*I wrote this post pretty shortly after jaw surgery, but did not remember to post it until now. I trust my past-self to have written accurate advice.
Be brave- Just because you've chosen to go through this whole process shows that you're one bad-a**. Getting your jaws sawed apart sounds like something out of a horror movie! Every single day you're going to have to do uncomfortable things. One day it may be attempting to eat from a syringe, it might be talking to someone you haven't seen in a while while you are still re-learning to speak. It might be getting an IV for the first time. It could be sleeping elevated. It might be making that transition from syringe to cup. It could be throwing up through jaws that are wired shut. There are so many things about this journey that are uncomfortable, and at sometimes it gets REALLY overwhelming. And it IS ok to break down and cry, because everyone does it at one point or another during recovery. When things get to be too much, and the hospital drugs are leaving your system, it is completely ok to break down and have a good cry, it's just not good to make a habit of it. Carrying on is the only way to recover, so you might as well be positive about it. For me, I adopted this saying:
If you showed this to anyone not going through this surgery, I'm sure they would think of things other than taking your rubber bands out for the first time, but for me, I've found the way to make it day to day is to put on my big-girl panties and do what I'm supposed to do, and eventually you'll make progress! And when you look at it, 6 weeks of discomfort is probably worth the rest of your life with a functional jaw!
Sleep Elevated- DO IT. It may be something you're not used to, and it may be uncomfortable, but it will help reduce swelling. For most of the first week I used a wedge pillow to prop myself up. I stopped sleeping elevated around Day 12... because I just couldn't stand it anymore. I would wake up a little more swollen than when I went to bed, but at that point it was either get a better nights rest, or be a little more swollen in the morning, and I chose the better nights rest!
Supplies- Luckily, I didn't have to buy a whole lot of stuff, because I already had most of it, but there is some things that you will need to go out and buy to be prepared for the recovery process. Here's what proved helpful:
- wedge pillow-- for sleeping elevated
- button up shirts-- for at least the first two days, I wasn't brave enough to pull t-shirts over my swollen face, so I liked using button up shirts. I had button up pajamas which made me comfortable and cozy.
- jaw bra-- for compression and ice-pack holding. The hospital provided us with this, and I don't know where we would've gotten it if they hadn't...
- waterpik-- I already had this from previous rounds of braces, but it was seriously SO helpful to get at least some of the food unstuck from the deep dark depths of my splint. HOWEVER, I suggest you don't try to use it until you feel like your incisions can handle it, and even then use it on the lightest setting.
- baby spoons-- b/c you can't open your mouth very wide at first
- baby toothbrushes-- b/c you can't open your mouth very wide at first, and sometimes having Winnie the Pooh on your toothbrush can brighten your day!
- nasal spray-- I DETESTED using this stuff, but I do really think it helped with my congestion
- hydrogen peroxide and q-tips-- if you dip a q-tip in a little hydrogen peroxide and gently swab the inside of your nose, it can help dissolve unwanted blood clots. This was helpful the first 4ish days.
- TISSUES-- I went through about 3 boxes in just the first week. I used them for drooling, eating, and nose drippage. So go buy a lot. And the travel sized packs are handy for your first trips out and about.
- whiteboard-- for when you can't talk. I also liked using this website.
- entertainment-- for your sanity, find some TV shows to catch up on, some good movies to watch and rewatch, some books to read etc. etc. For the first day or so, the TV may act as background noise as you fade in and out of drug induced sleep, but it's still nice to have, and after that it's a real boredom buster.
- vaseline-- I tried both vaseline and chapstick during the earlier days, and chapstick is virtually useless and hard to apply with numb lips. So vaseline, or aquaphor is the way to go. I believe 10/10 jaw surgery patients would recommend.
- heat packs-- these are pretty important, because you are advised to use heat after the 48 hour-or-so icing period right after surgery, but I bought two that both smelled gross. One smelled like fried chicken, and the other smelled like melting plastic whenever heated up. I don't know what could've been done to avoid this, but I wish luck upon those on a quest for a normal-smelling heating pack.
Here's some of the things I bought that proved useless:
- squeeze bottles-- most of these require lip suction or biting to properly use, which is hard when you're not allowed to suck or bite in the early stages of recovery.
- neck pillow-- I just didn't use this at all... but I've heard some people really liked having this around!
As Far as Food Goes- Get creative! It might seem like you're running out of meal options by the second day, but there are seriously ENDLESS smoothie and soup recipes out there! Jamba Juices were my best friends (this handy website has a lot of their recipes!). You can pretty much blend up anything too, provided you have a good blender and the right ingredients. I've heard you can blend up pizza, cereal, hamburgers, egg salad sandwiches, cake etc. etc. etc. The liquid diet period doesn't have to be miserable! Just get plenty of variety. Some of the things that worked for me:
- various fruit juices (pineapple, grape, peach nectar, Bolthouse Farm/Naked smoothies)
- blended cereal (cereal and milk)
- chocolate banana smoothies (bananas, chocolate milk. Sometimes some peanut butter.)
- other smoothies (really. There are SO many recipes out there, or you don't even have to use a recipe, just throw some fruit in the blender!)
- soup (if it was too chunky, I just blended that stuff right up)
- pie shakes (pie, ice cream, and milk. SO GOOD.)
Then once you're good to move onto spoons...
- more soup (you can even get some noodles in there! Ramen works if you chop up the noodles small enough)
- slurpees/snowies/snow cones/slushies/shave ice/icees (these were my BEST FRIENDS)
- smashed fruit (raspberries, bananas w/peanut butter, blended up strawberries etc.)
- bread pudding
- cake soaked in milk
- muffins soaked in milk
- banana bread soaked in milk
- ice cream/sorbet/sherbet
- cookie dough (just leave out the chocolate chips)
And if you're brave enough, you can try swallowing things whole. JUST MAKE SURE YOU CUT THINGS UP SMALL ENOUGH. Or you will choke and it will be uncomfortable and you could potentially die. But with this method, I was able to eat pizza, mac and cheese, smothered burritos, french fries, fish sticks, bread etc.
Also, learn to drink out of a cup ASAP. It will seriously make meals SO much easier.
Also, while going the syringe route, I suggest you have several spare. My bigger ones would get sticky, and not want to plunge anymore, so I suggest finding extra. My parental units couldn't find ANY at nearby stores or online or anywhere, so we wished we would've asked the hospital for more. But if all else fails, try getting them unsticky with a little vegetable oil, or crisco/shortening (if you can stand the taste, I couldn't...).
STAY HYDRATED- I didn't do too hot on this during recovery. I should really listen to my own advice, but anywho. Yes, drinking water can be hard when you have to pump it through a syringe and it takes you 10 minutes just to drink one glass, and half of it ends up dribbling out your mouth anyway, BUT, you will feel much better if you do your best to stay hydrated.
Fiber- THIS IS SO IMPORTANT. CONSTIPATION IS NO FUN. Right after you get back from the hospital, start getting this stuff in you. Do yourself a BIG favor, and drink some prune juice, or find some kind of stir-in fiber supplement (I prefer Benefiber myself) or you will find a lack of bowel movements in your life. NO BUENO.
Embrace Messiness- Your mouth is numb and swollen, which makes eating and controlling your spit a struggle. Messes will happen! Don't be afraid to make a mess-- just imagine you are a one-year-old baby playing it it's first birthday cake! And don't be afraid to carry around a box of kleenexes with you everywhere. People will understand and it's a lot better than drooling on everything and everyone. If people don't understand, they'll just have to get over it.
Be active- This is something that requires you to listen to your body. Talking walks ASAP after surgery is important because it will help reduce swelling and your chance of a blood clot, but you don't want to overdo it. I remember the first week after surgery or so, just taking a shower for me really wore me out, because I was super congested, and couldn't breath through my mouth. So be active, but as your body allows you to.
Be Patient- This whole process is long and hard. Not even just the recovery process, but playing the waiting game pre-op is hard too. Sometimes, you don't want to be patient. But life is easier and happier when you are. So remember dear friends, patience is a virtue. And progress comes in millimeters (as we all know very well).
And hey, when all is said and done, jaw surgery is just a short moment of discomfort to improve your long-term comfort. You can do hard things. Go show your jaw who's boss.