was making the right decision. There was no doubt in my mind that I had. I think my parents were in some way ready for what I told them because they said I had seemed snippy and in deep thought for a few days. When it came down to it, I just couldn’t handle the pain any longer. I just wanted to be fixed already.

After the surgery and recovery, I kept busy and happy with all my activities. I became more and more confident every day. I started feeling that I was somewhat attractive and I even stepped out of my comfort zone and started dating, which helped boost my self-esteem.

Although the recovery process was long, it was well worth it. I can honestly say I became a different person. Suddenly I was standing straight, not lopsided. My clothes fit perfectly because my back was flat, not protruding. My spine was strong, not dependent on the brace to hold it up, and that constant throbbing pain was gone. Finally, I had no prickly heat, no bump, no everyday pain, no humiliation, no anger, no frustration, no sweaty undershirts, no skirts to be hemmed, no rawness, no redness, no Velcro! I was the happiest I had ever been. I finally had the perfect waist and an even waistline, one that I had only dreamed of before. Finally I felt great.

A few years later, I saw an article about a girl getting ready to have spinal fusion. Her photo resonated with me, her head hung low (obviously embarrassed) and I thought, I have to help her. My diary could be a book. I have to get this book out there to help her and others like her. So I published Growing Up with Scoliosis. I’m proud to say that it continues to help thousands of scoliosis patients to this day. I’m in the process of releasing an e-book version and I’m currently recording an audio version of the book! Write it down, yours could be the next book!

Bravo Michelle!! Your book has circulated in the thousands around the globe! You are such an inspiration to the scoliosis world and a beautiful person!  Keep up the great work and look forward to the audio and e-book version of “Growing Up with Scoliosis.” Debbie Ordes, President Global Scoliosis Foundation, Inc.