By Alyce Collins
THIS STUNNING student was shamed by her doctor who labelled her SUPERFICIAL for wanting scoliosis surgery to correct her ‘wonky’ back that doctors had wrongly predicted would not progress.
Emma Hall (22) from Sligo, Ireland, had often felt growing pains in her legs which left her screaming in agony, as well as a numbing ache in her back, but as she had never known anything different, she put the thought to the back of her mind.
Certain school seats were uncomfortable for Emma as the rigid plastic dug into her curved spine. It wasn’t until Emma’s mum saw how curved Emma’s spine was that she took her to get a diagnosis.
X-rays revealed a 45-degree curve in Emma’s spine, which put her in the ‘grey’ area for surgery because doctors felt that the curve wasn’t bad enough for surgery, but it was too developed for a back brace to have any effect.
Despite the constant ache and back pain, Emma went on to complete her school exams and to study at university. Consultants had told Emma that her spine had finished growing so the curve wouldn’t get worse, but she could tell that over time it had.
In 2017, X-rays showed a 55-degree curve, when surgery is recommended. However, during a consultation a doctor told Emma that she was only requesting surgery for ‘superficial reasons’, refuting the pain she suffered for years.
Emma could no longer wear dresses with zippers on the back and sitting at a desk was unrealistic, but she had to wait seven years before having surgery, which was eventually on September 7, 2018, by which point her spine had a 60-degree curve.
“When I was 13, I was trying on a new bra but as the straps needed adjusting I asked my mum to come in and help me,” said Emma.
“Mum began nagging that I wasn’t standing straight, and I had bad posture. She thought I was just being lazy and not holding myself correctly.
“My mum placed her hand on my shoulders from behind me to try and position me correctly. I remember sensing the atmosphere in the room change immediately.
“She had me bend forward, and slowly I felt her finger trace a strange pattern down my back. It seemed odd to me that it wasn’t the straight line you would expect, so we knew there was something wrong with my spine.
“Growing up I had always struggled with growing pains in my legs and would wake up screaming in pain. I have always had a level of back pain, but I didn’t know any different.
“We went to the GP to get a referral and during a trip to Dublin I was diagnosed with scoliosis. From that moment my whole life changed.
“As my consultant looked at the X-ray that had been taken 20 minutes prior, my mum and I sat in silence. I couldn’t believe that it was me on the screen.
“He said I had a 45-degree curve and that I was in the ‘grey’ area for surgery but had finished growing so a brace would be useless at such a late stage. There was nothing more to say so I took a quick picture to show the family and went back to the car.
“Then the emotions hit, and I burst into tears. Having just moved school and trying to fit in as everyone already knew each other, I felt like the loneliest person in the world.
“After my diagnosis I felt very insecure. I would spend hours researching all about scoliosis. Slowly I was able to put it to the side until a year or two later. I finished my exams, but I noticed new pains and discomfort from sitting for long periods of time.
“I went to my parents to explain that I knew the curve had worsened, even though the consultant said it shouldn’t as I had finished growing. Sure enough, new X-rays showed a progression of five or six degrees. I was now at the level where surgery was recommended.
“I had my name placed on the waiting list but I also visited some other consultants for different opinions as I was waiting for a long time.
“During my last year at university, I saw one doctor who told me that my curve was now 55 degrees and he said ‘if it was my daughter I would be telling her not to get it as it’s only for superficial reasons’.
“He wasn’t listening to me at all, I told him that I was now experiencing a lot of pain which was affecting my everyday life. The pain would cause me to have extreme headaches which caused me to miss lectures and needing to take strong pain relief.
“This grown man was making me feel so neglected and labelling me as a superficial person. I wanted the surgery to try and have a more normal life, reduce the pain, prevent the risk of the curve progressing and I wanted to become a vet which I couldn’t do with a wonky back, could I?
“My confidence took a hit when I couldn’t wear dresses with zips up the back. Also, some patterns sat funny. felt like everyone saw it, so I became more and more withdrawn from being social.
“One boy even made a comment about why my back was all bumpy, while pointing at it.
“At University my friends were amazing, especially my hockey team. They would help me tape up every match to reduce the pain. I met some amazing people who helped me see that what I had was unique and made me who I was.”
Emma was placed on the waiting list at the age of 15, but didn’t have her surgery until 2018, seven years later. After waiting for so many years, Emma’s spine had reached a 60-degree curve which desperately needed correcting.
In hindsight, Emma is now thankful for waiting for the surgery because she was able to complete her degree beforehand and then take time out to recover after the surgery.
“My surgery was in September 2018. It was a 60-degree curve and I am now fused T4 to T11,” said Emma.
“Although I am annoyed it took so long, in the end it couldn’t have happened at a better time. I graduated in the summer of 2018 and had no work lined up so now I can take the year out and recover.
“I am older than most who undergo the corrective surgery, so I feel maturity and understanding the procedure played a huge part.
“Once home I had six weeks when I couldn’t do anything. I was prohibited to lift more than two kilograms and I soon realised it was the simple things that I took for granted.
“Now I’ve been straightened my muscles are now distorted and weak. Some have more room while others have less. Muscles which would have been weight bearing no longer work as hard, while others are now having to work.
“My confidence has grown significantly already. I wasn’t happy with myself for a few years and I understood that no matter what hair cut I got, new makeup I tried, weight I lost, that those were not going to make me happy in life.
“Happiness comes from within and perfect isn’t what you see in the mirror, it’s what you think of yourself. Some people see scars as ugly, we scoliosis warriors think that they are beautiful.”
You can see more of Emma’s recovery by visiting @curvyspine_.