My journey for straight teeth began in September 2010 when I was just 14. When the orthodontist told me I couldn’t get braces until I was 18 I cried for hours on end. I never realised how self-conscious I was about my jaw until I was told I had to live with it until I was an adult. Why? Because I had a severe underbite that was only going to get worse as I grew older. Not only would I have to wait years to get the braces put on, I was also going to need double-jaw surgery to correct my bite.
I couldn’t get braces until my jaw had finished growing so I was transferred to the RVH School of Dentistry for treatment. Every appointment letter I got excitement rushed through me, as I thought this was finally the time. Each appointment trip I was eager and hoping, only to find out my teeth weren’t ready yet. My orthodontist was reassuring and understood why I was so impatient and eventually he was happy to inform me I could get my braces come February 6th 2014 (I remember this date so well as it’s also the night I went to that Hardwell concert).
After a year and a half with a brace-face it finally started to kick in that the surgery was real and it was happening. I was told in September 2016 that my jaw was ready and I was put to the top of the waiting list and so, I waited until 13th April 2017 before I was admitted to hospital. Thankfully Ulster Hospital had just been through refurbishment and I was given a private hospital room with my own en-suite bathroom. Not that it felt like a hotel in any way, but at least I was comfortable. On Holy Thursday I brought my teddy bear and pyjamas to hospital and waited for my visitors. McDonald’s was just across the road so when my friends came to visit me I got the biggest munch I could eat (this was the last time I would eat solid food for around 3 months). After my friends left I went back to my hospital room to sleep and I can safely say I have never been so terrified in my entire life. Alone in the room my only form of contact was nurses coming in to take my bloods and check my blood pressure. Before I went to sleep, a nurse came round to give me a blood-thinning injection. He gave me the choice between injecting in the stomach or arm, and terrified by the thought of a needle in my stomach, I asked for it in my arm. Boy, was this a mistake. I can reassuringly inform you it’s 10 times less painful to get it in your stomach- get it in your stomach!!
Come Friday morning I was awakened at 6am with toast by one of the nurses. You can’t eat 4 hours before going under anaesthetic so I was given toast to make sure I had ate something. I was so nauseated and nervous, I could only eat a bite. Nor could I sleep after this, and so a long day ensued.
My surgery was scheduled for around 1pm that day so my nanny arrived at around 10am to sit with me beforehand. Little did either of us know she was going to be waiting with me for hours before I finally got called in at 5pm. I remember very little of what my nanny and I spoke about that day, I couldn’t get my mind off the surgery at all. When the doctor came in at 4pm to tell me to get ready, I had to take off my clothes and put on my surgical robe. This was definitely the scariest part. Getting wheeled down in my hospital bed to the surgery room, I have never wanted my mummy so much in my life. I’m a worrier and the thought of going under general anaesthetic filled me with intense fear. I know I was in the hands of outstanding surgeons but I couldn’t help but feel scared. I remember the corridor down to the surgery room being unbearably cold and I must have resembled a sheet of paper I was that pale. When I got to the surgery room I was wheeled into place and the anaesthetist started getting my hand prepared for the injection. Uncontrollably shaking, pale as a ghost and holding back tears, he started talking to me about my degree and tried to distract me as best he could. I was then asked to take off my underwired bra because you can’t wear metal during the surgery (Not the kind of story you expect to hear when you tell someone you’ve taken your bra off in front of 10 people, is it?). Before I was put to sleep, the doctors had to fit an endoscope down my mouth. An endoscope is a small flexible tube with a tiny light and camera attached to the end which relays images to a connected screen so that the surgeons have a better view of the mouth and throat. To get the tube down my throat I had to cough every few centimetres, this was terrifying as I was still awake and could see the camera screen. They then put the tube in my vein on my hand and I could feel the anaesthetic fluid starting to drip into my blood. They told me to count to 10 and I prayed as they counted me out. They got to 7 before I was out cold.
Waking up in intensive care I had a nurse right by my side. She was with me as soon as I woke up, talking to me and asking me questions, trying to keep me calm. Shortly after I awoke, she asked if I was in pain and if I needed any more morphine. I had to say yes as I could feel the excruciating pain start to build the longer I was awake. After an hour or so in intensive care (which I hardly remember) the nurses wheeled me back up to my room. Equally unaware of the severity of the pain I was about to endure my mummy brought along my younger brother and sister. Needless to say they didn’t want to stay long after seeing the state I was in. Shook up, they left to get a lift with my daddy. The nurses stayed with me quite a lot for the first hour along with my mum. My mummy put my pyjamas on me and gave me my phone to text my boyfriend and friends and tell them all went OK. God knows what I typed into those chats given how high I was off the morphine. That didn’t last long though. When it started to wear off I began to feel the intense ache in my jaw. Just to add to that the morphine didn’t react well to my body and I began vomiting blood (which is normal given it’s an operation of the mouth). I don’t know what was worse; the pain in my mouth, the overwhelming sense of sickness or how dizzy I felt when I woke up.
At this point I was happy the surgery was over and I was OK, but the worst really was yet to come. My mummy stayed with me that night (and also the night after- mums really don’t get enough credit). I could barely sleep as the pain really started to kick in. I sat in bed awake that whole night, too sore or tired to reach for my phone. I just sat there. I have never felt more grateful for being healthy and able in my life than I did that weekend.
Recovery from the Friday evening until I got out on the Saturday afternoon was tough. I had one vein pumping water into my veins (I could barely lift my hand let alone get myself a drink of water) and pumps squeezing my calves to prevent blood clots. Every 4 hours the nurse came round to give me painkillers, again through the veins. I stopped being afraid of the needles then and actually longed for them as they stopped my pain, even if just temporarily.
Shortly after visitors had left, I got up to use the toilet. My teeth weren’t elasticated during my surgery and the swelling hadn’t started at that point so my face had looked fine the night before. It took me 6 minutes to walk 2 metres to the toilet and after I looked in the mirror I was astonished. Despite my face looking like an enlarged grape, I could straight away see I looked different. My nose was a completely different shape and my cheekbones were sticking out under my eyes. It was freaky to look in a mirror and not see your normal face staring back at you, but I was excited nonetheless. I poured cold water over my hands and splashed them on my face. As my face was covered in blood and roasting from the swelling this felt amazing.
Before getting back into bed the nurses wanted an x-ray of my jaw. I hadn’t stood for more than 5 minutes in nearly 2 days so I was exhausted from my walk to the toilet and the thought of a trip around the hospital was distressing. Luckily, they gave me a wheelchair and my mummy and the nurse wheeled me down to the x-ray room. If you have ever got a mouth x-ray before you’ll know you often have to stand and bite onto a small metal clip. I tried my hardest to stand for as long as I could but I could sense the fear on the radiologist’s face as he watched me. I went sheet white and knew I was going to faint. He rushed over and put me back in my chair, calling my mummy in. Thankfully I didn’t faint but along came another spurt of bloody vomit. This time was much, much worse than the previous. The doctors had been round to put the elastics in my teeth (attached to the braces) and somehow I was meant to be sick with a closed mouth. I’ll not go into any further detail here…
I was meant to go home on the Saturday afternoon but the nurses thought it would be better for me to stay. The 2nd night was easier. I slept for about half an hour every 3 hours and after the night before, this felt so refreshing. My mum left at around 4am that Sunday morning- she was wrecked and with no bed I couldn’t blame her. Being the woman she is, she was back on the Sunday at 11am so it didn’t matter much anyway. On the Sunday afternoon I was told I could go home, I had never felt so relieved to be getting out of that place but also scared because my painkillers were being reduced and I couldn’t imagine the impending pain.
This will be a long-winded story to someone who has never or will never go through something like this so I’m going to put my recovery story along with any tips for getting through the aftermath into a separate post. For someone who has never been self-conscious about their teeth this may seem a bit extreme for aesthetics but I can honestly say it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. Being able to actually get your teeth out for a photo and smile naturally is something I will never take for granted again. It really is the silly things- like eating a steak (5 years without one!!), biting off a piece of sellotape when you’re wrapping a present, not living in fear that your jaw will get worse, being able to chew with teeth that aren’t your back molars, and not constantly looking disinterested or rude because your jaw is hanging from your face. I appreciate these things now, almost 2 years after my surgery.
If anyone is considering orthognathic surgery or who has relatives or friends who may be, please do get in contact. There are plenty of tips and tricks out there to help you along the way and I’d be happy to help in any way that I can, be it advice or just plain support.
Disclaimer: I am not, in any way, trying to scare people out of this surgery. Despite the horror story, it was one of the best things I ever did. I just wish someone had given me a more detailed account of the surgical procedure before I made that decision.
Lauren Wilson is a third-year BSc in Communication, Advertising & Marketing student at Ulster University, currently undertaking a year’s placement at Belfast City Council. She can be found at: LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/laurennxwilsonn/