Expecting the worst is never really the problem; expecting the worst and ending up with the best is far more horrible. It creates a seed of self-destruction in the form of nightmares, constant worry, and uncertainty, always waiting for the other foot to drop after believing for so long it would.
Oh the nightmares are the best. Waking up, crying, screaming, everything still so real, certain it is going to happen. It is just a matter of time. I am not sure which is actually more painful: the nightmares of expectation coming true or the memories of what was, what you had never expected.
I touch my face constantly, poking at my teeth through my skin, certain for a split second I felt a wobble. There is no wobble though, not now or even when my gums were so tender. All my teeth are still here, solid in my gums. There was a chance, a high chance, I would wake up, groggy, tired, after the swelling went down and I could open my mouth wide once again, only to find holes. There were no holes though. Even after having my top jaw broken into 3 (or 4?) places, pulled, shifted, surrounded by plastic to cover the exposed, tender tissue as it healed to its new shape, no wobble, no near loses. Short gums led to no short of surprises.
No missing teeth and no bruising. That was another super fun surprise to be greeted with post-op. Greeted with pink, patches all over swollen cheeks. There was no black, no blue, no yellow, nor brown. Just every shade of pink possible. Fair skin should have bruised like an apple in a dryer. That is what I came to believe before but, no. The only blue to be seen was only really seen by others; my damn eyes.
In the haze of the first few days, the only indication I had of who I had spoken with (using this term extremely loosely) was if one of the things they said was “Wow! Your eyes are such a beautiful blue!” The first time this sort of line was said to me made me think, “What a stupid thing to say. I just had jaw surgery and all you can comment on is my eyes?” I did my best to convey this sentiment through my eyebrows but, with the medication I was on, could not really tell you if I was even capable of moving my face beyond blinking.
The second time someone said it, I had to make myself look in the mirror after the next time I had used the bathroom. I had not bothered to look before, partially because of my headache but, mostly because did not want to see if my face really did match the way it felt beneath the mix of numbness and pain. This is when I came to my next profound thought, “Blue eye? Seriously?! How can they even see a lick of blue through all this pink!” Big, puffy, blotchy, nearly eclipsing my eyes pink! Here I had been expecting a sliver of blue or dark marks or shadows that had to be what was enhancing my “every nurse just had to comment on” blue eyes but, no. Just pink. And puffy.
Apparently, when you are knocked out for just over half a day, and then add on another day and a half of sloth level activity, it does wonders for your retinas. All at the expense of your vision and mental clarity, of course. My eyes may have been a beautiful, comment worthy blue during the early part of my recovery, no one would see them again once I left the hospital for another near month.
They warned me before going under about all these things that had a high chance of happening, which none did, but, never advised to keep a pair of shades handy. Maybe if the surgery had been under 10 hours instead of just over 12, that would have made a difference but, que sera. Another fun adventure of communication trying to explain my immediate need for a pair of shades as soon as I stepped out of a closed curtain, lightless room. Somehow, my cries and gurgles of pain combined with dramatically covering (or maybe clawing out) my eyes got the message to my mother.
Luckily I already had that oh so lovely pink to my face because I would spend much of the next month in a dark room, without any sunlight or much of any other light. Initially, I did not understand this pain was different than my cells pulling, stretching, aching to reattach until I felt near blinded the first time I took a peak at the neon blue screen of my flip phone (yes, I still had my trusty nokia flip phone back then, thankfully) showing a new message. I tossed my phone aside, not caring about the phone or wall when I chucked it aside, as I felt flooded with a whole new wave of pain. I finally checked the message when I had gotten the sunglasses adjusted comfortably over my tender cheeks.
I have these fleeting moments of appreciation for the sights around me. Not exactly the sights but, the colors, like the rich depths of green in Gendry’s tank or the soft orange glowing glass encasing the candle. Had to stare at these things for a few minutes, as if I would not see them the same ever again. These colors were not part of my initial memories that came with my new jaw. Just white, blindingly grey, black, and blue.
Oh. And damn pink.
Everything was a different degree of grey through the sunglasses almost always over my eyes. But, that was preferable to closing them. With how weak I felt, there was always the chance of falling asleep when closing my eyes, even in the moment of a blink.
Being blessed with a noir filtered memory was always preferable to the vivid colored nightmares. It was not even the (I chose to accept as) normal nightmares of waking without teeth or the typical work and life worst case scenarios intensified that made falling asleep horrifying. Although, I did find myself occasionally putting of sleep to prevent those ones. It was the nightmares of life repeating.
My dreams have softened to strange, eerie, yet comfortable things; things I can handle even when they are of the strangest of situations. I have even noticed a sparceness in the dreams of teeth dropping out with my words, or waking in the white room amidst the drilling and slicing, surrounded by surgeons unaware I was awake, witnessing, feeling. The things I wish would just be passing nightmares are the memories that still keep me up at night.
The poking and proding I was not surprised by but, the complete lack of care by the first member of my surgeon’s office that first real night still leaves a wrenching knot in my stomach. In addition to the plate holding together the pieces of the roof of my mouth, I had several screws (actual pick-up at a hardware store metal screws) drilled into my gums, to be used as stakes for tiny rubber bands that would keep my bottom jaw from slipping back. This moron was supposed to take these tiny bands and get them around a top and bottom screw. Super fun.
A new burst of pain was a given. There was no surprise in that when I learned what was happening, even in my just roused from a deep sleep state. The surprise came from a whole new form of pain following several failed attempts by this “doctor.” After forcing me awake to be subjected to this pain, this idiot decided, despite the odds stacked high against him, he had to take these tweezers over one screw and then the other, my tender gums be damned.
It did not take a brain, plastic, or even underqualified residential surgeon to tell there was no possible way to get the punier than a pinky nail band around both screws without shattering all my teeth in hopes of closing my jaw more to lessen the space. That did not stop this moron though. It made it even worse when (only) he was fortunate enough to find a larger than average band and got it around the first 2 screws, after god knows how many failed attempts.
Even if I still had my old jaw dimensions I would have found a way to bite off this jerk’s finger. I knew I had to tried with my newly set jaw; even though the exponentially increasing pain, I needed to give a clear “Stop” while my words were on sabbatical. I twisted my head, fidgeted, turned away, gurgled, garbled, groaned every noise of protest I could make. I coughed up cries with my tears, trying to create a clear sentence he needed to stop, it was too painful. He ignored me, ordered me, made me feel like a hassle in what should have been an easy task.
I was getting my jaw fixed. I would finally feel confident with my voice. I would be heard.
But, during these first moments of telling someone my thoughts, my feeling, I was ignored in the name of this idiot’s need for “success.” After the first band I knew he was going to get cockier and attempt all night if he needed to get the other band on, my welfare a never thought. I was more determined to make a clear message to get this man to stop. If I was not allowed to move my head, I would do whatever I could do move my sore, throbbing jaw around his fingers, even just to put a tear in his glove, add to his own frustration, no notice to my own. His achievement in getting the first band around would prove a great down-side to his next few attempts when it began to help in closing my jaw when I tried to scrap my teeth over his fingers. He finally gave up when he realized my determination to draw blood could be seen though my tears. Smartest move he probably ever made.
Thinking about biting his finger clear off was the only thing that helped me get back to sleep after a terrifying wake-up call. I did receive some satisfaction the next day when my surgeon came in to finish the job the dumbass started, quickly realizing he would need to knot together two bands to successfully achieve the bridging of my teeth. That small satisfaction could not turn back the clock, though. Not after this asshat set the precedence for my first few weeks of recovery. I went though all this, and I was still voiceless.
This thought made my next couple days in the hospital even more disheartening. Dependence was never really in my repertoire. I hated that feeling during my weakened state I had to rely on others to do much of anything I was so used to doing alone. I knew, despite all this, I would need help. Too bad the help came with its own form of pain.
Despite what t.v. had me believe, nurses were quick to respond, if you could tell them to come. That was an extra fun slap to the face I never thought I would feel with how numb my cheeks were. I can’t even recall what I hit the call button for the first time but, the response I got from it is still rooted deep in my mind.
“Hello. Do you need assistance with something?” A stupid thing to ask considering I hit the call button but, later on the question made sense when you think about all the “butt dials” the nurses probably get. Still, what should have been an easy to answer question sent waves of panic through my in an instant. It seemed strange that someone would be asking that question of a surgery patient who could not yet speak. I assumed nurses on would be aware there was a speechless patient on the floor. When the question kept getting repeated, I made a horrible realization. I could not be heard.
I became frantic, twisting my shoulders to get my bobble-head heavy head up. I tossed, grunted, shook, moaned, pushed any sounds I could out through clenched teeth, desperate to create something that somehow sounded like “yes” or the “Help!” I was screaming in my head.
I honestly can’t remember if those sounds I made were even successful in calling out. I doubt it with how fervently I recall pushing the button again and again when my mumbles could not be heard. The terror that I would be stuck with no one to come help until visiting hours rolled around despite my desperation is still strong in my bones even this day. Even at my most desperate, I could not be heard.
Of course, the day I needed someone could not have been the next night. No. That night when there were people in the hospital room had to be when I was actually, finally, comfortably asleep. Doctors always seem to pick the worst time to do things. This night I was kindly awoken not by my own cries but, those of my roommate.
If I ever ran into my hospital roommate while she was wearing a big billboard that said my name, I still would not recognize her. Even her voice has trailed off despite recalling the conversations she had about her adventures during war time riding Harley’s with my family. The anguished cries that came from behind the pulled curtain between us that night have awesome, sporadic moments or playing on repeat in my head.
She needed to move, that is what they were telling her between her howls of pain and pleading to stop, to stop the pain, to stop the hurting. I felt her pain in waves, her desperation sparking my own. In that moment, I was up, alert, and had to act, had to get them to listen, to hear her, to just give her a moment’s breath. Garbled groans and gurgles were mostly what I could manage but, by that night I had gained some structure to the sounds. Even if the words were too inaudible, they had to notice I was calling out in some form of desperation. It would have been fine if they thought I was just calling out for my own self, as long as they heard me.
Even during the quiet moments between their words and her sobs they could not seem to hear me but, determination did not fail like my words. I used whatever strength I had managed to gain from my short sleep to sit up, holler, scream, shout “Stop!” “You’re hurting her!” in whatever slurs I could. These sounds did not even make the curtain shift.
I wished in that moment I could speak clearly, to at least curse aloud as I slammed back against the bed with my exhaustion; my own sobs silently echoing hers as I fell back asleep. When such a loud cry could go unheard, what chance did my murmurs have of ever making a difference? That sound seemed to be the sad soundtrack to my stay.
It has been five years; five years since my jaw was broken apart and put back together, better; five years I have let these initial moments silence me. Five years and I am not ready to be heard; to make myself be heard.