My son needs surgery not ‘sit-up-straight’ reminders

x-ray © Willow-Townsend ProductionsI can’t guess at the number of times I barked at my son, “Sit up straight!” I did it at least twice every time we sat down for dinner. And every time, he pushed himself up to the back of his chair to gain my approval. Those dinner-time reminders would start to haunt me in the early summer when we learned the reason behind it all.

We’d hopped in the car and drove to Rhode Island, where my father-in-law was visiting my wife’s brother. We hadn’t seen him in a few years. It wasn’t more than a few minutes after we arrived that the retired-orthopedic surgeon pointed out something we all had missed. “You should have your son checked out by a specialist, he appears to have Scheurmann’s kyphosis.” We learned that’s a problem with how the vertebrae has grown and people with the disorder can’t consciously correct their posture along with other physical issues.

There’s a problem with his spine? I thought, why is this the first we’re hearing about this? He gets a physical every year. “The pediatrician didn’t say a thing,” we told my father-in-law. But he said it’s not something the average kid doctor is trained to spot (they look out for Scoliosis). So we skipped over the blame game and immediately set up an appointment with a specialist.

june-2014-kirkpatrick-xrayThe images you see are of my son’s first x-rays taken last July. My wife said it was excruciatingly painful for him to stand straightx-ray- (C) Willow-Townsend Productions long enough for that image to be taken. The specialist said he hadn’t seen a more pronounced kyphosis case and said surgery would be needed. Surgery. Not just physical therapy, which I was anticipating. But surgery. They have to fuse part of the spine and put a rod from the base of his pelvis up along his back. Holy crap.

Let’s put the surgery aside for a moment. Take another look at that x-ray so we can talk about the elephant in the room. You do not have to be an orthopedic surgeon to see there is an issue. How could we not know? It’s hard to explain beyond the fact that he looks like a regular kid. (See image to the right that shows the frontal view.) I could show you hundreds of pictures (though we are trying to protect his privacy) where he looks fine. He didn’t walk bent over like Quasimodo. To his pride, he stands a few inches taller than his mom and his brother. All seemingly normal.

But now that we’ve seen the x-ray and heard the diagnosis some pieces of the puzzle start to fall into place. The obvious one is the dinner-time slouching. His body just couldn’t sit-up straight. When he did set himself straight it really was an illusion. He was just pulling his shoulders back, pushing out his stomach and over-arching backwards. Another was his fast-to-fade energy. We noticed, as well as the school’s PE teacher, that he would tire quickly and that was also now mostly explained. After starting twice-a-week physical therapy, the therapist said his posture is putting pressure (forward) on his internal organs, making it hard to breathe and may impede other processes.

What now? Just keep going
To his credit, even after the diagnosis, my son completed his summer job. It was a very physical position working maintenance for the local school district. He cleaned, packed and carried boxes from classroom to classroom and did nearly everything he was asked to do despite frequent pain and exhaustion. I am extremely impressed at his will power. He never gave up, though tempted many times. That shows amazing character and made me proud.

When the job ended and school started, his pain only increased. Exacerbated by those ridiculously uncomfortable chairs in the classrooms that have backrests that left gouge marks on the skin on his back. He’s managed to live with the increasing discomfort and pain until now.

When normal stuff just makes it worse
It’s about two weeks away from his surgery and the pain is keeping him from learning. I’ve had to pick my son up early from school on numerous occasions. His frequent trips to the nurse’s office to try to recover a little bit by laying on the cot were not helping anymore. The over-the-counter medication, the frequent heating and icing is not easing the pain.  And neither the pediatrician nor the surgeon want to give him any stronger medication before the surgery.

I was heartbroken to learn the pain made my son break down and cry in front of the nurse the other day and after seeing his increasingly desperate texts to me we decided that he may have to stay home until the surgery. We’ll make that call in a couple of days. Until then we’ll help him cope and focus on healing and enjoy life. We just celebrated Thanksgiving and I’m very grateful and hopeful that his pain should soon end.

So why am I writing this? We haven’t shared this with anyone other than close friends and family until now.  But I realized there are other families out there that may benefit. Perhaps it could help someone spot the issue earlier than we did.

I won’t promise I will share every part of the coming journey, but if there is something that may help others I will.

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12 thoughts on “My son needs surgery not ‘sit-up-straight’ reminders

  1. Allen,
    This is a beautifully written discussion of your son’s condition. It shows your great love for him and his determination to get well.
    Love, the Neils

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