I’m taking a break from the usual Japan-themed blog this week to talk about a spinal condition known as scoliosis, and how in a roundabout way it got me into Japan and blogging. I hope it might be useful reading for peple with scoliosis, or their parents and friends.
What is scoliosis?
Scoliosis is the abnormal twisting and/or curvature of the spine, and depending on its severity can cause back pain and breathing problems. It’s more commonly found in girls and usually develops in childhood, although it is increasingly being diagnosed late in adults because not everyone knows what it is.
June is Scoliosis Awareness Month and this Saturday is the Scoliosis Association’s International Scoliosis Awareness Day. The theme this year is ‘Got your back’ – so I thought I’d blog about my own experience with scoliosis. I was diagnosed with scoliosis when I was about 9 years old. Usually, the cause is unknown but common explanations are growth spurts in puberty or the condition running in the family. In most cases, scoliosis will be monitored over the years until the curvature reaches the point where surgery is required (if ever).
Scoliosis affects people in different ways – in my case, I had one shoulder hunched higher than the other, had regular back pain and my clothes sat a bit sideways on me. I’ve since met people who had worse symptoms – including breathing problems and nerve problems in the legs – so by comparison my condition wasn’t that debilitating. That said, my condition was monitored and lots of x-rays were taken over the yars – and once my curvature reached a certain number of degrees, I chose to have corrective surgery.
What is surgery like?
For the record, having scoliosis doesn’t mean you’ll ever need to have corrective surgery. In many cases, the curvature never gets to the point where it needs operating on – and another way of treating it is to wear a back brace instead. I can only speak from my experience, so will try to do so as objectively as I can.
I had my surgery over the summer (a few months before I was due to start my GCSEs) and was admitted to hospital the night before. I was put under general anaesthetic for 8 hours and, needless to say, the doctors who operated on me were absolutely fantastic. I remember waking up feeling groggy and immediately being a bit sick, but I’d had titanium plates fused to my spine and it was straight! After two or three days in A&E and another week or so in a ward (which involved my mum sneaking our cat Kiki in for a quick cuddle) I was admitted home.
Recovering from surgery certainly isn’t fun but I don’t regret having it. I spent a few weeks in bed and shuffling around, holding a pillow to my side where I had a nice big surgery scar, and once school started gradually went into the odd lesson. Off the top of my head, recovery took two or three months – and I remember being quite grumpy a lot of the time!
There is nothing that someone can’t do just because they’ve had scoliosis or the surgery. I still get quite bad back pain and need to have an ergonomic chair at work, but it doesn’t stop you having fun and getting on with your life.
I’ve since met people with scoliosis who either had the surgery or were diagnosed in their late teens or adulthood, when surgery is not always a desired option because it’s harder to take that big gap of time off from work or studying. I’m actually a really squeamish person and was scared before I had the surgery but, if you are thinking about surgery, I can honestly say you’ll be in the most expert hands and the result is fantastic. I still have a faint scar and am strangely proud of it.
From surgery to blogging
When I was recovering in hospital, I met a girl who had had the same surgery the day before. Her name was Louise, she was my age and lived in the next town across from me. Through Louise, I met some of her friends who were into their anime. At this point, I had only just come across manga and shows like Beyblade via my sister, and was set up with a Playstation and Final Fantasy 7 when I couldn’t do much other than sit in bed!
A few months after surgery, I went to my first MCM Expo – now MCM Comic Con. I was stunned by the amazing cosplays, the stalls and memorabilia – and I wanted to learn more! So began my binge-watching sessions of various anime shows, my favourite being Full Metal Alchemist. This anime and video game fandom continued right through university (slightly to my Mum’s embarrassment), where I spent a year as the Anime and Manga society’s press officer. More importantly, I was studying history and came across a lot of books on Japanese history and, unsurprisingly, the history of the samurai particularly interested me.
My first trip to Japan was between my second and third year of university, when I went with my Mum. I’d wanted to go for years and the thinking was it would be our last holiday together before I became an independent adult who soon wouldn’t want to travel with the family any more. Thankfully, we’ve actually had a few more since then!
I don’t have nearly as much time for anime and video games these days, but my love for Japanese culture and history grew in university. When I graduated in summer 2011, I was still looking for a job and had some time on my hands. I loved writing and Japan, so I figured ‘why not start a blog?’ After five years, I’m still not an expert and there’s loads I still don’t know about Japan, but having a weekly blog has kept me busy, introduced me to a lot of wonderful people and taken me to a lot of wonderful places.
Hopefully this blog hasn’t been too long to read and, if you do have any questions about scoliosis, comment below! Thanks for reading.