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.


Anonymous said...

I just stumbled upon your blog through the almighty force of google (searching for something ridiculous like "jaw surgery wire jaw shut smile") and must proclaim I'm an instant fan. I can't believe the coincidence, but I myself just had a first orthodontic consultation in Saskatoon of all places! (i'm not sure if you refer to Saskatoon or Regina as The Big City in your posts). I'm in almost the same position as you were (braces leading up to a climax of jaw surgery, follwed by the dénouement of a couple more months of braces). Seeing your journey is helping me immensely -- thank you for this unique, truly one-of-a-kind cyberjournal

Bella said...


Thank you so much for the very thoughtful comment. It really means a lot.

And you're right - it was Saskatoon. It's the only place in the province where you can get the surgery done.

Take care, and good luck with your journey, too!

Anonymous said...

Hi Bella,

I just had the same surgery as you on January 21, 2011. I am almost at five weeks post op. I started googling post op jaw surgery depression and found your blog. I'm sitting on my couch and bawling my eyes out reading your Facebook conversation. It completely describes how I am currently feeling.
I am from Saskatchewan too but now live in Fort McMurray. I had my surgery done in Edmonton though. I'm supposed to go back to work in five days and I have no idea how I'm going to survive. I'm a police officer and supposed to be tough, but going thru this is completely exhausting. I'll be doing office work riding a desk for a few months rather than being out on the road and I think that's adding to my issues. Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks for your blog. It's incredibly helpful to know I'm not alone

Bella said...


It was so hard for me to put this post about depression out there for the world to see, but felt it would be disingenuous for me not to share, considering that I am trying to represent an authentic jaw surgery recovery experience on this blog. I've gotten a number of emails from people who could relate to this and thanked me for writing about it, so I know I made the right decision in doing so.

Thank you so much for your comment. My heart just goes out to you. You will make it through this, just take care of yourself and know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. You're early in your recovery now - it will get so much better from here, I know it will. Drop me an email and let me know how you're doing, okay?


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