The Healing Tree – Lets Talk About Lips Pt. 2

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. 

(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. 

GRS Horn Section… shenanigans!

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…

Before Tenure
After Tenure

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.  

From Before my accident but still accurately depicts my feelings every time I pick up that beast.

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.   

The Healing Tree – Let’s Talk about Lips! Part 1

They roll me in to a place I like to affectionately call the “kill room”. It is wall to wall white tile and drains and hoses and OMG this looks like something my husband was watching on Netflix involving backpacking college students lost in Europe or something…

(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.)

Let’s talk about lips. For most people, lips are pretty important for functional elements of eating, speaking, hygiene of the mouth, but thought of as mostly decorative, or for pleasant things like kissing, smiling, etc.….  for brass and wind musicians, it is life. It’s the mechanism that makes the magic happen, makes the sound, changes the sound, performs acrobatic feats of wonder …. Cue the dramatic music. But, in all honesty, our lips are very tied to our identity as wind players and even more so, brass. We are hyper sensitive to how they feel at all times, and give absolutely zero fucks about how they look. They are highly-engineered pieces of mechanical wonder valued exclusively for their highly-nuanced performance capability. We hone them like an athlete to respond with supreme sensitivity, predictability, and strength. The connection to our lips feels almost sacred. 

I wake up to the intense burning sensation of the crusted corners of my mouth stretching and breaking as I try to open them. Everything is dry. Every part of me is dry, as dry and gritty as pure sand, with the same comfort you don’t get from grinding on dirt with your teeth. I want water. I want CHAPSTICK. Or LIP BALM. ANYTHING for my lips. Dry lips for brass is a huge “stranger danger” type of trigger. Dry equals bad. It’s that simple. That alarm keeps going off in my brain. I need moisture on my lips. I’m fantasizing about my glorious tube of A and D ointment. That thick and viscous softness gliding over my lips, soothing and coating them and protecting them. It felt like heaven. But, that was not to be. 

I had bitten through my lower lip completely, apparently on impact from either the side door or the airbag… who knows? The important part is that it was severed. There was a gash about an inch long just left of center on my bottom lip with another separating at the left corner of my mouth. The sutures were done in an understandable hurry in the trauma room before moving me to a facility better equipped to my injuries. So, they were clumsy and extremely bulky. My lip was still swelling and scabbing and burning. That was all I could focus on and no one, neither doctor or nurse could tell me how bad the damage was. They seemed confused I even cared. They didn’t know it was my livelihood, a crucial part of my identity for their function… not their appearance. They didn’t understand why I would get visibly pissed when they said, “Oh it will heal and you can cover that scar with lipstick”. Can you imagine my WTF face? 

I heal fast. so fast, the sutures couldn’t dissolve fast enough for the tissue wanting to grow around them at lightning speed. Something dandy (cue sarcasm) called a mucus plug form all around the sutures creating a pleasant little effect I like to call “the chew lip”. I literally looked like a cowboy holding a patch of chewing tobacco between their gum and lip. I don’t like that look. And even less, it is not remotely possible to play a horn with a lip doing that. It also hurt like a bitch. In the hospital, the only lip balm they were allowed to give me was a honey paste, at the end of a weird sponge. It was not the luxurious sensation of my beloved A and D ointment…. It got weirdly sticky and was kind of lumpy which for the life of me, I do not understand why. So, my grumpy ass was dwelling over my lost tooth, the knowledge I had completely derailed my life, and a lip the size of a golf ball that felt like total shit. 

As I was fixated on moving forward as quickly as possible, after getting my appointment set with a dentist for my tooth, I quickly went on the hunt for a plastic surgeon for this Franken monster on the inside of my lip. I mean, I definitely didn’t stand a chance of playing my horn again without fixing this lip issue. I am so embarrassed I even entertained the idea I would be able to play Grand Rapids Symphony’s summer season. It was delusional to say the least. Let’s just blame it on the brain trauma…. 

Here is what this process entailed: Get with my primary care for a plastic surgery referral. Next was waiting for my lip to be far enough in healing so the surgeon could know exactly what needed to be removed without causing more trauma. Once the referral went through, and my consultation was made, things proceeded much quicker. This was exciting. This felt like real progress. I was currently in a holding pattern with invisalign to adjust my teeth back to the right position i.e.… where they were before the trauma so the future implant surgery had an optimal chance of success. So that was a waiting game. I couldn’t even think about touching my horn with a bum lip. So, getting the surgery was so real and epic in tangible improvement I could not WAIT to get it done. 

You can see my seat belt scar and also a little more of the the depth of the lip injury. It’s hard to tell, but the music plug on the inside of my lip was the size of a ping pong ball. This is a pic I sent to friends to let them know I got my lip surgery scheduled. This was 2 weeks after coming home from the hospital. The surgery was at the very end of May.

The day comes. My best friend in all lifetimes Maria came to Michigan, partly to make sure I was indeed still alive, but to help take me to the surgery while my husband was job searching. I was ready and bopped in like it was Christmas morning. This was going to be a quick 5-minute procedure with a local anesthetic. No big deal, right? Maria and I were laughing and having a great time on the hour-long drive to Saginaw where the surgeon was located. We get there, sign me in, and I get taken into a prep room. I have to put on a surgical gown? Huh, ok I guess that’s fine. I have to put on a hair net? Meh, ok. And then they put me on a hospital bed. I mean, hey, I can totally walk into the room. But that is not allowed. They roll me in to a place I like to affectionately call the “kill room”. It is wall to wall white tile and drains and hoses and OMG this looks like something my husband was watching on Netflix involving backpacking college students lost in Europe or something… Not gonna lie, my rational mind knows what is getting ready to happen is both what I want, and also noninvasive and not a big deal. But when you’re in there and the big bright light is shining above your head and everyone is around you in masks and gowns with sharp things, you get a little twitchy. 

He gets right in there with an injection of lidocaine. I warned him I go through anesthetic exceedingly fast but he assures me the lidocaine won’t wear off until much later and by that time my lip won’t even be swollen anymore and it will feel fine. Adorable. I can hear the cutting and snipping and can smell blood. I keep it together. NO. BIG. DEAL. This guy is definitely lightning fast. I think maybe it was a total of 7 minutes. Felt like an hour but everyone is a little irrational in the “Kill room”. I’m wheeled out, vitals taken, and allowed to get dressed. Yeah, I’m drooling like my dog waiting for my dinner bowl. Don’t care. Huh… my lips feel really big. Hmmmm, my lips feel like they’re pulsing. How much lidocaine did they put in here? Sheesh. I feel like they’re getting bigger by the second… Oh boy….

I call this the reverse Angelina. This is waiting for my delicious ice cold smoothie. Can you believe people posted comments like…. “You look amazing”! Like….why do women do this to themselves willingly?!?!?!?!

By the time I leave the hospital, the lidocaine has either completely worn off or I’m allergic to it because my lips, what feels like my whole face is throbbing. When Maria sees me, her face is frozen in an expression I like to refer to as WTF face. She does a great job at hiding her reaction but it was there. As I check out I ask for ice. I’m already crying. As we get in the car, I can feel the lip swelling so much it is literally pulling at my stiches. I can feel them stretching and pulling apart. So, let’s add burning stinging pain to the throbbing and pulsing of the swelling. The ride home was a sweet little piece of hell where I just squirm and squirm to make the pain go away though no matter what position I sit in we both know it won’t change a damn thing about my lip. We don’t have any ibuprofen anywhere in the car. I have pain meds at home I’ve barely used but that doesn’t help me for this moment. No gas stations ANYWHERE on the drive home. Why are there no gas stations?!?!?!?!?! The ice helps like it does a burn. You burn your hand when you stick your hand in ice water it hurts a little worse then feels good for, like, maybe 2 minutes then starts to hurt because it goes numb and you have to take it out. Then the cycle starts all over again. But, you know what? It was something and got me through that ride home. And to a smoothie place where Maria hooked me up with a chocolate, peanut butter and banana smoothie. God that was good. You know what was even better? NORCO. That sweet sweet sleep after a full belly and taking the edge off the pain was absolute heaven. HEAVEN.

So, I wake up. Again. And prepare for stage 2. You see, there’s this thing called SCAR TISSUE. 

To be continued….

Until then, be well. 

The Healing Tree

“I have struggled over the last few years to write about and share my experience because it is legitimately hard as hell. But I felt so alone during the process and felt hungry for truly functional information about what was happening to me. And the fear about what might happen or not happen was at times, paralyzing and alienating. So take this as an open invitation to go on a healing journey with me. I want to explore what healing means to all of us.”

A blog and community dedicated to healing in all its forms

INTRO – Post # 1

Courtesy of Karin Willman and A La Carte Photography

(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.)


Whelp….. I’m healing again. AGAIN. Not just figuratively, but literally. A broken wrist. It’s annoying, frustrating, irritating, inconvenient, sometimes depressing…. And real. And triggering. 

The word healing may trigger different responses in different people. This broken wrist is a nuisance at most but right now, for me, it brings me right back to the place and time that forever changed my life, and almost took it. 

This Blog will detail the traumarecovery, and rehabilitation involved as a result of a debilitating car crash. I’ve separated my story into sections in the attempt of making access to specific information easier for those searching for it. If you are in the midst of trauma, just recovering, or processing trauma maybe reading about my experience and what I share about mine, might make you feel less alone, less strange, or helps you embrace and accept your own journey. I also have a section dedicated to recovery and what I like to think of as the “nitty gritty” of what I did medically and physiologically to heal and move forward through the most volatile and insecure time of my professional life. My rehabilitation section is dedicated to my journey back to playing my horn professionally and the very messy “workout montage” that it wasn’t. Please use this as a resource in any way you need.

On May 5 2018 I was T-boned on the driver side going through a stop sign on a rural road. I broke my C6 and C7 vertebrae, collapsed my lung, ruptured my spleen, lacerated my liver and kidney, sustained a head trauma resulting in a 3 day coma of which no one knew if I would wake up, and the worst of all….. bit entirely through my lower lip and lost my left front tooth. While this might seem the least of my injuries, being a professional French Hornist with a major orchestra, made this almost the worst possible injury I could have. 

“Betty White” My trusted Honda Accord saved my life.
This was the beginning of Day 2 – My husband took this. I have no memory of those 3 days.

For my family, they just wanted me to wake up, which wasn’t clear was going to happen. They were in absolute hell for 3 days not knowing if I would become conscious again, and if I did, who would I be? Would I still be me? But for me, waking up was awakening to the reality, that though they might still see me, and recognize “me” in all my personality traits and appearance, what would I see? If I couldn’t play the horn again, would I truly be “me”? Would I feel like myself? Would I have to re-evaluate what that meant? Am I going to have to become a different person just to survive and convince myself I don’t hate every living moment of not being able to do what I love? BE what I love. Because that is what music is for me. It IS me. It is how experience love, and joy, and pain, and excitement; life in general. It isn’t what I do, it is literally who and what I am. Is that unhealthy? I don’t actually care. I didn’t then and I still don’t. It is just a reality I accepted a long time ago, and when I did, it allowed me to let go into my joy so completely I never looked back. 

I have struggled over the last few years to write about and share my experience because it is legitimately hard as hell. But I felt so alone during the process and felt hungry for truly functional information about what was happening to me. And the fear about what might happen or not happen was at times, paralyzing and alienating. A friend was just brutally injured in an automobile accident that may still take his life. He may very well be faced with an even greater level of lengthy healing, and need to dig profoundly deep into his soul for the strength to fight as hard as he possibly can to get back to his fullest expression of being. I want to share my process, my journey, my fight so that when the time comes for him, he might feel less alone. I want him to be able to feel fully and completely validated in his feelings, his choices, and HIS process. 

So take this as an open invitation to go on a healing journey with me. I want to explore what healing means to all of us. I’ve found that my healing particularly fell into these categories:

  1. Trauma – that is a loaded word isn’t it? There are so many levels to trauma it could rival the Bloomin’ Onion at Outback. How do we walk through that trauma and find OUR OWN road/path to healing? It doesn’t have to look like someone else’s, so let’s explore holding space for that. 
  2. Recovery – Also a word that could mean so many different things to different people. But for me, I want to provide specific details on how I approached my physical recovery. How did I care for my neck fracture? My lip? My tooth? My mind? I had so much trouble finding resources that gave me confidence in my treatments and felt I was flying blind in terms of what would apply to my goals, ie get back to playing my professional orchestra job. The nuts and bolts of healing our amazing bodies is vast and helpful. The body has an amazing ability to adapt and heal itself. I want us to talk about what that has looked like for all of us. My healing story is only one of so many. What if we share what worked for each of us?
  3. Rehabilitation – So we may be simultaneously walking with trauma, actively recovering, but when is it time to rehabilitate? Do we have to wait until the physical healing and emotional healing is complete before we begin? I can say most of the resources I found regarding rehabilitation (getting back to playing) say pretty much exactly that. I can also safely say, it was NOT going to work for me. It was scary to deviate from the “methods” I found, but I did it for my own sanity. I had to find my own way that felt right and allowed me to calm my monkey mind while letting my body adapt. How great would it be if we all were able to give ourselves the space and support to also find what works for each of us? Without the fear that one wrong decision, choice, or step would ruin everything?
2 Months after the accident. Photo Courtesy of Karin Willman and A La Carte Photography

So, here we go. In the coming weeks I will dive more in to my story under each of these topics and welcome your contributions and insights from your own experiences. We don’t have to fit into one method, mold, or process. Maybe together we find a new, better, and more authentic way to heal together. 

Be well.