I had double jaw surgery. But was it worth it?
It was a long, painful process.
I wish I could say I woke up looking and feeling fantastic, but that would be far from reality.
On May the 1st in 2014 at the age of 53, I dramatically changed my appearance.
I went into a private hospital in inner Melbourne, with an overbite, a weak chin, and a gummy smile — and came out with a perfect bite, a wider palate, and a firm chin.
I dreaded having photographs taken, hated being seen in profile, and avoided social situations where my mouth, teeth, and jaws were likely to be commented on or viewed by others.
In adolescence, my lower jaw stopped growing and my top jaw grew too far down.
As a result, my bite was out, way out — a malocclusion which prevented me from eating, talking, and breathing properly.
I also had a tendency to breathe through my mouth and to sleep apnoea, although I was never properly assessed.
My orthodontist called me dolichofacial
I had an open bite, over-crowding, and an unwieldy overjet of 8 mm.
Waking up from my BSSO and genioplasty, I felt like I couldn’t breathe.
Frightened and disorientated, I sat up and felt (for) my legs as if checking whether I was still all there.
I heard my anesthetist telling me to wake up and that I had just had surgery, reassuring me that it was all over and everything had “gone well”.
Later on, I found out that my surgeon had struggled with the angle needed to knit my jaws back together.
Amidst the startle of a blip and surgical greens
Amidst the startle of blips and surgical greens, W.C. Fields’ last words came to me: “On the whole, I would rather be in Philadelphia.”
Nurses kept asking me what was happening in Philadelphia and why I would rather be there.
My anesthetist asked me my name and date of birth.
Although I could, surprisingly, talk, I used the notepad I’d brought with me to ask them to knock me out.
I didn’t want to experience the reality of what I had done to myself — or rather, what I had arranged for someone else to do to me.
The collapse of Time, and Consciousness
Like many before me (all around the world) I experienced the anaesthetization as no-thing, nothingness, a collapse of time, and consciousness.
The closest I will come to death without actually dying.
After three and a half hours of surgery, I was left with the consequences of what had occurred during the nothingness.
People do it every day.
They have surgery for any number of reasons, some of them urgent.
My Insides Intimately Invaded
Opened up by highly trained professionals, they (we) are rearranged and reshaped, bits of flesh or organs excised or repaired, checked, diagnosed, or replaced.
We are sewn up and sent back out into the world, having had our insides intimately invaded.
Some lives are lost, but many are saved through this process of controlled and skillful violence.
After I correctly answered his questions, the anesthetist found me coherent and relatively sane, at an appropriate level of consciousness and with faculties intact.
But I felt far from intact.
On a Private Room as I Undergo the Pain and Discomfort
I was wheeled up to the ward and, thankfully, given a private room, where I started to undergo the pain and discomfort of having such a severe trauma visited on my face.
Alongside the pain, I was struck by the unwanted intimacy of the experience.
It was as if everyone involved, the nurses, my surgeon and the anesthetist who visited to check on me, were somehow all irrevocably connected to me and to each other through the bedrock of my vulnerability.
In those first minutes and hours, I felt like I couldn’t escape — every breath, certainly every word and most awkwardly every mouthful, reminded me of what I had done.
It was all disturbingly close to the centrality of my consciousness, not assigned to the periphery or incidental, like a stubbed toe or a broken leg.
the projected results will be invisible under inches of swollen flesh
My anesthetist checked on me again the next day.
I suppose someone must have told him that I was still vomiting.
The swelling would peak on Saturday night, he assured me.
You should be aware that you will regret putting yourself through this.
You will be experiencing the worst of it and the projected results will be invisible under inches of swollen flesh and vivid yellow bruising.
He Suggested Swelling Will Subside
I will look like a chipmunk, he suggested, but the swelling will subside — eventually.
When I was well enough, I showered 3 – 4 times a day to manage the feverish fluctuations in my body temperature.
I was exhausted and couldn’t eat.
I balked at almost everything.
The smoothly blended meals they brought me included an unfortunate grey mince.
I Started Vomiting AGain
I covered it with a napkin and promptly vomited.
After a brief respite from nausea, a young nurse gave me some morphine overnight to help me sleep.
The vomiting started again.
He meant well, but I could see the other staff were angry because they were again faced with cleaning up my mess and awaiting the next surge.
I felt for the trainee because I knew he would be told off.
As I Enjoy My First Meal
I told his supervisors that it was my fault.
And then watched his reddening face through the glass as he got a humiliating reprimand.
After three days of vomiting, I was given a shot of Phenergan in my thigh. The drug helped quell the nausea.
An experienced nurse then arranged for some tiny cans of ginger ale to arrive with my breakfast.
I am still grateful for the sweet bubbles that helped me enjoy my first meal.
Tears, Frustration, and Exhaustion
Watching the dawn over Richmond, I gingerly attempted the potato and leek soup, crying because I was so grateful to be alive, and to keep anything down.
I left the hospital looking like a Toorak matron who had had way too much botox and then got into a bar fight with Mike Tyson.
Wearing a scarf to hide my swollen face, I carried tissues everywhere to dab at the stream of saliva flowing unrestrained from both corners of my mouth.
At home, I cried over a bowl of baked beans that stung my wounded gums.
It was frustrating, exhausting, and painful.
Feeling Like an Object
“They complain if you pinch their gums.”
Leaning into my reconstructed mouth to remove the splint, my surgeon warned his assistant against triggering difficult patients. (possibly me)
“It’s only blood,” he said, as his gloved fingers rolled over the flesh and my gums welled.
Although an affable man, my surgeon sometimes seemed uncaring.
It wasn’t the first time I felt like an object, though.
Poked and Probed
Poked and prodded, remarked upon, photographed, x-rayed, measured, and propped open, I was becoming used to the fascinated attention of a passing parade of professionals.
Across the road at my orthodontist’s office, I was the center of rapt attention.
“Have a look at this bite”, she said, gathering her staff to admire the surgeon’s handiwork.
My dentist was also enthusiastic.
“It supports your face so much more.”
By The End, I was Fed up
When I went in for my first post-surgical clean, the dental hygienist admired my “perfect arch”, as she opened my creaky jaws to the stinging water jets.
By the end of the process, I was fed up with professionals staring into my mouth and tinkering with the hardware.
Sick of lying prone and vulnerable in the varied torture chairs of orthodontists, periodontists, dentists, hygienists, surgeons, and x-ray technicians.
The smell of disinfectant made me cringe. I hated the sight of the pale blue pads clipped onto my bust to sop up blood and saliva.
I was also sick of the bands, elastics, hooks, and braces; the cotton wool, dental wax, retainers, alcohol, and floss.
Endless Crops of Painful Ulcers
I spent a fortune on Chlorhexidine, Bonjela, and wax in a vain attempt to stave off the endless crops of painful ulcers.
Vindication came with the removal of my braces.
For the first time, I smiled my rehabilitated smile without any hardware, offering it to random strangers as well as my orthodontist on her lunch break.
Rushing home to spread the warmth, I posted selfies far and wide, hoping for (and getting) positive feedback and congratulations from my jaw surgery buddies.
Of course, I am grateful that it all went well.
Others Have Not Been So Luck
Others have not been so lucky, waking up to asymmetry or worse.
Do I feel as though I have changed my identity along with my face?
I do feel different.
I look in the mirror and see a symmetrical face with a chin — someone pretty, perhaps even beautiful.
I’m surprised by the reflection that confronts me in unexpected mirrors.
Who is that woman?
Someone with an even jawline and well-defined cheekbones, someone whose face loves the light, someone who can attract men, someone who deserves to be loved, someone who is confident and smiles a lot.
A woman who looks nothing like the rest of her family (or her younger self) a woman who looks Scandinavian, a woman who is growing into her man-made beauty.
Some people recognize me, but they are often not quite certain of their recognition.
They look at me in ways which tell me they’re checking their visual memory, slightly confused.
Sometimes they think it’s my hair (I have cut it short), or my glasses, or some change of outfit, but they are too polite to enquire further.
After Six Years
I realize that it must be discombobulating for them, but I enjoy their confusion because it feels like a power I can wield when most of the time I felt powerless.
After six years I am used to my new face.
But I am still surprised by my perfect smile.
Amanda Robins helps people recover from emotional abuse and trauma. sing an attachment-based and emotion-focused approach, my aim is to develop a warm and trusting relationship where you can feel safe to open up and be vulnerable. I use trauma counseling, art therapy, and somatic psychotherapy to help you recover and heal. Click to Learn More About How She Works