I can tell you what I was doing exactly a year ago: to the day, to the hour, to the minute. I was lying in intensive care, dazed and more than a little confused, after having metal rods screwed into either side of my spine and 2/3rds of my vertebrae fused in place. I have scoliosis to thank for that. Three hundred and sixty five days later, here I am - with memories that will never fade or pale like the scar on my back. I feel good... Better than that, I feel grateful.
To commemorate the occasion, I thought it apt to accessorize my scar with a vintage skirt, vintage gloves, a silk scarf top and plenty of strings of faux pearls. I also realised it would be the perfect time to put up one of the three pieces I submitted for the Vogue Talent Contest that I won; an 800 word 'memory' of intensive care.
The other photos throughout are ones I took of friends for my GCSE art project last year, in which I focused on the contrast between straight and twisted - culminating in two Frida Kahlo-inspired plaster casts of backs with raised spines - one perfectly vertical and one in the full, curving throes of scoliosis. As you can probably tell, I am now fascinated with images of backs. The second set of black and white photos are of my fabulous friend Flo (aka the photographer), who will be shortly posting her own work on her tumblr here.
It is three in the morning. I know because I ask the nurse who is filling in a chart at the end of my bed. I’m wide awake and I want to talk. I tell her my plans for A’levels and later, University. She listens and speaks in a soft, warm voice. I don’t feel pain, just faint nausea. We discuss women’s rights – I think I’m surprised to be having this conversation less than nine hours after surgery. I think I may be talking quite fast. She checks my temperature and melts away.
Funny how one day a word can enter ones vocabulary and cause so much change. It’s like flicking to an unknown page in a dictionary, running a finger down the words and choosing an entry at random. Congratulations, that word - scoliosis - is now yours to keep, nurture and deal with! The swerve of the ‘S’ matched my spine, the vertebrae of its soft letter shapes standing out on the page.
Scoliosis: a curvature of the spine comes from the Greek ‘skolios’, meaning twisted. It is often, but not exclusively, diagnosed in teenagers like me, sometimes after a growth spurt. Mostly it is idiopathic, meaning simply that there is no known cause. No explanation. No reason. It just is.
This word began intruding into my life right at the beginning of 2010. And in autumn of the same year, I am here, lying in a darkened room filled with humming machinery. My helter skelter spine has been turned into a drop slide, with scaffolding ; fused into place using titanium rods and screws. I may not have fallen down a rabbit hole, but the sudden height gain is disorientating - two and a half inches in four hours.
During my pre-op pep-talk, the orthopaedic nurse told me the first night would pass in a groggy fog of sleep. Instead I am reclining on a fluffy cloud of morphine that blurs the edges of the pinched lights and dulls the pain to a faint and far-away ache on the earth below. My back feels heavy and stiff, like a blackboard with a new bold line running down the centre, chalked in flesh. Lying in bed, my legs being nudged up and down by a pump, images from the last twenty four hours whir and flash like Polaroids.
Click! In a silent waiting room, I leaf through a Vogue. I read about the Ballet Russes, admire Tim Walker’s photography and wish I could be somewhere with my camera instead of here. I see a young boy with a back twisted like a tree, like mine, and wonder what private struggles his family are experiencing.
Click! A sympathetic radiographer asks me to lean to one side and I emulate the pose of the model in the magazine I was reading. The machine flashes sullenly. I wonder how those invisible x-ray particles can be speeding towards me. I imagine the contraption shooting out stardust, defining the silvery trail of my spine.
Click! I sit in a bland hospital room, full of white furniture and the smell of desperate hope. Minutes drag past like slugs.
Click! A well cut tweed jacket and smiling eyes – my anaesthetist introduces himself, shakes my hand, tells me the next time I see him he’ll be wearing scrubs.
Click! I’m wearing a hospital robe and scratchy paper pants. I lie down on the bed, my chariot, which will bear me to surgery.
Click! The anaesthetist, in pale green, still smiling; picks up a syringe. “This will just feel like a pinch.” I squeeze mum’s hand and stare at the clock above my head. It shivers, wobbles and disintegrates as black shutters crash down, and the film runs out.
In the morning, Irish and Afro-Caribbean accents mingle into a murmur. They are interspersed with a rhythm of beeps. My feathered wings of morphine are slowly drooping in the light of day, until they are replaced with a clipped leaden pair that weigh my back down and fill it with wrenching ache . These wings will not fly; like a fallen angel they have no use but to remind me of the pain to come.
My eighteen hours of flat back rest are over. I am ready to be transported to a ward. As a porter manoeuvres my bed into the lift, he looks down and exclaims “Blimey! You’re a tall one!” I am now.'