Hi, Friends. I’m one week post-surgery, and the hardest part is (or should be) over!
First of all, thank you to everyone who sent prayers or positive thoughts or good vibes my way. Hearing from you all has been such an encouragement.
Second of all, I hadn’t planned on writing about my surgery, but as it turns out I have a lot of time on my hands these days! If you’ve been following along here, you’ll know that I’ve been slated to have jaw surgery for several months in order to close an open bite. This is the second time I’ve had this surgery; the first was when I was 19. Unfortunately, my bite gradually reopened over the past decade and a second surgery was the best option to permanently solve my problem. (And yes, we’ll be taking measures to prevent a relapse again. We’ve learned a few things in 13 years!)
The first surgery was traumatic. Whereas this time I had a single jaw surgery on my upper jaw, the first time I had a triple surgery (upper jaw, lower jaw, and chin.) My surgeon-orthodontist team warned me that the two weeks following surgery would be hell. There was no getting around that. I was going to be in a lot of pain, I’d probably have nausea, I’d be bruised and swollen, and I would just generally feel shitty all the time. Okay. I mentally prepared myself for two weeks. I could get through two weeks. Actually, I would do better than that. I would face my surgery with optimism and humor!
At the time I had a sorority t-shirt that said, “Cute and Fun to Date.”* I knew I was going to look absolutely wrecked after the surgery, but I was going to wear that t-shirt out of the hospital. I had to maintain my sense of humor. The surgery may break my jaw, but it wouldn’t break my spirit!
It broke my spirit.
Immediately upon waking from anesthesia, I found a nurse hovering over me with suction telling me to cough up blood. What? I hadn’t been prepared for that. Apparently I had lost enough blood during the procedure to need a transfusion, and some of that blood had ended up in my lungs and stomach. With my jaw wired shut and a tube down my throat, I had to force myself to cough up that blood for what seemed like an interminable amount of time. It was frightening and painful.
Later, in my recovery room, I threw up. My surgeon had warned me that this was a possibility but I had convinced myself it wouldn’t happen to me. That whole “optimism” thing, remember? I retched into my wired mouth while the nurse hovered there again with her suction, trying to soothe me. “Just let it out,” she kept saying. It was terrifying. I honestly thought I might die choking on my own vomit. Luckily I didn’t throw up again, though I battled nausea for weeks.
As for the t-shirt, I took one look at myself and knew I wouldn’t be wearing that shirt out of the hospital. I was swollen beyond recognition. It was so bad that my mother cried when she first saw me. I probably would have cried, too if I hadn’t been so shocked. There was no humor to be found in my appearance. (Part of the reason the kids are staying with family during my first couple weeks of recovery is because I honestly feared that my swollen and bruised face might traumatize them.)
I stayed in the ICU two nights. On my first night home I begged to go back to the hospital. The pain was so extreme and the nausea so bad I was desperate to be back in the care of medical professionals. I longed for that magic morphine button. I didn’t go back to the hospital, and obviously I survived, but I had a rough several weeks. I got an infection. I could barely eat. And to top it off, my brother totaled my car three days post-op! I mean, come on!
I kept telling myself to get through those two weeks. That was my motivation. Two weeks, and I would be in the clear. I woke up on 2 weeks + one day expecting to feel and look like a new woman. Of course, I felt and looked exactly the same. My recovery was very slow going, and even once the pain waned, I was demoralized and depressed about my sluggish progress. But here’s the thing: As terrible as that all was, I got through it. And I knew I’d get through it again.
I guess all that is to say – I didn’t enter into this second surgery lightly. The prospect of going through all that again – this time with two kids to take care of! – was scary, but as I mentioned above, it was my only option to prevent further dental and medical issues down the road. At the end of the day, it’s just a jaw. A messed up jaw that needs surgery, but just a jaw.
When I started to feel sorry for myself about my unluckiness in relapsing, I would think of all the women I know or know of who are battling serious or life-threatening diseases, and doing so with grace and courage. How fortunate am I that I can have a single surgery and move on? The risk is minimal, and when all is said and done, I’m still healthy. Who am I to feel sorry for myself?
Armed with that perspective and the hope that it couldn’t possibly be as bad as last time, right?, I got ready for surgery #2. My nerves were replaced by relief. I was so grateful to be getting this over and done with. In fact, the timing was nothing short of miraculous. My mom was able to come take care of me before a big trip, Damon had a rare break from work-related travel, and the kids were able to stay in California for the first couple weeks of my recovery before school started, where several family members have been gracious enough to take care of them. Talk about answered prayers!
And you guys – this surgery experience has been 1000% better than last time. 1000%. I cannot adequately express how much better I feel, look, and am functioning than my previous surgery. I mean, I still just had surgery so I’m not about to go run a marathon or anything, but… There was no blood to cough up, no vomiting, my pain is controlled, my sinuses aren’t too swollen, and I can administer my own meds and feed myself. (That might not sound like a big deal, but it is!) As for my swelling? Well, on a scale from 1 – Frightening Disfigured Monster, I rank somewhere around Recently Undead. Not bad for just having my face surgically rearranged!
The first day in the hospital went well. In what turned out to be a crazy small-world story, my night nurse’s boyfriend is a friend of my brother’s from high school. WUT. I started “chatting” with her (texting, since I can’t speak yet) needing to know everything. Damon gently suggested I leave her alone. It was, after all, 1:00am and she was working. WHY WOULD I LEAVE HER ALONE? The universe had obviously brought us together to be BFFs. Anyway, after a successful first day and first night in the hospital, I was looking ready to be discharged. Though I had felt surprisingly well and in good spirits, I think my body and mind (and the morphine) had deceived me a bit. My pain started ramping up, and I started remembering my first surgical experience. Anxiety got the better of me and I ended up staying a second night. It was the right decision for me, and I’ve finally learned that you have to be your own advocate with these sorts of things. After surgery on Thursday morning, I was discharged on Saturday early afternoon ready to take on recovery. (With a great deal of help from my mother and husband, of course.)
Since being home I’ve been doing pretty well. My mom and Damon are dutifully doling out my medications and refilling my ice packs and experimenting with smoothies, for which I am eternally grateful. Though I am on narcotics, I am much more lucid than I was before. Last time – back in 2004 – the weeks blended together in a haze of Newlyweds and mindless chick lit. Now I have Netflix and Hulu and social media to keep me entertained and distracted, and I can actually semi-focus! (Although I do miss Newlyweds. Poor Nick and Jess.) Sadly I don’t have any protein shake reviews for you yet because I’m still not consuming much. The one I did drink tasted… like a protein shake.
I had my one-week check up with the doctor this morning and he said the surgery was a success and my bite is perfect. Meaning this will have all been worth it! Again, I really appreciate you all checking in on me. Every message and card makes my day. But now my meds are kicking in and I must return to my Party of Five marathon. Because even though surgical techniques may have advanced in the past 13 years, my taste in television has not. Have a good night!
*This is a joke that would take far too long to explain here. But I swear we weren’t that vain.