Today marks exactly 2 months and 10 days of spine-versary (my word to count my new spine’s age after surgery on December 20th, 2016). I am still laying in my bed for recovery while reading Rupi Kaur’s beautiful poetry. The book title is Milk and Honey and parted into four sections. A section called “The Healing” presents these magnificent words stated above. It seems so relevant to me.
So guys, since my scoliosis surgery, there were plenty of scoliosis related questions then I decide to write my experience on this post. Remember, sharing is caring!
Before the Surgery:
Long story short, I found out that I had a double curve 40 degrees scoliosis at 13 years old. My orthopaedic doctor asked me to wear brace for approximately 23 hours a day. I cannot remember how long I wore brace but what I remember is… it was very uncomfortable especially at school. However, I should do that to prevent further curvature.
It was not really disturbing so I rarely wore brace when I was in senior high school. As an alternative, I swam a lot. I felt better each day so I said goodbye to braces. I thought that scoliosis would not stop me for having non-academic activities. I joined music group, art club and cheerleading. I even gone hiking and rafting. I forgot the reality that people with scoliosis should not carry heavy loads which I did when cheerleading, hiking and rafting.
When I admitted into university in 2010, my back pain became worse. I committed to various therapy including chiropractic, which turned out it did not work at all. At that time, my curve reached >50 degrees. It was wearisome. I did not have sufficient time to spent into non-academic activities like other students did because I exhausted easily. During the time, I consulted to different orthopaedics who always suggested me to do the spine surgery. Scoliosis affects breathing, heart, headache, neck-ache, walking and ability to do anything. It is not just about the posture or the spine.
After I graduated in 2013, I got a long hour job. I also took financial courses outside the office or prepared for my further education. I insisted that scoliosis would never stop me albeit all the difficulty to maintain the curve. I experienced severe headache that led me to took headache pills everyday. I consumed painkiller almost everyday to ease my back pain. I was even hard to breath. Undeniably true, I spent every morning for three years thinking: “Will I survive a day without pain if I do not take the medicines?” or “When will I stop concealing my real posture just to look normal?”
In my spare time, I consistently did pilates three times a week and swimming twice a week, otherwise my back, hand or feet got stiff. Tips for all scoliosis fellow, yoga, pilates and swimming are great exercises for pain management (note: you have to do yoga or pilates with private instructor). My favourite pilates studio is Pilates@Kemang at Colony Kemang. My pilates instructors, Mba Dini and Mas Kiko, were very supportive during my fight to scoliosis. My instructors even learned about my daily behaviour and assisted me to adjust bad ones into the right ones for my spine.
Unfortunately, I did not feel any revulsion on my spine. I started to look for spine surgeons at several hospitals in Jakarta. Until in late 2016, my roughest year, I met Dr. dr. Luthfi Gatam Sp. OT (K) Spine at Rumah Sakit Pondok Indah (“RSPI”). For scoliosis fellow, probably you already know who he is. I still remember a long queue during the rainy night which I (still) used to open my laptop and finish my job when I waited for my turn to see him. The first thing I saw when I entered the room was my radiology result on the computer screen. I don’t know how to describe the feeling, but excruciating would be the perfect word. Fortunately, Dr. Luthfi was so calm and his explanation was thorough. The dextroscoliosis lower thoracic reached 63 degrees and sinistroscoliosis upper lumbar reached almost 80 degrees. It was not only double curve, but the lumbar part was some kind of rotated. I also had my right coxae higher than the left for 2 cm. Repeatedly, Dr. Luthfi suggested me to do the surgery as soon as possible, no more procrastinating. Out of nowhere, I said yes without thinking. It was an impromptu decision that I have made during my 10 years of struggle, but I got a hunch that this would be the best thing that ever happen to me. Dr. Luthfi asked me to invite my parents to my next visit.
Then, I came to medical rehabilitation doctor, dr. Laura Djuriantina at RSPI. She suggested that I do physiotherapy and hydrotherapy twice a week at Dharma Daya Lestari clinic. It was also helpful for pain management, unfortunately I barely found this kind of therapy. As a result, two months before the surgery I did 3 days of pilates, 2 days of swimming, a day of physiotherapy and a day of hydrotherapy in a week.
Due to a long queue at RSPI, I visited Dr. Luthfi at Rumah Sakit Premier Bintaro (“RSPB”) for surgery appointment. So, it was official guys the date would be December 20th, 2016.
After the Surgery:
Sunday, December 18th 2016 – I checked in to my room at RSPB to underwent several examinations and observations. I caught a heavy flu since I barely came back from Japan a day before. The temperature there was insanely freezing. I recommend for you who plan to do a major surgery like this, do not do the thing I’ve done please.
Monday, December 19th 2016 – Parents were invited for a pre-surgery conference with approximately 15 doctors involved. I read and signed the documents especially the risk of spine surgery… made my heart skipped a beat but I only fed my brain with positive vibes. I underwent some checks for internal organs and blood again. Initially, I was not feasible for the surgery. I experienced blood coagulation but it was handled immediately. Then, it was the anemia. I had to conducted the blood transfusion to elevate my hemoglobin from 9 to 12. Then, it was the provided blood bank was not sufficient for surgery, so we have to look for extra blood overnight. Finally, it was all handled.
Tuesday, December 20th 2016 – At 5 am, I was picked up to the operating theatre. All of the doctors were there including Dr. Luthfi and his assistant, dr. Rizki. The last thing I remembered was chatting casually with the doctors about my trip to Japan. The next thing was… I woke up with many tubes from my hand, neck, nose, and mouth beside my operating bed. I looked around to check if my head was still able to move. I saw the equipments, the lights… and with remaining strength that I had, I opened the tube on the mouth because I was really hard to breath. I checked if my hands were still working. Then, I moved my feet to check if it was okay. I felt the satisfaction because I have passed the hardest part. The time spent for the surgery was 7 hours.
I spent two days at the CCU before I came back to my room. I must say that the post-surgery pain was tough. I spent nights awake because the pain was frequently got stronger at night. Believe me, the pain would not matter because everything was paid of. Finally, I got only 21 degrees curve on my spine, supported by the titanium for the rest of my life. Amazing, isn’t it?
Day 4, the therapist taught me how to get up and sit. Day 5, I was taught to stand on my own feet and walked a little bit. It felt like the first time I set my own feet on the earth. I walked strange, like a robot because everything was stiff but incredible at the same time. I reminisced the feeling of having a straight back which I forgot a long time ago. My height was also increased for 6 cm! After a week at the hospital, the doctor allowed me to go home. I am forever thankful to Dr. Luthfi, dr. Rizki, dr. Harmantya and dr. Phedy for have taken a really good care of me.
The pain lingered for approximately a month and a half. During the recovery period, I spent most of my time laid on the bed, learned how to move and visited physiotherapist to ease the pain. In my second month, the pain is significantly decreasing despite of my swollen back. I still take medicine to fix my nerve because sometimes my hands or feet feel numb. I also wear a brace for minimum 3-4 months after surgery. The key to post-surgery recovery from my perspective is often move your body to alleviate stiffness and always practice walking.
Losing ability to bend my body is one of the side effects of spine surgery. Prohibition to lift heavy load rule is still applicable. In addition, I am not recommended to do sport that put stress on my spine. So, I must say goodbye to barre, dance, golf and archery. Sad, but it is fine as long as I still can do pilates and swimming.
I may have not finished my journey because I still have length discrepancy in my right coxae. It cannot be fixed by a single surgery. However, I really grateful for my decision. When I look back, I cannot believe that I have survived. Whatever it is, I will get through it, again. Plus, I have a wonderful family and close friends who always support me in my struggle. Thank you for hold me up when my knees give out and I start tumbling on the floor. Thank you for being my extra pair of legs when mine refuse to work. Thank you.
For scoliosis fellow out there, please do not ever hesitate regarding your condition. You have to keep struggle and have faith. Nothing you can’t conquer as long as you believe that you can, including your fighting to scoliosis. And please, do not let scoliosis stop you from reaching your objectives. It is God’s way to prove that you are strong 🙂
PS: You can check out the Indonesian Version here.