My name is Jaelin Palmer. I was born with a class three underbite and crossbite, which basically means my bottom jaw was too far forward and to the side. At 15 years old and two sets of braces later, I was finally told I had stopped growing. They determine this by doing an x-ray of your hand to see if your bones are fused, which is important so your jaw bones don’t move any more after surgery. I was thrilled! I had known this surgery was coming my whole life and I was eager to get it over with.
I met with a local surgeon and everything was set, so on December 24, 2009 I had reconstructive maxilla facial jaw surgery. (Did I mention my birthday is on Christmas? So I spent both Christmas AND my birthday in the hospital) The surgery went as planned (which means my bottom jaw was moved back and my top jaw was moved forward and up). Everything would have been perfect, except at every post-op I went to my pain level never got any lower. My surgeon wasn’t concerned; said everyone healed at their own pace. Unfortunately for me, that day never came.
Normally, people go back to school around week two. I had my surgery during winter break, so I thought that would work out perfectly. But when week two came and went and I was still in pain, I had to go on independent study. After a month of basically homeschooling, I was at the date of what should have been full recovery. And my bones were healed, but my nerves weren’t. I had awful aching, stabbing, burning pain 24 hours a day in my jaw and sinuses. So when the school district called and said I had used up all of my independent study time, my family and I were worried. However, I was a straight A freshman in high school. I wasn’t about to risk what would basically be forced expulsion because of pain. So the next Monday I packed up and went to school. I remember people being really happy to see me, but I couldn’t say much back. The pain was excruciating. I only made it to second period before I started sobbing in the middle of class. I was sent to the nurse’s office and then went home. I never set foot on that high school campus again.
Now I had a real dilemma. I needed to finish the 9th grade after the semester had already started. My mom and I learned quickly that all of the free online schools required you to sign up before the current semester started. So we went with the only option we had: I finished the last half of the 9th grade at an online private school. My dad is a teacher and we really couldn’t afford it, but we had no other option so we put it on a credit card. I didn’t like homeschooling though. I had been home schooled on and off my entire childhood and as the math got harder, I needed a real teacher. Luckily, there was a community college 15 minutes from our house. I had always been mature for my age and had never liked the public school system, so my mom and I went about figuring out how to get me graduated from high school. Our answer was found in the CHSPE (California High School Proficiency Exam), which gave me an actual diploma from the state of California, not a GED. I studied for months for that test because it’s much more difficult than the CAHSEE. The studying paid off and I passed! I was thrilled to get my high school diploma in the mail. I started community college the next semester where I could take one class at a time, and then go home.
Fast forward five years and I have on a third set of braces, am in a lot worse pain than I was in all those years ago, and have gained about 100 pounds from medication and lack of exercise. At this point I’ve taken the semester off college and spend all day and night in a reclining chair because it’s too much pressure on my face to lay flat on a bed. I grew another half-inch since that first surgery and my bottom jaw took on a rare growth pattern (less than 1% of the population has it) and is now growing down and out. I had seen every doctor under the sun and a pain doctor monthly for an incredible amount of medication that included way too many narcotics for my liking. We finally decided we had no other option but to go in and re-do the surgery, except this time, instead of using metal plates and banding my mouth shut for a week, we’d do it the old-fashioned way. Because of a possible allergic reaction to the metal, we decided to take it all out and wire my teeth shut for 6 weeks to let it heal just like they did back when my mom had the surgery in the ’80s. To make sure nothing went wrong, we had the head of the department of Maxilla Facial Surgery at UCLA perform it.
I had that surgery November 5, 2014, and am recovering now. Let me tell you, the wired shut thing sucks. However, I feel better now than I ever have in the past five years. I have already started decreasing my medication, have more energy, and am in less pain. Now all I can do is deal with my annoying closed jaw and pray to whatever God is out there that it’s easier from here on out.