The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Today is one month since the day where both ends of my body went through more trauma than I’d ever gone through in a single day.

To begin where?

Well, the story truly begins when my adult teeth came in, forty plus years ago. For they came in wrong and wicked and determined to cause me much distress . My parents were told that I would need braces and jaw surgery around 15/16, but when I reached that age we were not in any financial shape to pay for braces or surgery. To make things worse, around that time, I was in a car crash where my four front teeth suffered severe trauma and, according to the rather unscrupulous dentist I went to, putting caps on them would solve the problem. So I got the caps.

Within a year it was clear the caps had not been put in properly, but I had no recourse, and so, for most of my adult life, I have never liked my smile. Even in my happiest moments, I have always carefully measured how much of my teeth to reveal. The dentists I saw since would mention how even with regular cleanings and good dental hygiene, my upper teeth just seemed to be collapsing into themselves. I even got Invisalign when one of my canines started to move sideways, but again, the person I saw, who had great reviews and was highly recommended, was unable to get the result I wanted and filed down a couple of my upper teeth – without asking me first – so they wouldn’t go crossways against the bottom teeth.

This brings us to earlier this year, this wretched 2020, when I went in for my usual cleaning and mentioned one of my front teeth was ready to leave the sinking ship. It was visibly lower then the other front tooth, and was becoming looser by the day. My dentist stopped me halfway through the cleaning and told me it was time to get implants. I could, of course, choose dentures, but getting dentures when one is relatively young (49) with ostensibly a few decades yet to go, means I would be dealing with more and more loss of bone to support said dentures. I had enough bone in my upper jaw that I didn’t need a bone graft, so after much agonizing about finances and at least being grateful we didn’t have a vacation to cancel because we were going nowhere this year and probably the next, we decided on an All-on-Four procedure. This is where four supports are placed into my upper jaw so a fake set of teeth will be securely attached once my jaw heals. In the meantime, I get an upper denture to wear for about 4 months.

A daunting prospect, to be sure, not just physically, but emotionally. The thought of losing all my upper teeth, while something I had actually figured was in my future, is so huge and traumatic that I was feeling like a failure. Yeah, my upper teeth had been misformed from the beginning and were always doomed to some kind of reckoning at around this time of my life, but still, once it was in the books, I felt a combination of shame, excitement, and wishing to disappear until it was all done.

The week of my surgery, which was on a Thursday, I ate burgers and burritos, things I would not be able to eat so easily once I had my temporary dentures in. I ate my favorite candy, Hershey’s kisses, and snacked on cheese curds. We bought a new blender for all the smoothies I would be drinking (not from a straw!) for the first few weeks, and the night before my surgery, I ate until 11:43pm, safely observing my midnight deadline of food or drink before my 9am surgery.

The next morning I kissed and hugged my children, telling them that if anything went wrong, to remember I loved them above anything, and even though they annoy each other frequently, to be there for one another. They both had virtual school, so I left our dog with our oldest, and my husband and I headed to my appointment. Since the procedure was going to take a few hours, he would go home and do some work and come back to pick me up.

I will skip some of the details here – I obviously do not know everything that happened, and what I do remember is but a small part of the process. But as I am told, at one point after I was sedated, my blood pressure spiked and I was given medication to bring it back down. I have never had this happen during any procedure and I have had cesareans and a hysterectomy, an elbow bone spur surgery, etc. and I do not suffer from high blood pressure or heart issues. What I know is that I was dizzy afterwards, and at home I did not feel myself, other than the soreness in my mouth. Steve helped me to the bathroom, and once I was there, I remember the room becoming dark, like it was caving in on me. I went back outside and he was there to hold my arms to help me walk back to the sofa. I remember saying “I’m dizzy, I’m dizzy” and even though he was holding me up, I collapsed, tried to stand back up, and collapsed again. I heard a pop and a crunch and felt sharp, hot pain in my ankle.

When Steve got me to the sofa, hobbling and hopping, I saw that my ankle looked like an S-block from Tetris.

Waiting at Urgent Care

We headed out to Urgent Care, where I was still feeling dizzy. The doctor kept calling my name because I wasn’t responding to her and they couldn’t get my blood pressure with the arm cuff, so she said I should go straight to the hospital and called an ambulance. My poor husband had to follow and I, who have never a) fractured anything like this and b) never been in an ambulance, was pretty terrified. I mean, my youngest broke my nose when he was a baby but I had a headache for two days and it didn’t make my nose any worse, but this was pretty clearly messed up.

The ambulance guys were really awesome, chatted with me to put me at ease, and in a few minutes I was at the hospital. They wheeled me in and I was put in a room and checked out by various nurses and doctors. There was also a TV so luckily, I had football to keep me distracted. By this point it was after 7pm and, other than the protein shake Steve had brought for me after my dental surgery, I hadn’t eaten anything since the night before. One of the kind nurses brought me a Gatorade and a turkey sandwich, which I had to turn down as I couldn’t eat anything solid. I felt so badly since she had gone out of her way but she was nice enough to get me some applesauce, which was the best motherfucking applesauce that has ever been made in the history of applesauce. At this point I was feeling better, because I had a little food and drink and also because as the doctor said, the medication to bring my blood pressure down was probably out of my system.

The anesthesiologist from my dental surgery kept checking in with Steve to see how I was doing, and I know he talked to both the oral surgeon and the staff at the hospital to let them know what it was he’d given me. It was very frightening to feel so woozy and blurry, because like I have said, it’s never happened to me. I have never had blood pressure issues so this was new to me, and very scary.

It was determined through x-rays that I had dislocated my ankle, torn ligaments right off the bone, and fractured my fibula in more than one place. Furthermore, as I would learn later, one of the fractures was vertical and quite long. I was given very strong painkillers so I would tolerate the ER doctor and nurses setting my ankle and it wasn’t too bad at all. I have a pretty high tolerance for pain, and while I felt them straightening out my ankle, it wasn’t unbearable pain. I was bandaged up and sent home to wait for my surgery in five days.

Home with an awesome shake made by Steve

The first week was pretty brutal. I was supposed to keep my leg AND my mouth both above my heart so I spent days and nights in a V position that hurt my back and hips. I did have some prescribed painkillers but after the second day I didn’t really need them, it was more being uncomfortable than anything, so I stopped taking them. Going to follow up appointments when you’re miserable is awful. To quote Dorothy Parker, “This wasn’t just plain terrible, this was fancy terrible. This was terrible with raisins in it.” Hopping around in crutches, with my mouth still tender and my leg bulky and awkward, I credit my husband with getting me through these first few days.

My ankle surgery went well, I was told I would have a 3-inch scar on the inside of the ankle and a lovely 8-inch scar on the outside, because of the long fracture. Spoiler alert, there are some pictures below in case you do/don’t want to see them. They were putting in plates and screws and pins oh my, and the worst part of the surgery, the IV, went smoothly. After they got someone else to hold my hand because I was starting to hyperventilate.

However, there was something else brewing, which I am sure, had it come to the worst solution, my husband would have helped me with, but thank goodness it didn’t get to that point. My youngest and I have oatmeal every day, but my mouth was still too tender and sore for attempting oatmeal, and I had been on the sofa pretty much 24/7. So, no fiber for about a week, and not much moving except to let Steve fluff the pillows behind me.

Do you see where this is going?

My husband and our oldest started watching The Mandalorian, which I also wanted to watch, but as they started episode 1, I felt like I needed to go to the bathroom. I sat down, and by the time they started episode 5, I was in so much pain and so much frustration because nothing was happening, that when I finally gave up and went back outside, there was condensation on every surface. I had worked myself up so much that I was sweating and so was everything else in the bathroom.

Out went Steve to get me stool softeners, fiber gummies (which I couldn’t really chew, I mostly let them melt in my mouth), and those blessed, lovely flushable wipes, which became my dear friends for the next two days. I never took the stool softeners because I was afraid of overcompensating and in my state, getting anywhere quickly just wasn’t happening, but the gummies helped, and eventually this, too, passed.

I also got a knee scooter, which was a game changer for getting around. My upper body strength is pretty low, so crutches were always dodgy for me, but the scooter was a little more stable.

I have weekly checkups for the oral surgery and have had a check up for the ankle fracture. My dentist and surgeon say everything is healing well, I like how the dentures look, because yes, I was afraid I would get those awful old-lady looking teeth from the 80s, but things have come far and they look very nice. Which is good because I will wear them for a few months until my surgery site heals completely. The screws that will attach to the implants I will get then look good as well, according to the doctors. Dentures are, as they tell me, terrible replacements for teeth, and it is true. I have progressed to being able to eat pasta and toast, and even pizza, if I cut it into little pieces with a knife and fork. The key is to put the pieces of food into the back of your mouth, so the dentures are balanced as you eat. If I only put food on one side, the denture moves when I try and bite down. But I can’t bite off a piece of meat, or a piece of burrito. I can’t eat my beloved Hershey’s Kisses, which is probably good. I don’t eat as much at one sitting because honestly, it’s just a pain in the mouth to try and eat.

I’ve lost weight, according to Steve, and I do feel it a little. I’ve also lost muscle mass in my calf. Yesterday the temp cast came off and I got my hard cast and it was shocking to see how, in little over three weeks, my left leg looks so much smaller already. The skin hangs without the muscle to support it, and it will get worse over the four weeks I have this cast. My right knee, which is doing the lion’s share of work when I stand up, sit down, etc. is starting to get sore.

Ready for some pictures? Here are a couple from when my splint was removed and I got my hard cast.

Cleanliness is also a production. I take baths every other day, but Steve has to be there to help me. I can maneuver myself in and out 90% of the way, but wouldn’t be able to do it on my own. The rest of the time it’s deodorant wipes or scrubbing with a washcloth, and washing my hair in the sink. He has stashed all my supplies at both downstairs bathrooms so that I am never caught without.

The boys manage all their meals and help with laundry, they get me things – Aidan has even gone through my yarn stash to find the rest of the blue yarn I needed for Steve’s sweater – and are very good-natured about the fact I can’t do many things for myself.

I have plans for my new cast, although I haven’t quite decided which way to go yet.

Today is one month since the fateful day and I am glad I am healing physically. Mentally, it has been an exercise in frustration – I do not like asking for help. Guess what? I have to ask for help all day long. Or rather, I need help all day long. Steve is great at anticipating what I need – drink? snack? snuggle? – and the boys are lovely about getting things for me. The dog is ecstatic that I am in one place most of the time. I am very happy that I can still help Alex with school. It is a new normal and it will be for a while. The cast should be off in 4 weeks, and then I will get a walking boot and physical therapy. Knitting is wonderful. I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have knitting with me all the time. Of course, most of my yarn is in the basement but my current projects are here and I suppose I could finish some of those instead of starting something new (my fellow knitters just burst out laughing.) People have been so kind to us. Checking in, sending care packages, recommending shows and books.

But now, it’s time for some oatmeal.

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