Below are 8 little things to expect after a cross facial nerve graft/facial reanimation surgery. This surgery is super niche, and I believe I was the first in the UK to have a vascularised one where the blood vessel was taken along with the nerve from my leg. Because of this, I've had a few people reach out to me on social media, keen to follow my journey and read about my experience ahead of their own similar nerve grafts.
All the googling and hashtagging in the world couldn't yield me this info and so I hope it doesn't totally scare you off, but brings some comfort and preparation. And as I'm in the very early stages, I'm sure there will be much more that I'll come to learn along the way. But for now, here are a few little things you can expect early on:
1. Your foot will be completely numb where they take the nerve.
Which is weird to begin with. But it doesn’t affect walking and you can only start to feel it when you touch that area. It’s common to actually be the outer part of your foot, but for me it’s the whole of my right ankle instead - liability in action.
2. Nerve pain is excruciating.
I knew this already from whenever the cold used to hit my head as that was healing after brain surgery, except for some reason I hadn’t at all given thought the short sharp stabbing pains or electric shock type feelings that I’d get for months with my leg. I’m reminded that the sensation stays with you for quite a while as nerves heal at just 1mm per day. I very quickly learnt that the pain makes getting in/out of bed, bending down or moving your foot in certain positions unbearable. But pain isn’t forever, and each day gets a little easier.
3. You’ll wake up crazy thirsty from the surgery.
I wrote this in 20 Things to Expect After Brain Surgery so I'm realising it’s probably the anaesthetic and breathing tube down your throat that does this. Even more so because my surgery was 4 hours later than planned so there ended up being hours between the time I could actually drink again. This time, immediately after surgery, the nurse asked me to speak to ensure I’d come around ok but there was no sound coming out despite trying my hardest. Unlike brain surgery you are actually encouraged to drink water. Hallelujah!
4. You won’t eat for days.
Instead you’ll have a lovely feeding tube that you can’t taste but which encourages you to swallow often as you constantly feel the liquid running down the back of your throat. This stops any food or liquid, other than water, from coming into contact with your mouth stitches.
5. When you can “eat” you can only really have liquids.
The dietician will probably prescribe you Ensure drinks which are revolting (personal opinion). For the first few days at home, I moved to mixing Nestles Meritene sachets with milk, which are still high in nutrients but a lot nicer than the Ensure drinks. However, be prepared for A LOT of milk. I’m still eating soft foods as I can’t chew just yet, but I also ordered Mindful Chef's frozen meals for healthy foods that I don’t have to cook, and the lentil bakes are a dream after all that milk.
6. Expect not to know what the hell to eat and to be petrified of this.
I still don’t really get it, although right now is a little easier as I’ve seen the surgeon since and I’m confident my mouth stitches are healing well. But basically, you can eat soft foods just not semi-solid foods like soups and smoothies, as the food particles in those can irritate the stitches. Tea & coffee is also a no go as the caffeine constricts the blood flow and does something to the blood vessel that was also extracted with the nerve (but this part might not apply.)
7. You have to rinse with an antiseptic mouthwash every time you eat or drink.
So forget “little and often”. Sometimes it’s easier just to sleep off the hunger and wait for your next meal.
8. You’ll feel like your day mostly becomes spent sleeping, popping pills and standing in the bathroom mirror.
I was sent home with a bin liner full of dressings, saline, Vaseline, waterproof tape, mouthwash, painkillers, eye drops (2 kinds) and antibiotics. By the time you’ve taken your pills, eye drops, cleaned your ear wound, rinsed your mouth, and covered your leg with a carrier bag so you can shower without getting it wet, oh and written down when you’ve taken/applied what so you don’t understandably lose track, it’s time to do the whole thing again.
But like I said in Another Tick to the Surgery Bucket List, pain is only temporary, each day gets a little easier, your past is a reminder of the strength that got you to this point and something good is always about to happen.
Read also: Another Tick to the Surgery Bucket List
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