Health Stories With Hygeia HMO explores the health struggles of everyday Nigerians. We’ll share these stories regularly – they will be tragic sometimes but will always be educative.
By Dr. Okonkwor Oyor C.
Scoliosis is a condition in which the spine of a person curves sideways when viewed from the front/back (the normal spine is straight). We had a chat with a 22-year-old who has lived with scoliosis for over 6 years. Here’s what she had to say.
Can you tell me about you?
I am the second of 3 children and I live in Lagos with my family. I studied History and International Studies at the University of Ilorin. I like reading and I really don’t like going out. I am currently in the NYSC.
How was your scoliosis detected?
A teacher in secondary school who also happened to have scoliosis detected it. She noticed the way I walked and gave me a note to give my mum. My mum took me to Isolo General Hospital. I saw a doctor, and he referred me to the National Orthopedic Hospital in Lagos.
How did you feel?
Honestly, I was devastated. I wondered how my life would turn out. If I was going to be able to have children. The doctor kept talking and honestly I couldn’t hear anything. I dreaded going to that hospital. Every time it was one dead body or a badly injured person. I started thinking, reading stuff, praying to God to take it away. It was a roller coaster of emotions
Sorry about that, did it ever get better?
Well, I developed a better relationship with my physiotherapists.
So what was your first appointment with the doctor like?
My first appointment was annoying. You know how government hospitals are with long queues and the doctor’s impatience. I got there at about 7 am and closed the day with the doctors. It was like that for weeks. Eventually, I did x-rays and the doctor said I had 30-degree curvature. He said I was lucky, I did not understand – didn’t he just tell me my spine was abnormal?
What kind of scoliosis do you have?
I found out on the internet that I had idiopathic scoliosis.
What was your experience with wearing a Boston brace?
Wearing a brace was hell. I didn’t like it. I still don’t like it. I wore them for about 2 months. I was asked questions everywhere I went. I developed low self-esteem because of it. I stopped hanging out with people. I started wearing big clothes…
A Boston brace is a back brace that spans the chest to the waist used in the treatment of scoliosis.
It must have been a tough period.
I had marks on my body from the brace and it was really difficult
How has it been for you, living with scoliosis?
The experience has bittersweet. I hid my condition from my friends until it began to strain my relationship with them. Scoliosis causes severe back pain and whenever that happened, I stayed away from the campus. My friends were concerned about my absences and they staged an intervention, it was an emotional experience. I also had a falling out with my tailor because she kept getting the wrong measurements due to my uneven shoulders, eventually, she understood and is now my go-to tailor. Overall, I am in a better place now.
How has your experience affected your loved ones?
My loved ones aren’t bothered. They adjusted to it real quick because I happen to be the sick one in the family. It was just another illness to them.
Aww, so they were understanding and supportive?
They have been understanding and caring, well my mum is a doctor and she alternates between being professional and being caring.
Have you ever been stigmatized or embarrassed because of your scoliosis?
I have been stigmatized, embarrassed, and insulted even by friends. I remember one time in the university, a friend shouted at me for complaining about backaches and always looking for ice to ease the pain. I cried that day.
Are there ways you feel limited by scoliosis?
I feel like if I didn’t have scoliosis, I may be a professional dancer now or maybe a professional athlete. I used to dance a lot but the doctor told me, when I started wearing a brace, that I would not be dancing anymore. I also never pursued my dreams to become a gymnast because I thought having scoliosis meant living a quiet life.
What are the positive aspects of having scoliosis?
I see it as being different and often tell people I’m a special breed from God. Everybody has a straight spine, I don’t. I’ve embraced that this is a part of my life.
Was there a time you struggled with your body image?
I still struggle with my body image but it gets better every day because now I understand that it’s all in my head. It’s what I think of myself people will think of me.
A very positive spirit, I like it. Where do you get support whenever you feel down?
I’ve been through hell and back, alone. If it gets unbearable, I talk to my friends or I pray. It usually gets better.
So, what is your outlook on life?
My outlook on life is in five words. LIVE. LEARN. PRAY. HOPE. LOVE
Is there enough awareness for scoliosis in Nigeria, especially in schools?
There isn’t enough awareness about scoliosis. I found BACS, an NGO focused on scoliosis in 2019. I’ve had scoliosis since I was in SS2 around 2013.
What do you have to say to people living with scoliosis?
To people living with scoliosis, it gets better every day. Tomorrow is a better day. Don’t give it all up. I believe we are special. Also, people will talk anyway, with or without scoliosis, so why bother? Just focus on the good parts of life and live a purposeful life. That is all that matters. We can never be defined by our bodies.
National Orthopaedic Hospital, Lagos is a specialist hospital that deals with medical conditions related to the musculoskeletal system.
30-degree curvature: This refers to the level of lateral curvature of the spine. The greater the curve, the higher the number. Anything above a 10-degree curve is treated as scoliosis.