Sunday, January 20, 2013

2013, for Starters

It's been a while since I wrote a proper blog - and I don't know how many of my readers care about my delusional artistic endeavors. But to be fair, I always said I was doing my daily drawings for me - the only reason I'm posting them is to keep me honest. I'm hoping my drawings evolve into something, anything, but for now, they just keep going aimlessly. The exercise has taught me several things:
  • Drawing is therapeutic. This is why I have always needed it and sometimes it's where I turn when I can't run. 
  • The most satisfaction in creating art (if you can call it that) comes from doing it for myself and no one else. If you force it (several times I sketched just to get one done for that day), it will be a disaster.
  • I still love drawing and I have a new-found love of pen & ink - I'm even working on a large-scale (i.e., non-sketch) work to enter in the staff art show this year at The Cleveland Museum of Art.
Enough about that.

In the other realms of my existence, I've been riding roller-coasters. I've touched on some of the ups and downs with my daily drawings but offered little explanation. I suppose I should write more about them for those who might care. From my web hits, I can see that there are about three people left who (may or may not be) interested in what's going on (or in my art). At this point, I write for myself just to work things out in my mind, and I'm currently dealing with the following three things: a shoulder injury, a hip injury, and a "dental" injury.


You may recall that I slipped and fell while running on a sidewalk last summer (a mishap of which only the Disaster Magnet was capable), and my right shoulder took the brunt of the fall. I was in the middle of the season, and after many weeks of pain, I went to see my doctor and his recommendation was to medicate and ice and cut down on the swimming to heal it. It hurt, but when I took time off, it never got any better. When I swam, it never got any worse. So I dealt with it. Pain. Every day. It was always there - when I lifted things, carried things, reached behind myself, tried to scratch my back (I can't), or put on sweaters and coats (a much bigger issue in winter). My doctor finally ordered an MRI with contrast and the injury was diagnosed: a labral tear. It probably won't heal without surgery because of the lack of blood flow to the area. But after five weeks of no swimming, I wasn't willing to go through another six weeks off. So we're trying an aggressive ice/anti-inflammatory treatment to get me through this season. And there's cortisone waiting in the wings.

In the meantime, I've continued my run as the Disaster Magnet this month by falling down the stairs and once again causing trauma to the right shoulder. Falling down the stairs wasn't the reasoning for the "DM" nomenclature. Falling down the stairs after leaving work early to avoid a driving disaster in the rapidly-approaching blizzard was the "DM" part. Only me.

I've recently started swimming again only to prove one thing to myself: I can still whip myself into swimming shape in less than two weeks with only 2-3 swim sessions per week. Sure, it'll take a LOT more than that to get into 2.4-mile Ironman shape, but I'm not doing Ironman this year, so I'm encouraged that I'll be able to do the necessary swims to at least be "in the race" in September. I'm not deluding myself: percentage-wise, the swim is much more important in Olympic-distance racing than in Ironman.


The hip is still an enigma. Like the shoulder, it never gets worse, and it never gets better. Some days I'm breaking down in tears from the pain, and some days I'm wondering where it went. My doctor theorized that it could also be a labral tear (wouldn't that be coincidental? especially since there are only two places in the body that have a labrum - the hip and shoulder joints). But, after extensive movement-checking, this was thrown out as a possibility. We've also dismissed sciatica. The next step is to bring in a physical therapist (and if that doesn't work, another MRI). I'm encouraged by the ruling out of two major hip problems. Back in 1993, I saw a physical therapist for my piriformis, and he determined that I have a rotated left hip that was directly responsible for all my running injuries. Could it be that all I have to do is get back into balance and strengthen the area as I did before? (I'm hoping - but also being realistic and not expecting miracles.)


Plaster model of my teeth
This one will take some explanation, but I'll try to make it as short as possible. I rarely talk about it because it's been with me for most of my life and I've already done all the crying about it.

In short, my jaw has a deformity known as an "open bite [malocclusion]." As a kid, I was mocked as "buck-toothed," and despite four years of braces in high school, the problem was never corrected (we didn't know then that only surgery can fix it). To make matters worse, I've had two major traumas to my jaw.

As of this week, I've theorized that the first one might be responsible for the malocclusion. When I was 10, in an attempt to replicate a circus act in my room while my parents had company, my brother launched me off my bed, and I landed on the floor, on my face. My front left tooth broke in two places and was left in a spike shape, like a fang. It was a horrible, horrible day for me AND my parents, and the only thing I remember was the sympathy I got from my cousin's wife who held me in her arms crying for pretty much the whole rest of the day.

The broken tooth was capped with a temporary crown, but for more than a year, the sensitivity to hot and cold was so severe that I developed a way of eating and drinking to avoid anything touching that tooth. The pain was so bad that sometimes my mother just pumped me full of aspirin and sent me to bed (because that's what you do when kids complain). I remember the breaking point at a junior football game (my brothers played, I cheered - which means I had to be out in the *cold* with my mouth open every weekend). I remember starting to cry, and I must have finally made my point because the next week I was at the dentist only to find out the tooth had an abscess and needed a root canal. I think years of trying to protect that tooth with my tongue and odd chewing habits may have created the situation I'm in today.

The second traumatic injury to my jaw came in 1994 in a running accident (you KNEW running would factor in). The accident was one of those weird flukes - something that could only happen to a Disaster Magnet. I was running on a sidewalk that had a little zig-zag in it to continue over a small bridge. As I turned the corner, I collided with a guy flying along on his mountain bike (yes, on the sidewalk in a residential neighborhood). His shoulder hit my lower jaw and we both ended up on the ground - me, eventually, in an ambulance. It wasn't broken but I had to see a TMJ specialist, who surmised that the accident completely destroyed the delicate balance that had evolved in my jaw with the open bite. He finally explained this: only two teeth in my mouth ever came together (two back molars), my front teeth would NEVER come together, and this WASN'T normal.

Shortly after that I started grinding my teeth in my sleep - your guess is as good as mine why it hadn't started years before. My current dentist believes it's my subconscious trying to level everything out and make all my teeth come together. I ground down my molars on one side so that now four teeth are hitting, but because I chew primarily on one side and grind at night, I'm continuing to damage my back teeth and gums. I've already broken one of my wisdom teeth. For many years, my dentist has been encouraging me to consult with an orthodontist so that I don't destroy what's left of my teeth. I finally did that two months ago.

Here's the solution to my jaw problems:
  • One to two years of braces to position my teeth for the surgeon
  • Depending on my crowding situation, possibly removing my wisdom teeth
  • Jaw surgery - which consists of removing bone from my skull and repositioning my top jaw, breaking and moving my lower jaw forward so that it's positioned properly below, possibly widening my palate to alleviate crowding, and possibly removing part of my chin bone for aesthetics (big whoop)
  • One more year of braces to even everything up
  • Retainers for the rest of my life
I was not sold on this procedure for two reasons: (1) it's a drastic treatment and I've lived with my situation for most of my life, why change it? and (2) The cost is ridiculous (and includes having gum grafts), and I will have to pay most of it out-of-pocket because insurance companies tend to regard this as "elective" surgery even if it's necessary to solve a functional problem.

However, when my husband Jim and I went to see the surgeon, a strange thing happened. Before I said anything (he had already looked at my plaster models), he told me what my problems were. They extended FAR BEYOND my jaw. He told me I slurred my speech. (Jim laughed and said "yeah, even when she's NOT drinking.) He told me I had trouble breathing at night. He told me I had sinus problems. He told me I was a mouth breather and a tongue thruster. He told me that I can't bite into pizza or sandwiches without leaving stuff behind. And he told me about all my goofy chewing problems and gum recession. And I hadn't even said a word to him yet.

He also said "jaw surgery can fix ALL of that." (I felt the tears welling up because it really did seem "too good to be true.") I never talk about these issues because they're just a part of my life - it's all I've known for so so many years (maybe not when I was five because my jaw was still growing, but most of my life). Who knew that they were all connected to the shape of my jaw and the way it's positioned in my skull?

I guess, then, the big decision is upon me as I meet with my orthodontist this week. Should I go through with it? The surgeon explained that the whole jaw reconstruction is HARD work. I'll even have to see a therapist to talk and use my jaw after the surgery. My whole sinus area will be in really bad shape until everything heals. He also said I will look different (which freaked out my husband) - my face will be shorter, my smile will be different. And I'll talk different. Jim told me last night that he thinks the way I talk is "cute." (So, do I really want to change it?)

It's really scary to face this decision. If I do it, I think it will make a good story to blog about and show pictures of the changes if only to help someone else facing the same situation. (But Ick. I hate taking pictures of myself.) The biggest dilemmas for me are whether I'm worth the expenditure and whether the changes will make me less attractive to my husband. He says no. But, as usual, I still worry.

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