89: What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

89: What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Positive

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

We shall draw from the heart of suffering itself the means of inspiration and survival.

~Winston Churchill

I glanced at my best friend, Morgan, as she gave me a reassuring smile and said, “Don’t worry honey. Everything’s gonna be just fine.” I smiled back weakly and once again began to stare down the door and check the time every ten seconds. Finally, the doctor came in.

“Let’s take you back for some X-rays,” he said.

I slowly followed him through the door and to a dark room where I was laid on a table.

“Okay. On three I need you to hold your breath for just a few seconds. You won’t feel anything, so don’t worry. Ready? One . . . Two . . . Three.”

A few minutes later I was back in the examination room with Morgan and my dad. They both took turns telling me everything was going to be fine. I tried to believe them, but inside I had a feeling they were wrong. After what seemed like forever, the doctor returned and said three words that changed my life forever:

“She has scoliosis.”

He lit up my X-ray film, which revealed my spine, which was in the shape of an S.

“Now the bottom curve is at thirty-five degrees, which is pretty significant, but they do not perform surgery unless it’s over forty-five. I’m going to send you to a doctor in Denver, one of the best in the state.”

When I heard I would not need surgery, I was relieved. Unfortunately, this relief didn’t last long. My mom and dad took me to see the doctor in Denver a few weeks later. He took one look at me and shook his head in disappointment.

“That’s not thirty-five degrees . . . that’s probably closer to sixty . . . these are the wrong X-rays. We need to get one of you standing up.”

So now I was in the same predicament. More X-rays. More waiting. More nervous feelings. When he came back with my new X-ray, I immediately felt my stomach drop.

“So . . . the bottom curve is actually fifty-seven degrees. And this top one is forty-three. And there’s also this small one by your neck that’s about ten degrees. Your only option is surgery.”

After this, he said a lot more that I either didn’t catch or just didn’t understand. I was too upset. I was only fifteen years old, and I was going to have to go through one of the most intense surgeries possible. I couldn’t hold it in any longer. I felt my eyes well with tears as they began streaming down my face. My mom hugged me close and whispered, “It’s okay. We’ll get you through this,” as I cried into her shoulder.

Even more bad news. My insurance wouldn’t cover anything if we continued to see this doctor. I had to switch to a new one in Colorado Springs.

That night, I looked at myself in the mirror with disgust. For the first time I noticed my uneven shoulders. My crooked back. There was no way I could get through this.

After a short visit to my new doctor in April, my surgery was set for July 26. Until then, I went to physical therapy once a week, and continued to participate in marching band at my school. Since I knew I would not be playing my flute on the marching field, I picked up playing the bells in the pit.

Surgery day came even faster than I expected. We got to the hospital and I was put into a gown. I was terrified. After a few hours, I was wheeled into the operating room. The number of people and the amount of commotion going on in that room was what scared me the most. It seemed surreal to me. A mask was placed over my nose and mouth with a very sweet smelling gas. Before I knew it, everything went black.

I woke up eight hours later with two titanium rods, twenty-four screws, and a straight spine, with my parents hovering overhead. I had no idea where I was or what was going on. I didn’t feel any pain, which I later found out was because of a nerve block. The two major curves in my spine went from fifty-seven and forty-three, to twenty and fifteen.

“Miranda? We’re going to move you from recovery into your ICU room. Okay?”

I weakly nodded. My mouth felt so dry, I could not speak. That one nod of my head must have taken everything out of me, because I fell asleep again before I even got to my room.

I woke up again. Now I could talk.

“Mom? I’m thirsty,” I said, as I once again noticed my dry mouth.

I was fed ice chips. Then a nurse came in and put a small device in my hand.

“If you begin to feel any pain, push this button for morphine. You can use it every fifteen minutes.”

I nodded, right before falling asleep again.

I didn’t wake up again until morning. After sleeping all night and not getting any pain medicine, I could now feel everything.

“This is it,” I thought to myself. “I’m going to die here in this hospital.”

I was given two units of blood. During the day I kept telling my parents, “I can’t do this anymore . . . I just wish I was dead.”

Later on the physical therapists came in to help me walk for the first time. I was not cooperative at all. I kept telling myself I couldn’t do it. I needed help just to roll onto my side. But do you know what I did? It took time, but I got up. And I walked. Even though it was with the help of others, the feeling was indescribable. Those few steps around the nurses’ station changed my mood from “I can’t,” to “I will.”

After that day, I recovered at a surprising rate. I was expected to be in the hospital for at least a week or two. I was released after four days. I was supposed to be bedridden for at least six months. I went back to marching band practice in two weeks, and back at school part-time in less than a month. Every time I accomplished something, it raised my confidence. Once I stopped looking at the glass as half empty, and saw everything in a more positive perspective, I got better faster than anyone had ever expected. Recovery for scoliosis surgery is typically about a year, but in a few months, I felt on top of the world.

Today, I continue to heal and recover. I am beginning physical therapy to get some of my old abilities back. I participate in marching band and yoga. I will admit things are not always easy. My spine can no longer bend or twist. But I find my way around things. With a positive outlook on what I have, I now know that there is nothing I cannot do. What doesn’t kill you truly does make you stronger.

~Miranda Johnson, age 17

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