Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Going Under the Knife

A year ago, on April Fool's Day 2015, I had an appointment with an orthodontist to talk about getting braces to fix my teeth, which were getting more and more crooked each year.  I had braces for 5 years as a kid, but my orthodontist was super old and basically admitted that he couldn't get my bite just right and was retiring and we were moving so he just took them off, gave me an upper retainer only and sent me on my merry way.  At the appointment, after taking x-rays and examining my bite, the orthodontist explained that the only way to fix my teeth was to do old-school metal braces (I had been hoping for Invisalign) and surgery where my jaw would have to be broken and reset to correct my bite.

Then he showed me a simulation video of how and where the jaw would be broken and moved around.  And I started bawling and freaking out.  Then I went home and scheduled two more consultations with different orthodontists for a second and third opinion.

Long story short, they all said the same thing:  I had a "severe skeletal Class II malocclusion with a transverse deficiency problem."  Basically a terrible cross-bite and overbite that could be corrected only through surgical intervention, not just braces.  Because of my bad bite, my left joint in my jaw is "severely worn down from the open bite trauma" (this is all from a letter from the orthodontist I went with to my oral surgeons discussing treatment).

I got my braces on in May, which I blogged about back then.  It was all mostly funny ha-ha and the surgery was a far-off concept until a couple of months ago when we finally set a date for the procedure and started ramping things up with my treatment and meeting with the surgeons to prepare.

This Friday - April Fool's Day 2016, exactly 1 year from that first consultation about getting braces - I will be going in to have a 4-hour surgery where my jaw will be broken in 5 places, then plated with metal plates, screwed into a new position and wired shut for almost 2 weeks.  It's not going to be fun.

While I am wired shut, I won't be able to eat anything other than liquids.  And not even regular smoothies or milkshakes, which are supposedly too thick to get past my teeth.  We are talking chicken broth and apple juice that can trickle between my teeth because even if I COULD suck from a straw (which I won't be able to), I couldn't get a straw, even a small one.  At the class preparing me (and Paul) for the surgery, they said that we can try smoothies or shakes but first need to put them through a fine mesh strainer and I should be able to consume the resulting liquid.  So, yeah, that's going to be fun.  Also, no blowing my nose, sneezing through my nose, picking up anything more than 5 pounds or any kind of exercise for at least 6 weeks so I don't open up a wound or break sutures inside my nose or mouth.  Oh, and the vomiting blood and nose-bleeds that are side effects of the surgery for the first week.  It won't be pretty.

Once the wires come off, I will still have a splint in my mouth (sort of like a mouth guard that keeps my upper jaw in place but allows me to move the lower jaw) and at that point I should be able to move up to things like yogurt, applesauce, and anything soft enough to mush but not chew for another 4-6 weeks until the splint comes off and some bone has started forming between the broken sections of jaw.

The nurse explained that most people don't complain of pain after the surgery so much as feeling really uncomfortable.  All the incisions are on the inside of my mouth and they remove the nerves in the upper and lower jaws and set them to the side while they operate, then tuck them back inside when they are done.  Apparently doing that paralyzes or numbs them like when you get a cavity filled at the dentist.  Except instead of the numbness wearing off after one afternoon, it takes anywhere from 2 weeks to 3 months (or longer) for the numbness (which will be my entire face below my eyes) to go away.

The other big part of the discomfort is from the swelling, which is pretty extreme for most people.  I will have to wear an ice pack that surrounds my face non-stop for the first 72 hours, and then 30 minutes of every hour for the next week after that to keep the swelling to a minimum.  And even at that, when they showed us pictures of patients who have been through the surgery before and documented their progress day-by-day, the swelling by day 5 is painful just to look out.  After that it is supposed to start subsiding and by 9 months after the surgery (sometimes 12), I should look how I am going to look for the rest of my life because all of the swelling will be gone.  I'm not exactly looking forward to looking like a chubby bunny for the next 9 months.

I hope it is worth it.  A big motivating factor for doing this now is that our insurance covers the entire procedure and all I have to pay is a $20 co-pay, which is amazing.  Each of the three orthodontists I consulted with said "please tell me you have Kaiser?" when they realized surgery would be necessary because of how good they are with the amount of coverage for this.  Also, I knew my teeth were just going to keep getting worse and worse and this would eventually result in more pain (it already feels pretty terrible) and they say the older you are the harder it is to recover from surgery.  But I'm worried about not being able to care for the girls, not being able to talk normally, what it will be like to throw up with my jaws wired shut (a major concern and one that we talked quite a bit about in the prep class), the recovery time, how I will look afterwards (both in the near and far terms) and so much more.  Thankfully my parents are coming to stay with us and take care of me and the girls and Paul while I am out of commission.

Wish me luck.


  1. This sounds so incredibly brutal. Wow I'm sorry. Just so incredibly sorry.

  2. My brother has to do this same thing, I am so sorry!!! I'll keep you in my prayers, that really does sound awful!!

  3. Every time I hear you describe this it just sounds more and more awful. I am so sorry. I hope at the very least it goes as smoothly as possible.

  4. Ah, my heart is with you! I did not have this surgery, but another jaw surgery in Dec of 2009. As far as the swelling, ice head wrap, and what you can eat afterwards, it sounds pretty similar, however. Luckily, I think due to the pain medication, I didn't feel a lot of hunger until I could stop taking them and by then I could drink something like Ensure. I actually really grew to like the PLUS (don't get the regular one!) milk chocolate shake flavor (the dark chocolate is good, too). They are thicker than water but much thinner than a shake so I could get it in little by little. The plus ones have over 300 calories if I remember right so that was helpful. I lost a lot of weight. You might be thinking yay! like I was, but after months were dragging on, it became difficult to drink enough calories in the day. Another thing that helped me in the beginning was melted ice cream. Sounds gross maybe but it was cold, just not frozen at all (no chunks/additives, either) and it gave me those calories I needed. Also helped with the sweet tooth cravings when I couldn't eat my chocolate bars or other little candy treats I liked. Sorry, I can email you more and not dominate the blog but just know you are absolutely in my prayers and this will pass! Also, I use Voltaren gel...it's a topical pain cream like putting advil right on your joint. It helps a lot. Hang in there friend. Big hugs!

  5. GOOD LUCK. Oh my goodness. I am praying for you and thinking about you. I hae faith you can endure this trial. If you can do this, you can do anything. I will say I had many audible gasps of horror while reading this. I am betting you have quite a bit of weight loss ahead of you too, which, not that you need, means you'll have fun gaining it back? Yikes. I am so sorry. Thoughts and prayers and a textbook, easy recovery and no to limited vomiting sweetie. <3

  6. I want you to know that I immediately thought of Meredith Grey in grey's anatomy (when she had her jaw sewn shut this year it was intense). But you have a village to help you get through this and support your family. Don't doubt!

  7. Praying for you and hope the pain is soon much better. Just sounds brutal.

  8. Oh my goodness, this is so terrifying!! I'm really hoping and praying you heal quickly because this surgery sounds like one beasty rhino (a phrase my friend uses--it seems to fit the situation).
    You are hard core, Amy!


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