The earliest physician, Hippocrates, once said, “To do nothing is sometimes a good remedy.”
Very Zen for a Greek.
While I understand the concept, may I say that as I sat on the gurney, hidden in an emergency room cubicle behind a pulled curtain, I felt like I’d been forgotten.
I had discovered a few minutes earlier that emergency room doctors use a familiar shorthand to refer to their frequently rotating round of patients. How do I know? Because I was The Jaw Lady.
I overheard the nice guy who’d given me a tetanus shot refer to me by my newest moniker as he discussed my impending admittance with an orderly. As he wheeled me down to my waiting gurney, I couldn’t help but smile my crooked smile and let him in on my discovery, “So, I’m The Jaw Lady?”
“Yup. You sure are. We have all sorts of names we use,” he continued. “The Jaw Lady. The Arm Guy. The Stab Wound. You’ll be just fine. Right over here,” he said as he wheeled me into the small little curtained-off cubicle.
However, forty-five minutes later, I was still sitting behind the curtain in a cubicle instead of a comfy hospital bed and felt I’d been completely forgotten.
Now, I will begin this complaint by saying that the hospital staff could not have been nicer to me during my stay---however, I have since discovered that there seems to be a sort of Black Hole in hospitals. They tend to wheel you somewhere for something—maybe x-rays or tests---and then…
Well, you just sit there. Waiting.
Sitting there in a wheelchair in a hallway with people being forced to walk around you; avoiding eye contact, like I was a homeless guy taking up sidewalk space on Fifth Avenue. I don't think this is what Hippocrates had in mind.
Finally, I wrapped my Size 18 hospital gown around my Size 4 body, got out of my gurney, peered out of the curtains and looked around.
It was chaos.
Controlled chaos. But enough of a madhouse that no one would notice The Jaw Lady poking her big blue eyes and goatee out of the thin, blue curtain.
They’d get to me when they got to me, I guess.
As a waitress, I completely understood the whole idea of first ticket in, first ticket out.
In the meantime, I leaned over my gurney and pulled up my hefty bag----a big, black bag with The Strand Bookstore logo on the front---which, despite its heft, contained precious few items for my impending stay. There was some loose powder and lipstick, a hairbrush, a bottle of Vitamin C, my wallet, about fifteen pens, one small notebook, a Tide To-Go Stick, some old, wadded-up receipts, about fifteen dollars in loose change, an eye pencil, an emergency tampon, my cell phone (currently set to ‘OFF’ due to the ever-present signs warning you to turn your cell phones off), and---a book.
Despite my tea-obsessed frame of mind, I had extended the Emergency Preparedness part of my brain just enough to pack a book.
“Salt: A World History” by Mark Kurlansky.
But once I finally got to my room, the nice nurse immediately handed me a couple of Percocets in a cup and told me to take them. Once I started my steady diet of Percocet, I wouldn’t able to pick up a book for weeks.
A few minutes after getting settled into my hospital bed, one of the nurses brought me a welcome basket. Well, it was more like a welcome bedpan or something. A plastic bin that was supposed to contain all the emergency supplies I would need during my stay: A couple of plastic cups, a tiny bar of soap, some other plastic oddly-shaped bin that I had no idea what to do with, a small tube of toothpaste, a baby-sized toothbrush, and a small box of tissues.
Despite the pain and fear, I could only focus on my inadequate supplies. Where was the deodorant? The shampoo? And what was I going to do with my contact lenses?
I guess it seemed like the easiest thing to focus on other than the fact that within 24 hours, I would have a steel plate in my head. People were going to hate me at the airport.
However, now safely in my hospital room, I was allowed to turn on my cell. Luckily, I was able to get two bars to perk up. But I knew they wouldn’t last long. I quickly scrolled down my contacts list, looking for friends who lived at least somewhat nearby who might be able to bring me my much-needed supplies. The other criterion was that they be the sort of person who would still be awake at almost one o’clock in the morning.
Unfortunately, the sorts of people still awake at that hour turn out to be the sorts who are all out on the town. The two I was able to get hold of were, oddly enough, in bed early. I apologized for waking them and said not to worry.
Are you sure? Are you really sure?
Yeah. I’ll be fine. And I meant it.
Because by this time, I had realized that, in the scheme of things, saline solution and clean underpants aren’t really all that important. Well, the saline solution wasn’t. I was still a little disturbed about going into surgery with yesterdays underpants.
But no matter how bad the injury, it wasn’t life or death. I would live. A lot of people in this hospital might not.
A few minutes later, my cell phone rang. It was Mom.
She sounded calm (that’s my Mom in a crisis) but was obviously shaken about the news of her little girl. She had gotten the message from my Aunt and started asking all the questions that a Mom is going to ask. How was I doing? What happened? What’s going to happen now? Do you need anything?
And then, my phone died.
It took almost another hour for the hospital to finish setting up the account for the phone in my room. Luckily, I had given my Mom the name of the hospital, my room number, and warned her that my cell was about to give and that the phone in my room did not make long-distance calls.
So I waited. Waited for Mom to somehow get thru.
Luckily, when it comes to her babies, nothing stops my mother. Despite the fact that the phone took almost another hour to get set up, and that she had gotten yelled at by the nurses for calling the hospital at almost 2:00 in the morning (“This is a hospital, Ma’am”, one of them had said)---my Mother was not to be daunted. An hour later my phone rang and we picked up where we left off.
She told me that, while she’d been trying to get thru to the hospital, she had started making some calls to the airlines and would get the first plane out in the morning. “It’s major surgery, honey. You shouldn’t be alone.”
I admit that at that point, no matter how old you are---you really want your Mommy. However, I told her not to worry and to stay right where she was. I would be fine. By the time she got here, I would most likely be done with my surgery and back at home. Safe and sound.
I also knew the plane fare would be enormous. A last-minute flight out of St. Louis would probably cost about $1200. Not only that, but I was more worried about HER. My mother has osteoporosis, and while my fall was pretty bad---if she fell… Well, it would be another thing entirely. She would be traveling alone with no one around to help with the luggage. And she’d never been to New York. Not that my Mom isn’t pretty darn savvy, but I suddenly worried about her trying to navigate the mean streets of Manhattan for the first time without a guide.
In the end, I had made a good call. The next morning, they had a huge snowstorm in St. Louis that shut down all the airports for the entire day. She would have spent $1200 on a ticket, wouldn’t have gotten out anyway, and might possibly have slipped on snow and ice. At least one tragedy that day averted.
A nurse stopped by to offer me a sleeping pill, but I said I wouldn’t need it. I don’t particularly like the things and felt pretty exhausted from the days activities. I would have no trouble following Dr. McDreamy’s orders and getting lots of sleep.
Unfortunately, I was quickly getting to know my hospital roommate.
Well, not her in particular. Lying in the next bed, behind a thin blue curtain, was an elderly woman with Alzheimer’s who was in for a hip replacement. She wasn’t the problem. She pretty much slept the whole time.
The problem was with the fact that, due to her altered state of mind, the family had (albeit, wisely) hired a staff of round-the-clock nurses to monitor her every move. The nurses, however, weren’t the sort who could sit there and read about The History of Salt. The TV was on constantly---not to entertain the sleeping woman, but to keep the nurses amused. And their other nurse friends kept dropping by for long, extended discussions about who in their neighborhood was getting a divorce and who was cheating on whom.
It was non-stop gossip and late-night TV twenty-four seven.
Finally, at 4:00 in the morning, I rang the buzzer and asked the nurse for a sleeping pill.
Later, when my mother discovered this state of affairs, she almost had a heart attack.
What? No private room?
My mother is The Queen of the Private Rooms. And, while she is extremely nice and polite about the whole business, when anyone in my family has to enter the hospital for any reason, my mother will immediately step up and firmly (but kindly) demand, “And she HAS to have a private room.”
The fact that this family gene had obviously not been passed down to her daughter was almost shocking.
“Oh, honey, you didn’t have an advocate,” she said sadly.
And by this time, as I sat there drifting off with the Ambien, it had certainly dawned on me that I not only did not have an advocate at all---I was completely alone. About to have major surgery and completely alone.
When I was little, I was alone and then I jumped. Now, I jumped and I was alone. I went thru a few more tissues in the box before I finally got to sleep.
In the morning, the head surgeon of the department came by to pay me a visit, explain my surgery, and reassured me that I would be fine.
A few more phone calls came in from my family and friends. My mother also told me that she was putting money into my account.
“You’re not going to be able to work for awhile, honey.”
No, really---I’m fine, I told her. But Mom wouldn’t hear of it. I was going to need money, she informed me, and explained that I certainly wouldn’t be able to go back to work for at least a few weeks.
A few weeks? It seemed inconceivable. Not that I was anxious to get back to a crappy waiting tables job… But really, I would be fine, I said blithely on my Percocet high. Mom thought otherwise.
Not long after, a strange man walked into my room. The Hospital Chaplain. The Catholic in me suddenly felt like I was getting last rites.
Now, while I was raised Catholic, I would not consider myself the practicing sort. Sure, I love all the great values my Catholic school education has given me---fundamental things like be kind to others, donate to charity, have respect for yourself and your gifts, and when things seem bad---pick yourself up and know that things can get better.
But I certainly wasn’t sure about this whole chaplain thing. Would I be forced to sit there in pain listening to some 42nd St. Preacher go on and on about Jaaah-sus!
But he seemed nice and soft-spoken and sat down on the chair. Honestly, he was the first (and most likely ONLY) visitor I would have. I wasn’t about to look a Gift Guest in the mouth.
He asked what had happened to me and what surgery I was about to have. I began to tell the whole sordid tale. His eyes got both large and warm as he listened and then said, “I had my jaw broken, too.”
“Oh my god!”
Oooops. I probably shouldn’t have said, “god”.
“What happened to you?” I quickly continued on.
About fifteen years ago, he was living in Queens and was beaten and robbed. His face had been broken in so many places that the doctors actually took pictures of him for the medical books.
As he continued telling his own much-shorter tale---Hey, he had the advantage of fifteen years to cut and re-write!---we started talking about the pace of life. How fast everything was in the city. And how maybe, things like this made you think about just slowing down. After all, he asked, what was so important that you had to run and jump down the stairs to make a train?
Had it been an interview for my dream job? A meeting with a studio interested in my latest script? A plane to a vacation in Venice with George Clooney?
No. I did all of this to myself to avoid being POSSIBLY five minutes late to a waitressing job on a slow day where I would most likely have sat around drinking tea for two hours before I would even get a table.
Without ever mentioning Jesus, the guy made ya think.
And yeah, the Percocet was pretty good, too.
A nurse stopped by to inform me that I would need to take off ALL my clothes and simply have on my lovely hospital gown for the surgery.
Now, normally I would be a little disturbed about the no-underpants thing. I’m not really a Commando-type gal. But at least the clean underpants issue was off the table.
As I gussied-up for surgery, I also thanked god for the fact that I’d recently had a pedicure and shaved my legs. And that wasn’t the Percocet---that’s just me.
Not long after, a man showed up with a gurney and called out my name. This was it. I took one last look at my face in the mirror and crawled onto the gurney.
I was wheeled into the pre-op area where I saw the head of the department and my cute doctor all huddled up in conference. A couple of nurses were suddenly all over me. One of them started attaching an IV thingy into the pre-made slot in my arm, another put an oh-so-attractive shower cap on my head and propped me up on the gurney, while another took my blood pressure and started asking pretty much the same questions I’d been asked about fifteen times before.
And then, once I was all attached to medical equipment and had that eye-catching hairnet on my head---my adorable doctor walked over to chat.
At this moment, may I say that I have watched WAY too many television news reports about someone going in for a standard procedure and then something going horribly awry.
So, with Dr. McDreamy next to my gurney, I suddenly admitted my latest fear, “So…I hate to say anything, but I just wanted to make sure that you got the right side… I mean, I see all those stories about people going in for surgery and they operate on the wrong side… Don’t forget, it’s this side…” I said as I pointed to my broken face. “I’m sorry; you probably think I’m crazy or something.”
“No,” he said as he smiled and gave a little laugh. “I understand. Wait right here.”
Well, where was I going?
A moment later, he came back with a marker and I felt him draw a line with an arrow underneath my chin on the proper side.
“There,” he said as he smiled, “now you don’t have to worry.’
While you’re laughing at my obvious insanity at this moment, may I just say---Hey, the girl needed an advocate.
The Head Surgeon came over with a digital camera and began to take what I can only assume was a Before Picture.
“Is this for the new ‘Don’t Run On the Subway’ Posters?” I asked.
“Yes,” he smiled, obviously appreciating my warped sense of humor. “That’s exactly what it’s for.”
Dr. McDreamy gave me another one of those little pats and then they all left to scrub-up.
This was it. I was about to have my very first surgery. I can’t say I felt my whole life flashing before my eyes, but I began to feel a sense of finality.
What if this was it? My last few moments on earth? Sure, this thought had occurred to me over the past eighteen hours or so. But what with all the worrying about the cat and the underpants…
What if I didn’t wake up?
My apartment was a mess.
Yes, I did think about this. I know it sounds completely stupid, but I was indeed worrying about someone finding my apartment in a state of disarray after my death.
I was certain there were some dirty clothes lying on my bathroom floor from the night before. I have a clothes hamper---What was so difficult about using that? Hmmm?
No matter how much I was scared in the emergency room, I was terrified as I lay there alone about to face my first surgery. The sniffles started again.
Luckily, before I could get a good cry going, someone from behind started to wheel me out of the prep area and out the door.
Then, it was all like an episode of ER.
The fast-paced shot down the long hall. The double doors with the red light overhead and the big signs reading, “Sterile Area” or something like that. The gurney hits the doors smack in the middle and shoots open the doors like an old Wild West barroom. Inside, the main characters. Everyone sterile, surgical masks, hair nets, gloves in the air---almost unidentifiable. A whole team---twenty, at least---all scrubbed-up and ready to help the girl with the arrow on her face.
Then, everything happened as fast as the moment I actually fell. My left arm was pulled out to the side as a shelf under my arm followed it underneath my gurney. Then my right arm. Stretched out---like Jesus on the Cross. A nurse punched a needle into the IV in my left arm, someone started tying my feet down, a couple of female nurses draped a cloth over me and started discreetly untying the strings in the back of my gown…
The next thing I remember is waking up in the recovery ward---a Socialistic sort of place with a bunch of other post-op people in a huge room. All of us on gurneys. All of us attached to a bunch of tubes. And a bunch of nurses right there waiting for us all to wake up.
“Your Mommy’s on the phone.” a nurse reportedly told me. “It’s your Mommy!”
This, I do not remember. But my mother still laughs when she describes how the nurse brought the phone over to tell me that my “Mommy is on the phone.” But I do remember hearing that she had called and was informed that I was doing just fine.
My actual first memory was of a nurse asking, “Are you in pain?”
“On a scale of one to ten---how much pain are you experiencing?”
Where I normally would have been pretty frugal in my estimate, I immediately, and without hesitation, responded, “Ten.”
“Okay,” she softly replied. “I’m going to up your morphine.”
Morphine? I was on morphine? Holy Christ!
They wound up upping my morphine four more times.
Afterwards, people kept asking me about the morphine and wondering what that was like---well, all I really got from it was that it definitely helped with the pain and it definitely made me more of a somnambulist than a character in The Cabinet of Dr. Calagari. I had moved up from The Jaw Lady to Sleepytime Gal.
There was a huge bandage wrapped around my head---from my chin to the top of my head. And I was hooked up to an IV. Of course, this was the perfect time for Dr. Handsome to pay me a visit.
“Everything went well and there was no nerve damage.”
Phew. Tho frankly, I didn’t feel like a bucket full of cherries.
“How’s your bite?” he continued. “Is it right now?”
Oh—a lovely little tidbit I neglected to mention: Within moments of my fall, I quickly realized that my teeth suddenly came together at a completely different spot. With the break, my jaw had actually shifted to the left. The question I’d been asked almost as many times as “Are you allergic to anything?” was “Is your bite off?”
I clicked my teeth together lightly and for the first time in over 24 hours, it was right again. Either things were looking up or they upped my morphine again.
However, once I had recovered enough to leave post-op, they immediately wheeled me into a giant x-ray room for my close-up. Where I promptly fell asleep.
“Okay, I need you to wake up. I just need a few x-rays,” the nice technician said as she tried to prop me up into position. “Now just stay very still. Right there.”
And she sped off to her x-ray safety zone behind some lead wall.
Next thing I remember is the same woman standing over me.
“Oh---it’s all blurry. You fell asleep again.”
“I’m sorry,” I moaned thru my bandages. “I’m just so sleepy.”
“That’s okay. It’s the morphine, sweetie. We’ll try it again.”
I must’ve fucked up about $4000 worth of x-rays.
Back in my room, I was greeted with the sound of chatty round-the-clock nurses and Jimmy Kimmel Live. AARRRGGGHHH!!!!
I’m a nice person, but come on. I just got out of surgery. I just want to sleep. I hated to be impolite, but I begged my nurse for a pair of ear plugs or a sleeping pill or something. He not only brought me a sleeping pill---he upped my morphine again.
In the morning, I was greeted with a tray of food. I hadn’t eaten anything in over two days. Unfortunately, I could barely get a spoon into my mouth. The few bites of mushy food I did manage to get in were pretty bland. In fact, I think the only salt in the room was the picture on the cover of my book.
Not long after, the doctors took off my bandages and I saw the stitches.
Ow! Well, I guess it could be worse. I had only needed one incision right underneath the jaw line. They gave me some emollient to help it heal and keep it bacteria-free. Then my cute doctor asked me to make an “O” with my mouth. I did. At least, I thought I did. I remember him simply looking at me making a funny face and then going, “Hmmm. Okay.”
Back in my room, I made the same “O” in front of the mirror.
Oh no. The feeling and movement on that side of my face was pretty much nothing. I had been warned that this was a possibility and might take a while for all the blood vessels to re-connect. But this was kind of freaky.
Nevertheless, I really wanted to get home. Away from the constant chatter and daytime TV. And Bessie was surely out of cat food by now. A few hours later, the hospital gave me the all clear, a different doctor stopped by to write some prescriptions for antibiotics and Percocet and before I knew it, I was downstairs hailing a cab.
My mother had called me that morning, “Oh honey---you’re all alone up there. You don’t have anybody to pick up your prescriptions.”
But I was determined to be self-sufficient. I took the cab to the drug store near my house, picked up my prescriptions and did the short walk home. Yeah, sure I was in pain, tired and exhausted---but I did it. And was extremely proud of myself for not troubling anyone for some measly prescriptions.
As soon as I walked in the door to my apartment, my cat jumped off the bed and began a long litany of meows that led all the way to her empty cat food dish---yes, she will actually go to the dish and bang on it to make sure you are aware of the fact that it is quite deficient in cat food.
My white shirt was still soaking in the bathroom sink. I pulled it out and looked it over---two days soaking in cold water and Woolite seemed to do the trick.
Outside of a few phone calls and trying to get a few bites of food in my system, I pretty much just wanted to sleep. I quickly discovered that this was a problem. My surgery was on one side and (my soon to-be-discovered broken ribs) were on the other. I would be forced to sleep on my back for weeks.
The next morning, I immediately discovered the astonishing fact that I literally could NOT get out of bed. I could not move. I was in so much pain and so stiff that the only way I could move was to actually roll my body over and slide down to the floor. Wow. I couldn’t believe that I actually felt ten times worse.
I’ve since been told that the massive painkillers you receive during and immediately after surgery take about two days to really wear off. I was about to enter three weeks of pure hell. Every part of my body ached.
My knee constantly felt like it was going to give. I clung onto railings on the stairs for dear life. I dreaded coughing or sneezing and carefully held onto my face beforehand and braced myself for the pain---not only in my face, but my ribs, which felt like they were going to simply break apart from the pressure. At the market (my only real trip outside the house) I had to opt for the shopping cart instead of the basket---not due to the large volume of my purchases, but simply because I was terrified my knee would give and I’d fall down again.
Oh my god. I was an old lady.
Not wanting to be a burden on anyone, I hadn’t told too many people about my accident---but the few who did find out seemed to spread the news a bit. Calls, emails, cards---even a few gifts. I really wasn’t used to this kind of attention---but it was definitely appreciated. I even got some tea!
By this time, my Mom had deposited some money in my account and I realized that she had been right. I certainly couldn’t work. I could barely move.
“Well honey,” my Mom had offered, “maybe you’ll have some time to write.”
Not only could I not write or even read. Due to the Percocet, I couldn’t even focus my brain on a feature-length film. I watched the same movie on HBO three times and I still couldn’t tell you what it was about. I spent two weeks in bed with the remote, flipping between CNN, The Food Network and (my guilty pleasure) “The Soup” on E!
The first week, I couldn’t eat anything that wasn’t completely pureed. After several cups of chicken bullion and more jello than I could take, I finally broke down and bought baby food. Yes, baby food. And frankly, I don’t know how babies eat the stuff. No wonder they’re always spitting it out. But, I have to say, the Guava was not half bad.
Pureed guava nonetheless---I dropped ten pounds in less than a week. Most women would be thrilled at this side effect. However, not only do I not recomment the Break Your Jaw Diet, but I'm already a size 4---a few more days of this and I would look like I just walked out of Auschwitz.
And then, my face swelled up. HUGE. I hailed another cab and went back to the hospital.
”Yeah, I can definitely see the swelling,” my cute doctor said. Damn. Doesn’t this guy ever take a day off?
And then seemingly the entire department was paraded past me to view this monstrosity. I felt like a circus freak. It didn’t help that I still had the beard.
Apparently, this is common. The swelling was in the salivary gland and would eventually go down. But it hurt like hell---putting so much pressure on my face like a combination of the worst sinus infection and abscess tooth you could ever imagine. They prescribed some small patches that I was supposed to wear behind my ear for the next two weeks that would help drain it all out. Yes, let’s just add one more bit of unattractive medical software to my face.
They then decided that I needed to see pictures of my surgery. I could tell how proud they were of their work and before I could even begin to decline their generous offer, they suddenly had a digital camera in front of my face---with pictures of my face. The INSIDE of my face! All the nerves and blood vessels and all the gory stuff of MY FACE all opened up, skin pulled back and a big metal plate hammered in. I can’t even watch Dr. 90210, let alone pictures of my OWN FACE!
And what do you say when you’re looking at pictures of your bloody, opened-up face? Well, probably something a little like this, “Wow. That’s amazing that you guys can do that.”
That only encouraged more picturesque slides.
“And…yeah…wow. That’s… I don’t know how you guys do that,” was about all I could muster up.
But frankly, I was amazed. After all, my marketable skills are pretty much limited to pouring coffee and putting a few words down on a piece of paper (okay, more than a few). And even my latter skill doesn’t seem to be particularly marketable.
Back at home, the weight continued to drop.
Baby food just wasn’t cutting it. Luckily, I’m an excellent cook. And now was as good a time as any to work on perfecting my Béarnaise Sauce. I went into the kitchen and got to work. I started with a potato leek soup that turned out amazing with lots of cream and fresh watercress---all chopped up in my trusty blender. As the days went by, and my eating abilities improved, I quickly moved up to rice dishes. Then small pasta. Then flaky fish. By the time I was able to eat salmon---it had a delicious Béarnaise Sauce and it was amazing!
Unfortunately, just as I started feeling slightly better---it was time to get back to work. Well, I could have taken more time off, but I had to make a decision early on and felt I would be ready for the next week’s schedule.
Unfortunately, I was wrong. I was still in tremendous pain, still swollen, still with highly visible scars, and still unable to speak properly out of one side of my mouth.
Picture this: Here you are. Out on the town in New York City. All dressed up. About to go and see a Broadway show and have a great dinner. And who shows up at your table?----The Jaw Lady. Looking like a cross between the Frankenstein Monster, The Elephant Man and a recent stroke victim.
The worst part was the fact that one side of my face felt pretty much frozen. And, while I could easily talk in low-tones on the telephone without too much problem---when I tried to project to my tables…
Let me just say, that my fear of being asked the Soup of the Day, was not unfounded. Because my first day back, the soup was Split Pea with Ham. If you’ve never had a partially paralyzed face, may I just say that the words Split Pea with Ham are pretty much your nemesis. No matter what I did, I felt like I was spitting all over their bread as I attempted to convey the message. Not too many people ordered Split Pea with Ham from me. I like to think it was because no one really likes this particular soup. But maybe not.
We had Split Pea with Ham for three days in a row! On the fourth day, I was ecstatic when they had changed the soup to Potato Leek---much easier for me to pronounce. But then, around 7:30, we ran out of Potato Leek and replaced it with….ARRRRGGGGHHH!!! SPLIT PEA WITH HAM!
I don’t think I’ll ever eat Split Pea with Ham again.
Two weeks later, my friend Valerie was telling me how much she admired me for going back to work so soon after such a horrible accident and how brave I was to deal with it alone and how....
And then she stopped.
I knew what she was about to say, but wouldn’t---How embarrassed she would have been to come to work looking like THAT!
Well, the bills wait for no man. Or Jaw Lady.
Lucky for me, (but unlucky for her) an old friend of mine in Minneapolis had also broken her jaw. She was trampled by a horse years ago at a Dude Ranch. Her jaw was broken in three places and she had to be wired shut for six weeks. After hearing her stories, I was definitely relieved I had opted for the surgery. She said that the worst indignity was being forced to wear a pair of emergency wire-cutting scissors around her neck for six weeks in case she got nauseous---and be prepared to CUT those wires to avoid becoming the next Jimi Hendrix or John Bonham.
She became my sounding board for the next few weeks---happily chatting on the phone with me late into the night; discussing tips for mushy foods, comparing symptoms, and reassuring me that I was indeed making progress. I greedily snapped up every piece of advice she offered and did my best to get better as soon as possible.
But one thing I couldn’t seem to shake was a new fear of---well, pretty much everything.
I constantly kept putting my hand up to guard that side of my face. Every day on my way to work, I would look at the place in the subway where I fell and a sick feeling would creep into my stomach. Just the sound of the train approaching the station made me feel ill. People at work noticed how guarded I was---my left hand constantly shooting up to shield my face. One of the bartenders tossed a bar rag in my direction and I cowered and screamed like Frankenstein to fire.
That first big Saturday night back, they somehow managed to schedule me for a fourteen-hour day. I had saved a few Percocets for emergencies; and seven hours into that shift was about as emergency as you could get. It got me thru the rest of the shift, but by the end of the night, I was so exhausted that I decided to spend the $30 on cab fare so I could just get home.
I hailed a cab and directed him Uptown. Of course, the easiest way to get Uptown 150 blocks is to take the highway. And honestly, I’m sure he wasn’t driving over the speed limit. And I don’t remember any particularly sharp turns or lightening-fast lane-changes. But, for some reason, holding onto my pain-wracked face I suddenly began to have what can only be described as a panic attack. I’d driven on highways thousands of times. What was wrong with me? As we drove up the Henry Hudson Parkway, all I remember thinking was, “Oh god, don’t get into an accident. Oh god. Oh god. Please, don’t get into an accident.”
When I got inside my apartment all in one piece, I started shaking. Then hyperventilating. And then I just lost it. Within moments, for no rational reason whatsoever---I just started hysterically crying. Shaking and sobbing and blowing my nose and drying my eyes and then starting all over again.
Half an hour later, I made a cup of tea and tried to figure out what had just happened to me. All I knew was that I just didn’t want to go thru this again. Because, as much as I try to find the humor in situations and keep pulling myself up and telling myself that things are going to be okay---the past three weeks had been horrible. And I was still no way near close to being well. Every bone in my body ached.
I looked in the mirror. God, I looked awful. Not only from the crying, but the scars and the still-partially paralyzed face.
I took a couple of Tylenol, bunched up my pillows, positioned myself carefully on my back and tried to get some sleep.
Honestly, outside of the few sniffles and the carefully held-back tears in the hospital---it was the first time I had really cried. And I guess I cried for a lot of things. The horrible pain I was constantly in, the stupid physical job I still had, the worry I’d caused my family and friends, the ugly red slash marks on my face, the feeling of being alone in the Big City, and now---the fear that I would never be the same person again.
It wasn’t until the next day that I realized it was mostly the latter. What I was crying for most was a loss of my former self. That person who loved riding horses; biking thru Central Park; hopping on a boat to anywhere (even Staten Island!); dance classes; yoga classes; walking all over Chinatown, up thru Nolita and Soho and then up thru Chelsea to Herald Square. What ever happened to the girl who wanted to jump on the trampolines? Would I ever play tennis again? Would I ever even get on a plane again?
As I walked home from the market the next day, I suddenly realized that I’d been traumatized.
I’d never been traumatized before, but it was the only thing that made sense.
I guess you’re supposed to call someone when you’ve been traumatized. Some kind of professional or something. After all, this is New York---everyone winds up in a shrink’s office eventually. And surely, after 9/11, there were hoards of professional something or others who dealt with trauma disorders.
And I had insurance. Would that cover this sort of thing?
More than anything, I just wanted my life back---whether it meant having to sit on an uncomfortable couch reliving the whole experience again, or not.
However, as I started to unpack my groceries and boil some water for my tea---I suddenly had another idea.
I pulled off my shoes, took a deep breath, muscled up my courage---and I climbed up…
And I jumped on my bed.
After a few short, tentative bounces, I started to laugh. And then I was giggling like six year-old. I felt myself slowly pushing my body to jump higher and higher---laughing even more as I did. It was all so stupid. So silly. The look on my cat’s face made me laugh even harder.
A few minutes later, out of breath from laughing so hard and jumping, I plopped down with a little bounce and dangled my feet over the bed.
I was going to be just fine.
And two weeks later, my scars are healing up nicely, I’m eating bigger and chewier foods, my speech is about 95% back to normal, the ribs are almost healed, my knee is close to 100%, my jaw is healing up nicely, the swelling is almost gone and the little bits of feeling are coming back in my face every day.
If we can go another two weeks without serving Split Pea with Ham, I think I’ll be A-Okay!