Written by Abimbola Oladapo, on living with scoliosis
‘Where were you in 2004’, she asked the audience. 2004 was the pivotal year.
Then she continued... ‘In 2004, I was 11 going on 12, and in JSS3. I was in the secondary school boarding house’. When school closed, I was home for the summer holidays as usual; but it was going to be anything but usual!
That summer, every time my big sister watched me walk, she'd shout out at me ‘Bimbo, why are you walking this way? Stop bending. You are doing 'guy'. You'll just spoil your posture’. And every time, I would reply, ‘This is how I've been walking since. I'm not bending. I don't know what you're talking about’. Doing ‘guy’ meant slanting one shoulder down and walking with a swagger.
I vividly remember my cousin came to the house too and said, ‘You! You don't know you are a tall, fine girl and you can be a model. Look at how you are spoiling your posture, doing 'guy'. It became annoying as everyone thought I was ‘doing guy’. I couldn't wait to get back to school.
Then came the Christmas holidays and I was invited to all the parties. One day, I had dressed for one such party in a body hugging, fitted green dress, when my sister saw me. She shouted, ‘Huh? Bimbo, what is wrong with your back?’ She had noticed that my back bone on the right side was more pronounced than on the left. ‘Oh well, I don’t know what you're talking about but I am going to the party’, I said.
But, they made me change clothes to a less fitted dress. Come Monday morning, we landed in front of an orthopaedic doctor at the Nigerian Military Hospital, Yaba, Lagos. There, the doctor landed a sucker punch, ‘Your daughter has scoliosis’.
What is scoliosis?
Scoliosis is an abnormal curvature of the spine - the spine is curved to one side of the body, rather than straight. It affects girls more than boys and occurs most often during the pre-adolescent years when girls are self-conscious and insecure about their changing bodies. 80-90% of scoliosis cases are idiopathic (meaning they have no known cause).
The doctor referred me to the National Orthopaedic Hospital, Igbobi, Lagos. After several x-rays and following due procedure, I was advised to get a brace. I wore this brace for two years and the only results I got from the brace were skin rash, scars, intense heat, and 100% discomfort in my own skin! It was totally hideous and practically turned me into an oxygen-breathing robot. Oh, there was one good thing about the brace. Anyone who tried to hit me ended up with sore knuckles!
Actually, the brace prevented the curve from reaching a surgical curve magnitude. So in a way it worked. Braces don’t permanently correct scoliosis but halts the progression in about 70% of cases. This has been proven by a recent NIH study from Iowa which I participated in.
The psychological effect
But then, beyond the braces, the one thing I'd never forget about living with scoliosis, apart from fatigue and back pain, is the emotional scars! My God, they are the deepest of all scars. I remember being mimicked and being called names like ‘hunchback’. I remember a girl in secondary school who in a bid to insult me once told me - ‘Come on, walk straight. You can't even walk straight. See how you are bending. Okay, prove me wrong. Walk straight’. And then I overheard a boy in university say ‘That Bimbo girl, I can't even marry someone like her. Person wey no normal’.
Growing up from pre-adolescence into teenage years is already tough enough, talk less of being tagged as ‘abnormal’ for a condition that is not your fault! It was really demoralising and it took me about 4 years to break free! I kept running from my own back, hoping I would wake one morning to find that the scoliosis had vanished! For me to be bold enough to share this today took a lot of gut, tears, fears, determination, giving up and starting all over!
A lot of people might say - what's the big deal about scoliosis? It's not like HIV/AIDS or malaria or any of the very common diseases. Yes, it is not. Scoliosis is not even a disease to begin with but it cannot be compared with any other! It is peculiar in its own way.
I'm a firm believer in the indisputable fact that the one thing that makes or breaks a man is his mind. A man cannot amount to anything outside of his mind. And so for a condition like scoliosis that practically cripples the mind, I consider it very much life-threatening. Because if this thing is going to make me feel like an outcast, unable to go swimming in public, unable to wear fitting clothes, get married or fulfil my dreams of becoming an actress, how can I live effectively? How can I lead a happy, fulfilling life?
The fact that I'm way over my esteem issues now does not mean others like me can deal with it. As a matter of fact, it's a battle I have to constantly deal with everyday and remind myself of emerging victorious. It is not exactly cheap.
Scoliosis does not have a 100% cure. There are even people who develop large curves that become physically life-threatening. The only key to combating scoliosis is EARLY DETECTION. Unfortunately, we have little or no scoliosis awareness-knowledge in this part of the world; talk less of identifying its symptoms.
Be aware today about children with curvy spine. We may not be able to change the entire world - we may not be able to get rid of scoliosis entirely, but we can definitely make a difference. That difference is all the change the world needs.
Let's support Scoliosis Awareness. Together, we are always better!
For more information contact:
National Scoliosis Foundation
The Scoliosis Research Society
Curvy Girls Inc.
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