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Just a Penny

March 9, 2008

I’m not sure exactly why I put the penny in my mouth. It must have seemed like the right thing to do as a bored 6 year old. Not long after, I was in the emergency room. I had swallowed it and mom was worried. The doctors assured my mom there was nothing to worry about, as long as the penny “passed” it would not cause complications. But just to be sure it was not lodged anywhere it shouldn’t be, a few x-rays were ordered.

I remember it very clearly. I lay there on the cold metal x-ray table while the technicians did what they do. Picture after picture was taken. Surely something was wrong with the machine I thought. They called in a senior person. I saw them looking at the films. Coming out to tell me it would be a little while longer, and returning to the back room for more hushed discussions.

Maybe they don’t believe me. Maybe they don’t see the penny. Oh, or maybe it’s really stuck somewhere. I wasn’t sure what was going on.

Weeks later I was told the truth. Something is wrong with my back. I wouldn’t really understand the implications until a few years later. Kypho-Scoliosis. Curvature of the spine in two directions. That’s what the x-rays showed, that’s what the hushed discussions were about. My miserably useless family physician had failed to notice the telltale signs. The protruding shoulder blades should have been his tip off. But no. I swallowed a penny. That’s how it was discovered. That’s how it began.

Less than 6 months later, realizing the curvature was severe enough to warrant very specialized attention, I was referred to Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children. My father drove us up for the appointments. 4 hours up, 2 or 3 hours running from clinics to x-ray rooms, then 4 hours back. I still don’t understand how he did it.  An older doctor was my first specialist there. I may have seen him a couple of times. I don’t recall his name. His choice was to just monitor my condition. Keep and eye on things.

When he moved on to greener pastures, or retired, I can’t remember which, my case was turned over Dr. Robert Gillespie. A younger, very tall Orthopaedic surgeon. He was very smart and very kind. You couldn’t help but trust in him. So when I was 8 years old and he told my parents that the best course of action was surgical correction with spinal fusion, the decision was made for us. What else could we do. He is the expert right?  

How could we have known what was to come?

4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 9, 2008 7:47 pm

    for some reason this reminds me of my first college roomate.

    her older sister and she had been running out to meet daddy. for some reason the hunting rifle he kept in the back of the window still had a round in it. not sure what happened next-something about slipping.

    an accident.

    her sister is still in a wheelchair. You post hits a very emotional chord. to be honest, I had wondered your story of how you came to meet your chair but wasn’t sure if asking was appropriate. thank you for sharing.

  2. March 9, 2008 10:09 pm

    Oy, I get the feeling we are on a trail of lots of ? incompetent doctors? Right things not done soon enough? I am sorry already…for the young boy who had to go through all this pain and suffering. The man somehow seems to cope well or so you sound today. Or well enough under the circumstances.
    You write well Sylvain. I will read each installment with interest. My heart will continue to ache for the boy who had to indure it all.

  3. March 10, 2008 9:34 pm

    Oh, my, Syl.

    Knowing how long this process lasted for you, I can only imagine how difficult it is to look back now and not have punishment in mind for the very folks who, I would hope, always had your best interest at heart but never seemed able to pull it off.

    My time with the marginally competent in the medical profession was ten years or so later in my life than yours was, yet I know today that no one ever, ever meant me harm. It is little consolation, and yet it can be everything if one is willing to allow it to be so.

    I’m so, so sorry for the young boy Sylvain who had to suffer so many years for no good reason at all…just plain, human frailty. Your own body’s, of course, but also that of the doctors who failed you along the way.

  4. March 19, 2008 10:32 pm

    You are so brave to be telling this story Sylvain.

    It is hard to dig up the pain our young selves had to endure.

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