A new medical problem further sours the mix. My scoliosis worsens, my atrophying muscles become less effective at holding my spine in anything resembling a straight line. I have to start wearing an uncomfortable back brace—a tailor-made contraption of hard metal and pliant, aromatic leather and other industrial materials. It sticks up around my left shoulder, which is lower than my right shoulder, that being the nut of the problem, making it partially visible under my shirt. It also pinches me painfully under the arm and on one side of my waist, turning patches of skin red and raw.
The brace maker, a tall Geppetto of a man who wears a dust-colored apron and a graying, bushy mustache, explains the chafing is caused by the brace's riding up in the course of the day. At least I think that's what he says. He mumbles with a European accent of indeterminate origin.
Mr. Snuffles, as I secretly call him, has a musty workshop on the second floor of a walk-up on the Upper East Side. Dad has to carry me bodily up the stairs. Once there, Dad lies me down on a vinyl-topped examination table, where I have nothing to do but stare at an assortment of fliers posted on the wall. "Four out of five dentists recommend sugarless gum for their patients who chew gum" one of the signs informs me. I wonder what it's doing in a prosthetics and orthotics facility. Decades later I learn that the earliest recorded example of a prosthesis is an iron leg made for one Queen Vishpla, an Indian warrior in 3000 BC, who was amputated in battle yet returned to fight again with her new hardware, according to an ancient Sanskrit text. Why isn't something like that, emboldening info about the historical importance of assistive technology, posted here? I'd much prefer a handicapped warrior to the clichéd dental-hygiene tidbit whose only relevance is a pseudo-medical connection. Then Mr. Snuffles returns with my brace, to which he's affixed two straps. "Zey go here, you shee? Shniff…," he chanters as he snaps the new straps around either side of my groin.
Within a few days my crotch becomes redder and rawer than my waist and armpit ever did. A few weeks later, my parents agree to remove the straps. Another torture device the medical geniuses think up gets the heave-ho, though of course I have to keep wearing the brace, pinchy and irritating as it is.
I never complain about the brace at school. Doing so might incur pity. I pretend it isn't there, but I'm becoming ineluctably resentful of other people's freedom of movement.