Junior Becca Emerson recovers from jaw surgery


Chaney Wynne

Instead of spending the Fourth of July watching fireworks or eating red-white-and-blue cupcakes, junior Becca Emerson spent it in a hospital, unable to open her mouth, occasionally throwing up blood.

After having jaw problems all her life, in sixth grade Emerson’s doctors informed her that she eventually needed jaw surgery to prevent lasting problems in her future such as Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome.

“I had an openbite where only my back teeth touched,” Emerson said, “and none of my front teeth did.”

Five years later, on July 2nd, Emerson’s maxillofacial surgery became a reality. According to the UT Health Science Center website, Maxillofacial refers to a region of the face, which includes the jaw. Emerson underwent Orthognathic Surgery which, in her case, was a surgery to reposition her jaw and chin.

While the facial surgery sounds daunting, Emerson said she “honestly wasn’t worried at all.”

She said that going into the surgery she thought, “Oh, this shouldn’t be bad. I’m not going to feel like crap for four weeks.” She paused before adding, “but yeah, I did.”

“When I woke up [from the surgery], I had no idea what was happening…,” Emerson said. “I felt horrible.”

After spending a few days in the hospital, Emerson left, but her experience didn’t get any better.

“When I got home, I had a bloody nose,” Emerson said. “I felt nauseous all the time and my head was just spinning.”

She had trouble sleeping and couldn’t look at screens without feeling the urge to throw-up.

Sophomore Skylar Rhame said recovering from a jaw surgery she had last May was “one of the hardest things in [her] life.”

“There were so many medicines and pills that I had to take in a day,” Rhame said. “At one point, the doctors were shoving pills down my throat because I wasn’t recovering as well as they wanted.”

One of the biggest challenges for Emerson, though, was not being able to chew food. After her jaw surgery, she couldn’t even use a straw, let alone approach solid food.

“Not being able to eat was just so frustrating,” she said. “I watched cooking shows for four weeks straight to compensate for not eating.”

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Since Emerson was unable to chew, she used meals from this cookbook to help her find liquid alternatives.

For weeks after surgery, when Emerson even felt like eating, she ate tomato soup, smoothies, pudding, yogurt, and lots of cream of wheat. She used “A Handbook for Maxillary Trauma” named “Dinner Through A Straw Without The Straw” for liquid food ideas, containing recipes such as “Liquid Pizza.”

“After six or seven days, I tried mac and cheese once because I was so desperate,” she said. “I just wanted to eat so badly.”

Laughing, she said, “I developed a way of watching other people eat and getting satisfaction fom it.”

Rhame also couldn’t chew the weeks following her surgery. She said she ate “mostly smoothie king all summer,” in addition to soups and liquids.

Eating wasn’t the only difficult adjustment for Rhame.

“I didn’t even recognize myself for 2 months,” Rhame said. “I couldn’t even look in the mirror without feeling bad.”

As for Emerson, the effects of the surgery are still prevalent in her day-to-day life. “My mouth has not closed naturally yet, but I can close it with force,” she said. “I’m still swollen, which can last up to a year.”

And she’s numb.

“My mouth is numb, my chin is still numb,” Emerson said. “When I shower, I can’t feel [the water on] my face.”

Even eating is “still weird,” but it’s gotten better since the surgery.

Despite the extreme challenges that came from the surgery, Emerson credits her friends and family for making it tolerable.

“A lot of my close friends came and slept over while I was incapacitated,” she said.

Her parents also provided constant support. “They were there to hold the bucket when I was throwing up,” she said. “Just them being there made me feel better about the whole thing.”

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To listen to Emerson explain the picture above, click here.