Summer of the Jaw
Excerpt from In Stitches by Dr. Youn
Summer of the Jaw.
School ends with a flurry of graduation parties and drunken sendoffs. For months I’ve been trying to distract myself from the painful and obvious fact that my jaw has started to jut out more than ever; I look hideously deformed. When I’m hanging out with friends, I try to hold my jaw in tight, the way a heavy guy might hold in his bulging stomach. I know, though, that as mightily as I attempt to impede my jaw’s dreadful progression, nothing can stop it. My jaw continues to grow, millimeter by terrifying millimeter. Finally, my mother and I agree that the week after my last graduation party, I will go under the oral surgeon’s knife.
I don’t fight this at all. I want to have the surgery. I can’t stand my ugly underbite and monstrous chin. I can’t wait to put an end to ten years of braces. I long to shred that bizarre cloth chin-cup contraption I strap over my head every night like a leatherhead football player. I want to start college with a clean slate and a brand-new jaw.
Of course, like most patients, I focus on the result of the surgery and allow my mind to skip over the details of the procedure itself. One example: when Dr. Schwarzman, my oral surgeon, says that he will have to break my jaw, it doesn’t register somehow that he means he is going to break my jaw.
Do you know what happens when someone breaks your jaw?
I’ll tell you.
It fucking hurts.
It hurts beyond any pain you can imagine. We’re talking Guantánamo-type pain. I would’ve given away state secrets, ratted out friends, given Dr. Schwarzman all of my father’s account Numbers. That kind of pain. And it isn’t enough for Dr. Schwarzman to break my jaw once. Because he’s a cackling sadist—that’s how I imagine him in my drugged-out stupor—he breaks my jaw twice, in two places, sets it back into its original position, and then wires it shut . . . for six weeks. No solid food—nothing but liquids and mush—for a month and a half. I drop from a rail-thin 135 pounds to a 120-pound stick. After the surgery, I pop pain pills like PEZ and guzzle milk shakes. Mostly, I crave pizza. I stock up on frozen pizzas, microwave them, shove one nuked slice at a time into the blender, liquefy, and drink.