Five years later


Arpita Das

A picture of me 4 days after my operation decorating a pillowcase with a nurse

Most people look at me as your average girl just living her life in high school; a girl that works four hours every Tuesday, writes for the school newspaper, and is a part of the Science Olympiad team. 

But what some people don’t know is that I’m 16 and I still haven’t got my license. I have an older sister in her sophomore year of college, and I have known how to play the piano ever since 2nd grade. 

Although these are only just a fraction of some of the things that are going on in my life right now, what I’m here to tell you about is a story that continues to surprise people the more and more I tell it. 

Let me reintroduce myself. 

Hello, my name is Arpita Das, and this is the story about how I had an 8 hour spinal fusion at the age of 11. 

The summer before 6th grade my doctor brought to my attention that the shape of my spine looked concerning and recommended I get some X-Rays done. A couple weeks later, I eventually went to get the X-Rays, but thought nothing of it. 

Around June of 2017, me and my family were called to go downtown to the DeVos Children’s hospital, and that’s when we heard the news from the surgeon: I had a deformity in my back called scoliosis.

July 4th, 2017 will always be a day that lives rent-free in my head.”

For those of you who don’t know, scoliosis is a deformity that happens in the back, and a spinal fusion helps prevent the severity of it by fusing metal to bone to lower the curvature of your spine. Scoliosis measures the severity of a curve by three measures: 

  1. Mild  = less than 20 degrees 
  2. Moderate = 25 – 40 degrees 
  3. Severe = anything above 50 degrees 

My curves were over 70 degrees and were said to have been some of the biggest curves that my surgeon had ever seen. But as any 11 year old girl would react when hearing jargon like “curvature” and “scoliosis,” I was completely puzzled by what he was trying to tell me, until his last sentence ended in the word “surgery.”

I was afraid of the one thing that had been there for me since day one: my body.”

From that day forward, I knew that my life would change forever, and that’s part of the reason why July 4th, 2017, will always be a day that lives rent-free in my head. I woke up early that morning with only one mantra running through my head: “I can do this.” 

The last thing I remember before being put under anesthesia was watching the movie “Sing,” being put to sleep, and then waking up five minutes later. In reality, 8 hours had gone by, and the second I woke up, I was in a different room. My nurse had just injected me with an IV on my wrist and phoned my parents that I had woken up. 

For a week I needed a nurse just to walk on my own two feet. 

For two months I needed a walker to get around the house. 

For 6 months I had to refrain from any physical activity and had learn how to be a human again.

Every time I would tell the story, only question came to mind, “Why me?.”

After a year, for the first time in my life I was afraid of the one thing that had been there for me since day one: my body. I was afraid of bending forward because I had this fear that if I bent too much the screws would fall out of my back and I would have to relive the pain all over again. 

To get out of bed, I needed to be lifted. If I wanted to walk upstairs, someone had to watch me from behind, and if I dropped something, someone else had to pick it up. To put it quite literally, I felt helpless. 

I felt discouraged for not being able to help myself, and this feeling of misery only started to escalate when 6th grade began. For the first semester of 6th grade I couldn’t participate in gym class and had never felt so distant from the other kids in my grade. 

While everyone else was playing dodgeball I was sitting on the bleachers, and while everyone else was running on the playground I was in the library. Because I was still in that 6-month period, I had to use a roller backpack, and I looked like a tiny traveler that was always on the go. 

1,792 days later, I still haven’t figured out the answer, but I have comfort in knowing that it’s okay to not always know. ”

When people would come up to me and ask me questions like “What happened to you?” or “Why are you sitting out?” or “Why do you have a backpack with wheels?” Every time I would tell the story, only one question came to mind: “Why me?” 

1,792 days later, I still haven’t figured out the answer, but I have comfort in knowing that it’s okay to not always know, because sometimes not knowing is really what sets you free. 

For so long, I only saw one way through an obstacle, but in reality, there are multiple solutions to any problems that you face; you just have to be willing to understand it from a different perspective. 

When my parents weren’t looking if I had dropped something on the floor, sometimes I wouldn’t call them for help; instead, I would pick it up with my foot. And despite how unsanitary that sounds, in more ways than others I have now found ways to use my back in a way that works for me. 

Some people think it’s cool that there’s metal inside of me, and as an auntie of mine once said, “Think of it like a battle scar.”

Five years later, I no longer think of my surgery as traumatic, but instead as a way to inspire others. I may never have the same back again, but the metal rods inside of me are what make me unique and is part of the reason I have become the girl I am today. 

At the end of the day, I think everyone’s story is their superpower; mine just so happens to be my back.