First off, my apologies for not having updated for quite some time but the last two weeks have been… eventful…for many reasons-good and bad.
First off, I can say that the swelling really began to decrease and to decrease quickly after about halfway through the second week. The swelling mostly seemed to follow the numbness in that as the swelling decreased, my nerves began to wake back up and feeilng came back. This is not always a pleasant thing as it often felt like pins and needles for days. Other times, like if I didn’t stay right on schedule with my pain medicine it felt like very sharp pain. The best way I can describe it is that it felt like someone was driving an ice pick straight into my jaw, right about where the breaks are! Definitely not pleasant, but staying on top of medications is key in reducing that discomfort. Speaking of pain medications, I was able to successfully taper off the percocet during this time and switch over to Motrin instead. Now, I had to take about double or triple the doses of Motrin in weeks 2 and 3, but it was much better than dealing with the side effects of the percocet.
18 Days After Surgery:
Eating continues to be a challenge through this time period, some days allowing me to eat more “solid” food than others. I find that the swelling, pain, and mobility can change from day to day which effects what I can eat. However, at my 3 week check-up, I was advised to try to begin to eat soft foods instead of just liquids. Remember, I can’t open my mouth much more than a fingertip-wide and under no circumstances can I chew. So I have to shove small pieces of things in there and kind of mush them against the roof of mouth in order to be able to eat/swallow them. It’s messy and time consuming so somethings I just revert back to liquid things I can drink. But I’ve managed to eat tiny pieces of hot dog this way, scrambled eggs, spaghetti-os, fries, and very soft cookies. I’ve also been more brave in what I’m willing to blend. Even the thought of things I’ve eaten/drank right now make me gag, but when you are hungry and with people eating these things you can get past the texture rather quickly. I blended a piece of pizza, a junior cheeseburger from Wendy’s, and a taco. All looked disgusting but were much more satisfying than soup!
I continue to sleep propped up on many pillows as I find that lying flat, or even on one side results in waking up more swollen and tender on that side. Sometimes the pain will wake me up in the night if I have slipped over to one side or slid down the pillow and end up lying more flat. Apparently the time spend sleeping propped up like this varies from patient to patient, but I’m hoping that by 6 weeks post-op I can once again lie flat and get a better night’s sleep! However, I’ve recently suffered a set back to that, which I will explain later.
One thing I will touch on briefly, because it is important and has been a part of this is what some people consider something to be embarrassed about or hidden. Without going into detail I can tell you that my blog updates stopped when they did because at about exactly 2 weeks after surgery, the mental and emotional side effects of everything hit me and hit me hard. Mental health is something people in our culture are often too ashamed or embarrassed to talk about, but it is real for many of us and can be especially real for patients having surgery such as this. A large part of my sadness and anxiety was due to the fact that this surgery was over. While I was relieved and pleased with the outcome, it is almost like a loss I had to grieve. Jaw surgery is a unique experience in that patients have perhaps years to prepare for the surgery. It is both elective and necessary to improve quality of life. It requires months or years of braces and planning. It’s a huge event and life-changing. The final weeks leading up to it are busy and there comes a time when adrenaline kicks in. I never really got nervous, just excited and ready for the adventure it would become. But then it was over. I was so busy planning and in adrenaline mode- I hadn’t taken the time to let it really sink in that it was happening. I wanted to be able to experience it all- the good, the bad, and the ugly and I felt like I didn’t. This is especially so because I was given a pre-anesthesia drug called Versed. I was told it was a light sedative to calm my nerves. I didn’t think I needed it but was urged by the nurse to do so. What I did not know was that it would pretty much erase every memory from the last 20-30 minutes before surgery, and she never told me when she was adding it to my IV. I felt cheated out of really being able to experience and remember this. Did I really need to put myself through seeing the OR and my doctor again? The scary tools and instruments? Probably not. But then again, I think it would have provided the “closure” so to speak that I needed. This was a huge factor in the letdown period at about 2 weeks after.
This feeling about the pre-op drugs, the strange reaction I remember having (before Versed) in which the doctor and nurse proudly brought me my models and I couldn’t think of anything to say (when I really wanted to be happy, excited, and ask questions), as well as anxiety over the other changes coming in my life led to a very bad time. I was the poster child for what we could call a mini-breakdown. Calls into doctors and my surgeon helped explain some of what was going on. Turns out that on top of all those feelings to deal with, the cocktail of powerful drugs and anesthesia can also trigger these reactions. The surgeon also explained that while we may seem to be coping well (and I thought I was!), the subconscious part of our brain can have a hard time processing everything that’s happened to us. In my case that was the trauma of the surgery, the exhaustion of recovery, and trying to recognize the new face in the mirror as my own. While the physical changes are positive, they can be confusing us and we don’t even know it! Thanks to a strong support system of my family and friends, following my surgeon’s advice to speak to a counselor, and just giving myself time I’ve been able to recover from this. Though there are still days where the sadness that this huge chapter of my life is over, I’ve been able to slowly move on. Here’s a good shot of how much my bite has improved. The first picture is about 2 months before surgery, the second was 3 weeks after surgery!
Speaking of moving on, I can tell you that other things in life began to fall into place at totally the wrong time…but I had to go with the flow. I’d been searching for a house to buy for months and it timed just right that I ended up closing on my home and moving at 3 weeks post-op. It’s absolutely crazy and I don’t recommend it, but it happened and we got through. One of the bigger challenges (aside from being exhausted and sore) is that I am to under no circumstances do any heavy lifting. Though the surgical site is the jaw, we often clench or teeth or strain the muscles in our face when lifting. This has the potential to pull stitches loose or even causes shifting in the places where the bones are not yet fused. As the surgeon explained “you need to remember-your jaw is still broken and only held in place by the screws and plates”. The restrictions on lifting and physical activity remain in place until my xrays show that the spaces where the breaks are have begun to fill in with solid, new bone.
Again, my support system of family and friends were able to sacrifice their own time to get me moved from my first place- a tiny one bedroom apartment I’d outgrown that was 20-25 minutes from pretty much everything into my very own home with space and only 5 minutes from most places I go. It wasn’t the best timing but it all worked out! I even had lots of help painting because I just don’t have the strength or energy to do much and I can’t bend over or look up for very long without feeling pain. Because of the mental/emotional issues I experienced at that time, I hadn’t stayed in the apartment for about a week before I moved. My last night there had passed without ceremony or closure which is sad, but perhaps a blessing. I moved on the afternoon of June 18th, even driving the U-haul myself. I found it ironic that exactly 21 days before I’d been lying on an operating table with my bones being sawed and shaved. Who ever would have thought?
I am now mostly settled into my new home and unpacking boxes little by little. I get tired very easily and after a week of stress and too much activity of moving, I’m learning to take it easy and listen to my body. The surgeon said that when people heal from surgeries like this, we need about 2-3x the amount of caloric energy. The jaw surgery is challenging because on a liquid diet, it can be extremely difficult to even get a normal day’s amount of calories and nutrients. So having a huge event, like moving so soon after surgery is not something I’d recommend, but in my case, was unavoidable.
Because I’m a bit of an overachiever and planner, I also got a puppy in the first week in my new house! Again, not the best of timing as far as surgery recovery but since I’m a teacher and the school year gets busy, I wanted to get a puppy in the early summer to get training out of the way before school starts. So, my choices were to do it now or wait another year. So I went for it and it’s been pretty good. Pets are therapy too, right?
At exactly four weeks after surgery, the before and after pictures are wonderful to look at. Can see the external results of the years of treatment and it feels great. A few days ago was the first that I was actually able to pull back my cheek and check out the inside of my mouth. Let’s just say it has a little ways to go yet to look healthy. It still looks pretty much like Frankenstein with thick, white stitches stretching from just past each canine tooth, all the way to the back of mouth on both sides, all sewn into the gums right under the teeth. I tried to get a picture…but it just wouldn’t turn out. Perhaps that’s better left to the imagination anyway… 😉
3 Weeks After Surgery: The day I closed on my house and the first day I attempted to wear makeup. Which is not something that was all pleasant as my cheeks and jawline are still very tender!
4 Weeks After Surgery: Again, the only day that week I wore makeup because it still hurts to put on and scrub off but gives me a better idea of what my day-t0-day “look” will be.