Hodge: The long road to recovery

Kelowna - The first week of recovery I was too consumed in pain to notice the lack of fluid.

My dear friend James the Painter says it best when suggesting: “Human beings are generally embarrassing.”

At least that is how I am feeling this morning after reading a column published a year ago. If not embarrassed, then certainly perplexed at my own forgetfulness. This morning’s reading (I sometimes peruse old columns looking for ideas) reminded me of my wimpy behaviour.

Tez and I decided to treat ourselves to dinner out and ventured off to a favourite place to chow down. Such locations are limited now based on my dining challenges due to no teeth and allergies to seafood and mushrooms. Chalk it up to lack of sleep, grumpy-old-man syndrome, the colour blue or whatever; for some reason I was seeing the glass completely empty when we sat down and started to scour the menu. Despite many choices there was only a handful of items I could consume. None of them turned my crank.

“I’m fed up with lasagna, shepherd’s pie and soup,” I whined to Tez, who gave me her best ‘oh, poor baby look’ even though she is likely fed up with such antics. “I want a damn steak.”

Eventually I ordered the lasagna, then quietly whined to myself how tough my world was. I’d forgotten a promise to myself to never take anything for granted again—even a sip of water or a grilled cheese sandwich.

That promise was made a year ago this month after staring death in the face at least twice and surviving. Allow me to digress. The nightmare began Dec. 28, 2016 when I complained to Tez it was painful to eat my turkey sandwich. A few days later my face looked like a tennis ball was inside my mouth and I was sent to an oral surgeon. The first month of 2017 was consumed with four separate surgeries to remove four infected teeth yet the mysterious infection kept spreading. A drainage tube punched through the bottom of my mouth solved nothing. Eventually an infectious disease specialist analysed osteomyelitis as the culprit of my pain. Despite radical antibiotics it was determined some of the jaw needed to be removed. What started out as some became a whole bunch and eventually wound up with a titanium jaw covering three-quarters of my face along with six screws and hundreds of stitches. Problem solved, or so we hoped.

I was drinking fluids the next day and mushy food a few days after that. After a few months I managed to return to eating soft foods such as hamburger. The five remaining teeth in the bottom right of my mouth combined with the four in the top allowed me to tenderly chew small pieces. Looking back, I should have been thrilled with being alive and the state I was in, despite what I had lost. Instead I whined and snivelled about wishing I could eat a steak again.

Then the five teeth and the remaining natural jaw they were attached to started to literally tilt into my mouth and the infection returned. My nightmare was back.

Plastic surgeon Scott Williamson performed miracles during an eight hour plus surgery rebuilding my jaw. Williamson removed nine inches of bone from my leg, chopped it up into little pieces, replaced the old titanium plate with a new one and fused the bone to it. A plethora of 72 staples (50 in the leg and 22 in the face) and a bundle more stitches later, here I am. That surgery took place Oct.25, 2017 and for 22 very long days I was not allowed a single drop of water. With a tracheotomy, no swallowing of liquids was allowed.

The first week of recovery I was too consumed in pain to notice the lack of fluid. But every day after that became a parched throat torture test. I literally dreamed of drinking apple juice. When I finally had my first sip of water 23 days later I cried. I’d never fully valued the true joy of a simple sip of water.

After five weeks in hospital I returned home to liquids, puree foods, and a stomach feeding tube for nutrition. In June the feeding tube was removed and today I am thankful for yogurt, soup, and pureed whatever. My gums have toughened up, making more food smuckable than before.

With only four teeth in the top of my mouth (keeping structure to the upper jaw) biting anything is not possible without mangling my lower gums. Even bread or salad cannot be swallowed without some chewing. False teeth are unlikely as the surgery may trigger back the osteomyelitis.

So, my desire for “real” food I attempt to keep in check reminding myself to be thankful for what I have.

Mush may not be all that much fun, but I’m thrilled to still be here to enjoy it. And most days, yesterday being the exception, I am thankful every time I have a sip of water.

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