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:

arm-metal

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.

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the 23 day-post-op blues

I was warned of it, and assumed it would happen immediately after surgery, with me plugged into an IV, bleeding from the mouth and unable to talk, but when I sailed through the first week and a half of healing, I thought I had gotten lucky and missed the post-op blues. Everything I had read (which had been a lot, probably bordering on obsession) said that the first three days were bad, but if you could make it through the first week after surgery, it was smooth sailing. Well here I am at a little more than three weeks after, and I’m in a slump.

The origin of the slump is probably due to two things: rate of visible healing and pain level. The first couple weeks I could see changes in my face every day. Swelling was going down, bruising was lightening up; just the incredible relief of having a surgery I’ve dreaded for years be done with was a high I rode for a while. Due to narcotics and nerve damage, my pain level was surprisingly low.

Now it feels like I’ve taken a step back. I ran out of painkillers around day 10 and started on just ibuprofen, which felt like a kick in the face at first. I’m also slowly, oh so slowly gaining feeling in my face back, and shit hurts like hell. Unfortunately, the majority of feeling is returning first inside my mouth, meaning the gums that have stitches all tied up in them. I bought some Orajel stuff to squeeze on that suture line, but it’s a constant dull throb, especially now that I’m talking more. I’ve gotten the all-ok from my surgeon, and nothing looks infected (I got a good peek at the stitches tonight and nearly fainted); it just hurts. My surgeon also took out my splint (yay) but gave me some mighty powerful elastics to wear instead (boo). They’re rubbing on my gums and making my teeth sore.

Only being half-done with my liquid diet is also a disheartening and monotonous thought.

I went back to work last night for the first time after surgery. In preparation, the night previous I watched Me Before You and cried and cried and threw myself a pity party. I’ve got to face it–my body is ready to go back to work. I’ve been out shopping WAY too much in the last week, which is how I know. But my mind isn’t there yet. Considering how I feel about my job, that’s not too surprising, but, I mean, I was REALLY dreading returning.

One good thing in this post of bad is that I haven’t been losing too much weight. Being 5’10” and 127ish pounds normally, I was worried that I would turn into Jack Skellington on a liquid diet. But, I got the chance to weigh myself the other day and I’m only down to 121 pounds, which is about half of what I had expected I’d lose.

To wrap up, things just feel glummy and gloomy right now. I’m going to leave you with some progress pictures and one I snuck at the surgeon’s office of my mouth x-ray three days post-op that made me queasy.

 

12 days post-op

Have I mentioned how annoying this splint is? It’s like a retainer times 10 and makes it difficult to speak and eat. I negotiated with my surgeon when I last saw him on Monday to take my splint out a week and a half early, and he conceded, so that’s something to look forward to. I feel bad for anyone who has to have this thing in for the whole six weeks.

I thought I’d upload some pictures commemorating my first non-doctor’s appointment outing since surgery. I went out to a bar to play trivia with my boyfriend, and drove my car for the first time since surgery too. My mouth is open because because it’s still difficult and awkward-looking to close it fully because of the splint. Don’t be fooled by my mad makeup skillz–I still have green and purple bruises along the sides of my face and neck.

 

I stopped taking hydrocodone this week and my mind feels so much clearer. I have more intense jaw owies and twinges, but nothing so bad I wish I was back on narcotics. I’m still sleeping a lot, but have been trying to get out in the sun at least a little bit every day.

Tonight I was feeling really sick of cold protein shakes for dinner, so I bought some broccoli cheddar soup and orzo pasta. I combined them to make the soup a little bit more substantial, and have been swallowing the mixture whole, and it’s making my night. This is way better than when I tried to put macaroni and cheese in the blender (pretty gross, but I did it twice out of desperation). I have a feeling my surgeon’s going to find some icky pickles when he removes this splint next week.

Other than that, I’m still swollen, though a lot of that has dissipated. I’m still not chewing, though I have nightmares that I catch myself doing it on accident. The left side of my jaw and chin hurt a little where the screws are, and I’m also gaining feeling back faster on that side. My bottom lip down to where my neck starts (plus some cheek out to each side) is all still completely numb. I’m still scared to look at my stitches or explore too much in my mouth. I’m still sleeping with my  head elevated and putting hot compresses on my face to help get rid of the bruising. I still drool and have food on my face unbeknownst to me. It still kind of hurts to yawn or cough. But time is passing, and I feel so relieved to be through the worst of it.

9 days post-op, featuring The Bruise

I’d like to introduce my new friend, The Bruise. All the black and blue bruising I initially had in my face has now migrated down my neck, mainly on my left side. It’s turned into an enormous green bruise, not unlike what it might look like if someone tried to strangle me. My boyfriend and I feel aware of it going out in public, knowing it’s clearly visible and wondering if people suspect him, rather than the surgeon, of being the culpable party.

 

Left: The Bruise. The picture on the right was taken on day eight post-op. That’s my attempt at a close-lipped smile. I still have some work to do. But my swelling is going down.

There have been some surprising aspects of my recovery that I hadn’t expected. I have experienced close to no nausea, despite being prone to it in life in general. I think the Scop patch must be a miracle-worker. Either that or I’ve been taking aspirin under the guise of hydrocodone this whole time.

I’ve also been surprised by how much I can open my mouth. I could open it immediately after surgery because I wasn’t wired or rubberbanded shut, and the amount I can open it has been increasing as time passes. I don’t do any special jaw exercises or anything, but I can eat things (poorly) with a spoon now and easily drink out of a cup, so no more of that pathetic-looking syringe eating.

Another thing is how I can feel both aware and confused, lovely side effects of hydrocodone. I feel completely there mentally  when I’m watching Netflix, talking to my boyfriend, or texting someone, but I find myself forgetting a lot of things too. Did I tell him that or was it a dream? What am I looking for again? What was I excited to have for dinner? Why did I come back into the house? Have I listened to this part of the podcast already? It’s an early taste of senility.

Related to that, I haven’t read yet. Being an avid reader, I stockpiled books on my fireplace, ready to read for after surgery. But with my mind sort of fuzzy and lazy, I’ve preferred to watch Netflix or listen to podcasts or scary stories. I’ll probably start in on the books once I’m off narcotics.

There are a few other observations I’ve made that I don’t necessarily find surprising. I’m not surprised I tire easily trying to talk. This splint is really killing my vibe in that arena. I also keep biting my cheeks because they’re numb and swollen, so if I swipe my tongue between my molars there are raised teeth marks running along both cheeks like the joker, but inside my mouth rather than outside.

Something negative to pop up since I last wrote is that my pain level has slightly increased. I think it’s because my numb nerves are starting to heal, which is a good thing, but it’s leaving me with more feeling in the surgical sites. The left side has been especially achy, so I’ve been putting a warm compress on it, which only sort of helps.

Another negative is that my bowels are packed with poop that’s going nowhere fast. Side effect of narcotics, again. I went from never having taken a stool softener in my life to eating almost a whole bottle only to produce the most unsatisfying of rabbity turds. Sigh.

On a more serious note, my family and friends have been so caring and supportive during my recovery. I’ve received several care packages, cards, and texts wondering how I’m  doing. I’ve been particularly touched by how selfless my birthmom has been, volunteering to fly out here and help me during and after surgery, and how kind a couple of my coworkers have been, checking up on me, offering to bring me groceries, and suggesting movies to watch, though we’re not especially close. Having people I know simply remember I had surgery and acknowledge that I might be having a hard time goes a long way in keeping my spirits high while I bumble around my apartment alone.

I’ve gotten into the habit of sitting on my second-story porch at around 3am and watching documentaries. The other night I decided to do just that, but to pamper myself a little and use a Korean-style face mask with a cat on it that my boyfriend’s mom had given me. I ended up looking like leatherface.

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I laughed fucking hard for a sec, then put my icepacks on my face, tied onto my head using a canga (a Brazilian piece of cloth towel thing), Grey Gardens-style. While sitting out there, I thought about how terrified I would be to be walking down the sidewalk back from the club on a Friday night and look up to see THAT silently staring down at me.

 

 

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.