My Maxillofacial Surgery Journey
Growing up I had numerous oral issues, with the most major of these being an abnormal jaw growth causing a crossbite and an underbite, as well as gaps between my teeth. After years of braces and having a few of my lower teeth removed to try to correct the issue, the only option available to me was to get maxillofacial surgery. This surgery required me to be done growing, so there would be no further changes to my bone structure, as the right side of my jaw was growing faster than the left side. While I would have preferred to get this surgery while I was still in high-school, I had to wait until I was 19 years old, where a radioactive isotope bone scan showed that my jaw was done growing.
As soon as I was able to, I started preparing for my surgery. The initial step was a series of molds to see where I was starting and then I was required to get braces once more. I was in college in Colorado at the time but the surgery was to take place at the Boston University Dental School,so there was a decent amount of calls between the Orthodontist in Denver and the surgical team, since the braces were being used to get my the teeth in place for the surgery rather than the usual corrective procedures that the orthodontist did. The plan was to have the surgery over the winter break since I had about 6 weeks between classes and I would be on a liquid diet for the vast majority of it. About 2 weeks before the surgery I had to fly out to Boston for about 6 hours for molds being taken of my teeth so the surgical team could practice on them to make sure there wouldn’t be any issues once the surgery began as it was slated for 8 hours. This was particularly hard as I have an atrocious gag reflex and the process was brutal for me to endure.
The day of the surgery I arrived early and twice was bumped from the operating room for emergencies. I had no means of communication and as the other people waiting for surgery for other procedures I was left alone with the thought of how hard the next 6 weeks were going to be and that was the first time that I started to regret the decision to correct my jaw, even though it would have led to other issues down the road.
When I finally went into surgery about 90 minutes late the surgery lasted 10:30 hours. The next few days are a bit hazy due to the pain medication. I had my jaw broken in 7 places and had shaved, down parts removed or added to in order to fix my issues, which after the surgery we found out included collapsed nasal cavities. The two memories that stick out the most of the surgery were when they were taking me off assisted breathing and the balloon they had inflated in my throat to keep me breathing was deflated causing my gag reflex to act up. I had my jaw being forced closed by innumerable elastics between the braces and was now afraid of getting ill with no way to expel anything.
The nurses and doctors wanted to give me an anti-anxiety medication that I was not able to tolerate and was noted on my chart on near every page. I was lucky that someone had that one of my family members had thought to bring a notebook to write in so I could tell them to look at the chart. My mother was in the room at this point but the attending doctor was telling her that he thought I needed a tracheostomy and she needed to sign a waiver in case I died on the table. While I knew exactly why the issue was happening I was on a lot of pain medication and unable to articulate myself well via writing so I was sent back to the operating room and sure enough the tube and balloon came out no problem. The other was when I was transferred out of the ICU and I saw myself for the first time. I had prepared to look a bit different and knew that after a major surgery I would look different after the swelling went down. I was a bit taken aback but was well prepared for the different look. The person that I was sharing a room with who had a very similar surgery as I, although not preplanned, took a different view and flew into a rage. Neither of us could talk but he took his frustration out in a violent manner and needed to be sedated and strapped down for his own safety and those around him.
After leaving the hospital I spent the next 3 weeks on many pain medications. I stepped down off the heavy pain medications slowly and during that time I was on a liquid diet. In order to have anything my family would pile towels around my neck, chest and face as much as possible and pour the drink down my throat since I could barely swallow. When I tried shaving I made it through half my face before the pain became too much and I had to stop. I was taking baths instead of showers since the water from a shower was too much pressure on my face at the time.
After five weeks of a liquid diet, I was finally able to eat soft food such as mashed potatoes. I was on a soft food diet for another month or so before daring to chew anything more than pasta. I was able to take the braces off 6 months after the surgery. Over the next few months I found myself doing double takes in a mirror since while the image was nearly identical it was just enough to cause me to pause. After the surgery I found that I was able to breathe through my nose for the first time in my life I was more okay smiling in photos since there were no longer issues with my teeth and gaps where there shouldn’t be. I also had to relearn how to speak and pronounce some letters, particularly the letter S. I used to have to put my tongue into one of the larger gaps to make the S sound which I no longer have to do. Now that 8 years have passed from the date of my surgery, I am very happy that I did it although the process was arduous but the best time I was able to do it when I had a convenient break where I did not have school or work or any real responsibilities since I was unable to do much for a number of weeks.