I have been working on this blog post for months. I started 6 months ago and then it sat here. I would open it periodically and stare at my screen, type some things, delete them, type some more, delete those. This is a very personal piece of my story that i haven't shared publically, but I want you to know the real and raw parts of my story. Not just the polished bits that can take over when you share yourself online. So I never gave up on this post even though I was tempted to trash it completely. Finally the right words came, but it got really long, so I broke it up into two parts.
Look for Part 2 on Monday.
In late 2007, I couldn't eat.
Seriously, literally, I was UNABLE to perform the act of eating food. Such a basic thing I never knew I took for granted, but there it was. I was in the hospital, unable to chew or swallow and my food was delivered through a tube in my nose, directly into my stomach. Forget room service! I had gastric service that would feed me while I lay in a coma.
On Nov. 24, 2007 I was hit head-on by a drunk driver while driving from the airport to visit my dad in Nova Scotia.
The feeding tube delivered calories (because I can't really call it "nutrition") while I was in a coma and continued to feed me even after I woke up. The tube came out after a few weeks but my body had forgotten how to eat. I remembered what do in theory, but my muscles and reflexes didn't do what they were supposed to. And the empty space where my front teeth had been made it even harder.
My toddler who is learning how to eat for the very first time in his life right now, chews, swallows and drinks better than me at that time. I was severely brain injured, my swallowing reflex was gone, and I had to relearn this most basic skill.
It all began with thickened water.
This gelatinous liquid was supposed to help train my swallowing muscles while minimizing the risk of choking, but my god, it was vile. Solid food wasn't any better. My meat, veggies, and potatoes were delivered in pureed stripes of pink, green, and white, which in my unwitting state, I happily spooned into my mouth. And coughed. A lot. Nothing seemed to go down the right way.
Then came the cups full of paste-colored Ensure, or fluorescent-but-somehow-chalky pink Boost.
Then the day came that I successfully chewed and swallowed a bite of banana.
Oh, hooray! That was such a good day. It meant I could stop eating purées and I was allowed to eat soft foods! REAL food. My missing teeth and broken jaw made anything crunchy a no-no, but oh, BLISS, I could have FOOD!!!!
But it was still hospital food.
My doctors and nurses said I could eat whatever I wanted though, as long as it didn't require work to chew. After being fed through a feeding tube for weeks, and lying motionless in a hospital bed, my healthy, athletic, 6-foot-one-inch, 170 pound frame had dropped to a very skinny and unhealthy 140 pounds. I was officially given the green light to chow down as much as possible because I needed to regain that weight, and I was burning insane amounts of calories to heal.
My first request was for fast food.
There's no way I could bite into a burger, but my seriously loving fiancé would go out and pick up whatever I asked for (often in the freezing Canadian winter weather), come back to my room, and take bites for me, chew it, and feed me like a baby bird. I'm not kidding. Talk about love, and that greasy, salty food tasted so, so good.
My doctors, of all people, should have known the impact my nutrition could have on my healing, and especially the healing of my injured brain. But all they cared about at that time was the quantity of calories I was consuming. The quality didn't seem to matter and it certainly made my taste buds happy.
Now I know those fast food meals are engineered to excite our taste buds without providing the nutrition we really need, but back then, all I knew was that it tasted good, and made me feel more "normal."
When I left the hospital, I was still missing eight of my front teeth.
The ninth was so damaged it was just waiting to be pulled out. I finally had a partial denture made that made my smile appear normal at first glance, but it was anything but functional. I just wanted to feel like myself again so changing my diet was not at the top of my priority list.
I ate mostly home cooked meals, but I still reached for processed comfort foods almost every day. Eating wasn't fun. My partial didn't stay put. One afternoon when I was out with a visiting friend, we went to a popular sandwich shop for lunch and I ordered the roast beef and cheese. When we brought our orders outside and I took my first bite, I found I couldn't bite through the meat and the pressure on my front false teeth would flip them off my molars where the partial clipped on. I ended up picking the sandwich apart and eating it with my fingers. Eating an apple? Forget it.
I wore the partial denture for 4 years and it limited my food choices in a big way because everything that went into my mouth had to be super soft, or cut up into small pieces. My diet gradually improved, but I didn't know how to eat for wellness and healing. I was wooed by health claims on food packaging and their loud, colorful promises. And my brain injury made me especially susceptible. And although I was injured when I was 23, I couldn't get dental implants until I was 27 years old.
I just wanted to stay home where I could take my partial out and eat comfortably with a fork or spoon, missing teeth and all. I couldn't think clearly or do much more than get through each day, so I just ate what was easiest. Almost everything had to be cut up like I was a small child. I handled it well enough and I laughed about it a lot. But eating was hard. I was miserable.
When it was finally time to get oral surgery and install my dental implants, I was so happy that I didn't care that I was having invasive, reconstructive surgery. My surgeon removed metal plates, rebuilt my jaw, removed my wisdom teeth, and installed titanium posts that would eventually hold my new teeth. I was given some serious drugs for conscious sedation that made me so loopy and relaxed, I remember seeing chunks of bone leave my mouth and thinking, "oh, there it goes."
I. DID. NOT. CARE.
It was pretty amazing stuff but the elation I felt was completely real and independent of any drug. Throughout my recovery period, I remember being amazed as I ran my tongue over my implants, feeling the new posts that would give me my smile back. My whole face was in agony but I was smiling already.
TEETH. I would finally have teeth again.
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