Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Week two, in pictures

Here's my second week, post-surgery, in photographic form.

On Day 9, I went for lymph drainage massage.
This is a very gentle massage that helps reduce swelling.
I saw an immediate difference.
It was like the puffiness was melting away.
I wish I'd have started these treatments the day after surgery.

I was not a happy camper on Day 10. Can you tell?
I couldn't figure out what was wrong with me.
I just crashed. My whole body hurt and I felt really depressed.
I thought the surgery was just catching up to me.
That, or I was losing it.
I later found out that they give you steroids during the surgery and these get you all wired for about a week, and then you crash and go through withdrawal.
Glad to know I'm not going crazy after all.

By Day 12, the swelling and bruising was almost gone.
I'm starting to look like my usual cute self!

Two weeks after the surgery and there's no more bruising.
A bit of swelling remains, but I'm the only one who can see it.

Monday, February 25, 2008

A week in pictures

The first week, post-surgery, in oh-so-flattering full-colour.

This picture was taken right after the surgery.
A friend of mine commented, "You look so tired in this picture."
I responded, "I wasn't tired. I was stoned."

And the swelling begins.
I loved those ice packs like my own mother.

Determined to keep a positive attitude.
After all the high-fiving, I switched to a thumbs up.

The swelling gets worse, but surprisingly, I'm not dead.

The swelling peaked on Day 3.
This was my last full day in the hospital.

Finally at home.
Can you tell I was not a fan of Day 4?

And now, we have the oh-so-alluring yellow/green bruises.

On Day 6, the bruising was worse.
The liquid diet started to get to me.
I contemplated hunting down Mrs. Vickie and holding her ransom for a handful of her salt and vinegar delicacies.

The swelling's almost gone after a week. Yay!

A lovely shot of the stitches they put in my cheeks
(that's where they put the screws in.)

A close-up of my sexy bruises.

My wired and elasticized jaw.
A friend told me this wasn't what she expected.
"It looks like pimped out braces," she said.
Oh yeah. Rappers got nothin' on me.

My left hand bruising, where the intern screwed up my IV line.

I got the external cheek stitches taken out on Day 8.
I felt much less freakish afterward.

Look ma! No stitches!
It was insane how quickly these cuts healed.
By Day 13, you could barely tell I had ever had stitches there.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Pre-braces pictures

For reference, these were the pictures my orthodontist took before I got the braces put on, a little more than two years ago.

As you can see, I had an overbite, a bit of a crossbite, and a slightly crooked smile.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Under the bone saw, part three

The next thing I remember is waking up in the recovery room. The room waves and spins around me. A really nice nurse asks how I'm doing. I mumble, "High five" and hold my hand up for her. She high fives me back. I feel a bit of pain, but not much. What's worse is that my entire body itches really, really badly. I start scratching my face and arms.

"Oh, are you itchy?" she asks. "The pain medication does that. I'll give you some Benadryl." She adds something to my IV line and the itching slowly goes away. After awhile, she tells me that it's time to take me to my hospital room. My bed starts moving and I realize I'm being pushed down the hallway.

I pretend to drive the bed like a race car. Every time we turn a corner, I turn my imaginary steering wheel and make a muffled "Vroom" noise. As we wheel down the hallway, I also wave to everyone we go by: nurses, doctors, other patients, visitors. They all smile and wave back. Some of them laugh. I keep "driving" my bed.

"You're the happiest surgical patient I have ever seen," one of the nurses says.

When we get to my room, BF is waiting there for me. I, of course, high-five him. He tells me that he talked to my surgeon afterward and he said that the surgery went really well and there were no complications. I later found out that my surgeon had told me the exact same thing in the recovery room, and I had high-fived him. I have absolutely no recollection of this.

One of the nurses brings me some ice packs to wrap around my head. Then, they introduce me to the morphine dispenser. Anytime I felt too much pain, I could push this button and it would dispense morphine. I quickly fall in love with him and name him George.

I write on my white board that I want BF to call my mom and brother to tell them I'm okay. Then, I get him to call one of my friends who lives in The Big City. I hear him say "Hi" to her and pause, then say, "She LIVES!!" in a crazy overdramatic voice.

This was fun. I get him to call everyone I can possibly think of - my boss, my coworker, a bunch of my friends, even the ones living in other parts of the country. I'm sure if I had my grandparents' phone number in Italy handy, I would have had him call them, too. I really don't want to see that phone bill.

After BF leaves, I update my online peeps on how I'm doing. I had smuggled my handheld into the hospital and was on Twitter and Facebook almost immediately. I have no recollection of some of the things I wrote on people's Facebook walls, but I do know they were riddled with spelling errors. What I do have a record of is my status updates while I was in the hospital. They include:


Feb. 12:

  • is not dead.
  • really likes the happy morphine dispensing button. Mmmm...incapacitating.
  • wonders if it's weird to be having this much fun in the hospital. And that's not just the drugs talking.

Feb. 13:

  • is the queen of eating through a syringe.
  • is thinking some sleep would be nice, but some morphine would be even better.
  • thinks this would be the perfect time to make some crank calls. No one would recognize her voice with her jaw wired shut!
  • looks like a puffer fish, only more swollen and bruised.
  • is the cutest chick on the ward.
  • is going to miss the morphine. She named him George. RIP George.

Feb. 14:

  • is celebrating passing gas by high-fiving nurses. Apparently, this is a big deal in post-surgery land, which isn't nearly as magical without George. RIP George. He is missed.
  • is asking everyone with a non-wired-shut jaw to masticate some chocolate on her behalf and also do some romantic things that involve using your mouth.
  • is finally off morphine and wondering what the heck she's been writing on everyone's Facebook walls?
Feb. 15:
  • looks like a car crash victim and is glad she has a good sense of humour.

I know this will sound weird, but my hospital stay was actually a lot of fun. The nurses were amazing and also had good senses of humour. I'm sure they appreciated someone who wasn't whiny and in a bad mood. Every nurse I had shook her head at me and said she'd never seen a surgical patient this happy before.

Hey, I finally got the surgery I was waiting the past two years for, my surgery went without a hitch, I'm in a hospital with super nice nurses, George the morphine dispenser is my new boyfriend (sorry BF), hospital staff bring me juice, "food" and ice packs (and also heat up my teddy bear for me when I ask really nice), I get to hang out in bed in my pajamas all day, and I have awesome friends who visit and bring me Booster Juice and presents. What isn't there to be happy about?

I got out of the hospital on Valentine's Day and have been home ever since. It's not nearly as bad as I thought it would be. Eating is a bit frustrating, but workable. The pain is there, but manageable. And the swelling and bruises aren't pleasant, but they're fading each day.

I just feel grateful to have had this experience and still be here to blog about it. Thanks, everyone, for your good wishes. It's really meant a lot.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Under the bone saw, part two

The anesthesiologist and the intern went away, leaving BF and I to wait some more. I looked up at the clock and tried not to get nervous. He held my hand. Then, the intern came back and apologetically asked me one of the questions I had already been asked. Hey, at least they're thorough. I answered him and he left again.

A few minutes later, a nurse clad in operating room scrubs and one of those surgical shower caps came into the room to get me.

Nurse: Hi, Bella. It's time for you to go to the operating room. I'll be with you the whole time.
Bella: In that case [holding her hand up]...pre-surgery high-five!
Nurse: Uh...okay [high-fives Bella back and laughs.]

I turned to BF and gave him a big hug and kiss. I told him I'd see him soon and that I hoped he had fun doing whatever he was going to do for the next two-and-a-half hours. He walked one way, and I followed the nurse in the other direction. Neither of us turned our backs - we watched each other walk away. Just as we were about to leave through our separate doors, BF stopped and said, "Merde!"

I gave him a quizzical look, then burst into huge smile. I sometimes forget that he used to work professionally in the theatre.

"Merde!" I called back at him.

Well, that's one thing I didn't expect to be yelling across a surgical waiting room right before I went under the bone saw. But whatever works, right?

The nurse took me down the hallway and pointed to a bed outside the operating room. "That's your bed," she said."Oh, okay," I responded and sat down on it, preparing to lie down.

"Oh, she meant that it will be your bed after the surgery," said another nurse.

"Oh," I said and got up. "In that case, I do find this bed to my liking and I approve it for my post-surgery use." [Bella makes some ridiculous hand motions as though she is blessing the bed and the nurses laugh.]

The reason I was a bit confused was because anytime you see someone go into surgery on television, they get wheeled in on a stretcher. I guess it's more dramatic than walking into the operating room and hopping up on the table yourself, which is what I did. I thought they'd at least sedate me first, but there was none of that. I walked into that room stone-cold sober.

The room itself surprised me, too. It was so...bright. I mean, it makes sense that the room would be bright - you want the surgeons to be able to see what they're doing - but I expected it to be a more sterile, florescent light kind of bright. You know, like on Grey's Anatomy.

Instead, it was a small room filled with natural light from a wall of windows facing a park. The ground and trees outside were covered in a fresh blanket of snow and the sun's reflection off it flooded the room with even more light. There were also large medical lights, but the room was so bright on its own, it didn't even seem like they were plugged in.

The nurse told me to take off my robe. When I handed it to her, she complimented me on my back tattoo. I told her the story behind the tattoo to distract myself from the fact that my butt was hanging out of the hospital gown. I was glad she didn't comment on that!

I climbed up onto the table and lay down. There was a flurry of activity around me, a team of people bustling around getting everything ready. I'm not even sure how many there were; I just tried to block it out so I didn't start freaking. The table itself wasn't what I had expected, either. It was shaped like a cross, with two "arms" extending on either side. I stretched my arms out onto them and waited for something to happen.

The anesthesiologist intern crouched by my left hand and started tapping my vein to insert the intravenous needle. I tried to chat with him, asking whether he could give me a manicure while he was down there, but he seemed very intent on his task. He used a smaller needle to freeze the area, then put in a very large needle. I looked away and squinted at the pain. Something had gone wrong and he called the anesthesiologist over to see. The needle had gone into the vein wrong and it wouldn't work, or something. I'm not entirely sure what happened. All I knew was that it hurt.

The anesthesiologist moved to my right hand and started tapping the vein there. "See," she said to him. "She's got great veins. You just have to coax them out."

"It's true. I'm so fabulous that even my veins are fabulous!" I said in a dramatic voice.

They laughed and the intern put an oxygen mask over my face.

"He's going to give you some oxygen before we give you the anesthetic through the IV," she said.

I breathed into the mask. It was fine, until they let the anesthetic loose in my veins. I felt as though I were drowning, choking on water. I felt like I was fainting and coming to at the same time, before I was hit by a wave of nausea. I started coughing and gasping for air and looked up pleadingly at the anesthesiologist to save me, because if this isn't what it feels like to die, I don't know what does.

"Don't worry, Bella, we..."

And that's all I remember.

Under the bone saw, part one

We went to the Big City Hospital at 10:30 a.m. the day of the surgery.

I went to admissions and jumped through all the hoops, answering the same questions again and again from several different people:

"Are you allergic to anything?" No.
"Are you on any drugs?" Yes. Please give me some more. I can't deal with this.

After awhile, we were ushered into a semi-private hospital room. I was given a bag of hospital clothes and told to take everything off and change into them. Coming out of the bathroom, I modelled the hideous green backless gown and ugly blue robe for my boyfriend.

Then we sat there and waited. And waited. And waited. The sign on the wall said, "Your pre-surgery assessment visit can take up to four hours." The words "OR LONGER" were written in bold capitals below it in black marker. "Do you think that was written by a staff person or a patient?" the BF asked.

I spent the time trying to distract myself from thinking about how hungry and thirsty I was, as I had been told not to have anything to eat or drink since midnight the previous night. I unpacked some of the things I had brought to the hospital - a cute framed picture of us, a Warm Buddy stuffed dog, magazines - trying to make it seem more homey and, again, trying to distract myself from the inevitable. BF asked one of the nurses if I'd be in the same room after the surgery. The answer was "no." So, I repacked everything again. At least it was something to do.

At some point, a nurse came in, put down a binder and left. She didn't come back for well over an hour. When she returned, she took my vital signs and asked me the same questions everyone else had asked me. We finally learned that my surgery was scheduled for 1:30 p.m., something we probably should have asked someone about earlier.

Finally, another person came and ushered the four of us who were waiting for surgery to a pre-surgery room. This was a large, open room with chairs around the edges, and was located next to the operating rooms. Someone came and put a warmed blanket over my legs. That was nice.

We waited some more and I passed the time by playfully torturing BF with an Oprah magazine. He haaaates Oprah with the passion of a thousand burning suns, and refused to cuddle with me as long as I was holding the magazine in my lap. So, of course, I had to start reading the articles out loud to him.

Then, my surgeon came and talked to me to make sure I understood all the surgery risks and to answer any last-minute questions I had. I asked when I could start post-surgery acupuncture and lymph drainage massage. There wasn't much else to ask, as I had done all my research years ago and knew exactly what I was getting into.

Then, the anesthesiologist and her intern came to talk to me. They asked me the exact same questions everyone else had asked, then wanted to know if I had any questions for them. I asked about the tube they were going to be putting down my throat during the surgery and if there were any possibility of my vocal chords being damaged, as I am a singer. They checked my throat out and said it would be fine. Then, they asked if I had any further questions.

"Just one," I responded with absolute seriousness.


"Pre-surgery high-five?" I asked, and held up my hand to them, hoping they wouldn't leave me hanging. They stopped and looked at me strangely for a moment, then burst out laughing and both high-fived me. I'm guessing they don't get that very often.

"Break a jaw!" I called after them as they walked away from me and toward the operating room.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Things to pack for the hospital

This is what I'm packing for the hospital. My surgery's in a city two hours away, so I don't want to forget anything.
  • Zip-n-squeeze bags (that arrived in the mail today, just in time!)
  • Lip balm (they stretch your lips open during the surgery, so they can get chapped/cracked)
  • X-rays, informed consent form, doctor's certificate from physical
  • White board and dry erase markers (so I can communicate when my jaw's wired shut)
  • Prescription medications
  • Homeopathic remedies
  • Alcohol-free mouthwash
  • Baby toothbrush
  • Hand lotion
  • Wet wipes
  • Magazines and books
  • iPod
  • Camera (for taking daily progress pictures)
  • Journal and pen
  • Buddha finger puppet (for good luck)
  • Warm buddy puppy (for cuddles!)

I hope that's it. I guess I'll find out when I get there.

Praise be for the anesthetic

I really should NOT have gone to this site right before my surgery. (Click at your own risk: the site contains graphic pictures of the surgery I'm getting.)

I know "knowledge is power" and all, but I'm fine with "ignorance is bliss." I couldn't even read the descriptions that went with the pictures.

Ugh. I feel queasy.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

This is my brain on radiation

I drove two hours to The Big City on Tuesday for my pre-surgery appointment. The surgeon's office had told me that it would be some pictures and X-Rays. They hadn't mentioned how involved and uncomfortable it would be.

Paddles pulling my cheeks away from my face to show all of my teeth in pictures, X-ray torture devices that involved wooden pegs being clamped into your ears and your head being stuck into a vice, biting on weird things and struggling to stay still while devices whirl around your head. In case you're looking for examples.

I really shouldn't complain, because I'm sure the discomfort of the pre-op pictures and X-rays has nothing on what I'm going to go through with this surgery and recovery.

Good times. Oh well, at least I got to go to Lush. And have lunch with a good friend of mine. Also on the plus side, I got to see what the inside of my head looks like:

See? It's not empty after all.

They also made me bite down on this plastic thing while an X-Ray machine circled my head. That gave us this nifty shot:

They told me I have a small mouth....
The first time I've ever heard that one!

And, in my final discovery of the day, I learned that Microsoft Word is a great backdrop for viewing and photographing X-Rays. (If you look closely at the one of my skull, you can see the blue MS Taskbar at the bottom.)

Recipe mania

The roller coaster continues. I'm excited, I'm freaked out, I'm happy, I'm sad, I'm brave, I'm terrified. I don't know what I am anymore. I just know I need to make soup. And blog about making soup.

Seriously, this soup making thing is keeping me sane. Or as sane as I'm going to get. I'm a control freak, and this surgery is completely out of my control. It's an uncomfortable and scary and thoroughly unpleasant feeling for someone like me. So, although I cannot control that particular situation, I'm controlling everything I can around it. Researching, making appointments, and obsessing about soup.

I put out a call to a group of my friends for some recipes, and they responded with some great ones. I made all of the following soups (with help from my boyfriend on a couple - what a doll) in the two weeks before my surgery. I have used up all my Tupperware containers, and my freezer is full. But this soup making thing is addictive...I want to make more!!

The funny thing is, before this, my idea of cooking was opening up a bag of pasta and a jar of sauce. Now, I'm the Soup Mistress. Don't mess with me - I carry a ladle.

So, here's some recipes for your obsessive compulsive enjoyment! (I am a vegetarian, so I made the soups with veggie broth. Please feel free to make carnivorous substitutions :)

Black Bean Soup from Pierre

2 cups veggie broth
1 cup salsa
2 cans black beans, rinsed (or any other kind of beans)
1/2 red pepper (roasted, if desired)
dash of cumin

Pour ingredients in blender and make it smooth. Heat it up and enjoy. Garnish with sour cream if desired.

Fresh Pea Soup with Mint from Holly

4 cups frozen or fresh peas
1 medium onion, chopped
2 1/4 cups veggie stock
1/2 cup cream, coconut milk or milk substitute
pinch of sugar
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint or dill
1 tsp salt to taste
Black pepper to taste

In saucepan, bring peas, onion, stock to a boil. Add salt and pepper. Simmer for 6-8 minutes. Puree in blender. Stir in cream/milk and sugar. Season with additional salt and pepper if needed. Thin with more stock or cream if mixture is too thick. Serve with a garnish of mint and cream/milk.

Ginger Carrot Soup from Dianne

4 pounds carrots, chopped
1 potato, cubed
4 cups veggie stock
1 large onion, chopped
Lots of fresh ginger, chopped
1/3 cup almonds or cashews
olive oil
dry sherry
sour cream

Put carrots, potato and veggie stock in large pot. Cook until done. In a skillet, sauté onion, ginger and almonds in olive oil. When carrots are done, add onion/ginger mix. Puree mixture. Garnish with a couple of tablespoons of dry sherry and sour cream if desired.

Roasted Eggplant and Lentil Soup from Erika, who got it from Epicurious

1 eggplant, quartered lengthwise
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup French green lentils
14 large sage leaves
2 cups veggie broth
1 cup 1% milk
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 400. Place eggplant quarters on a rimmed baking sheet, skin side down. Drizzle with one Tbsp olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake until eggplant is tender (30 mins).

In a medium saucepan, cover the lentils with 2 inches of water. Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 2 sage leaves and bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat until lentils are tender (20 mins). Drain lentils in colander and discard sage leaves.

Scrape eggplant flesh into a blender, discard skin. Add 1 cup of stock and puree until smooth; transfer to a clean saucepan. Add lentils and remaining cup of stock to blender and puree until smooth. Add lentil puree to eggplant puree in the saucepan.

Stir in milk and lemon juice and bring soup to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper; keep the soup hot over low heat, stirring occasionally.

In a small skillet, heat the remaining Tbsp of olive oil. Add remaining 12 sage leaves and cook over moderate heat until crisp, about 30 seconds per side. Ladle soup into bowls. Garnish with fried sage leaves.

Red Lentil Soup from Epicurious

1 large onion, chopped
1 Tbsp olive oil
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 cup red lentils, rinsed
3 1/2 cups veggie broth
3 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 Tbsp chopped parsley

Cook onion in oil with 1/2 teaspoon salt in a medium heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened (8 minutes).

Add garlic, cumin, bay leaf, and thyme and cook, stirring, 1 minute more. Add lentils, broth, water, salt and pepper, and simmer, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until lentils are soft and falling apart (30-45 minutes).

Discard bay leaf and thyme sprig. Puree 2 cups of mixture and return to pan. Stir in parsley and season with salt.

Spinach and Mint Soup from Epicurious

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 russet potato, peeled, thinly sliced
2 large garlic cloves, peeled
4 1/2 cups veggie broth
3 green onions, chopped
2 (10 oz) pkgs frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained well
1 cup chopped fresh mint, divided
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
salt and pepper
2 tsps Hungarian sweet paprika

Heat 1/4 cup oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion; sauté until tender (8 mins). Add potato and garlic; sauté 5 mins. Add broth and green onions; bring to a boil. Cover and simmer until potato is tender, about 15 mins. Add spinach, 3/4 cup mint and cilantro. Simmer for 1 minute.

Puree soup in blander in batches; return to same pot. Thin with more broth by 1/4 cupfuls, if desired. Season with salt and pepper.

Heat remaining 1/4 cup oil in small skillet over low heat. Mix in paprika; cook 1 minute. Ladle soup into bowls. Drizzle with paprika oil; garnish with 1/4 cup mint.


Pre-op prep and freak out

It's amazing how time flies when you're about to have your jaw broken and wired shut. This this past month has been a roller coaster of emotions.

The first seven days, I was so excited I was practically vibrating with energy. It was finally happening, finally, after all that waiting! I skipped around the office with a maniacal grin. My co-worker said that I should be the poster gal for jaw surgery. She's right. Maybe if that happens, I'll be able to make up for the shortfall in cash when I'm on disability recovering from the surgery. Poster gal has got to be a paying gig, right? Especially if I show a little cleavage.

I was a flurry of Internet shopping. First were the Zip-n-Squeeze bags that are popular on the jaw surgery forums in which I have been lurking. They are washable pouches with tubing at the top. You put liquid or puree into the pouch and squeeze it through the tube to eat when your jaw's wired. A friend of mine refers to these as my "feed bags."

Next was the Magic Bullet. It's that blender made famous by the late-night infomercials that will pulverize just about anything in ten seconds. I have to admit that the infomercials completely sucked me in and have tempted me for years. But I couldn't justify spending that much on a blender. Until now. Come to mama.

Then, I browsed the book store for a cookbook full of soup recipes. The plan was to make a few in advance and freeze them in portion-sized containers so I won't have to worry about cooking when I'm convalescing at home after the surgery.

The physical things purchased, I moved on to shopping for health care practitioners. I went to my naturopath and had her order a schwack of homeopathic remedies for things such as healing, bruising, swelling, scar tissue, nerve damage, and anything else I could think of. I also made some appointments with her for acupuncture following the surgery.

I found myself an MLD massage therapist who can help with the lymphatic drainage before and after the surgery, which reduces bruising and swelling. I made several pre-op physiotherapy appointments. And last, but not least, I called in a favour to my friend, the Reiki master. Two weeks ago, she taught me the first level of Reiki, so that I can work on healing myself after the surgery.

But then, at about the one week mark, once all the shopping was done, I started getting apprehensive. Not so much about the surgery itself, but about the long recovery. About having my jaw wired shut and my face swollen and bruised and not being able to eat or talk. Feeling claustrophobic. Finding a variety of foods to eat that can be sucked through a straw. Freaking out about missing work and going on disability. Worrying about being in a hospital in a city two hours away from my family and most of my friends. Wondering who will drive me home once I am discharged from the hospital.

Just thinking about it made my jaw muscles tense up and gave me the painful migraines that the surgery itself is supposed to relieve.

How I feel varies from day to day, and I'm sure will continue to bounce around from emotion to emotion for the next three [yikes!!] days.

So, yes, here I am. In the middle of all of that, making soup like a madwoman.

Bring on the bone saw

About a month and a half ago, a friend of mine asked me when my jaw surgery was going to happen. The answer was, "I have no idea."

My jaw has been finicky as of late. In October, I missed a ton of work because of the nasty migraines and muscle spasms I was getting. Stress fires up my jaw issues, so I took some measures to reduce stress, which the pain more livable, but still ever lingering. I was starting to feel frustrated. I had been waiting for this surgery for almost two years and it was getting to the point where I just wanted to get it over with.

My friend's question prompted me to do some investigating - how much longer would I have to wait, really? Here in Saskatchewan, you get placed on a surgical wait list and classified according to whether your case is an emergency, urgent, or elective. Mine is considered elective. While I do live in a world of pain, I am in no risk of dying, and I don't expect to be prioritized over someone with, say, a broken back or an invasive cancer.

I had expected to wait awhile. But they don't tell you your surgery date until about one month in advance, so you have no idea how long you really have to wait. The last time my orthodontist called my surgeon, his office told him that the surgery would be "late fall, early winter."

So, this fall, I stopped auditioning for plays and musicals, I avoided making plans too far in advance and I focused on getting myself healthy in preparation for the surgery. Fall passed. Early winter passed.

I called the surgical wait list hot line to find out what was going on. They told me the wait for my surgeon was an average of 21 months and I had been put on the wait list in July 2006. That meant I was actually looking at April 2008 for the surgery.

I know it gets pretty cold here and all, but even in Saskatchewan, that's no longer "early winter."

I thought my surgeon's office would have a better idea, so I phoned them to get their take on it. I got a call back saying that his wait time was actually more like 24 months, so the surgery would likely be in June.

Great. I imagined a beautiful summer with all my friends in bikinis at the beach and me trapped inside wearing twelve rolls of gauze wrapped around my face. (Not that any of my friends go to the beach or wear bikinis, because this is flippin' Saskatchewan, but it's the principle of it.)

Then, a month ago, I got another message from the surgeon's office. They have a date for my surgery after all: February 12. Of this year.


I didn't know how to feel. Excited. Freaked out. Elated. Scared.

And then there was the practical stuff. I'd have to take time off work, book a bunch of physio and acupuncture appointments, mentally prepare myself for the fact that they're going to take a freaking bone saw to my face and not only change my bite, but my whole appearance. My face is going to look different. After the surgery, my jaw will be wired shut and I'll be on a liquid diet for weeks. I won't be able to talk or chew properly. It's going to be a long and difficult recovery.

But in the end, it's all going to be worth it. Wish me luck, Internets.

Or as we say in the biz, break a jaw.

Colour my mouth tickled turquoise

When I first got these braces, I tried to make them as inconspicuous as possible, opting for the white porcelain ones on top and the clear wire ties. The best thing about this strategy is that from far away and in most pictures, you couldn't even tell I had them. I wanted to be a grown up, to look classy, to have people not notice that I'm thirtysomething and have a bunch of metal strapped into my mouth.

After a year, I gave up on that. These days, I'm going for trashy. All the colours of the rainbow, just like those krazysuperradcoolkids down at the playground. Word. Let's go lay down some beats, yo. Or some such thing.

My boyfriend's niece started it - she couldn't believe that I wouldn't want to get the pink ones, because they are sooooo cool. His mom chimed in, "Come on...you only live once." That got me thinking; then, I had a conversation with a co-worker the next day:

Her: You should totally go for it. If I had braces, I would do all the colours. It looks cute.
Me: Yeah, but I'm really trying to do the clear thing, you know, so no one really notices them.
Her: Uh...Bella? News flash: you have braces. Everyone notices them.

Good point. So, if they're there anyway, might as well have some fun. Plus, the colours mean I can drink red wine and eat curry again, two of my favourite things (that also stain the clear wire ties and that the very intense video warned against consuming because, as the narrator said, it would be "disastrous").

I started with the baby pink, as the niece had suggested, then progressed to lavender, and then, dove right in and went for the vibrant teal.

It was a bit more vibrant than I had expected (the picture doesn't really do it justice - I think the flash lightened the colour - but trust me...it's quite vibrant.)

These days, my braces are fuschia on top and red on the bottom. Yeah, maybe making decisions on braces colour when on a high dose of pain meds (to counteract the braces tightening trauma) is not the best course of action.

Fortunately, I can pull them off. (With confidence, that is, or failing that, a pair of pliers).

Braces buddies 4ever

Ever since I got two years ago, I've noticed the multitude of people walking around with those metal things strapped to their teeth. They're everywhere! It's kind of like when you buy a new car, let's say it's a silver Toyota, and then you notice that it seems like everyone drives a silver Toyota nowadays.

When I see people with braces, I feel a special bond with them - like we are sharing this experience together. I am compelled to go up to them and start a conversation. But this is me, so I can't start a conversation like a normal person. It goes a little something like this...

A restaurant. Bella is out for supper with some friends.

Manager: Stops at table. I understand that you requested to speak to a manager.
Bella: No, but... [Noticing his braces] Hey! Braces buddy! High five! [forces manager to high five her]

We then got into an in-depth conversation about braces and jaw surgery, while the people at the table next to us, who had actually asked to speak to a manager, glared at us impatiently.

This amused my friend to no end, because she has seen me use "Braces buddy! High five!" as an opening line on more than one occasion. The last time was at her brother's wedding, when I spent the night chatting up her 15-year-old cousin. The line worked so well that I actually have a picture of him sitting on my lap. We make a cute couple. (What can I say? I like them young. Less baggage.) Part of our conversation that night went like this:

Bella: [Thinking that because he's 15, he's all innocent and hasn't kissed a girl yet] A lot of people think braces makes kissing difficult, but it doesn't at all, you know.
Braces Buddy: Oh, I know. I've kissed other people with braces, too.
Bella: Really. Have you kissed other people when you've both had braces?
Braces Buddy: Yup.
Bella: What was that like?
Braces Buddy: The same, but with more texture.

Embracing my braces

I've had braces on my teeth for more than two years now, and it's not as bad as I thought it would be. Everyone had warned me how painful and inconvenient it would be, how I'd have to eat a lot of soup and give up all the things I loved to eat, like nuts and tortilla chips and popcorn. That didn't happen. I still eat what I want. Sure, for a few days after getting them tightened, I have to take it easy on the crunchy food, but I certainly don't need to give it up altogether.

The tightening isn't fun, but it isn't terrible, either. A friend of mine gave me a tip that really helped - take a painkiller about half an hour before you go to the orthodontist. Praise be for ibuprofen liquid gel caps.

I expected I would have terrible headaches after getting my braces tightened, but it wasn't like that at all for me. Instead, I'd get really dizzy and queasy. I'm guessing it's got something to do with my middle ear and the jaw being near that, but in any event, I became known as the patient who had to lie in the chair for 20 minutes before she could stumble out of the office. But, as with the pain, your body adapts. These days, I don't even get dizzy when I go. A little wonky, maybe, but that's par for the course for me ;)

I think I may even miss the braces when they're gone. For one, they make me look younger. How flattering is it when you get asked for your ID at the age of 32, and get hit on by 20-year-olds? Oh yeah, loving the braces.

Interestingly enough, the part for me that was most painful and traumatic was everything that came before the braces were even put on.

I had to have four teeth pulled out to make enough room in my mouth for the braces to move the teeth around. This was an incredibly traumatic experience because:

a) I've never had any real dental work done before (besides wisdom teeth being taken out, but they gave me the good drugs for that, so it doesn't count), and

b) my dentist, for some completely inexplicable reason, doesn't believe in gassing and drugging his patients out of their misery. I didn't discover this second fact until it was too late to reschedule the appointment and still keep the orthodontist appointments I had booked.

So, I sucked it up. And cried in front of my dentist and his assistant. In my defense, I warned them ahead of time that I was really stressed, and they still wouldn't give me drugs. So, I told myself, I will not be ashamed of crying. If I need to cry, I will, because that's my right.

I was actually doing pretty well until the first tooth made this huge popping noise as it came out of its socket. Ugh, that sound will haunt me to the end of my days. Well, once I heard that, I just lost it and started shaking and crying. It was a nice little public breakdown that could have been averted with drugs, but hey, I'm not bitter. Just emotionally scarred.

I went back for a second appointment two weeks later to get the two teeth on the other side of my mouth taken out. The problem this time was that the dentist had injured my lower jaw (which is perpetually injured and the reason I need the braces in the first place) when he took out the first two teeth. So, every time he tried to pull my tooth, I'd have to stop him because the pressure he put on my jaw caused such excruciating pain.

He started getting really flustered and upset and you could tell he felt helpless and didn't know what to do. He even asked me, "What can I do so that you won't be in pain?" I wanted to say, "Hey, I'm not the one with the doctorate in dentistry, buddy!" Eventually, he ended up wrapping his arm around my head to stabilize my jaw and yanking away.

I hope I never have to go through that again. Kids, this is the reason your mom told you to brush and floss!

Two weeks later, I went to my first orthodontic appointment to get elastics put in between my teeth. Yes, you read that right. In. Between. My. Teeth.. As you can imagine, it hurt and made it almost impossible to chew anything. And it was like that for two weeks straight. It made me look forward to getting the braces strapped on, because then, at least, the elastics would be gone.

Also at that appointment, I had to watch a video about all the things that you're not allowed to do with braces. Nothing like focusing on the positive before you even have the braces, right? The assistant led me to a room with a TV/VCR and a 10-year-old kid and his mom. Then, she gave me a bag with all the orthodontic cleaning supplies I'd need to start me on my "journey". Also in the bag was a snack-sized package of cheezies. I guessed this was an endorsement of the kind of snack food I should be eating with braces - soft and airy rather than hard and crunchy. When I saw the bag, I exclaimed, "Hey, cool, cheezies!"

The 10-year-old kid said, somewhat despondently, "I didn't get any cheezies." Apparently, the assistant had gotten his kit from a different room where the treats were in short supply.

I replied, "Hey, they're breaking open my jaw and wiring it shut. I think I've earned these cheezies!" Yes, a bigger person would have given the kid the chips, but screw that. They were mine! Besides, it's not like I broke them open and ate them in front of him. Though I was tempted.

We then watched the video, which basically told us our lives would be over. The video's key message was that with braces, you're not allowed to eat anything but moosh and cheezies. But the moosh can't have curry in it, because that would stain the clear braces. And come on, what's moosh without curry? You're also not supposed to drink coffee, but I was fine with that because that's the one vice I don't have.

The video was quite over dramatic, making statements like, "Of course, smoking would be disastrous", implying that if you disobeyed any of the rules, a great earthquake would open up the earth, swallowing up not only you and your family, but also your precious, precious braces. I was doing pretty well until the video said that I couldn't have red wine.

"Nooooooooooooo!" I exclaimed. The 10-year-old kid's mom turned and gave me a look that was either sympathetic or patronizing. I'm guessing the latter. She was probably still bitter that I wouldn't give her kid the cheezies.

For the next two weeks, I gorged myself on hard crunchy foods, red wine and curry, just in case.

Second and third opinions

I went to two different orthodontists for consultations. The first said my bite was causing my TMJ problems and referred me to a surgeon. The second said there was no scientific proof that poor bites cause TMJ problems and that if I was doing the surgery to fix them, I was doing it for the wrong reason.

Very confused, I decided to go to the consultation with the surgeon and ask him what he thought. When I told him the two opposite opinions of the orthodontists, the surgeon said, "It's a very controversial area." Apparently, there is a lot of debate on this topic in the orthodontic/surgery field. My surgeon's response was that there is evidence that people with overbites have more TMJ problems than other people. But, at the same time, there are people who have these bites who never have any problems.

He also stated that, statistically, 90 per cent of people who have the surgery see their TMJ problems get better or stay the same, while 10 per cent of people's problems get worse. Based on that information, in addition to the conflicting opinions of the two orthodontists, it was up to me to make the decision.

The next day, I called and booked the appointments to have four of my teeth removed to prepare for the braces and surgery. Something in my gut very strongly told me that my bite was causing my problems. That, and I had been reading the stories of others whose TMJ problems were helped by the surgery. Of course, there were some who had more problems as a result of the surgery, but, as the surgeon said, that does happen. Ten per cent is low, but it's still a possibility.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Is that my jaw you're trying to pull out of my mouth?

I met with the orthodontist again, three and a half years after my first appointment, and told him about the problems I had been having with my jaw. He took some impressions of my teeth, some pictures, and then referred me to a physiotherapist.

"Let's see if they can do something for you first," he said.

I didn't know there was such a thing as jaw physiotherapists before. The idea intrigued me. What exactly were they going to do? Did they just massage your jaw muscles? Give you exercises to do? Or maybe there were even little mini jaw weights to lift? I had no clue. But it was worth a shot.

I discovered that the procedure consists of someone pushing on the parts of your jaw that hurt, and you trying not to scream "physiotherapy is the devil!!" It also involves the therapist putting rubber-gloved hands inside your mouth and attempting to pull your jaw out of your head. The best part is that when the hands come out, they leave trails of your own saliva all over your face. This just makes all the pain seem worthwhile.

Apparently, the musical theatre experience created a huge amount of tension in my jaw and made my TMJ problems worse. As the physiotherapist held my face, she kept telling me to stop clenching my jaw.

"But it's not clenched," I said.

Her response: "Oh dear."

Fortunately, I discovered that the first session was the worst of it. My muscles were the tensest they've ever been before I went to physiotherapy. Over the past two years, it's been easier and easier to go, and the relief I get from these sessions is amazing.

But it became clear to me that the physiotherapy wouldn't be enough. There was something wrong with my jaw, and if it meant that singing would make my life hell, then I definitely had to do something to fix this problem. Because a life without singing would out right suck. Far worse than getting your jaw broken and wired shut.

Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start

It seems fitting to title this post with a line from a musical (name that musical!), seeing that it was a musical that helped me realize that I needed jaw surgery in the first place.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. This whole thing started way before I was ever in a musical. Rewind to the winter of 2003. I had a job with great benefits, so I decided to look into something that I had wanted to do for a long time: get braces.

When I was growing up, I always liked braces. I thought kids who had them were lucky and also looked super cute. I was incredibly jealous when my brother got his. True, his teeth were all gibbled and he needed them way more than I did, but I was a kid and didn't see it that way. He got all the brakes. (That, and I still have a scar on my lower back where he bit me with his braces on. I totally deserved it, but still - ouch!) I didn't like my overbite or my crooked bottom teeth.

So, once I had the resources, I decided to look into getting braces at the age of 27, just as I had taken matters into my own hands by signing up for voice lessons for the first time at age 25. The best part about being a grown up is that you can make these kinds of decisions for yourself.

I made an appointment with an orthodontist to see what it involved. I expected it to be a few thousand dollars, half of which would be covered by my insurance, and maybe a year or two of braces. I did not get the answer I had been hoping for.

Instead, he told me that I had a Class II malocclusion (overbite) that couldn't be treated with braces alone. I would need surgery to move my lower jaw forward, in addition to braces, and the cost would be more like $7,500.

I resisted the urge to tell the dude he was on crack, and politely ran screaming in the other direction. I'd take my crooked teeth and overbite, thank you very much.

So, I shelved that thought and went on with my life. Three years later, I was cast in the chorus of the Wizard of Oz, my first musical as a grown up (hooray for the voice lessons!) However, this was a show with three-hour-long rehearsals, four times a week. Once the show opened, we performed five days straight, a day off, and then four more performances in a row. About this time, I started having horrible migraines and tension in my jaw.

Something the orthodontist had said three years ago came back to me. He had mentioned that some people with the same bite problem as mine end up having TMJ and migraine problems when they're older. I wasn't having any problems at the time, so I didn't really pay attention to what he was saying. But now...

When I called his office, his staff had to go into the archives to find my file. "You must have come here right when he opened the office," the receptionist said.

"I'm a bit of a procrastinator," I said. "I'd like to make my second appointment, please."


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