November 1, 2019
Hello world! It’s me, Erin… writing to you post-surgery from my little bed, where I have a new face (though this is the part of my face that was NOT wrecked in the accident; the other side won’t be coming out any time soon!), a new appreciation for modern medicine (specifically the hi-tech advancements and pure artistry of reconstructive surgery), a new depth of gratitude for life, health, sight, movement, kindness, community (and for my momma), and a new need for heavy duty painkillers and snazzy custom-shaped ice packs (this radial pulsing-pounding-burning is unlike anything I’ve ever felt in my life, not dissipating anytime soon).
As the surgeon only told me after the operation, it was tricky, but ultimately successful. Before I sat up, he held a mirror to show me my new face. I don’t think I would have looked that soon, and certainly not at such close distance, especially with fresh blood and new wounds. But he was proud of his work, as he damn well should be: an artist of the face showing his buyer (and happy customer!) how, where and why he made what decisions, openings, seams, layers and curvature, describing each element in detail. I couldn’t speak, but tears welled up in my eyes.
The girl in the mirror — even with the swelling, the stitches, the blood, the who-knows-what randomly colored splotches, creams, gels and threads all across my face — looked more like myself than anything I have laid eyes on since September 6, 2019.
My eye brow arches.
My eyelid is lifted.
My forehead lies flat.
My eye is angled properly.
My cheek looks like a cheek.
My nose isn’t pulling.
My upper lip doesn’t pucker.
My lips turn in the right direction.
The surgeon truly did whatever it took. He had to remove his own sutures and restitch the eyelid, eyebrow and forehead a third time, after readjusting the skin to ensure it lay right and restored the proper shape. In addition to the expected sets of stitches on my face and inside my mouth, I have one which was a surprise across the outside of my upper lip, because he couldn’t do all of the work on my lip and cheek from inside my mouth, as planned. But before surgery, I gave him full permission to do anything and everything necessary! He had to go back into that area twice, on either side of a major mouth muscle, and again from the outside, in order to remove large amounts of tissue and foreign bodies— which he described as crystals, what was left of the asphalt that had been lodged inside since the accident. One top surgeon wouldn’t even take my case because he said it was too high risk, specifically in the mouth region, but this doctor was confident in his abilities — and now I am too! He’s a true master of his craft, in whose hands I literally placed my face. I am in absolute awe of what he did with my mangled mess, as are my mother and the teams of nurses.
Before surgery, as the surgeon took photos of my face attempting to form various expressions (with my little matching blue cap and gown), I picked out music with the nurse. We chatted in Spanish, almost opted for Bad Bunny, barely passed on Hamilton, contemplated calming chants, but I just wanted some good old Bruce Springsteen, the comforting soundtrack on which my dad raised me all throughout childhood. And so Glory Days played, as the doctor covered my eyes after anesthesia and asked, “You know I like you, right?” And then he worked magic.
Maybe I’m the only one who can see outlines of the face I once knew amid the gore, but I really do think it may be the framework for something wonderful and familiar to reveal itself in time with continued healing. My sweet mother almost passed out when she saw me after surgery, but she also felt a renewed sparkle in my eyes — and shares my sense of glimmers of hope. I cannot say enough about the goodness, presence, strength, heart, soul, companionship, wisdom, love and heroism of the remarkable human I am beyond blessed to be born to and have by my side every step of this journey of life, as Momma and Buni.
Although functionality is clearly impaired and pain horrific, it seems like temporary set-backs rather than permanent sacrifice or loss. I can’t speak at all, worse even than the mumbles of late, though closer to being able to move my lips and actually enunciate words. I can barely open my mouth wide enough for my tongue to lick the back of a spoon; my first meal took 30 minutes to eat, and it was but one cup of smoothie, which tasted bloody (like all), though I still finished the creamy sweet potato protein shake with all the superfood powders, as no solids, salt, vinegar, crunch or seeds are in my near future, which isn’t any change from my last eight weeks. I cannot lie flat and get dizzy with every movement, but already see more clearly: no double vision, no lack of peripheral vision, no perpetually ache. My eye hasn’t spasmed since the surgery, which may well return, but it is already record progress.
This facial reconstructive surgery was treacherous, traumatic and tricky, as the surgeon said, but it happened. A long, uncertain, arduous, multifaceted road of both physical and brain trauma recovery still lies ahead, though I am one step closer to healing. The process continues to be painful, prolonged and infuriating, but I feel that I truly found the best doctor, who performed miracles on the operating table. I faced my fears — and now me and my face may begin to re-emerge.