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It’s such a pain (literally)
Laci Felker
Felker story.jpg

Laci Felker

I stared up at the ceiling, watching the light dance from my half-open blinds. My mom moved around in the kitchen downstairs, cooking dinner. We were never the type of family to sit around a dining table to eat, but if it meant that she would not have to carry my food up the flight of stairs and bring it to my room, I would have gladly eaten at the table. Except the stairs and I did not exactly get along. 

When I was ten, my elementary school had a screening for scoliosis. My mom had signed the permission slip, and I remember being called out of class and waiting patiently for the testers to tell me what to do. They had us stand up straight, then bend over to touch our toes as they ran their fingers along our spines. Out of the group of ten kids I came with, I was the only one to get pulled aside. I was given a note for my mom to let her know that I needed to be taken to a specialist for x-rays, then they sent me back to class. My mom brought me to a specialist who praised me for listening well and gave me a sucker, but sent me home with a “If that’s all the curve you have, then you’re fine!”

At sixteen, I could hardly move from my bed and when I did, it was a tearful procession to get to the bathroom. To try and go down the stairs meant crumbling into a ball of anger and frustration that released itself through even more tears. 

You’re so young, people said, you can’t have that much trouble.

My iPad buzzed with a text message, and I pushed the thought of having to use the bathroom away. The second half of my junior year of high school had started two weeks ago, and I had only been a couple of times. The text held the homework for my English class. I looked towards my backpack that was sitting on the end of my bed. 

Use the bathroom. Grab the backpack. Get to work.

I sighed, taking slow, deep breaths as I tried to prepare myself for getting up. My only relief was ibuprofen and IcyHot patches, but even they could not take away all the pain. I gritted my teeth and forced myself to sit up.

Pain radiated from my lower spine and hips down my legs and up my back. The edges of my vision darkened. I took a few more deep breaths then forced myself to stand. The world spun around me as the pain crept further across my body, but I walked slowly until I could use my dresser for support and made my way across the hall and towards the bathroom.

“But I’m so young,” I mocked as I sat down on the toilet, “I can’t be in this much pain.”

Few days earlier, my doctor’s office had refused to book me an appointment. They had claimed that the doctor, who I had been seeing since I was a baby, could not help me with my current condition and advised my mom to take me to the emergency room instead. The emergency room doctor had then sent me home with pain pills and an excuse for missing school. I refused to touch the pain pills; what I needed was not more pills, but a solution.

I washed my hands and made my journey back to my room, grabbing my backpack as I went. When I tried to lower myself onto my bed, there was a pop and I ended up on the mattress faster than I anticipated with even more pain on the right side of my body. My mom’s heavy footsteps shuffled on the carpeted stairs. 

“You doin’ okay?” she asked as she walked through the door to my room.

“Yeah.” I sat up as she handed me a tray with my dinner on it. The smell made my stomach growl. “Got homework.”

“Can you do it?”

“Yeah, Collin sent me the stuff for it.”

“Okay.” My mom looked around the room. “Need anything else?”

“No, thanks.” 

I looked up at my mom. Her salt-and-pepper hair was wild from the heat in the kitchen and her brown eyes, which I had inherited, were tired. A lump formed in my throat as I looked away, and she headed back towards the stairs. “Holler if you need me.”

At sixty-one years old, my mother shouldn’t have had to take care of me. I was supposed to help her. But there we were. 

In the days that followed, I would stay in bed unless I needed to use the bathroom, I would listen to the birds chirping outside every morning and read in the afternoon. I did what I remembered from physical therapy I had received a few years ago, but even when there was a moment of reprieve, it never lasted for long. 

My third week of being out of school ended with my mom finding me on my bedroom floor, a pair of jeans I had been trying to get on still around my ankles.



“Okay, come on.” My mom helped me up and I pulled my jeans off. Sitting there in a sweatshirt and my underwear, I buried my face in my hands and cried. From the pain, from the frustration, from the anger of having been written off and sent home. “I’ll call your doctor.”

“But they said—”

“I don’t give a damn what they said, you’re going to get in to see him whether they like it or not.”

My mom left, and I reached for my sweatpants. They were easier than jeans to get on and if she could get me in to see the doctor, then I needed to get dressed.

Five minutes later, my mom returned and said we had an appointment in an hour. She had told them I was sick and thought it was strep throat and that the receptionists had to let me see my doctor sooner rather than later.

So I took half a pain pill before we needed to leave, and my mom helped me down the stairs and into the car.
Every bump shifted something in my body. Every turn made my muscles scream. Moving my legs to get comfortable was out of the question. Then, an hour and a half after I had sat on my bed and cried, my doctor walked into the room. He smiled, his eyes shining behind his glasses. 

“Hey there.” He sat down in the rolling chair. “So, I’m told you’re sick.”

“I lied,” my mom said.

The good doctor looked at her. “What?”

“I lied to get her in here. She’s been unable to walk or hardly move for weeks, and when I called after she first fell, the receptionist told me to take her to the ER and that you couldn’t help her.”

My doctor frowned, looking at my mom, then at me. “I’ll be right back.”

He left the room, and I sat still on the bench, unable to move knowing the pain would get worse. Half a painkiller could not get rid of everything. 

When my doctor returned, he apologised. “Those ladies at the desk think they know everything. You are my patient and the next time you call, you tell them you want to leave a message for my nurse, and she will schedule your appointment personally.”

He sat down on the rolling chair and moved towards me. “Now, what seems to be the problem, your back or your hips? Or both?”

Tears welled in my eyes. “Both.”

After nearly an hour, I walked out of the doctor’s office with a referral to an orthopaedic  that specialised in scoliosis, two prescriptions for naproxen (stronger than ibuprofen), muscle relaxers, and plenty of written doctor’s excuses to make up for the month of school I had missed. 

Three months later, I met with the specialist. The good news was that I had stopped growing so there was very little chance that my scoliosis would get worse. The bad news was that I would need physical therapy for the rest of my life. My scoliosis was not bad enough for surgery, but my spine was twisted, not just curved.

Chronic physical therapy started with a slow six months of building a stable support for my back and hips. This included an exercise plan that catered to strengthening my abdominal muscles, back, hip adductors and abductors, and massaging those muscles tight from the spinal curve. At the end of these six months, I felt much better compared to when I first walked into the therapist’s building, but I had just got started.

College was an adjustment period with me unused to walking around campus, but I slowly kept building my strength both with at-home physical therapy exercises and in the gym. Then COVID came and it was another challenge, with lockdowns signalling a big decline in my physical health when it came to walking and standing.


Seven and a half years since I first fell, I can feel a dull ache in my hips and lower back as I am writing this. I stretch. I do the physical therapy moves I have learned. But the pain is ever present. A wrong or rushed move, or sometimes simply trying to stand, and I am sixteen again, lying on my bedroom floor, unable to get up on my own.

I grit my teeth and keep moving. I have to. Besides, I am a lot less tearful now than I was then.

Laci Felker is originally from Louisiana in the United States, but currently resides in Florida. In her spare time she reads, tries to write, and binges all of the TV shows she’s been putting off. You can find her and her other works at

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Meet the author: Laci Felker

an interview conducted by Otherwise creative non-fiction and memoir editor, Laura Moran

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