Column: A letter to my spine


Grace Nguyen

“You are twisted like a candy cane and S-shaped.”

To my spine, 

I knew the angle of your sideways curve before I learned how to calculate it in math.

I have gone from frustrated to defeated for the three years of you controlling my lifeThree, maybe four, who’s counting? You made me quit volleyball. You made Sunday walks with family an unbearable thirty minutes of pain. You changed a trip to the movies to a calculated risk of whether two hours was a tolerable amount of time for me to sit still. News flash: it isn’t.

You have prevented me from enjoying my life.

You first made an appearance in seventh grade, giving me intolerable back pain. I remember sitting in English class, unable to find a way to sit that you wouldn’t react to. As expected, you threw a fit in my body, leaving me in pain once again. 

After getting diagnosed with idiopathic scoliosis at the age of 12, I quickly acquainted myself with getting two X-rays (no thanks to you!) at the Plano Presbyterian Hospital then walking across the street to meet with the specialist who looks at pictures of you as a career. 

That meeting is what I always dread the most. That meeting is where they always tell me the bad news that puts me on the verge of tears while not wanting to cry in public. 

Since then, the pain you bring me has only gotten worse.  

I feel awkward describing it on a numeric scale. I would say I am typically at a five or six, where the pain is so controlling, I have trouble thinking about anything else. On good days, I can sometimes distract myself from the pain, but it still resonates in the back of my mind. Bad days put me at a seven or eight. When the pain is that bad, it’s hard to concentrate, listen, think and talk.

You are twisted like a candy cane and S-shaped. I wish you didn’t affect my body image, but you do. When I look in the mirror, all I can see is what you have done to me, (and it’s a lot).

I see my left shoulder dipping below the right, so far that my shirt sleeve practically falls off. I see how my ribcage is so uneven, it looks like I am missing a right rib. I see the muscles on the left side of my back protruding far beyond the point of it being unnoticeable. That sure makes swimming a delight.

The doctors put you in a plastic back brace at the end of eighth grade, consequently putting me in a state of insecurity. That was around the time that I started growing quickly, and with my growth spurt came your rapid curving and twisting (as expected). The brace isn’t made to correct you; its purpose is to simply prevent you from getting worse. But thanks to your stubborn self, you only keep doing your thing, curving and twisting even more.

At this point, your severity has made me a candidate for surgery.

Surgery will be a scary reality for me, but at least it will put you in your place, both physically and figuratively.

My doctor describes surgery as a last resort for us, and I see that as a good thing. The thought of an invasive surgery with metal rods and screws binding you terrifies me, but having this pain for the rest of my life scares me even more. 

Over time, you’ve been placed in three new braces and forced me to go to therapy and strength training. And for all that I do for you, what do I, the one in pain, get in return? Oh, more pain. I don’t know about you, but it seems like I should be the one running the show. You live inside of my body, yet here you are, calling all the shots.

If I had to describe how I feel about our relationship now: burnt out.

I am discrediting you if I can’t force myself to recognize the few, very few ways in which you have helped me. You have made me draw closer to those who help push me along. You have taught me about patience and determination.

Above all else, I have developed a better understanding of others’ struggles, both mental and physical.

I hope that one day I can look back at this letter to you and laugh–laugh about the fact that you once controlled my life.