5 Years Ago…
The ominous double doors came into view between my feet—two bumps beneath the blanket, like a gun site—and the hospital bed came to a halt. My husband, Craig, touched my palm to his lips as the nurse pointed him in the direction of the waiting room.
Inching forward, the bed triggered open the doors and Craig’s hand—my safety line—slipped away. “You’ll be fine,” I heard him say as the doors swallowed me whole. I was rolled past other patients who awaited their own surgical fate beneath dim lights; their faces blurred since the nurse had confiscated my glasses along with my clothes.
The bed swerved into an end slot and I was left alone with my relentless tears. It was only six in the morning; I had been awake since 4:12. My senses were heightened, my stomach in knots. Why didn’t I bring a magazine?
More beds and staff straggled in and out. I felt abandoned. Left to the wolves, otherwise known as my vivid imagination. Haunted by visions of the surgeon’s hands struggling to fit inside my kid-size mouth to make those exact incisions along my jaw bone, his fingers grappling with my slippery gums to slide the jaw forward into the right position. What if he was sleep deprived? Would his hand slip and slice my nose off? Had he ever dropped a jaw after it had been sliced through? Could my bottom teeth end up in my lap? What then? How the hell did I get here?
A nurse appeared at my side to ask the required questions: What are you here for? Are you allergic to tape? Are you into S & M? (Kidding about the S&M question… but given the nature of the surgery and what I would be required to endure immediately thereafter, S & M seemed appropriate. Jaws wired shut for 2-8 weeks, all dependent on how well the little titanium screws held my freshly sawed jaw bone together. Liquified meals for 2 months. No popcorn. No sipping my favorite chardonnay, letting the cool butter fluid linger on my palate, sensing it slip down my throat).
“I’m here for jaw surgery,” I said and the nurse’s immobilized pen to paper suggested she wanted more. “Sagittal osteotomy,” I continued. “To fix my bite. And not I’m not allergic to tape. That I know of.”
Her presence distracted me from my swirling thoughts. But then off she scurried, around the curtain to the next bed in line. To prevent any more freakish scenarios from taking form in my head, I strained to hear other patients detail their own situations to the nurse— a tumor removal here, shoulder surgery over there, back surgery—but then she moved out of earshot.
I wrapped my arms around myself for warmth and a futile attempt at self-reassurance. Breathe. They do this kind of surgery all the time. I watched an orderly roll empty hospital beds out into the corridor one by one and counted them for diversion. At one point, he stopped at the foot of my bed and asked, “You cold?” then vanished, leaving me to nod to the empty space. Seconds later, he reappeared, blanket in hand. He unfolded it methodically, draped it over me. The simple gesture both touched and calmed me.
But then the overhead florescent lights flicked on, igniting the pace and quantity of blue gowns on feet. And my angst. Beds slid past at higher frequency, altering my perception of time. I sensed that I would soon be wheeled off to the operating room.
Blue gowns then honed in on me. A nurse with more questions. The same questions, paraphrased and in different order. What kind of surgery? Why?
Why indeed. Is swallowing large pieces of food whole really such a bad thing? I’d lived with jaw muscle strain for 42 years, what’s another 30, 40 years? Then again, my great grandfather lived to 100…
Before I could make a break for it, the anesthesiologist swept in to describe the process for shoving the breathing and stomach tubes up my nose. Do I need these details? I winced as he described the protective goggles. “This way, the doctors can focus on what’s going on in your mouth, not where they’re putting their elbows.” He chuckled. “So when you see lines circling your eyes, you’ll know why. Better that than a black eye from a stray elbow.” His humor put me at ease, while my imagination churned over this new worry-provoking information.
A nurse appeared from nowhere and pulled the curtain shut. “I’m nurse (somebody).” No, I don’t recall her name but can describe the mammoth IV needles in minute detail. She plugged a fire hose into each wrist, coiling the ends beside me.
“No happy drugs yet?” I asked.
“As soon as the doc talks to you,” said the anesthesiologist as he and the nurse made their way out of my make-shift room. “He’s on the way.”
Alone once more.
Tape—wrapped around a vital signs monitor on my thumb—threatened to strangle my circulation. What if the nurse put it on too tight? I need my thumb. People do make mistakes in hospitals. Is this how gangrene…
“How are you doing?” asked the young resident who had taken my medical history the week prior.
“A bit anxious.”
“That’s normal,” he nodded, familiar with my personal issues. Although not debilitating on a day-to-day basis, my anxiety was a reality, but mostly during PMS which seemed to occur 2 weeks out of every month. But that’s a whole other story. “I’m guessing everyone in here feels anxious right now. Even if they’re not anxiety prone.” I felt oddly reassured.
Another resident popped in and, without warning, wrapped my head in a perilously snug bandage. “Wow. That’s pretty tight,” I said, touching my temple. If that tape on my thumb didn’t cut off the circulation, this certainly would. Worse, it may disable my brain. Then again, a disabled brain could be a good thing right about now.
“It has to be tight,” he said.
I was hoping to discuss my anxiety a little more—a mini therapy session, perhaps—but both residents slipped away to the other side of the curtain. Was The Great Oz behind there somewhere? I overheard the voice of another resident. “Dr. Johnson just called in. Guess he’s caught in traffic.”
Just another day for Dr. Johnson.
My stomach growled.
It was a good thing we’d spent the last weekend in New York.
The trip practically wiped out any notion of the upcoming surgery. It also gave me a chance to have some really good food in high quantity—mini blintzes with caviar, New York pizza, lox and bagels, raspberry cheesecake… not to mention my Italian mother-in-law’s cooking. I had to pack it on while I had the chance—I could ill afford to lose weight at 5’6-1/2″ and 120 pounds. By Monday—the day before surgery, with my stomach performing Olympic caliber gymnastics—I force fed myself one last bowl of popcorn, Italian carryout, chocolate and a pint of ice cream.
Eventually, Dr. Johnson strolled in.
Suit and tie, he looked like he did any other day I’d seen him over the past year. Another calming moment. He went through the obligatory schtick as the nurse uncoiled the IV
pipes tubes. Let the happy drugs begin.
Fade in—barely—to a vague impression of Dr. Johnson. “The surgery went exceptionally well.”
The hospital room. Please tell me that isn’t salmon tinted paint! Craig came into focus. I squinted at the round wall clock. 5 p.m. The nurse recited the requisite morphine button rules. If I had pain, I neither felt it nor cared. Just take this f**king nausea away!
The nurse stuffed alcohol swabs into my nostrils and pulled the oxygen mask over my nose. “This should help,” she said. “Although we’re not sure why.” Empty alcohol packages quickly piled up on the table next to me. Just when the nausea settled down, a male blue gown appeared. “Time for x-rays.”
What? Craig and Mr. Blue Gown helped me roll off the bed. The nausea returned, even more ruthless than before. I dropped my head close to my knees, fearful of detonating even more nausea as the blood rushed to my head. The more I contemplated the logistics of wired-jaw vomiting…
Mr. Blue Gown wheeled me into an elevator. Up wasn’t so bad. But the return ride down roused whatever wanted to erupt from my stomach. Amazingly, I made it back to the hospital room and crawled back into the bed. That’s when it happened. I began to gag.
Panic! With Craig’s help, the nurse was summoned and I scooted to the edge of the bed. The nurse instructed me to lean over. my wired teeth acted as vomit strainer. Gross, I know. Blood spilled to the floor. Some mucous trapped blood remained behind my teeth. Even grosser. I felt totally helpless.
Side note: Fast forward to dinner 5 nights later…
It was delicious! But I pulled up on the syringe—my feeding utensil for the next way- too-many weeks—so hard that it shot right out of the top, with a popped cork sound, and sent liquified chicken and butternut squash soup into orbit. My mistake was sitting down. Sucking up food through a thin tube the size of this O that is fitted to the end of a syringe with an even smaller intake hole requires certain leverage and concentration. Worse spillage occurred the next night. Only more crude. Eggs, melted cheese, bacon, red potatoes, spinach and chives blended together into a nice frothy goo. A meal I presented to myself from the broiler so I could get a fulfilling whiff before dropping it all into the mixer. I blamed Craig, syringe worker du jour, for not paying attention to the task at hand as the food stuff sprayed the ceiling. I didn’t want to lose a single drop to silly mishaps. On second thought, I could not afford to alienate my husband].
Back to the up-chuck.
Craig and the nurse assisted me to the bathroom where I was forced to look at my reflection for the first time since surgery. The image frightened me. The pressure bandages encased my head and wrapped under my chin, compacting my face down to golf ball size. My otherwise pencil thin lips protruded further than Angelina Jolie’s. How can Craig stand to look at me? I wondered as he rubbed my back and watched me splash water onto my alien face. I patted my face dry and noticed the bloody crust that formed around my mouth. Beautiful.
At some point after nurturing me through the clean-up and back into bed, Craig left. Visiting hours were over.
Sleep was fitful.
Did I mention that I could barely breathe through my nose because of swelling and dried blood up my nostrils?
I was the bad patient, call button at-the-ready. Whoever answered my pages would ask what I wanted. I couldn’t talk! So I just groaned in anger thinking, Why the hell doesn’t she know I can’t talk? I had a stack of blank paper to scrawl messages to any willing party. I can’t breathe. I’m freaking out.
Breathing is a necessity. Don’t take it for granted. Once again, I asked myself why the f**k I decided to have this surgery? Were those pieces of pasta dating back to the 70’s still making their way through my digestive system really that bad?
In my head, I screamed the two words that my complaint-intolerant Dad had drilled into my head growing up: Buck up! I became suddenly inspired by my own misery, ready to accomplish great things upon recovery: be the best Mom I can be: write a novel; master that Beethoven piece on the piano. The only thing stopping me from doing these things was me. I can do anything I set my mind to. Maybe I could become the Lance Armstrong of defective dental genetics!
The nurse shift changed at some point and my thumb continued its high impact workout on the button. Was it me, or did the nurse’s response time start to slow down? I provided a fresh scrawl each time: Still can’t breathe. My unwavering button pushing is probably still a topic of nurse conversation today. Maybe I should have sent them flowers.
The residents strolled in with morning.
First, the anxiety sympathizer, later to be known as scab humorist. (Side note for scab explanation: Post-surgery, I’d been happily watching the progress of the fading scabs around my lips. At my one-week follow-up appointment, the anxiety sympathizer resident removed the stitches and proceeded to pick at the scabs. “What’s this?” he asked. “Scabs,” I said. This guy’s a doctor and doesn’t even know what the hell scabs are? Where’s Dr. Johnson?! “These—” he let out a laugh. “—these aren’t scabs. It’s dried glue!” His laughter swelled to contagious proportions as he completed the
scab glue-picking task. Apparently the blood had discolored the glue, but, thanks to my timid wound washing techniques, was slow to come off. I laughed too, quickly reminded of the wire—threaded from somewhere in my left nasal cavity down into the bone under my chin—as my lips bumped against them).
Via scrawl, I informed him of my breathing woes. He looked me square in the eye and said, “Lynn. Open your lips. You can breathe through your mouth.” He demonstrated through his own clenched teeth as if I was completely unfamiliar with this concept. “See?” Suddenly he didn’t seem so nice anymore.
I think he saw the ‘but’ in my eyes. “Lynn. People have this kind of surgery all the time. It will be easier when the bandages come off.” He eyed my tray, littered with used alcohol swabs. “Have you eaten?” he asked.
I shook my head and a look of disbelief flashed across his eyes. I grabbed the paper, fished around for the pen. I’m still nauseous, I scribbled.
“You can talk,” he said as if my jaw had been wired shut for my 42 years of life and I should have mastered it by now.
He crossed his arms. “Now, we can’t just keep you here on an IV forever. I’ll see about some food.” And he was gone.
The next resident came in, feigning interest in my notes. “Time for the bandages to come off,” he said, making a few snips before giving the bandage a forceful tug. Had I not known he was removing my bandage, I would have sworn he was trying to start a stubborn lawn mower.
Two more residents wandered in. “You have got to move around,” one frowned. “Walk up and down the corridor. It will make you feel better.”
The nurse spoke up. “She did walk around a bit last night, but she was nauseous.” One point for her.
I sat and listened obediently to yet another mini lecture about the importance of eating and moving around. Leave me to atrophy in this bed. The IV will keep me alive. What does it matter?
Finally, they left the room single-file. I sucked a breath in—a whirring slurpy wheeze—through my teeth as I slid out of the hospital bed and walked the corridor, pushing the IV. I even attempted to enjoy the horizon showcasing a sharp view of downtown Chicago. I kept walking, dammit, because those doctors were on my ass. I passed the occasional human and they smiled a little too politely. What the hell could they be smiling at? I look like a wild-haired freak with a ballooned fright mask.
The nausea became unbearable. I felt weak-kneed. So, back to the bed. Breakfast, if you could call it that, had arrived: chicken broth, tea and jello. How the hell could they give me such a hard time about not eating? This is not food. The nutritional value of chicken broth is 3-1/2 days worth of sodium. I dutifully pulled it up into the syringe, slid the thin tube behind my back teeth and squeezed. Another squeeze or 2 and voila. As much as it hurt to swallow, they were right. I did start to feel better.
Craig showed up around 10 a.m.
“You look great.”
Hello? It hit me. His claims about my belle-of-the-ball status—the hottest chick at every party ever attended—were nothing but a 15-year sham! Who did he think he was kidding? Even without the bandages, I looked like I was pinching a loaf from the wrong end, the worst I’ve ever looked in my entire life. And he tells me I look great?
Before I could reply, Dr. Johnson sauntered into the room, his gaggle of residents in tow. He also claimed I looked great. But he gets paid to say that. “And the x-rays look good.”
Had the x-rays told a different story, I would have become a surgery fugitive, hospital gown flapping in the wind as I made my way toward the horizon. There was no way I was going back under. And, thankfully, I wouldn’t have to.
‘Lunch’ resembled breakfast, except the soup was creamier and pudding replaced jello. I devoured it.
The time to leave materialized.
With utmost care, I steadied myself alongside the bed and got dressed. I pulled matted hair back into pigtails. The improvement to my appearance was anything but vast.
Craig took my arm and we made our way down the ever familiar corridor, past the nurse station. To the elevator. A sudden cough rose from the depths of my soul and interrupted my labored breathing. Should I really be leaving?
The hour ride home was less than a good time. At home, Craig set me up in the bedroom with a pile of pillows. I would have to sleep sitting up for an unknown period of time. I worried about the reaction of our 5-year old son, due home from school any minute; he was well aware of the surgery and the fact I would look puffy. Would he be afraid of me?
Craig went to meet the bus and moments later I heard Ethan’s tentative footsteps scaling the stairs with Craig close behind. He rounded the corner into the bedroom and, seeing me, slowed his pace. He glanced back at Craig as if needing reassurance that this was the right place.
“Hi Mommy,” he finally managed to say.
“Hi sweetie,” I said as best I could between Darth Vader breaths.
He touched the bed then looked up at me. “You’re still pretty, Mommy.”
Like father, like son.
What would I do without my guys?
A few days later, my parents came by. I descended the stairs slowly. My mom took one look at me and began to laugh. Then came my dad’s laugh. Not the reaction I had hoped for. “Now people are really going to say you look like me,” my chubby-cheeked mom said, enveloping me in her arms.
Two weeks into recovery, I felt fantastic. Almost euphoric. With the exception of the liquified-food-through-a-syringe routine. My cravings for popcorn, cheese and crackers, the satisfying crunch of cinnamon raisin toast—even foods i wouldn’t normally dream of wolfing down—taunted me. Na na, you can’t eat me!
Every time I began to think, woe is me, I forced myself to snap out of it. Buck up! Why not have fun as I discover what different food looks and tastes like once pulverized? And be proud of myself for being able to stomach most anything in a blender including lasagna, pot roast and potatoes, omelets and burritos. Of course, there were some things that would prove beyond repulsive—ham and scalloped potatoes churn into an unattractive pink hue the consistency of whipped egg whites. Sushi would be out of the question.
Amazing what a difference a few days make. The jaw wired shut business was getting old. No, no. There are worse things, I reminded myself. I have so much to be grateful for: A wonderful, funny, loving son; a devoted husband who has not only stood behind my dreams of being a writer, but syringes my meals whenever he’s available even though he has the gag reflex of a career bulimic.
It wasn’t always easy for husband-turned-nursemaid-extraordinaire Craig.
Let’s start with the 3rd night home when I absently peeled away at the pharmacy label on my antibiotics label to find the instructions, “THIS MUST BE REFRIGERATED.” What the…? I dug through the garbage for the prescription information sheet and started to read the fine print. Tucked away in the 3rd paragraph were the words, “Seal the cap tightly and refrigerate.” Needless to say, both bottles had been sitting out since the night I got home.
“Craig!” I tried to yell, my jaw straining against the wires. “You need to call the pharmacist!” My finger took on an accusational stance as it pointed to the bottle. “This says here… it’s supposed to be refrigerated!” My voice sounded like it was coming from the bottom of a garbage can.
“I’m sure it’s not a big deal,” he said, relaxed on the couch next to Ethan who eyed me as if I was a Mommy imposter.
“What?” my voice cracked. “Why would they put it on here that it has to be refrigerated if it doesn’t have to be refrigerated?” I held the phone out to him. “You have to call. It’s not like you’re a pharmacist.”
I am not meant to be a patient. I am a mean patient.
I felt myself snap as my brain loaded a round of fiery words faster than my shackled tongue could form them. I tossed the phone onto the couch and stormed out of the room to pace the kitchen floor. I was sure I heard Craig sigh.
Moments later, he was on the phone with the pharmacist. Sure enough, the antibiotics had an 8-hour shelf life if not refrigerated. In other words, the last 3 doses might as well have been pudding. Craig reached the doctor-on-call and a new prescription was called in. $153.99 out-of-pocket. I was so pissed. I made Craig promise not to get me upset like that again. And I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d contemplated an exorcism.
The next night, trying to get to sleep, I couldn’t stop thinking about the lingering numbness extending from my upper lip up into my eye socket. Should I be numb this long? Could this lead to face paralysis? Am I destined to drool forever? I slid out of bed and, after an hour searching the internet for answers, tracked down Craig. He and Ethan were in the basement immersed in their 2nd or 3rd viewing of Pirates of the Caribbean. I explained my latest worry and before I could ask Craig to call the doctor, that not-another-freak-out-episode look crept into his eyes and he let out the all too familiar sigh.
Looking back, maybe I was lacking in the rational department those first few days. But being wired shut made me feel trapped. And, until I got used to talking, I felt powerless.
Craig called the doctor. Numbness was normal. Could last months.
I’m sure Craig was happy to get back to work, escape the madness. And I was happy to get back into some semblance of routine. To feel useful again.
I slowly ventured out into the world.
I felt like that metal mouthed scary guy, Jaws, from James Bond. Only scarier. A mouth of twisted wire that attracted startled double-takes followed by the averted gaze. You’ve done it. Admit it. When you see a person that’s not quite right, you work hard to act casual and not let your eyeballs drift back their way. I’ll let you in on a little secret. It’s more glaringly obvious when you try not to look than when you do.
And, oh, the children. They just stared. I frightened one of my son’s new friends who had never met me before. Still somewhat swollen, I picked him and my son up after school for a play date. He kept staring at me from the back seat with this serious, somewhat stunned look on his face and the second I caught his gaze in the rear view mirror, he looked away. We got out of the car and he forced a stiff smile. An hour (or less) into the play date, he just looked up at me and squeaked, ” I think I want to go home now.” Poor kid.
My parents came for dinner one night. Chicken cacciatore. I loaded the blender with my serving and my mom said, “Yuck… that’s just disgusting.” I flipped the switch and heard her throaty groans which continued as I syringed. Unable to control myself, I said, “Mom. You better watch what you say because, in just a few years, you could be eating like this.” Yes, I admit, I had gone too far. But we got a good laugh and she stopped with hte comments and groans.
Week 3, the wires were snipped off.
There was a lot of twisting and pulling that provoked the occasional “ouch” and when no end appeared in sight, I said, “I think I’m going to die.” The portion of the wire—or as Dr. Johnson calls it, skeletal wire—that traveled into my bone was not removed. Tight rubber bands replaced the wire, allowing a very slight range of motion. One wrong move—a suppressed yawn, for example—catapulted me into a stratosphere of pain I would recommend against traveling to. Another motivator to keeping my mouth closed was the fact that the inside of my teeth hadn’t been brushed since surgery.
End of week 3—Friday the 13th.
This day would make giving labor to a 20-pound barbed horned alien feel like a vacation in paradise.
First, I sliced my finger with the razor-sharp hair scissors and had to look away from the blood seeping from the cleanly cut flat of skin. I covered the wound by feel with a bright yellow Batman Band-Aid. Why I decided to snip my bangs 15 minutes before I had to leave for my emergency appointment with Dr. Johnson is beyond me.
The night before, I called the oral health center for a Vicadin refill. It was after hours, so I expected a call back from one of the residents. Instead, Dr. Johnson called me from his car.
“Why are you calling for a refill?” he asked through the static. “Are you in pain?”
“Well, yes. Discomfort, really.”
“It’s 3 weeks after surgery. You shouldn’t be in pain. Something must be wrong.”
Dr. Johnson was not one to mince words.
Shit. Shit. Shit!
“You need to come in tomorrow. Call the office first thing.”
So, Friday the 13th—with my finger wrapped in gauze (even Batman couldn’t stop the bleeding)—I drove the hour to see Dr. Johnson.
“I think there’s an infection. We need to get those wires out.”
I wanted to take his words and mince them—pulverize them. Yet I felt somewhat relieved. There wouldn’t be an emergency hospital bed ride into the OR.
“Before I take them out, you need to be on antibiotics for at least an hour.” He peered over his glasses. “Or we can give them to you intravenously.”
I didn’t want to get stuck in rush hour traffic. “Do it. I’ve come this far.”
Twenty minutes after the IV injection, it was time for Novocain.
“I just want you to know, this will hurt,” Dr. Johnson said.
The dental chair had been my second home for years. Novocain did not concern me.
“It will feel like a pinch,” said the nurse.
I closed my eyes and opened my mouth. As long as I didn’t have to see the needle…
“Can you open further?” Dr. Johnson asked.
“No,” I said. Anything beyond a quarter of an inch set off that cruel ear ache-like pain.
The injections arrived in the crevice between lip and gum—3 on top, 3 on bottom—and 1 or 2 on the roof of my mouth for good measure. If I said that didn’t hurt, I’d be lying. It more than hurt. It didn’t feel like a pinch, it felt like jolts of electricity. Maybe more like nuclear missiles. The screen behind my eyelids went white. Bright white. Should I follow it? I tried to imagine myself on a tropical beach. The nurse grabbed my hand unsolicited. She knew. This was no pinch. Banging my toes together, I realized if I wanted to go to Kansas, I was supposed to click my heels.
Then what had to be the absolute worst part was over. Phew!
“Last fall I did the Chicago Marathon,” I said. “This fall, it’s more like the Marathon Man.”
Within minutes, the entire left side of my face went numb. Now for the skeletal wire. At least it wouldn’t hurt.
I closed my eyes and snipping ensued. Apparently, my skull was not ready to give up the wire. My head lifted off the chair like a hooked fish. Another tug and—Oh, f**k—the sound of wire pulled through bone reverberated in my head like an airplane making a belly landing. My body started to shiver. My knees knocked.
“I don’t feel so good,” I mumbled through fish lips.
And I still had another wire to go. This one took some elbow grease, but not enough to lift my head up. But, again, that sound.
Dr. Johnson used one of his tools like a crowbar to fit the suction wand between my teeth and fish around for wire scraps.
“You alright?” asked the nurse.
On top of being on the verge of passing out, I was convinced I resembled the Crypt Keeper from Tales of the Crypt. The left side of my face felt not just numb, but completely missing, my eyeball ready to roll from the exposed socket.
When the shivering dwindled, I stumbled out of the chair onto wobbly knees.
“Well,” I said, “Thanks for torturing me today.”
Dr. Johnson smiled.
That night, my appetite was in full swing and I treated myself to not one, but 2 orders of Thai chile garlic chicken. By far, my favorite syringe meal.
5 weeks later Dr. Johnson finally said I could eat ice cream.
It had to be soft, but at least I could eat it from a spoon. Little bits at a time since I was only able to open my mouth enough to fit my thumb in. I could drink from a glass. It felt like graduation day.
5 years later: I can chew my food! But I’m addicted to smoothies.
* The doctor’s name has been changed. I loved that man. He saved my mouth.
More about my dental issues leading up to this harrowing oral surgery.
- I was born missing 7 teeth.
- My tongue hung out of my mouth into toddlerhood. (I could touch my nose with my tongue until after surgery).
- It was discovered, around the age of 7, that I had bilateral tongue thrust. I did not know how to swallow ‘properly’. Instead of remaining contained within my teeth, my tongue spread between my molars preventing the teeth from growing out from the gums.
- I had to have tongue therapy. Yes, tongue therapy. I had to learn how to swallow. It involved weekly sessions at the orthodontist and silly in-home exercises.
- I had 3 or 4 teeth pulled because they were fused to my jaw bone. Really enjoyed the laughing gas.
- Around the age of 12 came the braces. Tons of tight rubberbands were required, making it difficult to talk. I was shy anyway and this did not help draw me out during the early years of high school. I compensated by shooting the tiny yet high impact rubberbands at teachers, silently recruiting other students. Especially boys I liked. One substitute teacher called me the leader of the pack after a rubber band attack.
- Every night I donned an unusual head brace—one pad set against my forehead, the other on my chin. Rubberbands attached to my back molars pulled them forward to the brace. This was meant to close up the gaps left by missing teeth.
- After braces, I still needed a partial denture to fill in remaining gaps on my bottom jaw. I had to keep it in water at night. My college roommate announced this to people at parties—even a guy I liked—and I eventually lost this expensive contraption.
- Years later, I continued to have dental issues, none of which were related to lack of brushing. More than one root canal. (I was going for the cheapest in-network dentist, not realizing the price I would pay later). One tooth that had been crowned eventually had to be extracted. I think it was financing my dentist’s next family vacation because he knew an implant would be required if I was going to chew. He did the extraction himself and it was so stubborn he had to drill it to smithereens. Lots of laughing gas was required for that one. Lots of blood.
- The implant eventually failed, leaving me with zero molars on my left bottom jaw.
- Throughout all of these ordeals, my occlusion was low. Meaning, I had to bite super far in order for my teeth to actually meet. Chewing was already a challenge. With more lost teeth, even more so.
- Gastronomical issues seemed to increase. Although more than one specialist told me chewing does not impact digestion. Really?
- I visited many dentists who either told me nothing could be done to fix my bite; One custom made an appliances claiming it would possibly make my upper teeth drop out of my gums and improve my bite. Surprise: it didn’t work.
- I finally found Dr. Johnson, a well-renowned oral surgeon, by pure accident. He worked with an orthodontist and together they came up with a plan. Move my teeth with braces, move my lower jaw forward via surgery, add as many dental implants as possible and make all of my teeth larger so the bite would all come together.
- In order for implants to be successful, they had to be deep. Therefore, while Dr. Johnson was in there to reposition my jawbone, he had to move a nerve out of the way. And toss in some cadaver bone.
- None of this was covered by insurance as it was considered cosmetic.
- I opted out of the nerve surgery because it would cost more than $20,000. Although, the morning of surgery, Dr. Johnson said he was going to do it anyway. I was fortunate that he was chief surgeon attached to a major university. My case was considered ‘complex’ and proved an exceptional teaching opportunity. Didn’t get billed for that part of the surgery.
- I still had to pay for the rest, none of which was covered by insurance and we’re still paying it off.
- I take extra special care of these teeth and hope they last another 40-plus years.