A common misconception about surgery of any kind is that it restores an injured body part to exactly how it felt before the injury. In the case of lip surgery to repair a torn orbicularis oris, we might imagine that it would make an injured trumpet player’s chops feel and behave the way they did before he got hurt in the first place. That seems to make sense and would be totally awesome, but sadly, that ain’t the way it works.
The best way I can describe how your lip feels after an injury is that it feels like someone else’s lip on your face. The flesh has a different consistency, there may be a lump here or there, some parts might feel thin while other parts feel lumpy, and there are strange tingling sensations (neuralgias) that come and go.
After a series of escalating lip injures that ended in a torn lip muscle, I figured that surgery would more or less give me my old lip back. Not right away, of course, but I though that after months of rest and physical therapy, I’d be back to where I was before this whole series of injuries began: with a top lip that felt strong, even, and familiar. Not so.
Lip surgery just repairs the tiny tear in the muscle – it doesn’t fix the lumpiness, weak spots, or nerve issues that often accompany a lip injury. You still need to figure out how to play on this new lip – what feels like someone else’s lip.
Kafka’s Metamorphosis . . . But with Baseball!
Here’s a parallel example. It’s a little bleak, so bear with me.
Imagine you’re a baseball pitcher – a serious college player or a pro. You wake up one morning, and much like Gregor Samsa in The Metamorphosis, you realize something is very wrong. You’re not a giant cockroach, thankfully, but as you reach to shut off your morning alarm, you realize that your pitching arm has been replaced by . . . a different arm. That’s impossible, you think, but there it is: An arm that’s a little too long, with skin that’s too pale, and moles in funny places. The fingernails are even bitten off, and you don’t bite your nails. It makes no sense, but this is clearly someone else’s arm on your body.
Bewildered, you try to pitch a baseball. Instead of hitting 92 on the radar gun, you max out at 68. Oh, I forgot to mention: whoever’s arm this was, he wasn’t a pitcher. He was just some guy.
And this is your life now. You get to decide whether to try to pitch with this new arm or find something else to do with your life.
Ouch – that’s dark. But the point I want to get across, especially to anyone who may be reading this while contemplating surgery themselves, is that lip surgery doesn’t “bring back the old arm.” Fixing the muscle tear does make a difference, but what it does is allow you to build back up from zero. You’re still starting at zero, though.
It’s taken me almost two years to return to some level of competency on the trumpet after my surgery, with many, many dead ends along the way. I’m glad I underwent the procedure when I did, but I had inflated expectations of what the surgery could do. It made my lip structurally sound again, but it didn’t make it feel good again – it still felt broken for a long, long time.