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My Bracing Experience

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Hello, my name is Cathy and Dr. Carlson asked me to write about my experiences with wearing my Milwaukee brace so that other kids would be able to know what to expect.

By Cathy

Age, seventeen.

November, 1966

It was two years ago that we found out that I had scoliosis and that for me, the best treatment would be a Milwaukee brace. I was told that I should consider myself lucky that it was caught early enough so I would not have to go through any surgery.

Anyway, mom had to take me to Atlanta to be measured for the brace, which was quite an experience itself! I was put in a frame and plaster was wrapped all around me to make a mold of my body so they could use it to make my brace to my exact measurements. Jimmy, (the bracemaker) told us to come back in two weeks to be fitted. Let me tell you, a lot of thoughts went through my head in that two weeks. There was a girl in my school who had to wear a scoliosis brace, she was considered sort of weird because she kept to herself and didn't talk to anyone, maybe it was because she felt weird with that brace. I made up my mind that I wasn't going to let that happen to me. Anyway, I had a rough idea of what a Milwaukee brace was, at least from the neck up, I hoped somehow mine was going to be different, maybe a little less conspicuous, I didn't really care what was hidden under my clothing but the part that went under her chin and on the back of her head waste part that I hoped mine wouldn't have.

I finally decided, during that two weeks that I was NOT going to let this change the "real" me. Dr. Carlson already told me that I would have to wear the brace 23 hours a day for between two and three years, he also told me what would happen if I didn't, and it scared me a little to think of myself as a young women all bent over and twisted. I made a point of telling all my friends about the brace and why I will have to wear it and for how long, I figured it would be best to prepare them ahead of time rather than just show up at school wearing it. I also decided to try to think of it as being no different than wearing braces on my teeth. I made up my mind that once everyone saw me wearing the brace and knew that it was just going to be a part of me for at least the next couple of years, that my life would just be as normal as possible. I also made up my mind not to fight it and not to feel sorry for myself, I was determined to get used to wearing the brace and just try to forget about it.

Well, those two weeks went faster than I wanted and the big day arrived all too soon. Mom and I arrived at the clinic at 9:00 am sharp. We were the only ones there and it wasn't long before Jimmy was ready for us. He showed us to a room and said he would be right back with his "masterpiece" He gave me a undershirt type of thing to put on while he was gone, it sort of reminded me of my dad's undershirts. Jimmy returned with my brace in a few minutes, and I could see the shocked look on mom's face. It was quite a contraption, there are flat metal bars, molded plastic parts and a LOT of straps and stuff. I remember wondering how I would ever learn how to put it on! Jimmy was good at teaching us though and soon I was all strapped in and the last part was raising the chin piece up and attaching it to the part that was at the back of my head. Some adjustments were made and Jimmy said that he wants us to get something to eat, do a little shopping and come back at 1:00 to see if there is anything chafing or irritating me.

I felt like I looked like a zombie, it seemed like my head was tilted up too much. I remembered the girl from school and knew right then how you could feel embarrassed to have to wear a brace like this, and I sure DID feel weird! I could tell there was a lot to get used to! For one thing, I found that I had to use my eyeballs a lot more, as I couldn't look left, right or up or down with my head. My first challenge was going down the three steps in the lobby of the clinic, I couldn't see where the first one was!

Mom and I decided to go to the mall. My second challenge was getting in the car without bumping my head, but I made it. I had to put the seat straight up as far as it would go so I could see something beside the car's dome light! I remember thinking during the ride to the mall how glad I was that I wouldn't run into anyone I knew and that all the pep talks I gave myself didn't take into account just how strange I felt right then. Well, we soon arrived at the mall and as we walked across the parking lot I noticed for the first time, people looking at me. I don't think they were really doing it on purpose, just curious. I noticed it though and I still do today, but I have gotten used to it now. At least I can't see them looking unless they are right in front of me cause I can't turn my head to check.

We went to a couple of clothing stores because mom said we will have to get some new things for me to wear with the brace. I got three new tops then we went to the food court for a sandwich. Another challenge, I couldn't see my food! I found that if I move my chair back a little and sort of lean forward it was better. I could see I had a lot of "adjusting" to do!

Jimmy did a good job making my brace because aside from the general discomfort of not being able to move from my hips up, there were no sore spots and we were on our way home by 1:30. On the two hour trip home I just tried to convince myself that I would get used to my brace, and going to school tomorrow with it on. The first thing my brother said when we got home was "Wow! You look like the Tin Man in Wizard of Oz!" I didn't need that!

I decided that my "hour out" would be the first thing in the mornings. That way, I could take my shower and do my hair and makeup before putting it back on for another 23 hours. I don't think I slept at all that first night or the next few nights either, but now, two years later I can sleep like a baby with my brace on. Mom gave me a ride to school that first day. I had a plan, it was no matter how strange I felt or tired I felt, I was determined to be an actress and smile and put on a happy appearance. I think it worked because I don't think I ever was considered weird by anyone.

I slowly got used to the brace, so much so that now, during my hour out I feel strange, I feel like a wet

noodle and I really don't mind putting it back on. In the past two years I have done almost everything that I would have done if I wasn't wearing the brace. I have lots of friends, and a steady boyfriend. I think everyone is so used to me with the brace that they just don't really see it anymore. And I have gotten so used to it that I don't really think about it much. I guess I have learned to compensate so much that it just isn't a big thing to me. It's funny but now I get nervous thinking about going to school for the first time without it. I just know I'll feel weird!


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