(My name is Mary Beth Orr. I am a professional horn player and currently 3rd Horn in the Grand Rapids Symphony. The following is my story in hopes it may be a helpful resource.)
So, let’s talk about lips…. Part DEUX. FANCY.
After a lovely nap and a generous dose of Norco, I wake up with much more normal sensation in my lip and less swelling. Now it’s time for FOOD, and maybe a cocktail. Oh wow… look at that, I just pulled a piece of glass out of the space where my front tooth used to be. AWESOME. Not freaked out at all. I’m just going to focus on the lip right now because the tooth issue is on pause. I feel great that the surgery is over and given my crazy mutant-eques healing speed, I’m literally chomping at the bit to get my lips on my mouthpiece, invisalign and all, I WILL find a way to play.
Delusional as it sounds, I was making my master plan of evaluating my lip literally 3 times a day to see when they were healed enough to try. I mean, what else did I have to do? My husband still wouldn’t let me walk down the stairs by myself so…. I had a lot of time to run the races on the hamster wheel in my brain. Please understand, I will never assert I made my decisions based off healthy choices. I was constantly dealing with a profound sensation of despair, impending doom, dread, anxiety, grief… all based on the uncertainty of what would happen with my horn playing and my career.
I had just gotten tenure in the Grand Rapids Symphony the year before, graduated with my Master’s from Michigan State with their University Distinguished Fellowship, premiered at Spoleto and booked for more summer festivals…. I felt I had finally found my career and it had been ripped away. I was in a state of emotional hell, and completely obsessed with my mouth. So, when I say I got uncomfortable when people told me I was inspiring…. Disclaimer: I am NOT. I was and am still making decisions based on compulsion and managing my sanity, or insanity for that matter…
Back to my lip. In true “Wolverine” fashion (it was my nickname in the hospital) the suchers healed up very very quickly. Most were dissolvable but because my tissue healed faster than they could dissolve, I ended up pulling them out in pieces. That sounds a little grotesque but it really wasn’t. There was no pain and they were becoming itchy and, frankly, it was clear my body was ready and telling me to get them out, they didn’t belong. Plus, my follow up was much later so I knew it was pretty up to me to follow my intuition. INTUITION. This will keep coming up in future posts because it was and is a huge component in my recovery.
Sometimes we are so overwhelmed by what doctors are telling us and standard of care, treatment options, advice, google, etc. and it becomes so overwhelming we forget that maybe our body doesn’t fit into a statistic. Maybe your body doesn’t completely fit into the standard of care protocol. Maybe you don’t fit the normal timeline or your needs are not fully understood or achievable by your current professionals. Regardless, your intuition, that deep down voice that guides us all, will give you what you need to keep asking questions, keep problem solving, and keep the panic you’re doing everything wrong, under control…. Well –ish.
At my follow up appointment my surgeon was incredibly pleased! Woohoo! It wasn’t a surprise to me because I knew the healing was going fast, but I still had more lumpiness than I would have liked. The scar was large enough to make my embouchure uneven and I strongly felt like there could be a piece of glass stuck in there somewhere, though that ended up not being the case. I hadn’t been able to bring about a buzz yet because I was waiting for the all clear that the tissue was completely healed. I still also had some swelling. For a time reference, this was about 2 weeks after the surgery and about 6 weeks after the initial damage from the accident. My “bless your heart” moment with my surgeon came when he very enthusiastically informed me that my scar tissue will continue to get worse before it gets better and will probably take about 2 years before it’s not noticeable. He saw my face lose all its color, my eyes bulge out of my head, and then that head going directly between my knees. When I said, “That isn’t going to work for me” … he got a confused look on his face and explained that scar tissue has a process. When you have an initial trauma that scar tissue starts on it’s on little journey of building, hardening, with the goal of protecting the traumatized area. Even though the surgery was to correct excess tissue and to clean up the scar and minimize it for the future, it resets that clock. So, the body has to start all over again. Once the scar tissue develops, it can be softened but it will never go away completely.
Well, that popped my fucking balloon. Turns out, I had much more research to do to get what I wanted. I needed my horn back on my face ASAP. So, what did I do? I completely crowd sourced on Facebook. Why did I have to do that? Shouldn’t my plastic surgeon know exactly what I could do to speed the process along? Of course, he doesn’t. Another hard lesson I learned through all this and why I’m sharing it all, is because I frequently encountered professionals in western medicine that had no clue how to really help outside of what was in a text book. An outdated text book at that. If it isn’t covered by insurance, it doesn’t exist I guess. And we all know our insurance system is bull shit…. So… there’s that. Remember there are many medical professionals that do not stay up to date on new treatments and also don’t have interest to do so. If your doctor or doctors can’t answer your questions, or tell you what you want isn’t possible, keep asking questions and searching until there’s nothing left to find. In many cases, there is something or someone out there to help you if you just keep searching.
My help came from my dearest friend Karin. She’s done many of the photography you see on my website and also the amazing photography from our wedding. She’s a brilliant musician, photographer, friend, and renaissance woman. After a knee surgery that just never fully healed and giving her constant pain, she turned to cold laser therapy or Class IV laser therapy.
Think somewhere between a soothing infrared sauna and the laser that cuts you open for surgery. It’s a spectrum thing. The spectrum frequency is enough to trigger healing and cell turnover without burning the skin. You need a licensed person to administer the treatments and they need to be done at the right intervals. But, if done correctly, will do amazing things for stimulating tissue repair, reduction and softening of scar tissue, and reduction of pain and inflammation. Scar tissue absolutely responds to inflammation. So, the less inflammation, the less scar tissue is necessary for protecting that area. Karin sought this treatment out for herself and had such success with it, opened her own treatment office. She lives in northern MI but as luck would have it…. was opening a second location in Grand Rapids! Hell. Yeah. My angel texted me after seeing my Facebook post and got me in ASAP. The first session felt very nice. It was a warm sensation and that is about all it is. I mean that in a good way. I relaxed back on a table and let them run this red light over my lip both from the inside and outside. It was not a long session because with that level of laser, you could burn with too much and get the opposite result you want. It was about 30 second on 10 seconds off for about 10 minutes. Easy Peasy.
After the first session, I can definitely feel a difference. My lips are much softer and the density to the scar is much less. All in all, I had about 8 sessions and started buzzing after about 4 of them. That was huge. Fucking huge. It was still a rough climb, but at least there was something active I could do to speed along the process. Cold Laser Therapy was noninvasive, therapeutic, and zero risk which was a no brainer for me. Within those 8 sessions, I was able to speed along my scar tissue timeline along by almost 2 years. Some would argue that is impossible, but I made my plastic surgeon a believer. The combination of trying to play even with invisalign was helpful in softening the scar tissue.
This is my whole point. I was being told by EVERYONE I was rushing in to playing again. Well, you know what? Fuck that. Yep. FUCK. THAT. Every fiber in my body and soul was telling me that only way I was going to have a career again was to keep trying to play and let that feedback from my body determine what to do next and where to go next. The very real truth is, there is never only one person, professional, or resource that will have all the information or answers you’ll need through your healing process. The only constant in it is you. The next are your loved ones and friends. That’s another important element to all of this. FRIENDS. I reached out and asked for help. I communicated my needs to the universe, literally and repeatedly. The universe responded. It will respond for you too if you let it.
Until next time, be well.