I was a few months shy of my 16th birthday when I first realized something could be wrong with me.

The pencil skirt I had just bought at the mall sat diagonally on my hips.

At first, I thought it was just cheaply made. My mother fussed with the skirt, trying to figure out why it looked so odd.

She mused that perhaps it was because I never wore tight clothing and we just weren’t used to seeing me like this.

The skirt clung to the left side of my abdomen, creating an hourglass silhouette like Shakira. The right side was an unforgiving straight line.

But it wasn’t the skirt, and my hips don’t lie.

(Photo by Olivia Zollino)

Scoliosis is an S-shaped curvature of the spine that occurs at puberty.

Girls are more prone to having it than boys, and there are no conclusive reasons for why it happens. It could be genetic, but no one in my family has the condition. I guess I just got lucky.

My family doctor referred me to an orthopedic surgeon at SickKids. During the initial appointment, he told me very few people have a perfectly straight back, which could be measured at zero degrees.

Examining my X-ray, my spine appeared to slither down the page like a snake. I had two curvatures in my spine, both approaching 50 degrees.

After monitoring the situation over a year, my doctor gave me an ultimatum: I could either take pain medication for the rest of my life while gradually becoming hunchbacked, or I could have surgery.

The gravity of the situation was a lot for my 17-year-old brain to comprehend.

The procedure would consist of fusing two titanium rods to either side of my spine and inserting screws into each vertebra.

Like all surgeries, there were risks associated with the eight-hour procedure.

My parents told me it was my body and my decision to make. They said only I knew how I felt – and I didn’t feel great. I was embarrassed by my body. I tried to cover up my condition with loose-fitting clothing.

Because of my spinal curvatures, one shoulder was always elevated.

That explained all the crooked haircuts and awkward school photos. Physically, I was in pain every day. Depending on how I slept, my ribs would press on my lungs. I could not walk far without taking a break to sit.

It was my decision to make, but I feel like my body made the decision for me.

After a few  follow up appointments and a lengthy time on the wait-list, I was booked for surgery.  

Once I made the decision, I was surprised to find that I was looking forward to the operation. On the morning of the surgery, I easily woke up at 6, excited to make the trek to the hospital.

But the closer we got, the more nervous I became.

It was one thing to make the decision, but another to go through with it.

As I sat in a private room, dressed in a stiff blue hospital dressing gown, waiting for a nurse to wheel me over to the operating room, I was overcome by fear.

It had been six years since I first discovered my scoliosis, and for the first time, every doom-and-gloom question manifested in my mind.

What if something goes wrong? What if I wake up in the middle of the surgery? What if they hit a nerve?

My anxiety piled on until a nurse eventually poked her head in. It was time.

As I lay down on the steel operating table under a barrage of bright white lights, I was comforted by the easygoing demeanour of the doctors and nurses in the room.

The anesthesiologist asked me to count backwards from 100. The last thing I remember is 97. I woke up more than eight hours later in a morphine haze. The surgery was a success.

The healing process remains a blur.

I would spend the next week in the hospital, fragile and in pain, but nothing would compare to the third day.

As the nurses began the process of weaning me off of my medication, every breath became a struggle.

Lying in bed withering in pain, it was easy to question whether going through the surgery was worth it.

But as time went on, the pain slowly began to dissipate, and I became stronger physically and mentally.

Before I left the hospital, the nurse took my measurements. I had grown three inches from the surgery.

A month later, once I became more mobile, I decided to try on my old clothes to see how they fit my new body.

I slipped on a skirt, looked in the mirror and cried. They were happy tears.

It fit.

Olivia is the digital managing editor for the Ryersonian. She's in her final year of the master of journalism program at Ryerson.

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