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Topic for this week: What could have happened to you in high school that would have altered the course of your life?

In 1986 I was in gym class, sitting on the stage with a bunch of my classmates, watching the others play basketball. I distinctly remember one of my friends running up to me and quickly embracing me around the waist, putting a quick downward pressure on my thighs. The resulting pain was the worst I had ever felt in my 16 years. I will never forget it.

As my 16th year wore on the pain increased. I walked hunched over much of the time as it became incredibly painful to straighten up. I slowly learned how to “throw” my right hip out as this would allow me to walk straight, or somewhat straighter than hunched over. My parents took me to the doctor, of course, but because I was experiencing all the pain in my groin, the doctors felt I had pulled my groin muscle. I had hot baths every night, as hot as I could stand, which I hated. I went to physiotherapy for shock treatments and hanging upside down, which I also hated, although at least the physiotherapy gave me some relief. However the pain was not going away, so they finally decided to take an x-ray. My spine was curved 42 degrees in the lumbar region. That was the problem. The bone was curved so much to one side of my body it was pulling on the muscles in my groin on the other side of my body.

They jumped into action at that point, believe me. I was scheduled for fusion surgery at the Shriner’s hospital in Montreal. I was told I would be in a full body cast and would miss a year of school. To prepare for the surgery I saw an orthopaedic spine specialist in Halifax.

My meeting with him changed the course of my life, and I can’t even remember his name now, I’m ashamed to admit.

He took me into his office and watched me walk in my hunched over way. He asked me to straighten up and I showed him how I had to move my hips to do that. He left the room while I put a johnny shirt on. When he came back he asked me to bend over with my back to him so he could study the spine alignment. He sat me down and looked at me very solemnly. I was so frightened, of so many things: the surgery, missing a year of school, being away from my friends, and the very real possibility that the surgery wouldn’t work and I would be like this for the rest of my life. He looked away, towards his bookcase, and selected a very heavy, very thick medical textbook. Placing it on the floor in front of me, he said, “Put your left foot on this textbook and your right foot on the floor. And stand up straight.” I did as he instructed, expecting the blinding pain to bloom at any moment. But it didn’t. I burst into tears. He smiled and said, “You don’t need surgery. Yet. I think a two inch lift in your left shoe will counteract the spine curvature and bring it down to a manageable number. Come back and see me in six months.”

I put that lift in my sneaker. I did core-strengthening exercises. The pain went away. I became myself again. And six months later I went back to see my special spine doc, new x-rays in hand, showing the curve reduced from 42 degrees to 31, one of those magical “manageable” numbers. I was ready to celebrate. But he wasn’t there. I saw a different doctor who told me my previous doctor had died from bone cancer a month earlier. He was apparently living with it when he saw me. So I never got to tell him how he changed my life. But I like to think he knows.

Next week: You are looking down through the skylight as chefs prepare dinner for your ex-fiance’s wedding.

This is the latest exercise in my 642 Things to Write About Project. Click on the link to find out more, or click on the category 642 Things to Write About Project to read past exercises.  🙂