Returning to school after scoliosis surgery

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School mates may not understand your scoliosis surgery, and may overreact. Learn tips for communicating with them, as well as preparing for school absences.

Key points

  • It is difficult to predict how your school mates will react when you return after your recovery.
  • To help with coping at school, create a plan with your teachers about any school you will miss, ask your friends to help you with carrying your books, and talk to your teachers about your limited physical activity during the next 6-12 months.
  • To help cope with the reactions of classmates, tell those who you feel comfortable about your surgery and accept that different people will have different reactions.

It is hard to predict how your school mates will react when you return after your recovery. Here is what some teens experienced when they went back to school after their surgery.

What will your school mates think?

"Like when you go back to school, people treat you so different. They try to be all gentle when you don’t really need it. If they hit your leg or something and you say ‘Ow,’ they think it was because of your back and they’re like, ‘Oh my god, I’m so sorry.’ Nothing happened to my back. They are over-careful."

"Everybody asks to see my scar and I’m uncomfortable with that. Right now it’s still kind of fresh."

"When I wasn’t at school, the other kids were like, ‘Why isn’t she at school?’ And when I came back, they were like, ‘Why did you have to have surgery? There was nothing wrong with you?’ I was like, there was something wrong with me, if you had seen how different my body looks than everyone else’s."

"People thought I was off because I was anorexic and stuff. I didn’t eat for a whole week when I was in the hospital. So when I came to school to pick up my books, everybody was like, ‘She doesn’t look anorexic.’ My school is a rumour school."

"You go back to school and you’re walking around and you feel like everything is back to normal. Then you go try to do something that you used to be able to do, like carrying your books, and all of a sudden you can’t do it and it really hurt."

"In religion class and stuff, it’s really nice that when I went back to school we were talking about anointing of the sick. It relates to a lot of the stuff I went through. The teacher asked me to tell my story. At first I was insecure. I didn’t want anyone knowing. And now, I’m like, yeah – I love telling the story over and over again because it was just so great and my friends were there and I’m not embarrassed about it at all."

"I always say like ‘Oh yeah, I’m getting surgery.’ And people think that I’m getting something out or having brain surgery or something really big. I’m so whatever about it. I’m like ‘Oh yeah, they’re doing this and that.’ And they get so worried. They’re like, ‘Oh my god, are you going to be able to walk?’ It’s hard to explain to other people who aren’t aware that it happens."

Tips for coping with school

Here are some tips for coping with school itself:

  • Prepare in advance if you’re going to miss school - most kids miss about one month. Talk to your teachers and guidance counsellor and put a plan in place.
  • Ask one or two of your friends to help you with carrying books, picking things up, etc.
  • Tell your teachers that you won’t be able to sit for long periods of time and will need to get up and move around during class.
  • Talk to your physical education teacher and sport coaches. Tell them you will not be doing any sporting activities for six to 12 months. Arrange to work on a project instead.

You may find that people who are not close friends tend to over-react when you tell them about your surgery. Here are tips for dealing with acquaintances at school:

  • Tell who you feel comfortable telling. Not everyone needs to be told everything. You decide who needs to know what.
  • Accept that people will have different reactions. Often this is because they do not know much about scoliosis or surgery. It is impossible to know how they will react.
  • Tell a couple of your closest friends what is going on. They can help you deal with things at school and will know what kind of help you will need.
  • For people you do not know well, just stick to the basics: "I have scoliosis. I had an operation, and it will take me a while to recover."

Remember that you can also talk with members of your health care team, like your social worker or child life specialist, at any time about your difficulties in dealing with others about your surgery.

Last updated: June 1st 2008