facing things: 5+ weeks post-surgery

Long time no blog! Today is 5 1/2 weeks after surgery and 8 1/2 weeks after my accident.

Long story short, the last few weeks have been saturated with not-exactly-riveting signs of progress: rest, go back to work, feel good, get overambitious, get too tired, rest. Rinse and repeat.

I’ve been in a strange state where I mostly look normal—people who have seen me exclaim, “Wow, you look great!” now that I’m no longer bruised and swollen—but I’m still experiencing some invisible issues, which is … well, weird.

What’s going on in there?

The good news is that everything has healed well:

  • My nose looks good and is functioning (I can breathe!). During some of the wildfire smoke, I had a couple of nosebleeds, but nothing we weren’t all experiencing (isn’t this new global warming climate/overpopulation/dummies starting fires FUN?).
  • My cheekbone matches the other one again. Dr. D is pleased with how it looks, and my very honest daughter agrees.
  • The scar under my eye Is slowly, slowly becoming less visible, even up close. There is still a little bit of puffiness above the horizontal line that Dr. D made in an existing crease—puffiness that’s worse in the evening or when I’m tired.
  • My sinus seems to have healed just fine. I got the all-clear two weeks ago to use a neti pot as needed, which has been really nice for flushing out ash, pollen, and pollution. (Oh, and I’m allowed to blow my nose again! Rather wonderful after 8 weeks.)
  • My stitches are out inside my upper lip and gum. Dr. D was a bit astonished, I think, that I was clearly suffering more as they teased out the stitches inside my mouth than I had been when she removed the stitches under my eye. What can I say? I HATE having things done inside my mouth, and I always have. My poor mouth is really sensitive. Whaaa.
  • The nerve in my cheekbone (the infraorbital nerve) is coming back to life—healing after the shock and trauma that the fall and surgery put it through. This revival of the nerve has been the source of much of my greatest discomfort over the past 2-3 weeks. At times, it’s felt like sugar ants were crawling inside my cheek. Much of the time, my lip has still felt “fat,” the way it might feel after dental anesthesia. Last week, it felt like someone had glued leather over the skin on my cheek, and several times, I’ve twitched and yelled “Ow!” at a sensation like an insect sting, usually in the skin over my cheekbone/under my eye. But given that the bruised and painful sensation in my cheekbone has mostly faded, it’s time to really do the nerve rehabilitation exercises that a generous friend taught me—and which I’ve been delaying because they hurt.
  • I’m eating foods with texture. Phew! What a relief—both because it broadens my culinary options and because it exercises my jaw muscles (my friend the speech therapist pointed out that my muscles would be atrophying from disuse—yikes!).
  • I can do yoga and walk again. It’s hard for me to get super excited about exercising, but it’s great to be back to being active. At first, it felt pretty terrible to hang my head upside down (an unpleasant feeling of pressure) but now it’s quite manageable with some modifications.

OK, if that was the good news … ?

Yeah. There are a couple of other areas where I know or suspect the news is not so great. And these are the things that have left me uninspired to blog or even to talk much to others about what’s going on—because at times I’ve been deeply discouraged and anxious about what’s coming up. (Content warning: If you’re squeamish, this has some icky parts.)

  • My teeth are ostensibly fine (Dr. D, my face surgeon, is an oral-maxillofacial surgeon—the type of surgeon who does oral surgery and wisdom teeth removal, in addition to things like reconstructing jaws and cheekbones—and she took a look, of course). But I’m having a fair amount of sensitivity in my left upper teeth, in the area where my scar is. Brushing my teeth in that area is an exercise in counting the seconds until the designated 30 seconds are OVER. That could be because …
  • A screw is protruding. When she removed the stitches last Friday (5 weeks since surgery), Dr. D mentioned that a screw from one of the plates in my cheekbone is sticking out in my gum/mouth. She said there are a few possible ways this could go:
    • My gum might still heal over it.
    • It might not cause me any problems.
    • If I have another procedure with Dr. S, the eye surgeon, he might take it out.
    • It could get infected, in which case I’ll have pain and swelling and need to call Dr. D ASAP for antibiotics and to take it out.

      Oh, and “Don’t worry too much—I mean, it’s sticking out into your sinus too!” Gee, thanks, doc. Now I feel … oh, never mind.
  • Double vision is an ongoing issue for me. My eyes still aren’t syncing when I first wake up. And if I look down, using only my eyes and without lowering my head, things are definitely doubled. It’s not getting better, and in fact, it is worse than it was before surgery. This is immensely frustrating because the primary reason I decided the surgery was a must-do was because of my vision.

    (I guess I didn’t actually write about that on this blog, but the oculoplastic surgeon, Dr. S., told me that given my symptoms of double vision and the fact that my left eye was sinking back into the socket—a condition called enophthalmos—he would strongly advise the surgery because it would only get worse.)
  • My eye looks sunken. In fact, my left eye looks better than my right—it looks more open—because of the saggy eyelid skin that will make me probably need a blepharoplasty at some point in the future, perhaps sooner than later. But this isn’t necessarily good news; in fact, I’m afraid it means the surgery didn’t repair the issues that I was hoping it would fix with my eye, which makes me very fearful that Dr. S is going to recommend redoing the surgery to correct it.

    Those playing along at home will remember that after my accident, the ocular floor (a paper-thin bone under the eyeball) was broken and displaced by 8 mm. Surgery is sort of a must-do if it’s more than 1 cm, but because of the symptoms, Dr. S recommended I do have surgery. But Dr. D didn’t put in the implant (a titanium mesh, I think) to hold up that bone—she said she did try it, but it raised my eye too high, so she took it out in hopes it would heal OK on its own after all, now that she had rebuilt the cheekbone and eye socket. My post-surgical CT scan showed that that bone was out of place by 6 mm after surgery.

Insurance, insurance, insurance

We all love insurance, right?

In a nutshell, everything is going as well as can be expected with insurance. I have actually had two longish conversations with member service representatives at Cigna who have been beyond delightful—personable, responsive, compassionate, and knowledgeable.

That doesn’t mean it’s not still a pain and expensive, but it is what it is. The big things remaining are that the ambulance and my surgeon are billing me more than I’m supposed to pay according to a new Colorado law (HB 19-1174) that prohibits “balance billing,” or charging consumers whatever is left over after the health plan pays. In other words, the “balance” isn’t my problem—it’s between the provider and Cigna. (Many thanks to my friend Carol T. who talked through my bills with me and urged me to not settle for anything less than what’s legally required.)

p.s. If you think consumer protection legislation like this is a good idea, consider donating to or volunteering for my friend Lisa Cutter’s re=election campaign in Colorado House District 25—she was a sponsor of this bill and is facing a tight race this year! And if you live in HD25, please vote for Rep. Cutter!

I’m still waiting for Dr. S’s office to get approval from Cigna as an “in-network exception,” like Dr. D’s office. I assume it will come through. In Dr. D’s case, there were only 4 oral-maxillofacial surgeons in the network, and none of the others could see me. In Dr. S’s case, there are ZERO eye surgeons in my network. Meanwhile, I’m going to go to my appointment today (and pay out of pocket, unless I can appeal if they get it later) because I don’t want to wait any longer to find out what he has to say.

Meanwhile, life continues

There are sooo many exhausting parts of life that go on and on and on. In the past few weeks—another reason I haven’t updated anything here—I’ve managed a zillion little things, including:

  • Sore throat (with pus—eww!) that postponed my stitches removal for a week.
  • “Hairy black tongue,” which is just as fantastic as it sounds. Basically, it’s when the little bumps on your tongue (tastebuds) get overgrown and collect junk. It can result from antibiotics (check) and a soft-foods diet (check). Eating more crunchy foods and using a tooth cleaner can help.
  • L catching my cold with sore throat, which resulted in her school encouraging us to both get COVID tests (negative and very, very easy at the Pepsi Center site, which naturally the city is closing after this week).
  • Dogs getting their teeth cleaned, a daylong and expensive process that I have been putting off since I canceled it in the spring because I was sick, which involved a full day of vet care plus a surprise visit earlier in the week for blood work because their spring bloodwork needed to be redone.
  • L’s car got a flat tire. M put on the spare to get it to the tire store … and that tire (a doughnut) promptly went flat. We called AAA to come pump up the spare, but by then she’d missed her appointment, so I drove her to the tire store and later drove her to pick it up.
  • Dealing with insurance, medical bills, and rescheduled appointments galore.
  • Friends are going through so much, from surgery to chemo to moving.
  • OH, AND THERE’S A PANDEMIC.

I know all of you are dealing with these things all the time, and I’m here to tell you, it’s a LOT. The list looks so small when I type it out, but because I’m just now feeling like I’m starting to get back to myself and my usual energy level, every time something like that has happened, it has consumed an entire day or longer. My analogy is that it’s practice for older age, to have this sense of being able to accomplish only one or two things in a day.

Anyway, this afternoon I’m going to see Dr. S, the eye surgeon, to hear what he advises. Tomorrow I have a dental exam, so we’ll see what they say. I’m eager to find out, and I’m dreading it too.

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4 Comments

  1. September 28

    Well, I still love you. I still believe you to be one of the bravest people I know. I still love reading these reports because it reminds me that I have nothing to whine about. And I needed that this morning, because I have bruiseD cartilage between lower ribs on the right side, A knee that went out yesterday, and my acid reflux has made my stomach extremely painful again so that last night I went to bed with my torso raised for the stomach pain, A heating pad on myRight ribs, and a pillow under my painful knee. Oh, and I had a biopsy done on some skin on my chest a couple of days ago, so that was all gooped up with some meds for healing. Now, don’t you be feeling sad for me! I honestly put all of that into perspective after reading your update. Really! And I know we can all do that comparison thing both ways.But, it’s all about timing, and you have helped me out today!
    However, you did mention something about that getting older thing. Watch out! If this is practice for you getting ready to see what it’s like to handle a few things at a time, or however you put it, I might just take offense. I turn 69 in a few days, Well, actually a few months. I don’t think it has prevented me from doing Bunches of things every day but I probably misinterpreted what you said anyway. The minute anybody says anything about aging I get riled! I love you.

    • Susanna
      September 28

      Haha! Thank you, Judith. You are just five minutes older than I am, right? (“Old” is all in the mind, well, and the body, so you can define it when you get there.) I’m sorry you are going through so much junk!

  2. October 3

    WHOA. I have not been on WordPress in a long time and just logged in tonight and read this saga from the beginning. Wow. You’ve really been through the wringer. I hope the healing continues (I am super icked out about the screw poking through, yikes!) and that the eye surgeon was encouraging. 2020, am I right?

    • Susanna
      October 4

      Nice to hear from you! Thanks for the well wishes. Yes, it has been BANANAS. But weirdly, seems like par for the course this year, huh?

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