Wednesday, May 28, 2008


If you look at my sidebar, you'll see that I've gone through my links to other orthognathic surgery personal blogs and rearranged them (again).

What can I say? It's a long list of people and I want this site to be as user-friendly as possible, so I've organized the links into five categories:

Braces buddies - People who have the arch wires and brackets and are at the beginning of their journeys. No surgery date yet.

Pre-surgery - People who have been given a surgery date and will be going under the bone saw within the next few months.

In recovery - Those of us who have made it through the surgery and are continuing to struggle with the braces as well as the other aspects of recovery.

Debraced and beyond - The lucky ones who have put the surgery and braces behind them but are still blogging about their recoveries.

Back to real life - People who have been through it all and are no longer posting because they're back in the real world. A great source of information.

What I love most about these blogs is that there is something for everyone. There are orthodontic/orthognathic bloggers of all ages and situations, so you're bound to find someone you can relate with and whose experience is relevant for what you're going through or will go through.

Happy reading.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The light of the end of the tunnel

I had my first post-surgery orthodontic appointment today. I was looking forward to it because it meant I could finally get these annoying surgical hooks off my teeth. So, I was already super excited to be there, and then my orthodontist said something that made me just about jump out of the chair:

Orthodontist: Bella, your teeth are perfect!
Bella: Hooray!
Ortho: We can take these braces off in three months.

Bella: [whips head to stare at Ortho, incredulous] SHUT UP!!!

Uh....Excuse me?
Bella: Are you for real? How can that be even possible? Seriously??
Ortho: Well, we'll see how it goes.

So, that means that by this fall, my mouth will actually be metal-free. I am in shock that it could happen that fast - I was expecting it would be another year for sure.

In honour of this momentous news, I celebrated by getting crazy fuchsia and teal wire ties. Observe:

And I must say: flossing your teeth without surgical hooks for the first time in 3 1/2 months = sheer heaven.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

3 1/2 months post-surgery

It's been awhile since I posted pictures of what I look like post-surgery, so here are some that I took of myself while I was bored in my car yesterday. Not exactly professional shots, but you get the drift.

I can't believe it's been almost 3 1/2 months since this surgery. It's all very surreal.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Anemia is the new black

This long weekend, while everyone else was out camping, sunbathing, and enjoying not being at work, I was sleeping 15 hours each day. I thought it was fallout from the torture session with my physiotherapist or I was coming down with (yet another) cold or flu. My whole body felt heavy and run down.

On Tuesday, I talked to my doctor about the tests I requested last week and she informed me I am mildly anemic. This is a new thing, because I had the same blood tests run a month before my surgery and I was fine.

A number of factors can affect your blood iron levels, and surgery is a big one. Fortunately, the solution to my problem is pretty simple; my doctor wants me to take iron pills for a month and then get my blood tested again (iron builds up in your body and can become toxic, so it's important to get levels re-tested regularly if you're taking iron supplements.)

I hope the iron deficiency also explains why, since the surgery, I'm constantly picking up viruses, getting easily worn out, having problems getting out of bed in the morning, and, as a result, missing waaaay too much work. Because not only do I have zero sick days left, I actually owe my employer for all of the time I've taken off for health reasons. And let me tell you, all of that physiotherapy, homeopathy, supplements and acupuncture don't come cheap. Bella needs a paycheque.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Lowered expectations

After I had my jaw unwired, I expected it would take time for me to be able to eat whatever I wanted. At first, I thought it would be six weeks, but at my six-week post-surgery appointment, my surgeon told me I could start eating soft pasta, so I extended my expectation by another six weeks.

However, now that time has passed, and I still can't eat anything chewy or hard. So, I asked my surgeon at my last appointment how long it would be until I could eat without discernment.

His response: about six months post-surgery.

Six (6!!) months??

When I was doing my research, I was under the impression that everything would be pretty much resolved at the three-month mark. As I go along, I find this is not the case.

This is a much bigger surgery with a longer recovery than I thought. Which is fine. Only I wish I would have known this before, so I could have been mentally prepared. When you are going through this recovery, you anticipate each milestone, no matter how small it is. It's what keeps you going and able to stay positive. So, you celebrate:

  • The first time you "eat" without a Zip 'n' Squeeze or a syringe
  • Getting your jaw unwired
  • Brushing the backs of your fuzzy teeth after getting unwired
  • Your first mooshy unwired meal
  • The disappearance of swelling and bruising
  • The first solid piece of food you successfully gum down
  • Your dashing new profile and your sexy new smile.

All of these milestones are important. But what you want most of all is to be able to bite into a hard, crunchy apple or chomp on that big piece of barbecued steak. (I don't even eat meat and I want to do this!) So, when you find out that it will be another three months before you can do this, it's more than a little disheartening.

Ah well, at least I have something to look forward to, right?

Friday, May 16, 2008

Where, oh where is George when you need him?

I am longing for my ex-boyfriend, George the Morphine Dispenser.

Sure, he was a fair weather boyfriend who was only there for me during the high-flying good times in the hospital, and then he dumped me and never called again, but I don't care. If I knew where to find him right now, I'd beg for him to take me back and I wouldn't even care if he cheated on me with all the other jaw surgery patients.

I'm not usually the kind of gal who likes to share her men, but in this case, I'd make an exception.

You see, I just came back from a physiotherapy session. Not just any physiotherapy session, but one with the Grand Pouba of Jaw Physiotherapy. The Man with Thumbs of Steel. The Jaw Master.

This dude is in such high demand that the only appointment I could get with him was 8:30 at night. And even then, I didn't actually get in to see him until 9:30.

Now, my regular physiotherapist is pretty hard core. She often makes me gasp and wince in pain, to which she responds, "That doesn't hurt. You just think it does" and continues merrily dislocating my jaw from the rest of my head.

But this dude, this dude took it to a whole new level. He used his hands to inflict more pain than this torture device ever could.

The pain was so intense, I had tears in my eyes, I was crying out, and I actually started doing Lamaze breathing to try and get through. Or at least I think it was Lamaze breathing. I'm not sure what I was doing. All I know is that it hurt. A lot.

Brutal. Brutal. Brutal. Medieval, really. I still can't believe it.

But the thing is, I went in there tonight only being able to open my mouth 30 mm, and I left with 36 mm to my name. My surgeon told me that if I could open 40 mm or more, he would be a happy camper. So half an hour of pain (and lord knows how I'll feel for the next few days) brought me to the point where I can almost open my mouth like a normal person.

I guess what they say really is true: No pain, no gain.

And in other news, I'm really glad I didn't get rid of those leftover painkillers from my surgery. I don't think I've been this high since the last time George and I made out.

And in unrelated news: Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Smiling Bella featured on Willow's Web Astrology

My friend Willow, an astrologer, has used my post-jaw surgery recovery as an example of "Saturn in Virgo" behaviour in the May issue of her monthly Astro Perspective. She says:

Saturn has been going retrograde for the past three months or so, allowing us to come to terms with a lot of issues related to health, diet, personal habits and trimming the fat in all areas of life/self - whatever we need to deal with before moving forward in life. Saturn has forced us to take responsibility for being our best selves and for making the adjustments and refinements we know we need to make in order for our lives (and ourselves) to function long-term in a sustainable, healthy way....

Virgo relates to service, self-mastery and holistic health, so we’re being challenged to make the changes we know we need to make in the pursuit of holistic health - body, mind, emotions, spirit....

I've noticed people doing a lot of home renovation projects lately (definite Virgo territory - related to improving what already exists) and dealing with long-standing health issues.

A textbook Saturn in Virgo experience is the one my journalism school friend, Bella, is going through (major jaw surgery). Check her story out at: Bella’s taking responsibility for having a pain-free life - doing what she needs to do and dealing with (relatively) short-term pain for long-term gain. Virgo is co-ruled by Chiron (healing) and Mercury (communication), so jaw surgery affecting her speech and the healing process afterward are very much Saturn in Virgo territory.

It was helpful to see my situation through her lens and to be reminded that all of the discomfort and difficulty I've been facing lately is necessary for me to have a better quality of life in the long run.

If you're interested in astrology, I'd highly recommend Willow's sites. I am always amazed at how her insights speak directly to my life (even when I'm not mentioned.)

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Good news, finally!

I went to see my surgeon this weekend. Since I got my jaw unwired, I see him every six weeks to make sure my jaw is healing on schedule. This was my second six-week follow-up and I have to admit I wasn't looking forward to it because of my last experience.

At my unwiring appointment, he fastened four elastics - two on each side of my mouth - connecting my upper and lower teeth and told me to wear them at all times. These were to train my jaw to open symmetrically. They were placed at an angle to keep my lower jaw in its new position and to ensure it didn't start regressing back to where it was before the surgery. At night, I had to wear a single elastic connecting my front upper and lower teeth.

The problem was that my teeth move easily and quickly. So, instead of keeping my teeth in their current position, the elastics started pulling them forward. Over the course of the six weeks from my unwiring to my next appointment, my teeth shifted into an underbite position, with the lower teeth on the outside of the upper.

My lower jaw was slightly further out than it should be.
But I'm still totally cute.

As you can imagine, when I went to my surgeon with an underbite two months after my surgery, he was not pleased with the results. I had expected that he would just reverse the elastics until my teeth went back to where they were supposed to be.

But that's not all he did. Oh no.

In addition to changing the elastics, he took his thumbs and pushed my lower teeth until they sat behind my upper teeth.

Let me repeat that: He pushed my teeth into place with his thumbs.

I'll wait while you imagine that and twitch, because I'm still twitching thinking back on it.

After four days of migraines, my teeth were back to where they belonged. And six weeks later, it was time to make the two-hour drive to see the surgeon again.

In addition to having waking nightmares about his thumbs coming after me, I was a bit stressed about being able to open my mouth wide enough. When I got unwired, my surgeon told me I had to work up to opening my mouth 30 mm before I could go back to my orthodontist and continue with braces adjustments.

The last appointment, I only made it to 25 mm, and in the six weeks since then, I had been struggling to stretch it farther than that, and not making much progress. Fortunately, about a week before the appointment, my jaw finally started to give.

I took my jaw stretching device on the road and used it in the car on the way to the appointment. And, miraculously, when I saw my surgeon, not only did he not come after me with his powerful thumbs, but he also announced that I had made it to 32 mm.

32 mm!! Wooo hoooo!!!! No more surgical hooks on these teeth, and one step closer to debracing!!

Finally, some good news.

Saturday, May 3, 2008


I'm struggling. Struggling to be well. Struggling to maintain a positive attitude. Struggling against the perceptions of others. Just struggling.

It's funny. You prepare and you do your research and you're ready for the worst when going in for major surgery. But that's the easy part. What they don't tell you is what happens afterward.

When you get your face cracked open, you expect that there will be massive swelling, nasty bruises and grotesque stitches. You mentally prepare yourself for that, and when it happens, it's not quite as bad as you thought it would be. You figure that once your jaw gets unwired and the physical signs of the procedure are gone, you're home free.

If you want the truth, I would gladly go back to having my jaw wired shut right now. Because the moment the wires came off was when things started getting difficult.

I expected it would be tough to eat for awhile, but not for as long as it has been. I still can't eat anything chewy or hard (raisins or fresh vegetables, for instance), because I literally can't chew it. And it's been more than two and a half months since the surgery now.

I expected that my mouth would have a limited opening for awhile, but I didn't expect that getting my range of motion back would be such a painful, slow struggle.

I expected that I would have some pain and that I might be tired, but I didn't expect that every physical action would be so exhausting.

Anesthetic stays in your body for up to a year after surgery. It slows you down, you forget things, you lose your train of thought, you stumble into doorways, and you get tired easily. When you go off prescription painkillers, you can plunge into depression because of the withdrawal. And after major surgery, your immune system is compromised, you're more susceptible to viruses and they hit you a lot harder than they did before.

You go to the mirror and see someone staring back at you who looks fantastic and you can't figure out why she just can't get it together already. The surgery is over. The time off work is over. Why is it getting harder instead of easier? What is wrong with me?

One day, I posted this status on Facebook: "Bella looks absolutely fabulous but feels utterly miserable." It's rare that I have a status that is less than racy or bizarre, so a friend of mine who had major brain surgery a few years ago responded with concern. I wrote him back:

It's the post-surgery stuff. Everyone is so supportive when you're just out of surgery and you look like hell. Flowers, cards, understanding, etc. But once you look okay, they forget that you've been through this major procedure and treat you like you're back to normal. But you're not.

I'm finding right now to be one of the most difficult times because I look great - you'd never know I had surgery. However, I'm so tired and everything is an effort. I misplace things, use the wrong words, forget what I'm doing, etc. Stupid anesthetic brain. Anyway, it's tough.

How long was it for you until you felt fully functional after surgery?

His response was right on the mark:

How long? In my case, I'm still waiting....The way I thought about what you're describing was to re-pronounce the word 'invalid' - i.e. as 'valid' with a prefix, meaning 'not a valid person.' I suspect that like mine, your inner person is seeking validation for the experience and the way it's making her feel. How to find validation? I dunno. Is it frivolous to suggest dark eye shadow UNDER the eyes, a sallow make-up foundation, and a carefully understated limp?

It felt good to talk to someone who knows what this is like. These days, I just feel frustrated. Frustrated that I can't do everything that I could do before. Frustrated that anything that contributes to my stress levels becomes unmanageable quickly. Frustrated that just when I think I'm doing okay, something as simple as chanting in a mellow yoga class re-injures my jaw and leaves me with crippling migraines for four days straight.

Frustrated that the people around me respond, if at all, with patronization or their own frustration at my lack of ability to be my usual high-functioning, overachieving, reliable self.

Frustrated, alienated, alone. Depressed. In-valid.


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