Monday, June 6, 2011

Commonly Asked Questions

Since acquiring my grill, I have received many questions curious to learn what it might be like to live “a day in the life of the jaw wired shut.”
1)      How long will your jaw be wired shut?
My doctor’s original estimate was 6 weeks, with worst case scenario 10 weeks.  Currently, his quote is at least 8 weeks based on healing achieved thus far.  Not all jaw fractures are the same.  Some can be healed with only 2-3 weeks of being wired shut.  In extremely severe cases (i.e. jaw is purposely broken), it could be up to 3 months.  Mine was severely fractured along the upper right side.  Although I landed on the left side of my face when I made impact on the pavement after flipping over my bike, it was the intense impact on one side that put pressure on the opposite side.
2)     Can you talk at all?
Yes and no.  I cannot speak normally as my tightly clenched teeth and locked jaw are unable to move.   However, if I’m in a quiet room and close to the listener, I can be somewhat understood if I speak slowly and with a lot of phonetic emphasis.  It is quite tiring though to hold more than a 5-10 min conversation.  I’ve made some attempts with phone calls, but only a fraction of what I say is actually audible.  It took me nearly 3 weeks to make this progress with “talking.”
3)     Are you able to move your jaw at all?
Nope, the thing is firmly locked down and wired shut.  The idea is that I should NOT be able to move it at all to allow for the fractured bones to heal properly.
4)     Can you stick your tongue out to taste food?
Sorry folks, all of my tasting and drinking has to be thru a straw (see response #3).  But I love to play that prank on people to ask them to let me taste some of their food and it takes them a few seconds to remember that I can’t actually do that!
5)     Are you in a lot of pain?
The pain was most intense for 2-3 days post-surgery then has diminished (then again, I have a high tolerance for pain).   Pain medication was provided  that I used for about a week.  The jaw does ache on a daily basis, usually when I’m fighting off sneezes or yawns.
6)     How many smoothies a day do you drink?
I consume at least 10 smoothies daily.  5 or more of these are food-blended smoothies, where I’m commonly blending chicken, beef, pasta, eggs, potatoes, and vegetables.  The remaining are fruit and yogurt smoothies, milkshakes, and Protein Milks.  I’ve also tried to buy every form of liquid I can find for blending – broths (chicken, beef, and vegetable), milks (normal milk, soymilk, almond milk, Keifer yogurt milk), juices (orange, apple, cranberry, pomegranate, mango, and lemonade) and even nutrition boosted waters like coconut water.  Places like Trader Joes also sell various boxed pureed soups.  Aside from milk, protein is added to smoothies via whey, soy, and hemp protein powders as well as peanut butter, almond butter, and sunflower seed butter. Mango butter, apple butter, and honey have no protein value but are great to add just a hint of sweetness or better yet, help disguise the disgusting taste of my liquid vitamins
7)     Can you brush your teeth?
My main dental hygiene device is a water pic.  I combine this with small Colgate “Wisp” brushes , “Easy Brush Dentek” cleaners, and mouth wash.    
8)     Are you able to travel?
Airplane travel is discouraged because the jaw might experience significant pain at high altitudes which forced me to cancel flights (including one to San Diego - bummer!).  However, as the jaw begins to heal and since I’m accustomed to travel regularly, I’m hoping to make short airplane travel possible in the coming weeks.  Local travel via car or train is do-able, however, many pre-cooked meals, plenty of blending liquids, and the portable blender have to come along.  Access to a kitchen is a must if travel is going to extend more than 6 hours.
9)     What happens if you have difficulties breathing or start choking?
I carry a Suture Removal Stray in case of an emergency.  The contents of this kit include scissors, forceps, and a gauze sponge in case the heavy bands need to be urgently cut to allow air to re-enter the passage way.
10)  Can you still train and do normal exercise?
Unfortunately, my triathlon training came to a screeching halt the day of my bike accident.  To allow the jaw to properly heal, I am to refrain from heavy exercise or activities where I strain my jaw muscles and/or I would require the ability to exhale from my mouth (i.e. swimming).  Also, because of my atypical liquid diet, my energy level is extremely low, making even long walks or an easy spin class very tiring.  I did attempt recently easy pool jogging for 20 mins (hard to keep up this schedule in crowded pools though) and recently picked up power walking. 
11)   How much weight will you lose?
Common weight loss estimates quote 15-20 pounds, depending on length of time that one is limited to liquids.  I’ve lost 8 pounds in 3 weeks (which is significant for a small person like me) and it is likely that my body will shed a few more.  Fingers are crossed that my intake of smoothies every 1-2 hours will stabilize the weight loss. 
12)  Do you have difficulties sleeping?
I am typically a heavy sleeper.  That being said, sleep quality during this period is subpar because I have to sleep on my back with some incline.  My body also craves much more sleep (and even the occasional nap) than it ever has.  Given that I am unable to breathe through my mouth during sleep, I am also very dehydrated in the morning, enough that my lips are often sealed shut and have to be pried open.

13)  Are you able to work?
Yes, however, I am certainly improvising.  Thankfully technology enables me to continue with most of my work tasks via email and Blackberry.  I also carry a notebook everywhere that I go and have support staff to assist me with client calls.  One of the most effective forms of communication is via note cards that I typed up while at home on bed rest.  Given just how many questions I was asked in the few days post-surgery, I typed up notes cards  of responses to questions and even questions I could ask someone to keep a converation going.  My friends or work colleagues were particularly amused by the following ones:

14)  Will you be able to eat normally once your jaw is no longer wired shut?
No.  I was under the impression that once my grill was removed, I would be good as new.  Unfortunately, the severity of my jaw injury combined with its lack of use for an extended period, will require the jaw muscles to re-build their strength and flexibility, a process predicted to take up to 6 months.  Trust me though, I am lining up all those restaurants and foods on my wish list for those post-grill and post-healing days.
And my favorite question – What do I miss most since my jaw has been wired shut?  Here’s the short list.
Top 10 “Misses” of the Jaw Wired Shut:
1)     Eating
2)     Talking
3)     Laughing Out Loud & Smiling
4)     Controlling My Weight
5)     Training & Exercising
6)     Sleeping Well
7)     Brushing My Teeth & Tongue
8)     Sneezing & Coughing Without Pain
9)     Traveling Without Fear of Hunger
10)   Protecting Others (I can’t yell, save someone from drowning, etc.)

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