In a doctor's office with a doctor writing something down as a teen patient waits in the background

Family Health

Without An In-Person Checkup, We Wouldn’t Have Received My Daughter’s Diagnosis

Apr 26, 2022

You know life has changed when a family trip to the doctor seems like a fun day out.

After two years of addressing minor issues over the phone or on Zoom, or helping my daughter’s orthodontist by taking frightening pics inside my kid's mouth, it was time to re-emerge and attend medical appointments in the flesh.

We were fortunate to make it through these last couple of COVID years without needing to visit the doctor in real life. In many ways, we’ve never been healthier. Gone were the endless runny noses, the stomach-turning viruses, the garden variety bugs. We were lucky.

Now, a couple years into the pandemic, it was time to get back into the swing of things and have an old-fashioned family checkup. We needed the works — blood tests, body screenings, exploratory examinations.

Rae Martens is not a doctor, but she had to learn how to talk like one for the health of her child with a rare disease.

The First Checkup In Two Years

When it came time for my 15-year-old daughter’s physical, the doctor asked her if she would like to do her appointment solo. I was a little taken aback. The last time I took her for a checkup, she was still in middle school and content to have her mom in the room. But, two years later, my girl has blossomed into a young woman capable of taking agency over her own body.

I felt a bittersweet pang of pride as she turfed me out the door.

"It didn’t occur to me that this could be genetic."

When she came back out, I got some startling news. The doctor was pretty sure that my daughter had scoliosis, a sideways curvature of the spine. The condition can range from mild to disabling, causing pain and difficulty for the lungs to function properly.

An X-ray confirmed the diagnosis. Her curvature doesn’t seem severe enough to require a brace or surgery, but the news still left me rattled. Why hadn’t this been discovered before? Would an earlier diagnosis have prevented it from developing? I had no answers.

The kicker for me is that I have scoliosis. It was discovered by a chiropractor when I was in my 20s after experiencing back pain from sitting at a less than ergonomic desk at work. For some reason, it didn’t occur to me that this could be genetic. Or that my daughter might have it too because she had had regular physicals and everything seemed fine.

Signs Of Scoliosis

While scoliosis isn't a life-altering condition for most, it’s not something you want for your child. Since my daughter started high school, she has met friends who have a more severe form. Some were diagnosed before puberty. Others were only finding out now in their teens, requiring surgery.

"This is a reminder for me to stay vigilant on all health matters, even during a pandemic."    

I wanted to share this information with other parents because if children are diagnosed at a young age, they can have treatment that may help prevent more invasive procedures. And many people aren’t made aware that they have a curvature until it's too late to correct it.

According to the Mayo Clinic, boys and girls are equally at risk for developing mild scoliosis, but girls are more likely to have worsening curvature that will require treatment.

Parents should ensure that their pediatrician checks for any spine abnormalities. Still, caregivers can check for a few telling signs, including uneven shoulders, one shoulder blade that is higher than the other, an uneven waist and a rib cage that juts out further on one side than the other. An easy at-home test is to see if one side of the back is higher than the other when bending forward.

Paula Schuck has two teen daughters with specialized health-care needs, so she's teaching them to advocate for themselves.

My daughter has an upcoming appointment with a specialist, but we think she won’t require further intervention. But as someone who lives with a mild form of the condition, I know firsthand it involves exercise and trips to physio and massage to stay feeling well.

It can be easy to get complacent with the convenience of virtual meetings, especially since the threat of COVID is far from gone. But this is a reminder for me to stay vigilant on all health matters, even during a pandemic. And to go for regular in-person checkups even when everyone is feeling fine.

I want to make sure I’ve got my daughter’s back when it comes to my kid's health. Literally, as my teen daughter loves to say.

Article Author Laura Mullin
Laura Mullin

Read more from Laura here.

Laura Mullin is a published playwright and writer and the co-artistic director of the award-winning company, Expect Theatre. She is also the co-host and producer of PlayME, a podcast that transforms plays into audio dramas now on CBC. She has worked in theatre, film, and television and lives in Toronto with her writer/producer husband and daughter. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @expectlaura.

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