I met with my surgeon last week as a spur-of-the-moment visit when he heard that I was having trouble opening my mouth still. When I saw him, he asked me to open up and was immediately surprised by how little I’d come. Before my splint came out, I felt like my progress was coming along great. Now, I feel like it’s stopped altogether, and he couldn’t really argue with that. In fact, he almost took it personally. After all, this procedure, he said, was supposed to FIX my problems, not cause new ones.
The normal mouth should be able to open up about 24 tongue depressors wide. (Ashley’s, for comparison, could probably do about 28. With out help, with me just opening my jaws, I could do about 9 or 10. He started me off by jimmying in 11 between my teeth, which took some fancy finagling. I am supposed to breathe through the pain, and believe me, there is pain, or rather extreme discomfort. Then, for funsies, he jammed a 12th one between two of the other sticks. It didn’t go in all the way. So yeah, I’m less than half of a healthy mouth, and certainly below where I should be after 10 weeks. Let’s put it this way – the name tongue depressor is so very very apt.
He had a few suggestions as to how to proceed from here. It’s actually more of a three-pronged system.
- The tongue depressors. I think he called them tongue splints. Either way, word can not describe how much I hate doing this. My job is to open my mouth as far as I can, sit with those tongue depressors in there for about 40-60 seconds, then try to put one more in. Every few days, I should be able to do a few more. Well let me tell you something, I’ve now been doing this 5 days, and I’m still at 11+1. Right before I wrote this, I managed to get a 13th in about halfway, but then it just stopped.
Because there’s a bigger problem: my gag reflex. Many things set this off, but opening my mouth wide is honestly one of them. So is having anything go near the roof of my mouth (further back than the teeth), so is having anything way in the back SIDES of my mouth (like when I get stuff jammed in there during dental appointments for x-rays), having stuff under my tongue. You name it, I gag. The problem with these sticks it that just having them in makes me gag. Then, as I try to add one more, the friction between the new stick and the old ones (as there really isn’t extra room – those suckers are wedged in there good) tends to push back one of the sticks to the back of my mouth. Gag city. I don’t know ways around this, so I just take them out, prevent vomit, then try again. It sucks.
2. I’m not sure how much the tongue depressors alone will work, but maybe they will. However, depending on progress, we may have to progress to cleaning out the joint (which he is pretty sure is locking up). He’ll clean it out surgically then give me a steroid injections right by my right ear (where it is hurting). That sounds like loads of fun.
3. If these fail, and possibly even if they work, we’re off to physical therapy. I wonder if it will be the same physical therapy I go to for my back? People in their fifties say getting old sucks – I’m a few years away from 40 and I agree whole-heartedly.
I’m supposed to try applying heat before (and after) the sticks, but I have either forgotten or not have the means to do it. I will try that tomorrow, hopefully alleviating some of the pain. I would guess that even in my heyday before surgery, I probably couldn’t open up 24 sticks wide (at least not without gagging), but it’s still disheartening to have these issues popping up when they really didn’t affect me beforehand.
On the bright side, eating hasn’t been as annoying, though I’m still really craving salad (WHY is lettuce either way too crisp or way too stringy?)
REGRET FACTOR: 4