My Scoliosis Journey
by Jessie Smith, Class of 2018
On July 17th, I underwent major back surgery to correct my scoliosis. After being diagnosed with the condition during my sophomore year of high school, the doctors at Stanford presented me with two options: either I could choose to live with the persistent discomfort in my back, or I could choose to proceed with the surgery. No matter which approach I took, I realized that I would be making a significant sacrifice in my life. After weeks of contemplation and prayer, I made the executive decision to go ahead with the procedure.
Throughout the days leading up to the surgery, doubts flooded my mind as I began to question my strength. I was aware that this would undeniably be the greatest obstacle I had faced, but I began to doubt if this would be worth the sacrifices I would be making. Despite my reservations, I reminded myself of the long-term benefits of my decision.
Waking up on procedure day in a Palo Alto hotel fully aware of what the day would hold was difficult, to say the least. Removing myself from warm bed covers on a regular school day did not compare to how I felt having to physically peel myself from the starchy hotel bed sheets that morning. The 15-minute drive to Stanford Hospital seemed to last an eternity, but two things made it bearable: the countless number of supportive messages I received from friends/family and a playlist solely compiled of inspirational 80s songs, (which was meticulously crafted with the help of Depeche Mode fanatic Mr. Hackbarth, my high school English teacher.)
Once we had arrived at the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford and checked into the orthopedic center, a male surgeon explained in great detail how the day would proceed. Ranges of thoughts circulated through my brain: Is this really happening? Can I do this? How bad is it going to hurt? Was Grey’s Anatomy right… Are surgeons really THIS attractive? What if I reveal my undying love for him under the influence of morphine?!
He must have been able to detect fear through my blank expression and nervous leg twitch because his next question was, “Would you like to play a virtual reality game as they inject your IV to distract you?” Now, I was aware that the doctors were probably required to ask the question, and the game was most likely geared toward toddlers, granted that I was in a children’s hospital, but I have never responded to a question with a more confident, “YES.” in my life. I’m pretty sure it was the medicine, but at that point, I felt a wave of peace wash over me.
The 15-minute drive to Stanford Hospital seemed to last an eternity, but two things made it bearable: the countless number of supportive messages I received from friends/family and a playlist solely compiled of inspirational 80s songs…
Soon after, the doctors prompted my parents to say goodbye to me before they wheeled me off into my operating room. Given that I was only semi-conscious, all I could hear were my dad’s muffled sniffles. I felt compelled to cry, yet, I don’t think I emotionally or physically could have. I felt God so strongly in that room. More than anything, I wanted to share the peace that I was experiencing with my parents.
Naturally, everything past anesthesia was a blur. When I awoke after 4 hours of surgery, I was greeted by a room of familiar faces… of which, the first I recognized was none other than doctor McSteamy. Despite my parched mouth and fatigued body, the first thing I asked for in post-op was not for a glass of water, but rather a picture of my swollen, crusty post-op face to let my friends know that I was alive and debatably “well”… yuck. Moments later, I was introduced to my new best friend for the next four days; a personally controlled morphine button.
Reflecting on that day six months later, although I had to give up the sport I love, pole vaulting, and lost full function of my own body in the process, I would make the same decision all over again. While recovering from the procedure and balancing AP summer assignments in a period of 31 days proved challenging, I consider the greatest test of my journey to be my initial decision to undergo the surgery. The experience was undoubtedly the greatest test of my faith, but I would not have been able to conquer that trial in my life without God’s prevailing comfort and grace. He was with me during those long four days in the hospital room, and I felt His presence the strongest both as I drew closer to operation day and as I struggled to teach myself how to walk again in the pediatric halls.
July 17th, 2017 tested my strength in more ways than one, and forever changed my life for the better. I am eternally grateful to the staff at Lucile Packard, the gifts and steadiness God so graciously provided them with that morning, and the endless support of my teachers, friends, and family for carrying me through the journey. The long, permanent scar I proudly wear on my back serves as a daily reminder of the stronger person I am today because I overcame the greatest obstacle of my life.
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