Celeste returns to school today, nearly two months to the day of undergoing scoliosis surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital to free her spine of the curve in her spine.
It’s been a long road, one we started on blindly when she was diagnosed with scoliosis more than two years ago. It’s all I’ve written about since the days leading up to the operation, whether it was the anticipation of the surgery, my thanks for the support we received, her recovery, or the terrible drive home from the hospital.
Of course, all those posts were from my perspective. So on the eve of Celeste’s first day back at school, I thought it would be a good idea to write something from her point of view. I sat her down Sunday, and started asking her questions so I could understand how she felt about it.
Me: How do you feel about this whole process?
Celeste: I don’t know.
Well, how do you feel about your surgery?
I don’t know.
How do you feel about going to school tomorrow?
Sigh. You see where this was going? You’d think I would have known better. I interviewed countless people during my two-decade career as a journalist, and knew that kids are hard interviews.
You can’t ask them yes-or-no questions in hopes they’ll expand on their answers. They won’t. If you ask them a simple question, they’ll give you a simple answer. That’s why I asked Celeste how she felt about scoliosis and her surgery, but I could see she wasn’t interested in talking about it.
I gave up after just a few questions. “I’ll figure out something else to write,” I told her.
She walked away as I stared at a blank screen, the cursor taunting me as it blinked. My fingers danced lightly on the keyboard, just enough to make noise without letters appearing on the screen.
She returned a few moments later. “Want to play a game, Daddy?”
I looked away from the blank screen. “Sure, I’m not getting anywhere here. What do you want to play?”
“I don’t know. A board game. How about Sorry!”
“Let’s do it.”
We sat down at the table. Celeste picked her usual blue. I picked red, and I saw my chance to ask her a few questions while she set up the board.
I bet you’re glad to go to school tomorrow, aren’t you?
Well, I want to see all my friends.
But not your teachers?
Sure, I want to see my teachers again, but I don’t want to take tests and have lots of homework.
That’s the answer I’d expect from a 12-year-old. Did you learn anything after all this?
All of what?
Dealing with scoliosis all this time. Did you learn anything?
Really? What would you tell your friends if you found out one of them had scoliosis?
But they don’t have it.
But what if they did?
Well, the don’t.
OK. What would you tell your friends if they were going into surgery?
That it’s not as bad as they might think. It’s over before you know it, and it feels like no time passed. It’s just like sleeping at night. You wake up the next morning, and you don’t know how much time has passed. It’s weird.
That’s what I hear. I’ve never had surgery.
I know. You’ve told me that, like, a thousand times.
Maybe not a thousand, babe. Did you have any dreams during surgery?
I don’t think so. My mind was just blank the whole time. I really don’t remember.
But you were in pain afterwards. What would you tell your friends about that?
Yeah, it hurt a lot sometimes, but I had medicine that helped. And now I’m not in any pain, so it doesn’t last forever.
Were you scared going into surgery?
No, not really. The doctors knew what they were doing.
That’s true. We went to the best. I bet you’re glad to never have to wear the brace again, aren’t you?
Yeah, I didn’t like how other kids would ask me all the time, “Hey, what’s that thing sticking out of your back?”
What would you tell them?
That it’s none of their business.
But you’ll never have to do that again. That must feel good.
Yeah. I have a scar now, but no one’s going to see it. Well, they’ll see it at the swimming pool or maybe the girls in the locker room, but that’s OK. I don’t care about it. Besides, it’s fading.
Any other thoughts about surgery?
No. Now stop asking me questions. It’s your turn.
Oh, all right.
I don’t know if Celeste learned anything profound during her treatment of scoliosis, but from her perspective, it sounds like she’s most happy about not having to wear a full-torso brace ever again.
Though she wore it without fail 20 hours a day every day, just like the doctor ordered, it obviously made her feel different. And if kids want to be anything, “normal” tops the list.