I swear I know more about my condition than 90% of the doctors I’ve ever seen, and that was before I started doing my own research. Here’s the most shocking example: one aspect of my condition was once explained to me as a kind of postponed death sentence.
Let me put that into perspective. One of the side effects of serious Muscular Dystrophy is that you develop Scoliosis – a twisting of the spine. This usually happens progressively during puberty because your muscles are unable to support your spine as it grows.
There are two treatments for scoliosis: bracing and surgery. Many people wear chest braces to hold their back straight and encourage the spine to grow as it should. But this didn’t work for me because I wasn’t strong enough to breathe effectively with a plastic brace strapped tightly across my chest.
You can probably guess I wasn’t too excited at the prospect of having spinal surgery, especially once I heard the details. The idea is to straighten the spine by attaching two metal rods to it, one either side, joined at your pelvis and shoulder blade.
Apparently, it is one of the more dangerous operations around. Aside from the fact they stick friggin’ rods to your friggin’ spine, the body can sometimes reject the rods and/or the area can become infected meaning they have to remove them during another life threatening operation.
For around two years, between the ages of 11–13, I had regular and very depressing appointments with a spinal specialist who would show me x-rays of my increasingly twisted spine. In the beginning, it was just a little off centre, but by the final x-ray it had developed into a clear S shape and didn’t fit on a single x-ray because one bend was so pronounced. It is really quite something, I’m quite proud of it now.
I was told they needed to operate at this point because if it became any worse they’d be unable to do anything about it. You can probably imagine how depressed and scared I was; I really thought I was going to die, either on the operating table or as a result of complications from the scoliosis.
Luckily however, my older brother suggested we should go and see a Muscular Dystrophy specialist to ask them what they recommend for people in my position. A very sensible, and in hindsight, obvious suggestion.
With literally no expectations we made the journey to the Hammersmith Hospital in London where most of the specialist’s work. During the consultation they seemed completely unimpressed and well, unconcerned by the extent of my scoliosis. They explained that for people with stable Congenital Muscular Dystrophy who also don’t walk, like me, surgery for scoliosis is often simply not necessary.
Provided you sit in a good position, the spine tends to stop twisting after puberty and the benefits of surgery are generally outweighed by the huge dangers.
To say they were right is a bit of an understatement. My spine continued to get worse for a few years and after that last x-ray almost 10 years ago and it’s still hideously twisted. But it’s now entirely stable and I experience no pain or discomfort whatsoever. Had we not gone to see a specialist, I would have undergone a completely unnecessary and very dangerous surgery.
So here’s the lesson… You MUST never rely just on the opinions of others (even doctors) to make important decisions for you.
Everyone is biased, especially doctors. Some doctors like surgery, some like handing out pills and others like to wait and see. You need to decide what’s right for you.
The only way to do that is to become an expert on yourself; you must know your condition, your strengths, weaknesses and objectives better than anybody else, including your doctors.
You see, doctors can only ever really be your advisors. They are NOT you, so they can’t possibly have enough information to decide what’s right for you.
Your health is however, only one area you should become an expert on. Remember, it is your privilege to be able to turn adversity into opportunity. With the right information (expertise), you will find ways to make your difficulties irrelevant, to prove they make you stronger – wiser rather than weaker.
And here’s what’s so exciting: overcoming adversity does not mean you become ‘normal’ like everyone else, it makes you exceptional. Others will look at you not with pity, but with admiration and respect.
That isn’t important though. What matters is the effect it has on YOU as a person. You will gain confidence, feel happier and likely enjoy a new sense of purpose. Becoming an expert in something is fun, intellectually stimulating, personally rewarding and extremely valuable.
Knowing stuff other people don’t also brings you to a whole new level of market differentiation. Put simply, you can make a career out of it. That’s what I’ve always done: I learnt about marketing because it interested me then sold my services to people who needed it.
The essence of marketing is to make your product ‘different in a preferential way and that’s how you should approach yourself – you will always be different, so it might as well be in a preferential way.
By George Baker
This is an extract from George Baker’s book: The Adversity Edge: How an ordinary disabled man overcame impossible odds to achieve his dreams and how you can too. If you liked this you can read more by buying George’s book in paperback, as an e-book or audio book.