Imagine you are staring straight at the beginning of a 14,000-foot mountain that you are about to walk up. You look around, and you can’t see anyone around. There is no one there to help you climb. No one there to show you what to do or where to begin. The trail is not marked, and the trees are overgrown.The path is not clear, and you are not sure if anyone else has been up the mountain before. You can see the huge obstacle that lies before you: 14,000 feet, all by yourself, and uncertain terrain. Your heart begins to race as you take in all that lies ahead. You can feel the beads of sweat as they slowly slide down your cheek. Thoughts of doubt and of disbelief race through your mind, “Can I do this? What was I thinking? Is this even where I am supposed to start? What happens if I can’t get to the top? But, then, you realize it’s too late. You already made the choice to climb the mountain. You are there, wearing your hiking pack, and with only your own intuition and determination to guide you. You begin to climb.
For me, leaving Dr. Gray’s office and stepping into the unknown in search of a doctor who could actually help me felt like I had this ginormous mountain in front of me and the only way I was going to stop the progression of my spine was to climb the mountain, to find someone else who could help me. I was alone in my journey up the mountain. There was no one that I could turn to for help. There was no one who knew what to do. This was uncharted territory for me and my family.
I told my mama what had happened as soon as I walked out of Dr. Gray’s office. She reassured me that I would find the doctor and that we would make an appointment to see someone who could help me. Even though my mama wasn’t able to help me search for a solution, she did what she could to provide the comfort and support that I needed. It was the confidence she gave me that in turn gave me the strength I needed to move forward.
When we got home I brooded over the day’s disaster as I walked to my bed. I kept hearing Dr. Gray’s words in my mind: “I’m not going to tell you.” It was this simple sentence that kept haunting me. How could he not tell me what kind of doctor performs surgery on scoliosis patients? I couldn’t understand why he would keep that information from me. Why he wanted to maintain the control over my condition and over me. I didn’t sleep much that night. The thoughts of what happened persisted in me. I was halfway between being awake and passing out, caught in the liminal space of agonizing over what Dr. Gray has said and daydreaming about finding a new doctor that could help me. It was finally these thoughts of finding a new doctor that allowed me to fall asleep feeling hopeful for the future.
I woke up the next morning and glued myself to the Hewlitt Packard computer in the living room. I knew that if I woke up early enough, I would have at the very least two full hours of uninterrupted searching. I knew that if I waited too long to get online my sister would kick me off the computer, my mama would want to use the phone, or someone would call us, which would automatically sign me off AOL. It was the 90s, the time when AOL was the hottest thing since sliced bread. It was also the time when searching on the internet was virtually impossible, but still, it seemed like the most viable option in my mind. I sat patiently in the chair as the dial-up internet began to connect to AOL. As the noises and sounds went through their normal progression, I got even more anxious with anticipation. I was pretty confident that as soon as I could get online, I would be able to find the information that I was looking for. As soon as I heard the “Welcome,” and “ You’ve got mail,” coming from my speakers, I clicked the search bar and began typing. I searched for keywords, like “scoliosis,” “scoliosis surgery” and “scoliosis doctor,” in hopes that some webpage would pop up with more information, but I found nothing.
I browsed through random pages, but still, I found nothing.
I went into a few chat rooms to see if anyone had any details, but my questions were ignored.
The more I searched, the more frustrated I became at the lack of information.
I inserted my encyclopedia CD into the CD-ROM Drive, but that, too, led to nothing. And before I knew it, I looked at the clock: I had lost five hours.
“Nana, necesito usar el teléfono.” My mama yelled across the house that she needed to use the phone.
I was careful to conceal all the pages that I’d looked through. I didn’t want my brother or sister to know what I was researching. Concerned as I was about my situation and about the mountain in front of me, I didn’t want my family to know. I clicked sign-off and heard the notorious AOL voice saying “Goodbye.”
I slammed shut the keyboard drawer, frustrated that I couldn’t spend more time searching, and I walked in the kitchen where I sat down.
My mama poured me a fresh cup of lemon-flavored iced tea and I stared out the window. I wasn’t sure I had made the right decision leaving Dr. Gray’s office the way I had left it. I was afraid I had made a big mistake. I was afraid that I had just spent five hours searching and found nothing. I was afraid that maybe there wasn’t a doctor out there that could help me. I had exhausted all of the potential search terms that I could think of and found nothing. I didn’t know who else to turn to for more information.
Propelled forward by what happened with Dr. Gray and so focused on the future, I didn’t let the one day of searching stop me. I kept going. I went to the library as soon as my mama would take me, and in fact, I went every opportunity I could go to see if I could find information in a book. I asked the librarians if they knew anything about scoliosis and if they could help me research, but most of the time I got puzzled looks and no helpful solutions.
I even bombarded Barnes and Nobles every weekend. I looked through magazines and books. I sat in the Starbucks section of the bookstore and flipped through every single page of hundreds of health books, hopeful that one page would be all about scoliosis and would have all the answers I needed. But, after several weekends of venti hot chocolates with extra whipped cream, and many hours wasted, I hadn’t found anything.
Then, when Barnes and Nobles and the Orange County Public Library system proved inadequate, I decided to search through every single page in the yellow pages. I thought that maybe, perhaps, one of the ads would say something about scoliosis and I could call them immediately. Whenever I got tired, I would put a bookmark in the page I had left off, and start back up the next day. Over 1,000 super-thin pages later, I didn’t find anything that could help me. Still, I was relentless, even though I was stuck in this cycle of constantly finding myself in the same situation, different context, time and again; becoming hopeful and then quickly disillusioned. But still, I tried. I tried really damn hard to make every day count, to give 110%. “All or nothing,” I would tell myself. And just like that, a month had passed, and still I had no answers.
At that point, I had no idea what I was going to do. I was too far up the mountain to turn back now. Even though I couldn’t see the peak, I knew it was there. I just had to keep walking. I had to keep moving forward. Eventually, I would make it to the top, I thought to myself. I just had to keep moving forward.
But I didn’t know where else to search. I didn’t know how to move forward.
Until one day, I was leaning forward over the bar counter in my house using a stool for balance as I watched my mama wash the dishes. There was something incredibly therapeutic about watching her wash dishes. It was so simple. So monotonous. As if the more I watched, the farther away I was. Drifting away in my thoughts, completely engulfed by my daydreams. It was when I was in this trans-state that, suddenly, something clicked, and I knew exactly what I had to do. I knew how to find more information. I snapped out of my state and ran to my mama’s bedroom, picked up the yellow pages, sat down on the floor, and I quickly flipped to section C in search for any chiropractor. I ran my finger down the list of names until I had found the first name on the list under chiropractor. I stood up and grabbed the cordless phone in my mama’s room. I dialed the number.
I put the phone to my ear and it began to ring. With each ring, I grew more and more uneasy, I began to pace back and forth in my mama’s room. I could feel the air escaping my lungs. What was I going to say? But before I had time to really reflect and put my thoughts together, a voice came through the phone and said, “Thank you for calling Dr. Anderson’s chiropractic clinic, this is Jennifer speaking, how may I assist you.”
“Ugh, hi, I have a question for you, ugh…I have scoliosis, and ugh…I need to know what kind of doctor does surgery on people that have scoliosis?”
“Miss, are you talking about an orthopedic?”
“Ugh, I don’t know. Do orthopedic doctors do that kind of surgery.”
“Yes, miss, you are looking for an orthopedic.”
“Ugh, okay, um…can you hold on just a sec? I need to get a something to write this down with, I don’t know how to spell orthopedic.”
I ran to the desk and grabbed the first crayon and piece of paper that I could find and said, “Okay, can you please spell that for me ma’am?”
“O-like Octopus, R-like Rhino, T-Tiger, H-Horse, O-Octopus, P-Panther, E-Elephant, D-Dog, I-Iguana, C-Cat.” She dictated the letters to me slowly so that I could easily write them all down.
“Thank you, ma’am, I think I have it now. Hope you have a nice day. Buh bye,” I said and hung up.
At that precise moment, I threw my arms in the air, in a victory pose, and let out a huge sigh of relief. I felt like I had literally been climbing up this 14,000-foot mountain for a month and I could finally see the peak. This is what success looks like, I thought. I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry, to jump or to hide. I did it. After a month-long search, I had the answer I was looking for. I stood up with the paper in hand and ran into the kitchen and waved the paper in front of my mama telling her that I had found the doctor who was going to help me. She gave me a hug and congratulated me on my success. I sat down at the kitchen table to celebrate my victory with a full glass of milk and big bowl of chicken soup and thought, I did it. I made it. Now all I have to do is make an appointment.
Little did I know that the mountain was so much bigger than I had thought and my journey had literally just begun.