Major Facial Reconstructive Surgery (way to go. I really feel relaxed about this now)


I thought I would write this as I am just coming out of the worst days so far, probably gives my blogging a little more edge, as the last couple of days have been my worst and I am back on cloud 9 (lying at 45 degrees for swelling purposes) as the codeine again performs its magic.

Last Tuesday morning I arrived at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center on the Upper East Side at 6am. Immediately kitted out in flattering scrubs I was quizzed on my DOB and a consent form again thrust into my grasp. Apparently I still had an option to back out. Right. It is getting real here I thought to myself. Do I really need someone to smash my face? I like my face after all and who really needs to chew food effectively? I have managed to survive successfully so far haven’t I?

Scrubs and those totes socks

No, toughen up Ashbridge you are well past the point of no return, as I am marched without my glasses, away from mum and Jo and into the bowels of the operating room corridors. At the door of my allocated torture chamber I am greeted by my nurse and one of the many doctors who would contribute to my reinvention. My table of torment was narrow and as I lay down, surrounded by whitewashed walls and mysterious machines flashing their medical related lighting, I was welcomed by the anesthetist. IV time and then I would be away with the fairies. So Dr resident trainee, please hurry up. With every minute you miss my sneaky veins, I am closer to fleeing, blind out of this room. Two deep intakes of O2 as the anesthetic pumps through my body and I am out.

A good 6 hours later and my top and bottom jaws have been broken, altered, pinned and the mess stitched up (this took 2 hours in itself). I am wrapped in what was humorously nicknamed my “head diaper” and tubes collecting the blood and saliva from inside my mouth pouring out into bulbs of plastic. In the recovery room I am in and out of consciousness as the nurse suctions out the excess fluids. I oblige her of course but remember nothing. My sister takes pictures as I open my swollen eyes. I see them standing over me. I feel pretty good. Sleepy. They go.

Recovery Room horror show

Enjoying the humidifier

Sleeping was a common theme

“The head diaper”

Later on I move to my ward for the night. Sharing a room for two it is going to be a long night. Mum and Jo are back eager to see my improvement. I must be on some pretty heavy painkillers as I am blissfully happy despite my broken face. Apart from the fact that I can’t talk or feel anything in my bottom lip and chin I could be lying in my bed at home without any pins in my fractured jaws. My chin and lip are completely asleep. The doc warned me about this, I remember now, and it could be months before those nerves get over the shock and wake up again and that is a relatively large lip to just be hanging there useless. I cross my fingers hoping my face wakes up sooner rather than later as it is a strange sensation having a part of your face not feel like it belongs there. I don’t much like it.

The first and only night in hospital was almost philosophical. My neighbour R is a very sick woman with colon cancer. She has been battling her illness for almost 12 years and my family got to know her and her husband until they go home for the night (I was not much use in the way of conversation). The nurses came to see me regularly as I drifted in and out of sleep. I was struggling to get comfortable as I am instructed the next few days I will have to sleep at 45 degrees, upright in my bed, not a favourite sleeping position of mine. My legs are wrapped in inflatables to prevent blood clotting and so every 30 seconds or so they fill up with air, squeezing my calves and waking me up from my dosing. R is struggling. I can hear her moaning but I can’t speak to her. I am so close but my mouth is full of tubes and blood. At about 2am the alarm next to her bed goes off. I can hardly keep my eyes open as nurses rush in. Her doctors are called as her heart rate soars for no reason they can decipher. I can feel the panic. The nurses and doctors are confused, worried and I don’t think she is going to make it. I can hear her say she has no pain. She feels a bit odd and doesn’t know what is going on. Her husband arrives, eye mask resting on the crown of his head, as he is summoned from the family room. He sleeps there every night. Goes to work the next morning. They manage to get her heart rate back down. The young doctor is beside himself with worry marches in and out of the room, calling on his mobile phone for help. R is calm. Now it is 2:45am and I have hours before the clinic will come and collect me to clean me up and remove the tubes. I have hours before my mum and sister return to entertain me. I feel so guilty. I have willingly put myself in this position. Agreed to have my jaws realigned so my teeth will touch, so my smile will be American. And next door R fights for her life. If she could be at home with her family now she would, she hates the hospital she says. I am weak, I can’t get out of bed. I get dizzy, they are going to take the catheter out soon so I am going to have to manage but I am as weak as I have ever been and it is all my own fault.

I distract myself for the hours I have left. I try to work out a time pattern for the inflatable leg thingys. I must keep drifting off to sleep in the middle of my counting as I never get to the bottom of that. At 4am I am feeling determined. I want the doctors to arrive with me sitting up in my chair and so when the nurses come to check my blood pressure again I ask them to help me. Unplugged I sit on the edge of the bed. I don’t feel dizzy I say. I can make it to the bathroom I say. I am going to recover quickly from this. I am not going to bother anyone I am going to be independent again soon.

The next few hours pass painfully slowly. The television has only one watchable channel so I am restricted to a few boring news stories on loop. CNN really needs some better viewing at 5am. I practice getting in and out of bed and soon enough Dr Mark arrives with a wheelchair to roll me back to the clinic and clean me up.

My face is a mess. I have a “diaper” around my head. My mouth is overflowing with blood and saliva and my cheeks are swollen. Dr Mark and Dr David are not too much older than me. In fact Dr Mark is probably my age. They are both very attractive young men and here I am at 6:30am in the clinic with one cleaning out my nostrils and the other removing the tubes from my face and suctioning the excess fluid from inside my mouth. My hair has bits of diaper fluff in it. It is sticking up in all directions, knotted from the events of the previous day. You have to laugh. But also I have gone from reflecting on the fragility of life to being most concerned about the state of my face in front of good looking doctors. Urgh. I blame the anesthetic.

Fat face Ashbridge

Once cleaned up my face proceeded to swell over the next couple of days so that it looked like I was reliving the mumps. That very afternoon I went home and with the magical combination of drugs I was on fire. We would go wandering, drinking/dribbling soup along the way. I was home and dry or so I thought. The first 2-3 days are supposed to be the worst they said. Dr David warned me I would hate him for the first week. I assured him I wouldn’t (wink wink).

Then Saturday arrived. I was having trouble with my bowel movements and it was probably due to the codeine. I decided to cut out the codeine from my drug diet. It was a compromise I was willing to take to get my body back on track. After all there had been no pain. So far it had been an easy ride.

Laughing in the face of pain.

Right Sunday and I am out of it completely. I can barely stand up. I am feeling the worst I have physically felt in my life. It feels like someone has smashed my face… oh wait. And furthermore my tummy is in agony. But I have come this far. I need to ride out the pain to get back in the zone and then I could always retake the heavy painkillers. I think to myself.

It’s Monday morning. I have not slept as much as I would like. I burst into tears visiting Dr Dreamy (bad move Beth) as once those floodgates open. Erm. Sorry I just can’t stop the tearful flow. He has sorted me out though. I have more drugs (yippee!!?!) and I am back on the codeine. It is amazing what an opiate can do for the mood. And really it was a good experiment of sorts. Codeine works.

So that’s it for now. I am feeling highly motivated again. Can’t speak much but the swelling has deflated. My bite is straight and the doctors are delighted with my X-rays. I am excited to see what another week will bring in the saga of the smashed face. I am STARVING though and I need to learn how to get more down and quickly. I am vanishing fast and it is not a good look. But let’s be honest. If anyone is to adapt to eating food effectively with two broken jaws. You would put your money on me, right?


2 responses »

  1. Beth, I felt totally engaged while reading your account of the face smashing. What a story! Showed Marco the photos and the Marco-isms that followed (including “Jesus Shit”) said it all, really. I was not surprised at all by your insistence to got to the loo by yourself and your decision to stop the codeine – I thought “that is sooo Beth, the troop-meister”. Well keep trooping and I can’t wait to read the next installment! Lots of love xxx

  2. Beth, I felt totally engaged while reading your account of the face smashing. What a story! Showed Marco the photos and the Marco-isms that followed (including “Jesus Shit”) said it all, really. I was not surprised at all by your insistence to got to the loo by yourself and your decision to stop the codeine – I thought “that is sooo Beth, the troop-meister”. Well keep trooping and I can’t wait to read the next installment! Lots of love, Amy xxx

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