Aug. 12, 2022

Reconstructing Confidence Part II

I had to have braces on for about a year and a half before I could have surgery. In the fall of 2011, my braces were put on, and surgery was scheduled for summer of 2013. In between, I had waves of insecurity, doubt, panic, more panic, but really, there was no turning back.

To spare the boring details, let’s fast forward to the day before surgery. I left work for the last time for eight weeks feeling anxious but kind of excited too. I got home at 5:20pm and saw the voicemail light blinking on the home phone. I set my stuff down, greeted the cats, and then remembered the voicemail. It was the insurance company, who called at 4:55pm, trying to get ahold of the surgeon’s office, but they accidentally called ME, the patient, instead. To sum it up, the insurance company was calling to tell the surgeon that preapproval was required, and surgery would not be covered without it (I was scheduled to be at the hospital 5:30am the next morning). Everyone knows there is nobody in a doctor’s office answering a phone at 4:55pm. Thank goodness I received that call (huge mistake on the part of insurance – I really think they were trying to avoid paying for surgery).

Do not ask me how, I still do not remember, I literally tracked down my surgeon’s personal cell phone and got ahold of him that evening. He moved cases around at 8pm, so I was still scheduled for the next day but in the afternoon. He wanted time to fight it out with insurance. He told me not to worry and promised he would get it straightened out in the morning.

This is after a year and a half of me calling insurance every single week to verify preapproval was not required.

I got off the phone and had a complete meltdown. I had waited years and years, and just when I thought it was all coming together, it all came crashing down. Not to mention now that I had braces, my teeth were really messed up because they were aligning my teeth to my ‘new’ jaw, so my teeth got much worse during treatment.

After my conversation with the surgeon, Ken insisted we go sit out on the porch in the hopes of calming me down. I agreed, miserably. He is in the middle of his cheerleader pep talk (he is good at those), when out of nowhere we see a huge tropical bird fly by about a foot from our heads. Apparently, the neighbor across the street left their door open and their pet macaw flew away. Are you fucking kidding me? Great idea going outside, Ken…

Sadly, that bird met its demise that night. That really fucked with my head. I did not sleep at all that night. For so many reasons.

I ‘get up’ the next day and I do not even know what to do with myself. I cannot eat because I am supposed to be having surgery – or am I? I was not supposed to work because I was on disability, or am I? The surgeon finally called me later in the morning and told me to make my way to the hospital. I cannot even tell you how stressful all this was – the back and forth.

We get to the hospital, I check in, and I hear the most recognizable voice, “Hey, Kids”. Yep, for those who know him, you guessed right. Kris Piper was making his way over. Just so happens he was working (residency) and decided to come say hi to his main man. Serendipity. His version of a pep talk was, “Well, you probably won’t die”. I know you just read that in his voice!

They take me back, I get my IV, and that is when I began begging Ken to rip the IV out and take me home. I was so desperate I was going to call Kris and tell him to come take it out. As I was reaching for my phone, they came to get me and before I knew it, I was being wheeled away.

In pre-op, they gave me ‘purple juice’. Sheesh. I remember the nurse who administered it say, “When I get handsome, it is time to go”. He walked by about five minutes later and I called him good lookin’. He unlocked my bed wheels, told Ken to say goodbye, and off we went to the OR.  

I remember the OR being cold, freezing. I remember transferring beds, and I remember laying my head on a gel donut.

What were the last words I remember? “I wonder how much head this pillow gets a day”.

During surgery, they broke and realigned both my upper and lower jaw (which meant cutting my jaw bones in half and moving everything around), fixed my deviated septum, and took four wisdom teeth (because that is where they drilled the holes to hold my jaw). My mouth was completely banded shut with splints, wires, and bands for just under nine weeks. Strict liquid diet.

Also during surgery, Ken decided it would be a good idea to YouTube videos of the surgery I was presently having. NOTHING bothers Ken, he is still scarred from watching those videos. Knowing I was in the other room having that done to me destroyed him. He made me promise to never look the surgery up, I haven’t.  

The next thing I remember is wondering why it was so loud. I was still in and out, but when I was in, I thought I was in a war triage. Yelling, beeping, moaning, more yelling. I could not open my eyes, but I remember someone saying, “She is still in recovery, she is having a hard time waking up”. I started to panic, maybe it was her tactic for waking me up. It worked. I was able to reunite with Ken once I had a room, about three hours after surgery. The surgery took about six hours, longer than anticipated, and I really did have a hard time snapping out of it.

I could see the relief and sadness on Ken’s face, I was still in and out. I remember hearing him calling my mom, telling her he finally got to see me, that I was okay but I was having a hard time waking up. I also remember him saying I had a black eye. He sat there for hours, in silence, and every time I was able to open my eyes, he was looking at me. He did not say a word. He did not have to.

It was about 1am when I finally convinced him to go home to get rest. I still had not seen myself. I had no clue what to expect. Was I going to look completely different? Unrecognizable? What if I hated the way I looked? What about that black eye? The surgeon did his rounds the next morning and I still had not looked at myself. He asked if I wanted help, and I said no. It was not until right before Ken came back that I mustered up the courage to look in the mirror. Not awful; swollen, my face looked different, and he wasn’t lying. I definitely had a shiner (for over a month). I also noticed stitches on either side of my face under each ear on my jaw. That is where they had to drill through my jaw but the ‘bit’ they use was too long, so they went through my face.

When Ken got me home, I really looked in the mirror. I noticed an indent on my nose right in between my eyes and I pointed it out to Ken. He knew right away what it was; where they folded my face over the top of my head to get to my jaw…I did not realize it at the time, and I could not see because I could not open my mouth, but I was cut ear to ear along the skin over my top gum line so they could peel my face away.

My body started rejecting the hardware in my top jaw, so about a year later I had to have surgery again to have them removed, which was way worse than the first surgery. It was supposed to be an outpatient procedure, but the surgeon decided last minute to put me under, thank goodness.

I learned a lot about myself on this adventure. I was able to see why I became something I did not want to be all those years ago. I also learned that although I gained some confidence, and stopped hiding a laugh behind my hand, really, it’s all about what is on the inside. I’m glad I went through with the procedure, I feel better, I breath better, I eat and talk better, but really, it is about continuing to be comfortably me in an uncomfortable world.


Purple juice:

The moments after Ken saw me the first time post-surgery:

The morning after surgery (a few minutes after I saw myself for the first time):

My first 'meal' at home: