Those of you who follow our household exploits on Facebook know that Fellow Traveler finally -- finally, after a four-year odyssey navigatng the VA system in two states -- received surgery for her RA-ravaged jaw. And as we wished, we were able to have it done right here in Michigan; as it turned out, from one of the best oral surgeons in the state, someone who has taken on surgical cases for the VA in the past. Since outsourcing services tends to make VA bureaucrats' heads explode, we were especially fortunate to connect with this doctor, who was not only happy to help us but who had the experience and professional pull to get things done.
Because my medical jargon isn't what it used to be I can't tell you the exact name of the ectomies and plasties involved, but the surgeon smoothed out the ragged ends of the jawbones, removed loose bits and created a new disk from a thin flap of skin removed from FT's backside. As one might imagine, this was a fairly involved surgery; it took five-and-a-half hours. FT had researched it extensively; I'm an incessant worrier, and after seeing one photo of a dissected jaw that, honest to pete, looked like cookbook instructions on how to de-bone a chicken, I decided that I was going to limit my grasp of the proceedings to a need-to-know basis and instead focus on aftercare. Which I did, and did well, for three days. I was one of those pain-in-the-ass loved ones who walks around with a notebook in hand, who measures input and output and how many feet my patient walked down the hallway per day and who asks lots of questions. I recommend proactive patient advocacy highly --partly because it helps overworked hospital personnel do their jobs, partly because it keeps less engaged employees on their toes and partly because it seemed to earn me special privileges, like raiding the Employees Only nutrition station for FT's ice cream.
From what we'd read about the procedure beforehand,and from what the doctor had told us, we had every expectation that FT was going to come out of surgery looking like the Elephant Man, with a melon head and a huge scar running from temple to chin, and that she would be unable to communicate verbally for at least a couple of weeks.. None of these things happened. When I was ushered into the recovery room FT, still high on anesthesia, was joking with the staff and practically giving high-fives all around; her face was wound up with gauze like the ghost of Jacob Marley, but was otherwise pretty normal looking. By Day 2 the fun and games had ended, but her face still looked fine -- and when the bandages came off there was only a small scar along her ear; one hundred stitches, we were told, but most of them internal. By Day 4 we were on the way home. It was the most amazing thing.
And it still is. The best part is that FT no longer feels the constant grinding RA pain of bone on bone; just the ache of mending tissue. Her doctor is delighted with her progress, although he cautions that it's going to take a full year for a complete recovery. (FT is looking forward to her first therapeutic exercise -- chewing gum -- but that won't be for awhile.)
For all of you who've been following our saga, thank you for your prayers and good wishes. We appreciate them so much.