Having a ‘game face’ looks different to different people. For some, it’s putting on a smile and listening to a customer’s ridiculous complaint. For others, it’s making it to a social event despite overwhelming anxiety. It’s doing the hard stuff that you didn’t really want to do. For me, my game face is shown in the attached image; marked up and ready to be cut open.
This picture shows my surgeon’s ‘map’ that he drew immediately before my last (!) facial reanimation surgery at NYU. This one has been in the works for a very long time; it is the second phase of the reconstruction began last summer. Last summer, they took a nerve from my foot, connected it to my working facial nerve, and hoped that it would grow across my face over to my paralyzed side. That part was perhaps the most important and hardest progress to monitor, but this second surgery was no cakewalk either.
During the ten hours that I was in surgery on 7/16, Dr. Rodriguez took a piece of my gracilis muscle (in my inner thigh) and all of the attached blood vessels/nerve supply, and then grafted it into my face. He attached it to the corner of my mouth and my temple, much like a working face muscle would be oriented, then attached the product of last summer’s nerve graft to this new muscle. The most delicate part, however, was connecting blood vessels from my neck to those that attached to the muscle when it was in my thigh.
This part was so important because, without adequate blood supply, the transplanted muscle would die and render the last year of preparation useless. It’s a delicate process in any patient, but previous trauma to my neck (the actual accident, past missteps by lesser surgeons) made this part extra difficult. Dr. Rodriguez, of course, was able to find and connect vessels necessary to feed the muscle, but unlike other patients, I did not have any viable back-up vessels to use in the case that something went awry during recovery.
I won’t say the recovery was the easiest thing ever, but I can also say that I have experienced much, much worse. Luckily, it was uneventful, and I am back to my normal routine. I am still a little swollen and quite bruised, but it’s nothing that a little makeup can’t fix. Now, I wait 3-9 months for the connected nerve and muscle to start talking to each other, and that is when everything will start moving.
My game face is walking myself into the operating room with a smile. My game face is cracking jokes about spaceships as I stare up at the massive surgical lamps above me. My game face is saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ to the nurse sticking me with my fifth IV needle of my stay. My game face is walking myself out of the hospital, with yet another body part rearranged where it doesn’t naturally belong.