Dr. Bowen didn’t let me waste any time getting up and at ‘em – he came in and helped me sit up himself just a few hours after my surgery. The day after my surgery, I started working with a physical therapist who helped me learn to get in and out of bed, sit in a chair, and walk around my room.
Eventually I worked up to walking around the hallways and going up and down steps. I know those things don't sound like much of a workout, but they were very difficult at the time. All of my muscles had to readjust to the new setup in my back, and I could feel that my body was oriented differently.
My hospital stay lasted about a week. When I was discharged, my parents took me to the Ronald McDonald House, which houses families of children undergoing medical treatment. Two days later, after a final checkup with the doctor, I finally went home.
My recovery period at home lasted about eight weeks. At first, it was very difficult to do schoolwork or even sit up for more than 15 to 20 minutes at a time. I thought it was really weird, because before my surgery I could sit for hours and do my schoolwork. I gradually worked up to sitting at the kitchen table and working with a homebound teacher. I also started to walk a little farther in my neighborhood each day. That was no small feat — I had to take baby steps the entire way!
For a couple of weeks it seemed like I was getting absolutely nowhere with my homebound teacher, because ninth grade was my first year in a very rigorous academic program at school. But at the end of my 2-month recovery, I saw the benefits of working with a homebound teacher two to three times a week. When I returned to school, pillow for my chair in tow, everyone was really glad to see me and I was caught up with all my work.
Although I probably won't ever be a ballet dancer or a gymnast, those activities were never really in my future anyway, and I don't feel like I'm at a physical disadvantage at all. For all I know, there isn't anything resembling pins and screws or two metal rods in my back. The only reminder of my surgery is the long scar down the middle of my back, which has faded a lot over the past year.
Although bouncing back from the surgery was rough at times, the rewards that came with the experience outweigh the negatives in the long run. Having a spinal fusion reminded me of how fortunate I am to be able to do things that we often don't think about or appreciate, like being able to sit for long periods of time, bend over, roll from side to side, and walk. I'll never take those things for granted again. I also acquired a new sense of appreciation for my family, as they were literally by my side throughout the entire ordeal. Finally, I learned how important it is to have a positive attitude when things get tough. Telling myself, "I can do it," was very therapeutic during my recovery and helped me ignore a lot of the pain and fatigue.