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Signing The Papers

Commentary: The doctors first asked me to leave the room. I can't remember where I went and whether I was escorted or not, but I left. My parents went to sit down with the doctors at a little table in my hospital room. The doctors would explain, and my parents would meticulously sign, the stack of forms that detailed all the horrible ways the surgery I would have the following morning could go wrong.

It was extensive. I could lose feeling in my body, or I could become a paraplegic. I could suffer blood loss; I could die. My parents, then the age I am now, sat and signed those documents one by one as the doctors talked. My mom, scared and overwhelmed, only remembered that at the end, she asked them to get a very good night's sleep to prepare for the next day. They assured her they would.

My scoliosis was discovered during swim class. We had just arrived at the diving lessons of Swim 101, where I had already floundered due to my long, gangly limbs. As I clapped my hands over my head, my arms to my ears, and bent down to jump and be the very best mermaid I could be, an instructor pulled my mom aside and asked if she had noticed the curve in my spine. She had not.

There were no obvious indicators, like pain or one foot being shorter than the other. I could contort myself into some relaxing positions to watch "The X-Files" on the carpet (later, I thought, "Eek, that might have been a sign.") But the only way to see my curve at that point was by asking me to bend over, as I did at the doctor's office a few weeks later. It turns out that I was very good at compensating for the ways my spine was twisting.

I'm getting a jump on June, which is National Scoliosis Awareness Month. In researching and reflecting, I thought to use my internet stalking powers for good. The lead doctor who performed my surgery had a recognizable name. In the pressure of the moment, my mom had forgotten his name midsentence at the hospital, leaving her embarrassed. He calmed her and later went to work magic on my spine. She never forgot his name again.

He's now the head doctor at another clinic, and even better, his email address was easily accessible. I wrote to him.

I wrote saying that, while he may not remember me, I wanted to thank him. I wanted to thank him for the care he showed me and my parents. I mentioned that even though I read research saying surgeries done 20 to 30 years ago might need to be redone because those were old-fashioned fusions, I am doing well, having had two kids, whose first accommodations in this world were held up by the spine he fused.

He replied within 12 hours. He remembered me from my name — an unusual one for Germany. He was glad to hear that I was well and that my restructured spine served me well. He was confident that I wouldn't need another spine surgery in the future — and, hopefully, not anywhere else either.

Over 25 years later, he's still in the business of calm confidence. I aim to take it as a parent this time. My daughter, in the last couple of weeks, has been practicing her diving during her swim lessons. She's similarly lanky but much more competitive than I ever was, particularly against herself. I see her flash of irritation when she comes back up after a belly flop that should have been a dive.

Back in the day, I took my awkward belly flops in stride. Now I'm the parent running my fingers along her straight spine when she's in her mermaid-scaled bathing suit.

Cassie McClure is a writer, wife/mama/daughter, fan of the Oxford comma, and drinker of tequila. Some of those things relate. She is also the executive director of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and can be contacted at cassie@mcclurepublications.com. To find out more about Cassie McClure and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.