Segment One of my Journey: Scoliosis

To me, there’s nothing like the atmosphere of a softball tournament as I grew up around softball. Softball & sports in general will always be a part of me- however, I have found that they DON’T define me; in fact, nothing of this world defines me. My value is found in Christ alone- He is my Refuge & my Strength. For so long I looked to the things of this world to define me; however, I have surrendered my plans for my life to God; this is a very painful process as what I thought was best for me & my wildest dreams were not in line with God’s plans. I’ve realized that on my own I am nothing & my plans & dreams are meaningless; however, when I surrender to God, the unthinkable happens- dreams I could NEVER imagine!! My God is insane & I LOVE Him!

Free-spirited- the one description of me that has never changed & I believe will always remain true about me. As a toddler, I was constantly on the go – nothing stopped me! I began jumping out of my crib & landing on the floor; since my parents tried to prevent me from doing so but were unsuccessful, they put a mattress beside my crib for me to land on. I was very much a terrorizer & got into everything; Courtney and I also wrestled a lot! Fear did not dictate my life as a child; I’ve always been very adventuresome & love a challenge. I see challenges as a chance to grow & become better.
At 2 years old, my dad was carrying me down the steps when he slipped on a sock & I flipped backwards & snapped my femur.  I was rushed to Akron Children's Hospital & was rushed into surgery; my parents told the doctors how daring & energetic I was so I had two hot pink casts all the way up to my waist to prevent me from walking or re-injuring myself in any way. While in the hospital I would scream & cry from the almost unbearable pain. At a very young age I got addicted to the strong pain medicine prescribed & went through a traumatically painful withdrawal from it. Consequentially I learned at a very young age to keep pain to myself & to not take medicine out of fear of becoming addicted again. I refused medicine or medical help of any kind; hospitals, doctors & medicine became my enemy & pain became normal. I hated seeking professional help as I thought I could do everything on my own due to the perceived battlefield of medicine and hospitals. The day I got my casts removed the doctor told my parents I would be very stiff, sore & most likely wouldn't be able to walk; as soon as the casts were removed I was swinging my legs, jumped down from the exam table & went running...FREEDOM!! Since a young age I've tested the rules to see just how much I can get away with; I need to figure out for myself the reasons those rules and restrictions are put in place; sometimes I prove the safeties to prevent harmful consequences wrong while other times I come out not quite so lucky! However, what is life without chances, risks and adventure; to me this is no life at all and contrary to trusting in God. Yes, the balance is extremely difficult to find and I fought for many difficult years to find this balance.
Throughout all of elementary I was very athletic & sports played a significant part of my life; it was a way to get all of my energy out as I was a VERY energetic child! I was EXTREMELY competitive. I learned to base my whole identity on sports & how athletic I was. I loved the constant attention I received from sports. However, I still lacked confidence in myself – I never viewed myself as good enough & minimized my achievements and efforts. No matter how hard I tried, I told myself I could do better. I spent hours, in fact most of my day outside playing sports- even by myself if there was no one else to play with. I basically lived outside: rollerblading, biking, running, etc. The outdoors in general was & continues to be my favorite place filled with unending adventure– I love hunting, tubing, skiing, 4-wheeling, white water rafting, repelling, rock climbing, running, etc. Growing up, my grandparents lived on a farm & so we played outside the majority of the time- thrill became another passion; we played in the hay loft, shot animals, chased cows, & climbed silos- I was never one to not take chances.       
 In middle school during Track & Field my first year I placed third in the sprints against all of the high school; when we picked teams, I was all of a sudden a very popular pick. They knew I could run fast & saw a lot of athletic potential in me, I guess. Due to the trauma of sexual harassment I became terrified of males; I thought if I could become "one of the guys" they would no longer notice me; I viewed myself as a disgrace/never good enough because of sexual harassment & fought for acceptance in the one thing I loved- sports. Sports became my idol & my identity; I believed athletics was my calling to life so I put all other things behind me- competing was my pride & joy. Each game was a failure to me if I didn't have some kind of scar- it was an honor to be injured while doing what I loved & NOTHING was going to keep me from the competing- not even my body!
Throughout middle & high school I played every sport available to me & consistently placed in the top three when I competed. I gave sports everything I had- nothing less than best was acceptable to me. In order to stay fit, I began over-exercising & based everything, all of my time, on exercising. I made myself run 5-7 miles/day  at the minimum as often as I could. No matter if I was sick or had something else to do, I didn't allow myself grace or slack. I "had" to run until I fainted- when my legs felt like they would give out, I pushed myself even harder until I collapsed. I was naturally very athletic & due to my over-exercising I developed a significant amount of muscle. I could run for hours & hours without tiring & in softball I became like “one of the guys”. The more I exercised & practiced the stronger & better at sports I became. On top of running, I would also do at the least 100 push-ups per minute until I couldn't do anymore- until I could no longer hold my body up off the ground; I also did other forms of cardio & strength training to improve my performance and strength. If experts said thirty minutes a day was good, to me two hours was even better as I didn't want to be considered average. Due to overexercising I became significantly strong & fit & excelled at every sport I played- sports were my life! I took pride in my athleticism as it was my identity. I played on many sports teams & loved each one of them; My entire world literally revolved around sports and eventually my best became inferior to my own expectations. Eventually my “training” increased as what I was doing previously was no longer good enough in my own eyes. I then began running an average of 13 miles a day at a minimum of five days per week. Strength training & cardio was my 1st priority; I was in the best shape of my life & was aiming to keep improving- my ultimate dream was to be a well-known Olympic athlete.
In 2008 I competed in the long jump in Track & Field; I landed wrong & dislocated my lumbar spine. Since I had no respect for my own body, I kept on competing by finishing the event & denied myself of pain (I’m just imagining, I thought). I then competed in the sprints with lumbar dislocation, denying the pain & placed in the top three. Afterwards, Courtney confronted me as she knew something was wrong. I tried every way imaginable to relocate my severely fragile spine by myself but was unsuccessful each time. I then sought Courtney to literally walk on my back in hopes of fixation; this also proved unsuccessful. I stayed until the end of Track & Field & was forced into seeing a chiropractor. He took x-rays to determine lumbar dislocation but also found something else wrong- I had Scoliosis. He proceeded to restore my significantly tense back into place by using some special machine. He then gave me exercises to do 2 times daily to “fix” my Scoliosis & we scheduled weekly back adjustments. However, after several months my curvature was rapidly increasing & we consequentially decided on receiving a second opinion. Dr. S measured my curve, reaching approximately sixty degrees & presented us with the recommendation of surgery- a spinal fusion. I was beyond devastated & shocked at this news- NEVER did I expect surgery as an option; I had just found out I even had Scoliosis! There must've been another way. As the doctor proceeded to explain the surgery process, his words went “in one ear & out the other”; the devastating word “surgery” ran continually through my head haunting my thoughts & dreams. We scheduled the date for August 1, 2008 at 7:30 A.M.
   
I remember the day I was told I had Scoliosis- I wanted to lay down & cry; dig a hole & hide. This to me, seemed like the end- how would I compete any longer? Sports was my life!! When Dr. S told me I had to have surgery, I literally wanted to punch him- to make him take back his words. "I didn't need surgery! I was fine", I thought. Well, when the doctor told me this "devastating news", I tried so hard to keep a "happy face". "How would others perceive me now?!"  I struggled, & still do struggle with minimization; I heard the doctor explaining the surgery, but it "went in one ear & out the other". I didn't realize the seriousness of this surgery; I was being cut open; big deal! I viewed this as a minor surgery, so "why were my parents & others so scared? Why were they putting me on the prayer list?! It was JUST surgery!!" I had no idea! In fact, until several weeks ago I still never understood the seriousness & complexity of this surgery. It's good I was asleep or else I would have beat up the doctors! lol j/k But seriously, watching a live 1hr. broadcast of a spinal fusion at Akron Children's opened my eyes completely- I saw what they had done to me, why I was in so much pain, etc. I remember that to me, though, the surgery wasn't actually the most traumatic part- it was the emotional, mental, and psychological effects. 
 I had shrunk over 2 in. from the Scoliosis & it just kept progressing rapidly. I could no longer run without becoming out of breath as my curve was pressing against my lungs- I had a hard time breathing & catching my breath with the curve affecting my body. One hip was higher than the other side; my one shoulder slumped & I walked extremely crookedly; my back on the side of the curve stuck out significantly when I bent over & I had severe back pain. I was so incredibly ashamed that I had to have surgery that I told no one unless they asked. I hated talking about it & tried to ignore it. I didn’t understand why my parents were so concerned; why they spent so much time crying & praying for me. I also HATED when they told people I was having surgery; when they put it on the prayer chain I was horrified! I told no one of this surgery as I was incredibly ashamed; I went on with life as if nothing had happened & despised talking about surgery. I hated all of the extra attention given to me because of my “illness” or whatever- I hated being treated like a “baby”; “seriously, it was no big deal. I’d be fine, I could handle it” I told myself.
I was prohibited by my doctor from competing in the remainder of Track & Field because of the risk of injury prior to surgery; I needed to be in a healthy state in order to proceed with surgery. My team was upset with this decision & didn’t understand why I couldn’t participate – I was vital to the team! I felt like I was letting my team down, so I decided to “get around the doctor’s orders” (remember, I would do ANYTHING to win). I competed in the team events since I thought that since it wasn’t just me competing I would be ok. I remember being utterly exhausted after competing- I minimized the effects of Scoliosis on my body & performance. I tried to live as if I was “invincible”; my dream & goal for the future was to become a professional & eventually Olympic athlete. I believed athletics was my calling & was completely closed off to any other careers. I’ve learned that God takes what we will “never” do & proves us wrong. I said I’d “never be a nurse or have anything to do with the medical field” as I absolutely hated it (that’s actually an understatement!)! It’s amazing how God works- He totally changed my view of the medical field & the plans for my own life.  I believe that God has a sense of humor; our plans, at times make Him laugh because only He sees the whole picture. Who are we in comparison to God?
On August 1, 2008, I woke up at around four o' clock AM & got ready to go to the hospital. My surgery was at 7:30 & we had to be there two hours early. I remember being terrified, but was too proud yet ashamed to admit to that. I gave my surgery over to God- it was in His hands. Inside, though I still was terrified; one wrong move during surgery & I would've been paralyzed; I didn't realize how major of a surgery this was. Honestly, I was not prepared at all- I had no idea what to expect as I was still in shock. At 7:30 I was taken into the operating room & laid on a hard metal table. The last thing I remember was the IV. An incision was made from my neck to my waist and the muscle was stripped away in order to widely expose my spine. Two titanium rods were bent vertically along my spine to manipulate my curvature to a lower and more proportional degree. Twenty one screws and multiple hooks were drilled into the pedicles of the vertebrae making up my spine in order to hold the rods and newly proportioned curvature into place; bone grafting was done to rough up my bones in order to promote fusion of the spine.   Before my surgery I had to donate 2 pints of my own blood because of the vast amount of blood loss. Normally you have to wait about 3-4 weeks or so to donate the second pint, but I only had 2 weeks to complete both. My surgery was a little over seven hours long.                         
                   When I woke up in the recovery room I was in the worst pain I've ever had in my life. I wasn't allowed ANY pain medicine until the anesthesia completely wore off; the pain medicine took half an hour to begin working. Because of the severity of a little 2 yr. old boy in critical condition, the recovery room was in complete chaos; all the attention was on this poor, dying little boy whose brain was rapidly swelling. Because of this, my pain medicine was extremely behind schedule- I went for hours without pain medicine as there wasn't a nurse "bugging me" about my pain level, so I of course didn't mention anything- I was laying on a fresh wound- 21 screws & 2 rods carefully & strategically drilled & maneuvered along the spine & spinal canal- and I wasn't allotted any pain meds. My mom was nearly beside herself during this time- she literally passed out because of the pain I was going through & she could do nothing about. She says I would moan, my eyes rolled backwards & I was clear sweaty & bloated due to the "trauma". I remember none of this- my mom tells me that at one point the pain was so intense that my dad laid his hands on me & prayed- crying out to God to help my quivering and weakening body. Several moments later I was able to fall asleep. I had a catheter & also a tube running through my nose & down my throat since I was unable to get out of bed. I wasn't allowed to eat or drink 24 hours after surgery. After 3 hours in recovery, 3x longer than normal because of the attention needed for the dying boy, I was taken to ICU. I was limited to sucking on ice chips or a sponge soaked in water. My nurse Derrell turned me every hour or so to decrease the pressure on my scar as well as to decrease the risk of infection and other possible difficulties. 
The next day I was moved to the regular floor & was put on a liquid diet. It was also recommended that I try to sit in a chair- it was highly encouraged to get up & moving as soon as possible. I, of course, couldn't turn down a challenge! After sitting in a chair for about 15 minutes, I was exhausted; between company/visiting, sitting up, intense pain, & being "drugged up", I was completely worn out. Also, I had to rotate to lying on a different side every hour or so because of the pain & un-comfortableness of lying down on a fresh wound. I had to complete breathing exercises several times daily to help me with deep breathing as I was either holding my breath or taking shallow breaths due to the pain. I was then given an oxygen tube to wear the majority of the time, when I had trouble breathing on my own.                        
 The next day I got up & sat in a chair twice for thirty minutes each time. This was quite a challenge!! The next day I was finally allowed to eat solid foods. I also walked for the first time after surgery. After walking around the room, I was dizzy & exhausted from the trauma my body was still healing from. The next day I was feeling up to another challenge, & decided to walk around the hospital; the physical therapist tied material around my waist & kept me stable while I walked due to the unsteadiness resulting from surgery; I even felt up to trying the stairs & conquered them; it was hard to walk without stepping on my feet. I was in the hospital for a total of five days. My doctor told me that before surgery I was in terrific shape & my body healed perfectly from the entire trauma.
 About 1 1/2 weeks after surgery I attended my first cousin's wedding, 9 hours away by car; limited car rides were recommended up to at least six weeks post-surgery; however, I wasn’t going to let this keep me away from the action! I seem to think my doctor and I had differing ideas of "taking it easy"; somehow, I don't think running around fifty miles a week, competing in volleyball tournaments, playing soccer, hiking, and so on were exactly what he meant. The car ride was very uncomfortable- thankfully my amazing siblings allowed me to have the entire back seat to stretch my egg crate on & to sleep. I HATED taking the pain medicine & I remember refusing to take the required amount- I was very stubborn when it came to pain; I HATED to show pain!!  We stayed in a campground overnight & the next day attended the wedding. After the wedding the family got together around a campfire & then later the "younger ones" went for a hike; I didn't want to be left out so I also tagged along. I remember running for the 1st time post-surgery - it felt awkward yet freeing! I was utterly exhausted by the end of the day.
Several days later, I attended the first day of school- I wasn't required to go, but I didn't want to miss out on the action! 
  For me, personally, recovery was the hardest part- I just couldn't allow myself enough patience & time to heal; I hated not being able to be "up & moving" like I previously was. I couldn't get up into my own bed due to the height, couldn't sit up for long without getting dizzy & in pain, couldn't take a shower the "normal way" because of my scar let alone take one by myself- I was limited to the couch by myself! This was beyond humbling for me; I had no choice but to seek help as I was too weak to do things on my own. I barely ate because I just had no appetite due to the pain; I couldn't force myself to eat. I slept a lot to try & ignore the pain & due to the lack of food, I lost even more weight.  The pain was also more severe because I refused to take the allotted pain meds; I’ve always been extremely stubborn when it comes to pain, partly because of past experiences.             
  At school I wanted so incredibly much to participate in PE class but was prohibited from doing so; non-strenuous activity such as walking were the only allowances. It was recommended that I get up & moving as soon as possible, so this was one of my excuses to over exercise almost a month post-surgery. I went home during P.E. class & ran on the treadmill as fast as it went until my siblings came home. I eventually ran multiple times, for hours each time, behind the backs of those in charge of me. As an assignment for PE class, we had to record how much we ran, how much strength & conditioning, & how much practice we completed weekly- 20 min. of each per week was required or suggested. Because of my inability to compete in PE, I sought this as my only chance to succeed in PE. I became obsessed with completing the MOST exercise; I went above & beyond the required exercise time- if twenty minutes a week was required ten hours was better. Due to my extreme exercise, I got high grades & once again became an overachiever. I was doing at least five times or more the amount of the average student; I wasn't even recording my whole exercise time in fear of being "ratted out".  I tried to "pick up where I left off" before surgery by running 7-10 miles a day- this surgery was NOT going to take away my pride & joy- my identity. I went back into running despite my surgery and didn't take into consideration the extreme amount of pain & exhaustion I was in; I also did other exercises when I somehow found the energy after running. 
By three to six months post-surgery limited normal activity such as running was permitted; contact sports were prohibited until the spine was fused. About 2 months after surgery I was back to P.E.; however, I expected myself to be just as athletic as prior to surgery & tried to live as if surgery never happened. I became infuriated with myself when this didn’t happen. I remember running & diving out on the field, tackling, etc. I also attended volleyball practices; because I was no longer permitted to compete competitively at the moment, I was excluded from the varsity team. At practice I gave volleyball everything I had; we played against the varsity so I was all over the court. When I dove, people became concerned; to me it felt good to dive again! I didn’t compete “competitively” as I found ways around this. I competed in tournaments & competitions outside of school since technically the doctor's orders were no P.E.; P.E. was only in school, right?! It absolutely killed me to sit on the sidelines during school competitions; I wanted more than anything to jump out of my seat & into the game. I was also accused by others of trying to get out of competing – this could not have been farther from the truth and all of the harsh accusations and words wounded me deeply; I was also accused of “making the surgery seem worse than it was”- of exaggerating.  
Also, I began majorly restricting my intake. I never ate in public & refused to order anything when my friends & I went out to eat. I also refused to go to social events which involved food- I always said I didn't feel good, wasn't hungry, had already eaten, or didn't like the food. I always found opportunities to skip meals & eating otherwise. Combining my restricting with exercise, I just about couldn't go; I would run & almost pass out. In P.E., I blacked out multiple times as I didn’t have the energy to go on. I began running on top of the other exercise in P.E.; I ran 12-15 miles a day for as long as I could stay conscious. I became addicted to exercise; what I did was never enough in my mind. 

Live Spinal Fusion:http://www.orlive.com/akronchildrens/videos/pediatric-spinal-fusion-to-correct-scoliosis?cmpid=gigya