Magazine Article

​Shaping Up

Finding God even when it hurts.

Melodie Roschman

I’d always seen myself as twisted. I was born with infantile scoliosis, an s-shaped curvature of the spine.

As I grew, my hips became misaligned, causing half of my rib cage to protrude more than the other, making my waist asymmetrical. At the age of 10 a teacher noticed that I ran differently. The result was two years of x-rays, physiotherapy sessions, even a nightmare MRI.

The culmination occurred on a spring day in seventh grade. As I sat in a small examination room in the pediatric ward of McMaster Research Hospital, my specialist, Ellen Barrett, uttered the words I dreaded: “Curvature of 33 degrees; immediate bracing strongly recommended.”

“I’m going to be a freak!” I cried. “Everyone’s going to hate me,” I sobbed into my dad’s shoulder. He rubbed my back and reassured me that everything was going to be OK. I didn’t believe him.

Getting Plastered

Several months later we were in the office of Dr. Paul Richardson, a specialist at Chedoke Medical Centre in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. As I quavered in my chair, answering questions in a tiny whisper, my dad joked with the specialist and asked questions about the brace I was going to wear. “How many hours a day? For how long?”

“Two or three years?” I could be as old as 15 when it was finally removed.

The day of the brace molding was the same day as eighth- grade graduation. That morning, as everyone else in my class was in the school library making corsages, I was in Dr. Richardson’s office donning a massive two-layer tube of ribbed jersey with armholes. It was itchy and banana-cream-pie yellow and looked like a gym sock. I was alone, so I took the opportunity to model this snug knit cocoon in front of the full-length mirror. I looked scared.

“I’m going to be a freak!” I cried. “Everyone’s going to hate me.”

Dr. Richardson put wax paper on his exam table, then had me lie down. “My assistant is heating up the plaster,” he explained. “We’ll be wrapping strips of plaster-covered gauze around you. They’ll be quite warm. Tell me if you’re uncomfortable.”

To call them warm was an understatement—they were hot. I didn’t say anything, though. I had promised myself I would be brave so Daddy wouldn’t be disappointed.

“I’m going to apply some pressure in different places now,” he said. “These are the pressure points where the brace will push your spine straight.” Again he said, “Tell me if you’re uncomfortable.” They pressed hard with blocks of rubber. It felt like they were rearranging my whole body. Tears started to fall. I covered my face with my hair so no one would see.

After a half hour the plaster was dry, and the doctor helped me roll to a standing position. The plaster mold covered my entire torso and was immensely heavy. Dr. Richardson cut through the plaster and jersey alike until he could pull the plaster cast off me.

Later that night, as I wore my new blue dress and smiled at the eighth graders marching and receiving their diplomas, my red, tender skin itched from stubborn flecks of plaster that clung to it still.

Body, Meet Brace

Two weeks later, on a blazing morning in early July, Dr. Richardson fitted this milky off-white plastic thing around my camisole. It was heavy—about five pounds—and extended in back from my shoulder blades to two inches below my hips, and in front from right below the bust to an inch below my navel.

The doctor had me practice pulling it on and taking it off, gave us a few sheets of instructions, and wished me luck. I walked out of the medical center nervous about what was to come.

Most changes were small, incremental. Wearing a brace was inconvenient, not earth-shattering. It was sometimes uncomfortable, such as at Thanksgiving dinner when I had to take it off so that I could eat more. On hot days the sun would beat down through two layers of clothing and one layer of hard plastic, and my skin started to tingle as if I were being poked by needles. I often felt ugly and awkward since I had to buy pants two sizes too large so they would fit over the contoured plastic hips.

My family helped me make the best of my temporary confinement. We nicknamed the brace “Ethel,” because my mother said it had more curves than I did, and because it was made of polyethylene plastic. We pretended it was a Victorian corset, or body armor. My cousins asked if they could shoot me to see if it was bulletproof. No one at school, to my knowledge, ever called me names behind my back.

I wore my brace for almost two years. My specialist said that my pelvic growth plate had fused—I was finished growing—so the brace was no longer necessary. It had been preventative, not corrective; when I finished growing, my curve wouldn’t get any worse; neither would it be much better unless I underwent an unnecessary operation.

Clay, Meet the Potter

I will have scoliosis for the rest of my life. I have been brace-free for many years, but my journey is far from over. I still struggle with self-esteem. I walk with a limp when I’m tired. My wardrobe is limited because I feel self-conscious in certain clothes. My scoliosis does not define me, but it’s still a struggle.

Wearing a brace helped me avoid vanity and build my identity around my mind and relationships, not my looks. It also taught me an important lesson about God working in my life. The brace was often uncomfortable, and I didn’t understand why I had to go through this ordeal, which in reality prevented my condition from getting worse.

Now when I encounter situations that I don’t understand, I know that God, the Master Physician, will skillfully use them to shape me into someone who is more like Him. Having scoliosis is just one of the results of sin that God has used to make me closer to His image.

I don’t understand why I was born with this. I see through a glass darkly. But I’ve made it my goal to praise God and trust Him, even when it’s hard (“Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’” [Isa. 45:9]). Clearly, God worked through scoliosis, and in spite of that, He made something beautiful out of me.

Melodie Roschman, a graduate of Andrews University, lives in Broomfield, Colorado. This article was submitted in 2013 and first published in 2021.

Melodie Roschman