Hiding It From The Kids
by Nicole Freire
Be forewarned readers, I'm going to make you do a little work on your own during this article.
Consider it independent study. You may get extra credit. Or at least extra appreciation.
Is it a deal? Here we go.
As a child I had scoliosis. Every six months, from age 5 to 12, I stood by myself in a dark x-ray room and had another film taken.
When I was seven years old, my spine curved enough that I had to wear this medieval contraption.
(Ok, readers, here's your first task: Google image Milwaukee brace and then come back)
It was just as awful as it looks. I had to wear it 24 hours a day. It gave me blisters on my hips that turned into scars, kept me hiding inside the school library during recess, made the other kids think I was weird, and the neck thing bothered me so much that to this day I cannot wear necklaces for more than ten minutes without tearing them off. Turtlenecks are out too.
When I was twelve, the scoliosis got bad enough that the brace wasn't enough. I had surgery, 4 plus hours of it, during which a stainless steel rod was attached to my spine and my spine fused. I spent a week in the hospital, and then 6 months in a body cast, meaning I started junior high wearing OVERALLS because that's all that would fit over the cast.
As an adult I have incredible posture and one leg and one hip that are different heights, different lengths. I also have some mild hypochondria, a deep and abiding faith in the medical field, and a wicked gallows sense of humor.
But it saved my life, this surgery. My spine was not only curved, it was twisted, putting pressure on my heart and my lungs.
(Next up readers! Google image Boston brace and then come back)
In two weeks my sweet youngest daughter, all of seven years old, will be forced to wear that. We've bargained for wearing it only 12 hours a day, only because I'm sure the doctor was reading my hysterical body language, the obvious "OH NO YOU DON'T".
That 12 hours a day is good for four months, and then we'll have to revisit the spine situation. As we will continue to do until she's passed through puberty. We have years of this to go and no other cure but waiting.
I knew that this day might come. Scoliosis is carried by maternal genes (she can thank me later) and is common in girls. I've been watching my daughters since birth, surreptitiously checking their shoulder blades and their spines. I knew that I could pass this along to them, that the chances were good that they'd be spending just as much time in x-ray rooms as I did.
(Oh, and you would not believe the bad teeth that my husband and I have both passed along. We should have had an orthodontist on retainer when I was pregnant. Hah! Get it? An orthodontist on retainer? See, I can still make jokes.)
But when we got the news, that Boston was coming to town (the brace, people, not the band) I had to be stoic and calm. The doctor said she could have her brace made in any color she wanted! Wow, isn't that great? Maybe you'd like blue? Or pink? No, I assured her, it wouldn't hurt. It would help her. It would be ok.
And I was lying, lying to her face, trying not to let her see how scared I was, how horrified I am, how guilty I feel.
I'm not mollified by the fact that you can have a brace made in any color you choose, it's still a brace. I had the same reaction when the orthodontist told my other daughter that she could have her rubber bands in any color she chose. Color choice is no soothing balm. It does not make things better. More colorful maybe, but l will not be fooled. I have been down that road.
I know that my daughter isn't my clone. She is her own person and will have her own experience of this disease. She will be helped through this with love and lots of inappropriately timed jokes. She will be fine in the end. I was.
But right now I feel like I've been kicked in the stomach and I'd really like to kick someone back. Something? Maybe Google Image?
And how do I hide this? Because I have to hide it a little. That's my job, our job, as parents. To act as filters, strainers, human colanders. Drips of information as needed. Kleenex and hugs whenever necessary.
(One more time readers! Google image baby hedgehog and then come back.)
There, that wasn't so bad, right?
Baby hedgehogs are cute.
And things will go well.
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Nicole Freire is a freelance writer who lives in Santa Barbara.