Saturday, 29th of June, 2019.

Written by Salami Lawal

Broken Crayons Still Colour.

“Come with your yoga mat if you have one,” the flier said, and that was how Media4Health set out on quite a remarkable Saturday to spread our mats in the park, stretch our bodies and do some yoga. Why yoga? Because it is known to be one of the therapeutic treatments for people living with scoliosis.

Broken Crayons Still Colour. That was one of the clues to the crossword puzzle shared at the gathering. The theme of the gathering was So you think you can curve? put together by Miss Oladapo Abimbola, the co-founder of Behind a Curved Spine (BACS), an NGO initiative to create awareness about scoliosis. Scoliosis, simply put, is a medical disorder where the backbone is shaped as a S or a C. Scoliosis is often noticed at a young age—between the ages of 10 to 23— and in Nigeria, there are quite a lot of young people living with scoliosis. It can be treated by physical therapy like yoga, medicinal therapy, and surgery. These treatments help most of the time, but unfortunately this condition cannot be cured.

Yoga mats laid like the edges of a hexagonal fan around a centric instructor, just past the gigantic ever waving flags of Africa at Johnson Jakande Tinubu Park, Alausa. It was a fair weathered morning, the park was almost empty, and the sun had just begun to peep out of the clouds and bathing us with much needed UVB. Yoga proved to be quite an exercise as people tried to make several poses as hold the pose as perfectly and as long as the yoga instructor held hers. It is quite exciting to watch people doing yoga, as well as it is daring to attempt so Media4Health stayed on the side-lines watching the attendees do their thing while we observed and took pictures.

Representative from Mentally Aware Initiative

It wasn’t until a whole while into the yoga session that I noticed something really peculiar; almost all of the attendees of this gathering were females! This realisation confronted me for a while, but not for long. When the yoga session was done and Abimbola started to address the gathering, I found out that scoliosis is normally more common in girls than it is in boys, however, most of the time its causes are unknown. 

A representative from Mentally Aware Nigerian Initiative (MANI) was also around to coordinate an interactive session about mental health and depression which is, as expected, very common with people living with scoliosis. When the time for telling survivor stories came, Abimbola took the lead. 

She spoke extensively about scoliosis. Being a warrior herself, she spoke about her challenges and encouraged other girls to tell the gathering about theirs and what it was like for them to live with scoliosis. The sharing bug began to bite each scoliosis warrior around and everyone began to tell their own story, about the physical and psychological traumas of living with scoliosis. From the stories, it became apparent how much people with this disorder suffered and how much gap there was that existed to sensitizing people about it. One story that came from a little mouth was so mighty that it captivated the whole atmosphere. This beautiful light-skinned survivor stood up, introduced herself, and spoke of how she had survived a scoliosis surgery and the challenges that led her to that decision and also the ones that followed. 

Exercises ongoing at the BACS

She had found out that she had been standing bent, her shoulders not balanced. She brushed it off at first but it soon became very prominent and noticeable, and with a bit of research, she found out that what she had was not just in her mind. It was scoliosis. She told her mother, who tried to convince her to leave the matter alone. “If you go to the hospital, they will just break your back.” her mother told her. Meanwhile, the social castigations were beginning to come in from people who were ignorant of her condition. Coursemates, bosses, friends, and even family. They all felt that she had intentionally defected her posture. It became quite depressing and embarrassing to start explaining to everyone why she walked that way. She didn’t want to. She didn’t see the need to. She just wanted her back to be straight again.

After much persuasion, her mother finally gave in and a surgery was suggested as treatment. As an important process, our survivor was thoroughly sensitized about the surgery and she had a difficult decision to make. The surgery could go both ways; it could turn out successful and she would be fine and treated, or it could be unsuccessful and she wouldn’t be able to work again. After much deliberation and recognizing the consequences, she signed the necessary documents and went into surgery—twice. They were both painful and miraculous experiences, and she could recall feeling the worst pain in her entire life days after her surgery. She put her healing to faith and couldn’t even wait to walk. She could feel her back upright, and slowly, but eventually, our survivor healed.

There are a lot of misinformation when it comes to Scoliosis, and it always deals well when we have the right amount of information. It would be an easier life mentally and socially for people living with scoliosis if everyone was sensitized about the disorder. There is also a lack of information about its overall treatment, excessive room exists for research and medical facilities are an alarming deficit. (Only two facilities in the country have the medical facilities to undergo the scoliosis surgery.)

However, regardless of a curved spine, people still remain who they are. Strong. Resilient. Standing. Broken crayons still colour. People living with scoliosis still remain part of society, and as they sat around a wooden slab under a deciduous peering over crossword puzzles, a sticker that was being passed around caught my eye. #KnowScoliosis, it said. It was indeed a remarkable day in the park!