Summer is upon us! Time for fun in the Sun, family vacations, backyard barbecues, swimming pools…and a fiberglass body cast?
It started with shooting pain up and down my left leg when I was about 5 or 6 years old. My left leg always wanted to stay in a “bent” position. My mother always tried to help me relax my leg. She could tell how much pain my leg was causing me. She tried giving me warm baths to soothe and relax my leg. This helped relax and straighten my left leg, but only for a short period of time. She also got a jet spa that attached to the bathtub, thinking that it might help relax my body, in order for my leg to relax and straighten. However, everything she tried was a short-term solution.
The summer of 1995 was when I was officially seen by an orthopedic surgeon for my recurring leg pain, and to find out why my leg always wanted to stay in a 90° “acute” position. After a few x-rays, and a thorough exam of my upper and lower extremities, the doctor found multiple problems in my lower extremities. The X-rays revealed that the pain I was experiencing in my left leg was due to a hip dislocation. This was caused by my extreme spasticity. The doctor also noted that I was unable to separate my legs without it causing pain in my inner thighs. I would need hip adductor surgery to correct this. Lastly, he also noticed that my legs were not able to straighten all the way at the knee. Therefore, I would also need hamstring lengthening surgery. All of these findings were a result of my Spastic Quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy; as it made me extremely spastic.
As a child, I had only seen what surgery was and looked like by watching TV programming that had fake or dramatized operations in an operating room. I never thought that I would actually be getting operated on, myself. At the thought of this, I was terrified.
The morning of surgery came. I remember being placed in a surgical waiting area, lying in bed. To say I was nervous was an understatement. When it was time to roll me into the operating room, that is when my true panic sank in. I started crying hysterically. The nurses, as well as the surgical team, tried to calm me down and told me that everything was going to be okay. However, my little brain was not having any of it. As soon has my orthopedic surgeon came in the operating room, I started kicking and screaming, trying to keep the doctor from operating on me. The last thing I remember before falling asleep was one of the scrub nurses trying to calm me down by shushing me and rubbing my head.
Several hours later, I remember seeing my mother. I could hardly keep my eyes open, but I knew that the surgery was over. I was in the recovery room. I kept wanting to force my eyes open so that I could see my mother, but the anesthesia I was given in the operating room was too strong for my brain to contend with.
The next morning, I woke up in my own hospital room. I was still somewhat frightened, but I knew that the surgery was over! I could definitely feel that something had been done to my lower extremities. My orthopedic surgeon corrected my hip dislocation by placing a pin in my hip. He also lengthened both my hamstrings and my hip adductors, in order for my legs to be less spastic.
Recovery was a long 8+ weeks of lying straight on my back…IN SUMMERTIME! Why, you ask? After my orthopedic surgeon was done with the operation and closed everything up, I ended up being wrapped in a thick, fiberglass body cast that went from my abdomen, all the way down to both of my feet! Did I forget to mention, there was also a bar separating both of my legs in the cast? This was to make sure that everything my orthopedic surgeon did during the operation to correct my hip, hip adductors, and hamstrings stay in place, and that everything would set properly.
If I had to choose between laying straight on my back for the rest of my life, or sitting in a wheelchair, I would definitely choose the latter. Those were a very hard eight weeks. Not to mention the itching that I experienced during the last leg of those eight weeks. Ugh!
After the body cast was taken off, the real work began! I had to go to physical and occupational therapy twice a week to start strengthening my body all around. My legs were especially sore from being in a straight, stabilized condition for so long. So, it was definitely something that I had to get used to. However, the more I moved and did activity with my body, the more my lower extremities started to feel “normal.”
Now that I am an adult, looking back, I would not want to change anything regarding that surgery. I was just a scared little girl. That surgery changed my life for the better. I probably would not be able to do the things I’m able to do today without it. There would be no way I would be able to function without having that operation. It was necessary.
If I could go back in time, to that moment of my younger self rolling into that operating room, seeing myself on that operating table, I would explain to my younger self just that. That this operation is necessary.