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HEALTH: Baby Steps Back Into the World

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Let me preface all this to say something important. Thank god it was not cancer (edit: it was cancer). Despite all that I’ve been through, I count myself lucky.

In February, I had a triple mandibulectomy resection due to an aggressive, but benign, tumor. Approximately 80% of my mandible was removed and replaced with a length of my fibula bone from my left leg. This bone was cut into three pieces to form an arch for my chin and angled to attach to the remaining mandible.

It was a blast.

But that’s not what happened.

A procedure called a fibula free flap reconstruction was performed. This is the transplant of an artery, vein, and some soft tissue into the reconstructed jaw. I was immobile for a month while my leg healed. I walk with a noticeable limp now.

I have minimal sensation in my bottom lip and chin. Drinking and eating can be messy sometimes. I have a habit of rubbing my lip and chin because my brain still can’t get over the lack of sensation. One evening recently, I was tripping my beard with some trimming scissors and cut my lip open with them. Except I hadn’t noticed until large drops of blood fell into the sink.

Several muscles had to be removed (along with a couple of sublingual salivary glands) which has rendered a portion of my mouth paralyzed.

For six months I had exposed bone in my mouth that made eating solids difficult. I’m still about 9 months away from having my bottom teeth back (permanent dentures). This along with the paralysis and lack of sensation makes it hard for me to talk.

Most of the facial swelling has gone down, but some still exist. It’s hidden well by my beard, but if you’re looking for it, you can see it. In April, I had to have my driver’s license renewed which meant a new photo. It’s horrifying to look at.

I’m about 90% back to my old self. It’s been a mountain to climb. Physically, I’ve been ground down by months of pain. It wasn’t until a couple weeks after my second surgery in September that I became pain-free. Mentally, I spent weeks in an opioid fog. Clear of the pain meds, I fell into a state of shock and disbelief, then anger, then thankfulness…repeat ad nauseum.

I have a third surgery planned for late December. There will be at least one more, and maybe two more surgeries before this ordeal is completely behind me.

I had wanted to attend Confusion this January 2020. But surgery will make that unlikely. My first big public appearance will be at MoCon in May 2020. I’m nervous. Even in the best of times, I’m a quiet guy. But my issues with speaking have made me even more reticent.

But I won’t let that stop me. I’m going. I will talk to people. To my friends. Especially the ones I’ve missed.

I am taking baby steps, but I’m slowly reintegrating back into the world.

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