Alright y’all, if you’ve been following along on my Instagram, then you know I recently had orthagnotic surgery to realign my upper and lower jaw.
I’ve needed this surgery for years and am so happy I was finally able to get it! It’s a brutal surgery, that required six long, sleepless nights in the hospital. While a misaligned jaw might be an unusual deformity in the US, in Asia it is a common genetic problem. The health care in China (where I reside) is not the best, so I opted to have my surgery in Hong Kong where the health care is some of the best in the world. The exact surgery was a Le Fort osteotomy, Bilateral inferior turbinoplasty & septoplasty, and a Bilateral vertical subsigmois osteotomies. Quite a mouthful, yea?
I wasn’t very nervous about the surgery until the morning of—when I walked into the surgical room. It was so terrifying and exciting. I was finally going to fix my jaw after a lifetime of pain and discomfort! But entering this giant room with bright lights and surgeons and nurses and the anesthesiologist bustling about made me want to turn and run. Will I wake up blind, deaf, will I lose feeling in my face, or not wake up at all?! The possibilities were endless, and I burst out laughing because I’m awkward and laugh when I’m nervous. My surgeon laughed, too, when he saw my petrified face, which made me feel better. “It easy surgery. No worry.” He assured in broken English. Then everyone started barking orders in Cantonese. (Comforting, right?) So I crawled onto the surgical table, nestled myself under a pink, soft blanket they had laid out for me, and fell asleep within seconds.
Six and a half hours later the surgery was finished, and I awoke to Trenton staring into my mouth as the surgeon explained the surgery to him. I quickly fell back asleep. They wheeled me to my room, and a few hours later I fully awoke. I had this awful tube up my nose going down into my stomach (see featured photo above). Just the thought of it makes my throat hurt. However, it prevented nausea by sucking out all the blood from my stomach. Unfortunately my mouth had to be wired shut, and would stay shut for one month. As I gained consciousness, and couldn’t open my mouth, I started to cry. It was a sad, choking type of cry that I thought would kill me–considering my nose was blocked with blood from the septoplasty so I couldn’t breath! I was entirely inconsolable. I felt lonely and claustrophobic from not being able to move or feel anything. Poor Trenton—everything he said to try to calm me down just made me cry more!
But after a few hours, and more pain medicine, I hit a high moment where I felt “ok”. That’s what my week in the hospital looked like—very low moments where I cried and cried, and high moments where I felt 100% fine. So strange! The pain wasn’t so bad—it was definitely manageable. I changed my ice pack every hour which helped reduce pain and swelling. But the sleepless nights were the worst. I would sleep from 11:30-1, then a nurse would come in and give me more medicine—but then I wouldn’t be able to fall back asleep. Eventually around 5:30 AM I’d fall asleep and wake up around 7:30 when the surgeon came to check on me.
After the first 2 days I was able to start drinking juices and congee, which helped raise my spirits. With my mouth wired shut, I could only drink fine liquids. The smallest seed (like a strawberry seed) or loose particle (like orange juice pulp) would get stuck in the wires. To sleep, I tried a sleeping pill but had wild hallucinations of demons and ghosts. It wasn’t scary but Trenton was terrified of my narrations haha I vaguely remember being slightly dramatic with my hallucinations to make him freak out more. Being on drugs really brings out my strange sense of humor.
By day 3, I was able to pace up and down the halls of the hospital. I think there were only 2 other people on my floor! It was so quiet—I think some surgeries must have been postponed due to the virus.
By day 4, I could wander more of the hospital and frequented the floor above me which had all the newborn babies sleeping behind a glass window. Why are Asian babies so cute?! They definitely lifted my spirits. I also decided that if I ever have a baby I want to have it at this hospital because they have a birthing “spa” and it looked so nice and fancy.
Anyway, by day 5 I could walk around outside and was regaining energy. After night 6, I was discharged and headed back to my apartment in Mong Kong—the most densely packed part of Hong Kong. I trudged my way through the veggie market to get to my door—terrified one of the little old ladies would bump into my jaw! But thankfully I was a head taller than most of them (yes, at 5’3” !) and my jaw was untouched.
The following week I was almost pain free. But mentally, I hit some of the lowest points of my life. I just laid on my bed all afternoon. Trenton was busy with life, so I was alone much of the day and had nothing to do. I longed to go outside, but it was SO crowded and the sidewalks were unstable. I wanted to go to a park but there weren’t any around. I tried to read but couldn’t focus. I tried watching tv but I’m not a big tv person. I watched the Ted Bundy tapes and some Disney movies but that’s about all that could hold my attention. I bawled my eyes out after watching Tangled–if that tells you anything about my mental state. Who knew surgery could mess with your brain so much?! I worked on my book, slowly, and that gave me some sort of purpose, especially since a couple publishers requested my manuscript. I also studied Chinese and video chatted with my tutor—though she had to do most of the talking.
The next two weeks my mother in law came—which made me so happy! Now I had something to do each day! We went hiking, explored Hong Kong’s famous sights, and took her to try all the best cuisine. We typically had an adventure day, followed by a “veg out” day for me to recover, so I was glad she stayed for two weeks. She spoiled me with milk teas and shakes, and it was nice having someone in the house when Trenton was off doing his thing so I wouldn’t feel so alone.
On her last day here, which was about one-month post-op, I got my mouth unwired. We went to Cheesecake Factory, and I was able to eat (aka mash up with my fork and swallow whole) a black bean and egg dish, followed by an ice cream Sunday. I could literally FEEL my energy returning to me! It was great.
Now it’s been almost 2 weeks since I was unwired, (6 weeks post-op) but my mouth is still kept shut by four strong rubber bands connected to the metal bars in my mouth. When I look in the mirror I honestly don’t recognize myself. My face is still very swollen, especially on my right side where most of the incisions were made, and my teeth are in totally new positions than before. I’m going to need to do Invisalign after this is all over to make sure my bite is perfect. I’m able to start working out again, and I’ve been eating lots of eggs, spinach, tomatoes, black beans, and protein shakes. I haven’t eaten any meat (except for twice and it was difficult to swallow whole) so I’m essentially a vegitarian now. I feel healthier as a vegitarian, though, and I take supplements to make up for any lack of vitamins.
So that’s an update on my life! I just wanted to document the past 6 weeks because it has been a wild ride. All of 2020 has been, really. We spent Christmas in the US for my sisters wedding. We came back to China and just as we were getting back into the swing of things, we had to leave China because of the virus. Hong Kong placed laws against anyone coming from China, so we had to go to Ireland for two weeks or else the HK hospital wouldn’t have allowed me to enter. Comment below if you want me to post my pictures from Ireland—it was an epic 15 day road trip!🍀
If you have any questions about jaw surgery, feel free to send me a direct message on Instagram @courtneylivin. I’d love to offer tips and advice to anyone who may soon be going through this surgery.
I hope all of you lovely readers are staying safe and enjoying this…special…time we are all in.
PS here’s a picture of my swollen face from the other day. Most of the swelling should go down in the next few weeks, but it can take up to a year for ALL of it to go down. Not that I mind though because it really smooths out my fine lines!! Hehe.