Yesterday Fellow Traveler had her long-awaited consult with a non-VA oral/maxillofacial surgeon regarding her arthritis-ravaged jaw.
It was one of those mornings that just begged for a do-over. I had intended to accompany FT to this important appointment, but a relatively mild cold I've tolerated for the past week suddenly exploded in intensity, and I woke up with a raging fever and sore throat; there was no way I could go along. Then, about five minutes into FT's journey through town and toward the freeway our normally reliable Jeep began stalling whenever she slowed the car to a stop, so she was forced to turn around and carefully drive back home to switch vehicles.
I didn't see her for several hours. Part of the plan that day was for her to come home by way of our church and help train a new volunteer on our database system; then she was going to stay for a council meeting in the evening. But a snowstorm began to build in the afternoon, and FT finally decided that it was unwise to try and navigate through the bad weather in the Prius.
By this time I was not only sick but anxious because of the increasingly bad roads, so I was relieved to see the Prius turn into our driveway. And I'd only gotten a short-form version of how the consult went over the phone, so I was eager to hear the details of the exam.
Here's the story: The good news is that the surgeon is recommending a less invasive, less dangerous operation than what was originally described to us; rather than attempting to replace the joint, he is going to realign the joint to reduce the bone-on-bone discomfort. More good news is that, while not a common surgery, this surgeon has done it enough times to be fairly confident that it will relieve FT's pain for an extended period of time.
The bad news? The benefits of the surgery won't last forever. Preparation for the surgery involves several weeks' use of a new quartet of medicines, including steroids -- something FT hates and has resisted taking in the past because of prior bad experiences -- a bite splint and a host of lifestyle restrictions. Post-surgery FT will have to have her jaws wired for six weeks. And if for some reason this surgery is not successful, the alternative -- a scary procedure -- only has a 20 percent success rate, and a high degree of danger.
FT came home exhausted, jaw pounding in pain, from her two-hour exam -- and from trying to process all the information that the surgeon had given her. I was still feverish and miserable but also trying very hard to understand exactly what this proposed surgery will entail, both in terms of the procedure itself and the necessary aftercare.
It made for a pensive evening.
FT has had so many surgeries for her RA-eaten joints that we jokingly refer to her as the Bionic Woman. Her degree of pain makes her so miserable on any given day -- her jaw swells noticeably, making it difficult for her to speak clearly -- that saying yes to something that may end that pain for at least several years, is not that difficult a decision to make.
But I worry. And I feel bad that FT -- who's already had so many joint replacements that we jokingly refer to her as the Bionic Woman -- has to go under the knife yet again. I know our life together has been blessed immeasurably these past going on five years...but there's always an undercurrent of sadness for the pain she's suffered and anxiety over the future. If this is, as Luther saw our life partnerships, a school for character, then we must be in graduate school.