Surviving Jaw Surgery (the wife not the patient)

My husband had double jaw surgery on July 24th. It was a pretty major decision to go forth and knowingly undergo major surgery. Since 2010’s sleep apnea diagnosis we have tried to treat it with the methods known to most of us. CPAP machine and then a pretty costly dental appliance. The CPAP never worked for him. If anything he woke up with the gagging and gasping people with sleep apnea complain about while using the CPAP machine. The dental appliance worked for about 2 years until it began to move his bite to the point he couldn’t chew food properly.

What is ironic to me or rather confusing is the fact that sleep neurologists do not send you to an ENT. My husband went to an ENT prior to the dental appliance and that is where he learned that his anatomy was not built for a CPAP and it was no wonder it didn’t work. Frustrating as we’d tried that unsuccessfully for 2 + years. Once the dental appliance no longer worked we sought the advice of an orthodontist. Within one visit they had done a 3D image of his throat and quickly determined he had sleep apnea based solely on size of his airway- 1/2 that of an average man. Holy toledo. We were sent to a jaw surgeon after being shown a video on how double jaw surgery would fix the sleep apnea.

What’s unfortunate is that the surgery isn’t the go to fix. It’s the only known thing to “cure” sleep apnea (in over 80% of cases no treatment for sleep apnea is required post surgery) but the good surgeons do not take insurance for their services. We got a few opinions from doctors in network but they suggested barbaric things like wiring the jaw shut post surgery (all the current protocol says NO to this) and that he would suffer from permanent numbness in his face in a variety of locations. We went back to the renowned surgeon and opted to pay out of pocket. Thankfully the hospital is covered.

Now this is all the before surgery stuff. You have to get braces to makes sure your teeth are aligned. Yes- we had orthodontic coverage but that only covers a portion of the cost of braces. Then to consider having to choke up a huge amount for the surgeon made the task of deciding to do the surgery rather hard. We opted to go forward and here we now are 10 days post recovery. I say “we” because this is a huge deal. Major surgery that nobody really takes seriously is major. I feel like so many people think- oh jaw surgery- that’s like having your wisdom teeth out right? NOPE- it’s like having your face cut in half but they kindly put your face back on without anyone being able to see any stitches. You walk away with only 2 stitches on either side of your neck. The rest are all inside your mouth.

Even with all the documentation of what to prepare for they don’t tell you the half of it. The papers say “sleep upright” after surgery- what they don’t tell you is that you will need to sleep in a recliner for weeks on end and that for the first 7 or 8 days it would be really great if your spouse could sleep on the couch next to you. Why? Because you’ll need ice changes- every 2 hrs in the first few days post-op. You’ll need pain meds, and anti-nausea meds, and mouth rinses and the list goes on. (Did I mention I am going to be 45 and this is why I do not have a newborn? I was not meant to wake up every 2 hrs and care for another human- not at this age anyways.)

I am happy to report that he’s feeling better. Each day he’s getting stronger and we can only hope that in 3-4 months when they repeat a sleep study that he’ll no longer have sleep apnea. He is still not sleeping through the night but I graduated from the couch to our bedroom last night. Apparently because they cut thru your sinuses to move your upper jaw there is a lot of healing going on and it creates a situation that causes mucus and not a lot of sleep for the patient. How people are supposed to return to work 2 weeks post-op is beyond me. Thankfully again he is able to work from home post-surgery for the short-term anyway.

Meanwhile I’m perfecting my smoothie recipes and as he termed it “my meat paste” as you are not allowed to chew for 12 weeks. You can have things the consistency of scrambled eggs, cream of wheat and thinned mashed potatoes but one cannot sustain themselves on that. So I’m getting creative. Egg protein powder in the mashed potatoes and meatballs pureed into them as well. It’s a lot of work but for him I’ll do it because I love him and I want him to be around for a good long time. Sleep apnea claims too many lives each year. It puts a strain on the entire body and if we can do this and keep him with us- we’d do it all again if we had to (although at this stage in the game I’m not sure he’d agree to that just yet…).

P.S. Did I fail to mention how I survived? It’s because I don’t know yet. We are still in recovery mode. This is going to be interesting. It’s a 12 week recovery and I hear that some folks don’t chew foods like chicken til 4-6 months. It’s going to make things fun here!

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