Lillian Shah, fellow author and colleague, had sent me this letter some time ago. I thanked her and promptly filed it away. I just rediscovered it and thought it worth posting. Her book, Healthy by Keeping Track: A Complete Guide to Maintaining Your Own Medical Records is well worth the read.
Shortly after we were first married my husband had his upper wisdom teeth removed, under anesthetic. Afterwards I drove him home as he was still a bit groggy. While stopping at a red light I looked at him directly for the first time as he continued to describe his minor surgery.
I immediately interrupted him and asked, “What happened to your front tooth?”
He had no idea what I was talking about. “Nothing, why, what’s wrong with it?” He pulled down the visor on his side and looked at his teeth. “What is it? What’s wrong?”
He continued to examine his teeth in the mirror as I resumed driving and continued to tell him, “Your front tooth! On the right side! Something’s missing.”
“Oh that,” he said. I remember something about the doctor mentioning they had bumped my tooth. It’s nothing.” As I glanced over I could see he was rubbing the edge of his tooth with his tongue and his fingers, trying to fathom why I was so upset.”
When we got home I said, “Let me have a look,” and turned his head to the left, to the right, and touched the chipped edge with my finger.
It was, I know now, the smallest of small chips, but I was beside myself. My husband was, and is, very handsome – think Omar Shariff – and I took great pleasure in that fact. But so far as the case of the chipped front tooth he thought I was truly being silly.
I became more and more irrational about his face. Although I hadn’t mentioned it to him, I had become convinced that his jaw line was significantly altered and that it was most certainly his surgeon’s fault. I was even more upset about this than the chipped tooth.
Then we both began to notice something else altogether. He would absent-mindedly tap his face, just above and a little to the left of his front tooth. He continued to do it to such an extent that I asked him about it. “Do you realize you’re tapping your face?”
“Yes,” he replied. “It’s numb there and I seem to tap at it unconsciously. I think they might have damaged a nerve when they did my wisdom teeth.”
“And there’s another thing!” I told him, as I couldn’t keep the change in his face contour to myself another second.
The following week my husband had his regular checkup with his dentist. When he came home he reported that his dentist pronounced the wisdom teeth surgery a complete success and verified my husband’s analysis that a small nerve had indeed been damaged in the process. He said he would stop noticing it over time and the face tapping would stop. Then my husband gave me a big grin and asked, “Did you notice anything different?”
“Yes,” I said, “The chip is gone. Did he put a filling there?” “No, no,” my husband laughed. “It was so tiny, he just smoothed it out.” And on closer inspection, and after touching the tooth again, I realized it had indeed been very, very small, and now it’s absence was not at all noticeable – almost.
Actually it took me months to stop being aware of the changes. As to the tapping, that also stopped along the way; I’ve long since forgotten when. And Father Time has slowly but surely had his way with the contours of the very beloved face my husband still wears.
However, I think if it’s someone super dear to you, even the tiniest change can be quite disorienting. When my 50-year-old daughters walk in with a new clothing style or a completely different haircut (or even a slight change in color) I am always taken by surprise.
It is obviously the person we love – not their hair, their voice, their smile, their size, their shape, the way they move – but let there be the least alteration in just one of these aspects of their person and we can’t help but notice and react.
Lois, I think your book is a godsend. Not everyone can be a great beauty and not many people even aspire to be. But the miracle of plastic surgery is that it can help make us more comfortable, healthier – and more attractive, to ourselves and to others. And we all know, that in extreme cases, it allows us to lead the lives we otherwise could not possibly have.
I know you encourage your readers, as they plan this very significant undertaking, to keep a little sympathy and understanding for those nearest and dearest who will need some time to comprehend that the person they love and treasure is still there, just in slightly (or significantly) different package.