fresh face, decomposing bodies

The week of my one-year jaw surgery anniversary, let’s be done with this face transformation saga. Here’s my face, 11 months after my bilateral sagittal split osteotomy. (I’m on the right, for anyone who reads this but doesn’t know me personally.)

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So, I’m fixed. The face has healed with minimal post-surgical irritation, and I’ve now gotten the hardware removed from the elbow I broke last December, so that’s that.

Onto the next adventure: cadavers. I recently started studying crime scene investigation, with the hopes of either working in death investigation or questioned document analysis. If I go into the latter my MA in linguistics isn’t useless after all, right? Right??

One of the classes I’m taking is aptly called Death Investigation, and my professor gave us the opportunity to view an autopsy. This is something I’ve always wanted to do, but when I pictured it I imagined being behind glass in a student observation bay or something, watching from afar and avoiding all the SMELLS.

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So came the day of the autopsy, and I was geeked. I wavered over what to wear, opting for my coveted hospital scrubs (that I still wear to take care of children nightly; little do they know there was DEAD PERSON BLOOD on them and that my washing machine is not all that effective).

I was told to enter through the garage off the back parking lot, which right off the bat sounds sketch. It was a funeral home that looked more like a warehouse. I texted my professor, and he sent a technician lackey out to retrieve me. I walked through the garage, opened a door, and there was a 300-lb woman, completely flayed open, neck skin inside-out and covering her face, 18 inches from me. The smell was like rotting refrigerated meat. It doesn’t matter how cold you make it in there, that smell does not come out of your nostrils for hours.

I scooted past the fatflap-covered head and quickly donned a flimsy plastic apron and shoe coverings while whispering to the previously-mentioned technician, because apparently my professor, the one performing the autopsy, is rather picky and crabby and could not be disturbed. He didn’t say a word to me the two hours I was there. I was still getting used to the smell and to staring at the body. Her arm was hanging off the table looking like a regular arm, but all of her internal organs were sliding all over the table and her legs had been haphazardly sewn up with twine post-mortem after her long bones were harvested.

My knees got weak, which greatly disappointed me, and I told myself that I would not sit down under any circumstances, unlike the other student from my class who did immediately after walking into the room, then made the excuse that it was just because “her feet were tired.”

There was another doctor working on the body, who I assume was some sort of protege/medical resident or something. He was a few years older than me, and I liked imagining him as a semi-scary tattoo artist before he started cutting bodies up for a living. He had two full sleeves and wore a black butcher’s apron, as seen in Hostel. I pulled on a mask to prevent myself from inhaling any bone bits as I watched him bone saw this woman’s skull, pry it off with a crowbar, and remove her brain with a few flicks of the scalpel. He then pulled her face forward with a snapping noise, letting it rest against her neck, and cut the brain into slices. It cut like butter. He, unlike my professor, didn’t wear any arm coverings or a mask, so his arms were covered in blood and body bits. Then he partially sewed up his barn door cut and started vaping. The smoke smelled like watermelon and was a welcome relief from the stench of rotting meat, though they didn’t go particularly well together.

The next body rolled out had succumbed to cancer and couldn’t have weighed more than 80 pounds. Her head was stuck awkwardly to the left due to rigor mortis, eyes open, staring at me with milky, flat corneas. The same medical resident/body butcher broke the rigor mortis with a snap and started making the Y-incision. The only difference with this body was that it wasn’t fresh; a greenish-blue tinge covered her entire abdomen, and when that was opened up, the meager fat was iridescent green. The smell that came out of that cut made one of the employees reel back and take a little walk around the room, stating she was “freaking out.” She went to wipe off her shoes from the last autopsy, when she had gotten blood on them and could now feel it in her socks. They removed two extremely large tumors from this tiny woman’s body, which were then photographed in great detail, and that was the end of that.

At first, I truly felt mildly traumatized by what I had experienced. The sense memory was so vivid. I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to experience that again. It seemed so messy, unorganized, and the potential for contamination seemed inevitable. I could go the rest of my life without smelling that again. But now that some time has passed and I’ve had some time to process, I’m not so sure I wouldn’t want to do that again, or at least work around that in some capacity. There’s nothing better for the curious than to solve a mystery, which is what death investigation is all about.

So here I am, 31, starting my 20th year of school. Despite my eye-opening autopsy experience, classes have been fulfilling. I’m learning how to do all kinds of testing and microscoping and analyzing. I get to make lab friends with teenagers. I get to watch Forensic Files and get class credit for it. I get to learn how to commit murder and get away with it.

Kidding…

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the year of broken bones

I’m now five months post-jaw surgery. The entire healing process, everything from surgery on, was so different than I imagined. This surgery loomed in my head for years before I actually had it, and I worried it smooth. I had the time to worry about every little aspect of it–what if I can’t breathe when I wake up? What if I puke? What if I can never feel my face again? What if I have an adverse reaction to anesthesia? What if my pain meds make me nauseated? What if I don’t like my face? What if I still have pain? What if it causes new pain? What if I’m somehow awake during surgery? How can I possibly live on a liquid diet, when I don’t have any weight to lose?

To everyone, anyone reading this who may have this surgery in the future, I hope it’s a consolation to know that my experience wasn’t NEARLY as bad as I worried it would be. I lost about 8 pounds during my liquid diet period, which lasted about five-ish weeks. I cheated a little at the end. I did get tired of drinking all my food, but after a while it just became a monotonous reality. Food just won’t be enjoyed for a while. It will merely be tolerated. Which is livable. I didn’t blend up anything nasty, like hamburgers or chicken or eggs. I drank chocolate Ensures and fancy Bolthouse and Naked drinks for the first few weeks. The rest of the time I had the energy to blend my own smoothies. I especially liked this raspberry one I would make.

Recipe, if you’re interested:

-frozen raspberries

-tsp. espresso

-plain Greek yogurt

-almond milk

-scoop of chocolate whey protein

-vanilla extract

-2 tbsp. honey

I’d mix what seemed like right amounts of everything and blend it up. I think this was a recipe I modified from a booklet a fellow jaw surgery survivor sent me. It got me through my last two weeks of a liquid diet, because it didn’t taste like chalk.

I experienced none of my fears after surgery. No puking, no nausea, no choking. Granted, just having lower jaw surgery totally helped in the breathing category. My pain was very manageable throughout. My pain was managed so well that I had time to get annoyed over the splint I had to wear for the first three weeks. It was embarrassing to speak in public, since it made me really lispy.

Now, 5 months later, I have no pain in my jaw. My teeth are aligned, and I get my braces off next week. (I’ll do another post then to show video of me before and after everything.) I’m really looking forward to looking my age again. I can eat anything I ate before. I avoid certain foods still, like hard, raw veggies or gumballs or whatever because I still have braces, but that is what dictates my restrictions, not my jaw’s ability or lack thereof.

The only thing that’s still a work-in-progress is my numbness, which I knew to expect, but it’s still a bummer. The right half of my lower lip and chin is still 90% numb. I just started getting baby feelings in that area a few weeks ago, which was a huge relief. Feeling a tiny bit is infinitely better than feeling nothing. I still eat with a mirror at home so I can be sure I don’t have food on my face. I’m hoping my numbness will continue to dissipate as more months pass.

Now, onto my latest woe. In December I regrettable climbed up a building wall like Spiderman, fell off of it, and landed on back, with my left elbow underneath me. My arm looked kind of funky and hurt like hell, but I’ve fallen off the monkey bars and stuff when I was younger and hurt my elbow similarly, only to have it feeling better within a few days, so I went to bed. The next day the pain was so stabbing when I moved it that I felt nauseated,  so I went to the emergency room and found out I had broken clean through my olecranon, the upper portion of my ulna. So basically, my elbow. It hadn’t shattered, but I needed surgery that I had to wait a week for. That week was not fun.

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During surgery, my sexy orthopedic surgeon put some metal in my elbow. He described it as “a plate and some screws”. I was in so much pain and just wanted my arm back to it’s straight self that I went under not really knowing much more than that. I was anticipating some bruising, and a like two-inch incision. When I uncovered my arm again a few days after surgery, it looked like this:

arm

Absolutely horrifying. I felt like a zombie. Every shower was a terrifying new time of discovery. I’ve only every seen a dead body on Forensic Files look so rotted. When my physical therapist told me I had 30 staples in my arm I about passed out. So much for a two-inch incision.

I had really limited range of motion and everything hurt. I flew home for Christmas two days after surgery. I knocked myself out on two oxycodone and a dramamine. I physically couldn’t put my luggage in the overhead bin, so I kept it cramped by my feet. This was my introduction into the world of what it’s like to live without an arm. Thank God I’m right-handed.

For six weeks, things I did with one arm:

-wash my hair

-wash my body

-put on lotion

-type (became easier faster than other things)

-cook

-get dressed

-do my job etc. etc.

It’s now been seven weeks since surgery. This healing process has been incredibly painful, way worse than jaw surgery. I still can’t straighten my arm fully or bend it fully. I can feel the three milimeter-thick plate in my arm with my finger. I can’t rest my elbow on a table or desk. I can’t prop myself up to read a book. My elbow gets very tight when it’s cold. Bumping it or getting bumped into is enough to make my eyes water. Here is my most recent x-ray, taken a few days ago:

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The first x-ray is older, from when I still had staples in. The second is new. I had no idea exactly how much metal was in my arm, or in what formation. Now that I can see all those criss-crossed screws in the tip of my elbow, it’s little wonder it’s so sensitive. My sexy surgeon told me most people elect to remove the metal after six month to a year of healing. Despite my incredibly high health insurance deductible, I might just have to bite the bullet and get that shit taken out, because it’s such a literal pain.

So, 2016 was a year of broken bones, pain, patience (and impatience), and recovery. I’m hoping 2017 doesn’t follow suit.

jaw surgery–three days after

I’ve made it to the other side and it feels so good. So much time that used to be clogged with worry over this surgery has now been freed up in my  mind that I don’t even know what to do with the extra energy.

I’ve made little comments  in a journal along the way, hoping to be able to relay some helpful information to those who may be undergoing a similar procedure in the future and are also freaking out. Reading others’ blogs was my number one source of information and comfort in the time leading up to surgery, and no doubt they will continue to help and encourage me in the future.

Day 0 was full of new experiences, since I had never been in a hospital as a patient before (even though I work in one), let alone for surgery. I arrived at 5:30am for surgery at 7:30am. The nurses, anesthesiologist, and doctor were all so comforting and caring as I was being prepped for surgery . I was really grateful for that. I got some great hospital socks out of the ordeal, too.

I tried to keep my mind off of it as best I could; after waiting so long for this much-anticipated surgery, the few minutes before going in felt surreal. Apparently I was supposed to have been given Versed before entering the operating room, but someone messed up somewhere along the line and I was totally cognizant as I was flipped over onto the metal operating table. There were so many people in there, including my doctor with a suspicious-looking toolbox that probably contained horrible things like bone saws and scalpels. The room looked like a morgue, but by the time I was thinking that I was already waking up in recovery, with a tight, itchy layer of Coband wrapped around my head.

My time in the hospital was actually pretty good. I’m sure having a pain pump full of Dilaudid helped. My birthmom stayed with me through surgery and my boyfriend stopped by, and I was able to talk (mostly) intelligibly with both. I had very little pain in my face, but I was exhausted, and I still am. I was able to drink water, apple juice, Ensure, and some cream of wheat through a syringe, also a better experience than I was expecting. It’s slopping and cumbersome, but possible with a little bit of patience. I was numb inside and outside the lower half of my face. I didn’t throw up after surgery, and haven’t really felt nauseated either. The IV in my elbow and splint my surgeon put in my mouth  bothered me more than the surgical sites. Another thing that bothered me was that anytime I’d drink something or try to talk, my mouth bled. I went through a box and a half of Kleenex that day. My throat hurt from being intubated. I’d still say the first day my pain was around a 2.

Items that helped me out in the hospital:

facial wipes

iPod, headphones

phone

Arnica salve for stretched and cracked lips

free-standing mirror to allow the use of two hands while drinking out of syringe

glasses and glasses case

deodorant

face lotion

face mist (mine is bougie and scented, but it could just be a bottle that mists water–very refreshing when you’re feeling hospital icky)

 

I brought some other stuff, including a change of clothes and a notebook, but I didn’t end up using anything other than what I’ve listed.

Day 0

day-0

Come at me, boys.

 

The next day, day 1 after surgery, all of the anesthetic had worn off, so I could feel my tongue and the inside of my mouth again, which is great for eating, but not so great for pain level. My pain went up to a 4 and I had slight nausea. My swelling had increased dramatically.  I got to leave the hospital that day, and it felt so good to take a shower and move around my house unencumbered by an IV pole or pulse oximeter.

I was prescribed Ibuprofen and Hydrocodone for pain, Scop patches and Promethazine for nausea, and steroids and antibiotics for swelling and healing. I got behind on my meds yesterday after sleeping through the alarms I set to take them, and my pain level got to a 5-6. I got better about managing my meds after that, so it’s back down to 3-4. My lower face is mostly just incredibly uncomfortable. The skin on my cheeks and chin is swelled so much it’s shiny, and I have intense bruising around my mouth and on my neck, which is a lovely shade of purplish blue right now.

Day 3

Tomorrow is my first post-op appointment with my surgeon, which should just be a quick check-up. I’m dying to get this splint out, but won’t for another few weeks. It’s a food trap and makes it hard to talk. I think things will vastly improve after that. I can’t imagine going back to work with this thing in my mouth.

I’ve been sleeping a ton since getting home, and I keep dreaming I’m chewing food. Last time it was a hot dog fresh off the grill. The dreams stem not so much from food cravings as from the fear I’ll mess my new face up. I’m not wired or rubberbanded shut, which kind of freaks me out. At this point, I don’t like exploring with my tongue in my mouth very much. It’s like a Martian landscape that used to be Earth, and it will take some getting used to.