[In 2004 I was jumped in West Oakland and beaten with a 2×4. My jaw was broken in three places and had to be wired shut for six weeks. It was not fun at all. Several months later, my friend Kairsten told me about a friend of hers who, visiting Oakland on tour suffered a similar fate. She asked if I might have any advice while he lay recuperating in hospital. What follows was my response….]
Bummer. As a veteran of a broken jaw from Oakland street violence, I feel your pain, Matt. Kairsten asked me to compile a compendium of tips, tricks and hardships to expect from the coming weeks. First, the bad news:
- the long haul – I understand they told you your jaw would be wired shut for 2 weeks. I hope they’re right, but I was told three weeks and my jaw was wired shut for just over six weeks. Expect to not chew anything for at least four weeks, and then perhaps you’ll be pleasantly surprised if the doctors are right.
- You are going to lose weight and muscle mass. You simply can’t get enough food past your teeth. As a result, after the first week you will find yourself with enough energy to play video games and maybe go for short walks, but not much more. Do what I did: Relax, get your aggression out with Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Be sure to stretch your muscles every day or two. Optionally, you may find yourself smoking a whole lot of weed. It helps, and you deserve it.
- The worst part about a wired jaw is yawning. If you feel a yawn coming on (like now), hold your jaw shut with your hands. Seriously.
- You can’t brush the inside of your teeth, or the areas under the metal. After a while your tongue may be scraping up against an indescribably hideous, gritty mess. Once your wires come off, schedule a good thorough cleaning ASAP.
- As a singer and communicator, I felt pretty crippled when I couldn’t speak clearly. You will also find yourself lacking the energy to really belt out a tune. For an artist, this can be depressing, but it is also an opportunity. My advice is to divert that energy into a new, nonverbal skill. I started writing a comic book with my illustrator buddy.
- Along these same lines, your social life will be a little different for a while. People who don’t talk become invisible at parties, after the initial sympathy has ebbed. Try not to resent this different treatment. Take advantage of this new position to observe just how people waste their ability to speak on meaningless conversation.
- Once the wires come off, you will be weak. Don’t lift anything heavy for a few weeks afterwards, because your neck and jaw muscles are a big part of that function. Take up a soft martial art like aikido, or start swimming to build up your endurance and muscle tone. If you have the moolah for a physical therapist, that couldn’t hurt. I would stress the martial arts though, because it will help you get over the lingering fear you may be dealing with.
- You may have nightmares or mild flashbacks, where your body jerks like when you watch a really scary movie. Your mind may start running through different scenarios of what you could have done, or how to get revenge, or so on. You may start being paranoid about minorities (I know I get a little skittish around large groups of young black males, because the last time I wasn’t skittish I got beat with a 2×4). This is basically a mild form of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, your mind trying to get rid of the fear and helplessness. My advice is to let go as much as possible. You’re spending mental energy that is going nowhere useful. I feel sorry for the kinds of people who commit these acts (not that I would have hesitated to kill them to prevent it). What kind of world do they live in where they can bring themselves to do that kind of shit? How terrible it must be to live like that. Maybe that sounds really hippy-dippy, and maybe it is, but anger and fear aren’t going to get you better, and that is your number one priority right now. We’re artists. Turning shit into cupcakes is what we do.
- Don’t drink alcohol while your jaw is wired shut, especially to excess. The main reason: What happens if you have to puke?
- Stay occupied. Even sleeping is doing something. If you feel yourself getting depressed, get some fresh air. Write a letter. Build a bomb.
Blending for cripples
You may get absolutely sick of smoothies after a couple of weeks. I know I did. Tough titties, my friend. Try getting creative with the blender. You may also want to consider getting a Champion Juicer, if you haven’t already. Those things’ll make juice out of anything, from carrots and potatoes to acorns and raccoons. Toward the end of my term I was blending pizza with canned tomato sauce. You will almost certainly be blending bananas into just about everything. Creamy peanut butter is another good ingredient. Lots of protein, too help slow down the loss of muscle mass. Fruits are good but AVOID ANYTHING WITH SMALL SEEDS. I can’t stress that enough. Fruits like blackberries have seeds that will get stuck in your teeth and make eating anything impossible. It will make you cry.
Alternately, Ensure (the canned stuff for senior citizens) is crappy but also kind of good in a way. Drink a lot of that. Try and avoid soda because like I said before, you can’t brush your teeth.
I hope some of this helps. Again, take care of the damage to your soul/mind/whatever you want to call it, because your mental health is just as important as your physical health. And take your time getting better. Don’t stage-dive until you know you can take it.
Good luck, and if you need anything else, get ahold of me.