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I walked into the hospital on the morning of my appointment to get a cast to help fix my back. My name is Pauline and I'm 13 and I have Scoliosis. Scoliosis is a disease that causes your back to bend. If left untreated, you can become paralyzed or even die because it can cause your internal organs to get compressed. I have what's called "Type 3 Idiopathic Scoliosis" which means that my spine is shaped like an S and they don't know what causes it. It's bad and it's getting worse.
This isn't my first time in a hospital because of my back. When I was younger I had a few custom braces made for me that were supposed to help my back. The doctors say that they slowed down the progression but they didn't cure the problem. That's why I'm back now, to try a new type of treatment. Hopefully this will be my last brace, once you stop growing your back stabilizes and shouldn't get any worse.
After waiting for my appointment for a bit I was led to the room. As I walked in my eyes opened with wonder and a touch of horror. Half the room was filled with a metal contraption. Instead of a mattress there was just a thin strip of cloth with a few aluminum cross beams. The bed was like a cage with pulleys and handles and straps hanging everywhere. A sling was at one end of the bed, do I sit there or do I lean in it like a headrest or what? At least I trust the doctor, he's the one who's been treating me for years.
The doctor asked me to take off all my clothes and put on what he called a "body stocking". It's like a tight t-shirt that's extra long and also goes over your head. It's a really thin and stretchy material. I had some cotton panties to wear but I had to take my bra off. Two of his assistants helped me into it. They made extra sure that the stocking was even and didn't have any creases or folds in it. They said that ridges could cause pressure sores and that is apparently really bad.
Fortunately they turned down the top of the stocking so that I could breathe!
Everyone helped me get onto the bed, it turns out that that sling goes at my feet but I still don't know what it is going to be used for. The little fabric on the bed turns out to be wide and strong enough to support me, I just have to be careful to not roll over! All those handles sure come in handy when you're trying to position yourself though. I had expected the metal bars to be cold but they all have foam padding on them so it's more comfortable than I thought it would be.
The doctors helped adjust me and the bed, they moved some of the bars around so that I was more comfortable.
They asked me to keep my arms up on the handles so that my elbows wouldn't get in the way. Then they started putting some foam pads on my hips and trimming them to the right size. They said that the extra thickness helps prevent problems from the cast rubbing on my bony hips. I never thought I had bony hips, but I trust the doctors know what they are doing.
The doctor then said that they needed to apply traction. They did it when they measured for my other braces too so I knew what they were going to do. They pulled the stockinette up to my belly and wrapped some straps around my hips.
The straps are then connected over the pulleys at the end of the bed and attached to weights.
Then they put what's called a "head halter" on your neck. It has a pad that goes at the back of the skull and one that goes under your chin. That's then run over the pulleys at your head and then weights are hung from it. It may sound barbaric but they do a really good job and it doesn't hurt at all.
How it works is that the weights and straps pulling on your hips pull you to one end, and the head traction pulls you the other way. Your spine connects those two points, so it gets stretched. If you have scoliosis then that stretching makes your back straight, which means they can put a cast or brace on you and your spine is in the correct position.
They put a lot of weight on each end and I couldn't talk much because I couldn't open my jaw, but I sure felt taller :)
The doctor said that I was doing fine and that they were almost ready to begin. He started by answering my question about that sling, it's for your legs! Or more accurately, it's used to lift your legs off of the cloth strip on the bed. The doctor made a few more adjustments to me to make sure that the cross bars were supporting me well and that the weights were correct. It feels kind of strange to have someone touching you and to not be able to look down to see them, but the ceiling was pretty.
With my feet in the sling, the cross bars supporting my hips and shoulder blades, and the traction supporting everything else, they were able to remove the cloth from the bed. I was then being held up by only a few points. The doctors added some more cotton padding to my ribcage and near my neck.
Then the real fun began! The doctors all crowded around me and started applying plaster bandages around my body. I couldn't look down to see anything, of course, but I could feel the wet and heavy plaster as it was applied to me. The plaster went from my hips all the way up my chest and included my neck. My chin sat in a little support but I could barely feel it because the traction on my neck was keeping me staring at the ceiling.
After several layers had been applied, the doctors removed the weights from the traction and lifted me off of the bed.
They moved me over to the real hospital bed that was in the room. It felt strange to be being lifted and moved around the room but to not be able to feel any hands on me.
The doctors checked over the cast to make sure it was okay. I suppose that if they had noticed any problems then they would have cut it off and put me back on the frame to do it again.
Out came the scissors and knives as the doctors and nurses started cutting away the extra padding and plaster and cleaning up some of the mess on my arms.
The cast had been hot for a while now and it was getting hard to breathe. The cast was really tight on me and couldn't take a deep breath. The doctors started drawing on my tummy and neck, I figured that they were either the first ones to sign my cast or they were marking areas that needed to be changed. They rolled up all the extra stocking too, do they just cut it off or tack it down somehow?
All this time the head halter for the neck traction had been left on my head, but with no weights attached. The doctors cut it off and trimmed the cast where it was near my ears. The back of my head rested on the cast really high, well above the hair line. My chin rested on a ledge that fit perfectly and kept my staring straight ahead. I couldn't bend forward or backward at all since the back of my head and my chin were on the cast at the same time. I bet eating will be a problem if I can hardly open my mouth!
The doctor took out the cast saw and cut a hole in my belly. Well, the cast over my belly at least. After making the cut he was able to just pop out the center. He cut the stocking underneath and pulled the cotton out.
He took some more plaster and molded the cotton into the cast so that there was a clean, soft edge around my stomach. Breathing became a lot easier since my tummy was able to expand just a bit more with the hole cut in the cast.
After that they cleaned me up some more and said that they were done! I was now wearing a plaster body cast that went from my hips all the way up to my chin. They had me move my arms and legs around to make sure that the cast didn't get in the way. When I tried to sit up I figured that the cast would be like my brace, so I rolled to my side first and then pushed myself up with one arm. It was still a lot harder than my old brace because this time I couldn't look down to see where I was putting my hand, or throw my weight to get moving. This cast is tougher to be in, but if it helps my back then it will be worth it later on.
I'll have to wear this cast for the next two weeks which is when I get a new one that is the same style, but that makes my back even stragihter. The next one will be colored and the doctor says it will be lighter too. I'm scheduled for surgery in just three months and after that I won't need casts or braces at all any more!
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