Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Don't Get In My Face

I thought I would give you a little glimpse into my childhood.
I was born back in March of 1966 which for the mathematically challenged would be nearly forty two years ago. I'm the youngest of three boys. Mark is five years my senior and Gene is a whopping seven years olderthan me. Yeah, he's pretty much ancient.

Now when mom and dad had their first look at me it probably wasn't what they were expecting. I'm sure they did the regular counting of fingers and toes, which were all present and accounted for, but when they got to my face it was obvious something wasn't right.

You see, I was born with what is commonly referred to as a cleft lip and pallet. In simple terms it means, in my case anyway, that my upper lip had not grown together properly in the middle. It basically looked as if it had been cut or torn straight down from the base of my nose. As an added bonus the roof of my mouth, known as the pallet, had a rather large hole in it that went to my nasal cavity. As I'm sure you can imagine, I was not exactly the poster boy for Gerber Baby Foods.

And so my journey through this life began. Of course my mom and dad's journey through parenting was also taking on a different direction. What they had come to expect about caring for an infant had instantly changed in the blink of an eye.

Most of the challenges fell on my mom. Part of that reason was because dad had to work long hours to make ends meet and part of it was that forty years ago the rolls of parents were defined differently than they are today. Mostly though, it's because mom always took the time to be a great parent.

Relatively simple tasks for most young parents like feeding their new baby became momentous undertakings. Breast feeding was totally out of the question, and even bottle feeding was nearly impossible. When your mouth can't close all the way you can't form any suction, thereby making either of those options practically null.

Spoon feeding wasn't much easier. When you have a hole in the roof of your mouth food doesn't like to travel in the normal direction. Excuse the graphic, but rather than going down to my stomach, the majority of it would go up and through my nose. I can not even begin to imagine the patience it must have taken to get a meal in me. What should have taken about ten minutes was now stretched into hours.

My father worked for the State of California, and thank the good Lord had fantastic medical benefits. So at the ripe old age of eight weeks old I had my first operation. This would be the first of twenty some odd procedures through my childhood years to correct my unique features.

Stop for a moment, especially if you're a parent, and think about sending your child into the operating room at that age. The absolute fear and heartache my parents must of gone through is incredible. They had to have thought, "This is not what we signed up for!"

They and I would later find out that the surgeon who would perform several of my many operations was one of the best in his field. Dr Trucker was an amazing man. I don't remember much about him, but I have reason to thank him to this day. His type of surgery was not the Hollywood flash variety; it was more of the kind that restored hope to families who had to wonder if their child would ever be able to have a normal face. Thank you doc!
Now when your two or three years old, your parents can't just say, "don't scratch the stitches on your lip." and expect you to listen. Some of you may argue that this 'not listening' stage lasts well beyond this age and continues right on through the teenage years, but that's a whole other story.

Some type of plan had to me made so I wouldn't tear out all the sutures. As you can see from a couple of the pictures, I was fashioned with cardboard tubes around both of my arms so they would not bend. This would keep me from destroying all the work that had just been done to me. I can't help but think this had to be both difficult to deal with and hilarious to watch at times too.
When it came time to learn how to speak, a whole new set of challenges came about. Certain letters and sounds just didn't come out right. Mom tells me that once while grocery shopping I yelled out, "KETCHUP", but what everybody for several isles around heard was "CAT SHIT".

On another occasion while eating at a truck stop type of cafe I looked out at all the big rigs outside and again in an excited little boy's voice yelled, "INTERNATIONAL . . . there's and International out there!", but what came out this time was, "Ear an asshole . . . there's n ear an asshole out there!"

Oh what I'd give for a recording of those priceless moments.

Some years later I would have the good fortune of meeting a speech therapist at Chico State College by the name of Barbara who would prove to be an incredible teacher and motivator to me. The room where she and I sat had a large two way mirror in it so my mom could sit on the other side of the glass and see how this woman would transform my speech into clear communication.

Rather than simply work off of boring flash cards or some other mundane style of teaching, she found out what interested me and let that be the tool I would learn from. One of my favorite assignments was to learn to pronounce the entire starting line up for the 72' Oakland A's. I loved that team and she knew that would be something I'd want to practice.

One other exercise that sticks out in my mind was from the very first time I met her. She told me, "Jeff, when you can correctly say, 'Barbara, I would like an ice cream cone' we'll walk across campus and get you one." Mom says I practiced that line every waking hour for the next week and when I sat down with her again I recited it perfectly. That week's lesson was over and the three of us finished our time over an ice cream cone. Thank you Barbara.

Fast forward several more years to when I was about seventeen. My body had nearly stopped growing (at least up instead of out) and it was time for the final couple of reconstructive surgeries. The hole in my pallet and the "cut" in my lip were nearly gone but my nose was still nowhere close to being straight. As a young man interested in girls, finally getting to have a "normal" face was something I'd been waiting for for a long time.

Enter into my life Dr Micheal Tavis. The plastic surgeon who would transform me into the amazing looking stud that I am today. OK so he didn't get that carried away but he did do some pretty intricate procedures.

He would reshape my nose and lip so that I could be an average looking guy and he would also finish the work on the inside of my mouth at the same time. Even though I was excited to have the work done I was also scared to death about it. Sensing this he invited my family and I to his house where he would go over the entire process of each operation so that I would feel more at ease. How many doctors are willing to do that?

Tragically, Dr Tavis was murdered a few years later so I can not personally thank him now, but none the less, Thank you Dr Michael Tavis.

So there you have it, two great doctors, one wonderful speech therapist, and a family that could not possibly be replaced. Thank you all


Kerri said...

Wow Jeff! You did a fantastic job telling your story! Thank God for A wonderful family and a great team of doctors!

You "speak" very well through your writing! I bet you could write a book on this experience!!!

Dana said...

Jeff, thank you for sharing your story! It's a great reminder of the power of persistence and motivation.

Matt-Man said...

Fantastic story Jeff. There are more good people in this world than we sometimes think. Cheers Buddy!!

Roger said...

Great story Jeff! Everyone did a good job have a good day!!

Desert Songbird said...

Amazing story, Jeff. I think so many people dream of being extraordinary; these medical professionals truly are. Making you into "an average looking guy" took extraordinary measures.

BTW - I have a dear friend who went to Cal State-Chico (aka, "Chico State"). Always makes me giggle when someone mentions it, but I have no idea why. I guess I'm always looking for "The Man." (You're not too young to remember that show, are you?)

Leighann said...

That was fantastic! Thanks for sharing your story!

Psycho Mom said...

Wow, did this post ever dredge up some memories . . . and a few tears. You're right, you did have some tremendous doctors and a fantastic speech therapist, but I also remember a very positive little boy with a "What speech problem? If you can't understand me when I speak, you must have a hearing problem" attitude, a little boy who worked so hard to overcome some very huge obstacles and was so brave. After a whole bunch of surgeries, I also remember one of the best days of my life. We had just moved to yet another new town and I took you to your first day of school, dropped you off and went home to worry all day that the kids might tease you. When it was time to pick you up at the end of the day, I approached your teacher and asked if your problem had caused you any trouble, and the teacher looked at me with a puzzled look on her face and asked, "What problem?" You were such a happy, friendly kid, the doctors had done such a good job and you had worked so hard, nobody noticed you were any different. And, no matter what it took to get you to that point, it was worth every minute of anything your dad and I ever did to see the man you've become. I love you and I'm very proud of everything you are.

BTW, it that really Matt-Man in a suit? Ohmigosh, what's this world coming to?

"The Babe"

Jules~ said...

Jeff, thank you so much for sharing your story. Your family is amazing. I love reading your mom's comments all the time. I can tell she has been thru things and has come out with a great attitude and fantastic sense of humor (that you have picked up as well).
Things like that(surgeries)can be so trying, but your family was resilient to stick with what matters the and heart.
Having to start surgeries so young was a scary thing for them I bet. My family can totally relate. I had eye muscle surgery and tongue surgery (of all things) when I was two years old. My husband's youngest boy had open heart surgery at 4 days old. So wonderful that God is there to give us strength when we need it.

Mimi Lenox said...

Wonderful story. Lovely people.
You are truly remarkable in your story-telling abilities.
And I just read the comment by your mother and I am crying.


Sandee (Comedy +) said...

What a great piece on a great bunch of family members and medicos. One of my best friends little one is currently going through this ordeal. It is rather a long drawn out process too. Thanks for sharing something so personal. Have a great day Jeff. :)

Jeff B said...

Kerri- I feel very fortunate indeed.

Dana- There was definately a lot of persistance on everybodies part.

Matt- You're right about that. it's somestimes easy to get hung up on the ones that irritates us and overlook all the good ones out there,

Roger- Thanks, I really did have some strong people behind me.

Songbird- "average" I was hoping you were going to agree with the stud part!

I remember watching Chico and the Man, Freddie Printz and Scatman Cruthers were the actors if I recall.

Leighann- Glad to share.

Mom- Thank you for the nice words. I know you sacrificed a lot of your time to help me. From the bottom of my heart THANK YOU!

Yes, that really is Matt in a suit. He's running for President. I'm surprised he's holding up two fingers and not just one.

Jules- Amen! My youngest boy had an episode where he was rushed to the hospital when he was very young. I remember feeling so helpless.

Mimi- Mom's a keeper for sure. I wouldn't trade her for all the bubble gum in the world.

Sandee- I don't know if my story would help your friend to see that the struggles I faced turned out with a happy ending, but feel free to share it with him/her if you think it might.

Bond said...

Jeff...thanks for sitting on The Couch and also thanks for doing it on a day I could come over her and learn what an amazing story you have...
Your parents and doctors all need to be commended for their abilities to allow you to become the man you are today

Mel said...

..k....ya'll are making me weepy.


((((((((the mom))))))))

What an awesome famliy.

BTW--I'm available for adoption.

Christinker said...

Ah shucks, what a nice story and a fantastic ending!

I never knew you had a problem, you've been normal the whole 27 years I've known you! But, my mom told me a little bit about your story...not nearly as well as you though.

I think you turned out perfectly!

Anonymous said...

Jeff, You told your story so beautifully. I was one of the lucky ones that got to feed you milk with a spoon. Trying to keep you from choking to death when most of it came out your nose was an experience. One of the things I always admired about your Mom and immediate family was their attitude of teasing you when very young. Because back then you were 'different' they felt you would be laughed at. But in the ones that loved you teasing you, you learned to laugh at yourself, and make a game of things. We are all so proud of the Nephew, Son, Husband, and Father that you have become. The Man with the sense of humor of today started way back then. Love ya lots, Aunt Frankie

david mcmahon said...


The greatest stories are the most personal ones. Bless you for your candour.

As a parent, I think I empathise with the pain your parents would have felt on your behalf, at every operation and during every healing process.

I love the stories of the shopping aisle and the truck stop!

Bless you and those amazing medical professionals.

Do keep in touch


lime said...

i'm here from david's place. thanks for being so open about all of this. you really were blessed with some fantastic professionals along the way, people skilled in their fields who also had a tremendous personal touch that you just can't teach. what a wonderful tribute to them and terrific introduction (for me) to you. nice to meet you. :)

Suldog said...

That is a marvelous story! We all have different crosses to bear, and hearing of another's interesting journey - expressed with full candor, and some humor, such as yours - is always interesting. Thanks for sharing that.

(I came over from David's place, too, by the way.)

indicaspecies said...

Hi Jeff,

I'm reach from Authorblog as well.

It's nice to hear what you have expressed so openly, and all's well that ends well. This post would an inspiration to many who lack the courage and perseverance that's so needed in life during difficult times.

Thank you for sharing.


indicaspecies said...

I'm here*

Ornery's Wife said...

Authorblog Post of the Day junkie here. My mom was like yours with the tremendous care giving. I was born with a lazy eye, which was surgically corrected at age 2. Years of exercises and glasses later, no one would have ever guessed I'd been through that. It is priceless the gift our parents and doctors give us when we are young to provide for us a "normal" appearance. Great story and wonderful writing. Thanks for sharing it!

Jeff B said...

Bond- I really am lucky to have been born into such a wonderful family. Thanks for comming by.

Mel- (handing you a tissue) Welcome to the family, we always have room for one more.

Christinker- Very nice of you to say and Happy Birthday to you.

Aunt Frankie- Thank you as well for being their to help when I was growing up. I'm sure some people thought the teasing part wasn't appropriate, but I'm glad my family wasn't affraid to raz me a bit. I know it was all done in love and it did help me to form a "thicker skin". Thanks for leaving a comment. Love ya.

David- I see several of your readers have come by and left comments here. Thank you for the mention. If my story can inspire even one person to have hope that things can turn out well, then it was worth telling.

Lime- Dr Tavis who was willing to envite us to his house was pretty extrodinary. It's not what most of us expect to find. Very nice to have you come by. Feel free to drop in again.

Suldog- I think my parents carried the heaviest part of the "cross" in my case. For me, it was just part of life and I didn't know any different. Welcome to the site. Hope to see you again

Indacaspecies- My childhood prepared me for a "I can do anything" type of attitude. Hopefully not in a cocky way, but in a way that lets me tackle lifes challanges. Nice to meet your accquaintance. You're welcome by anytime.

Ornery's Wife- Nice to hear you were blessed with a great mom like I was. So many kids are missing that these days, it breaks my heart. Thanks for the visit. Do drop in again.

~Deb said...

Wow. Thank you for sharing that story with us, and those photos are priceless. A beautiful baby back then and beautiful now. ---Oh wait, the hot stud I mean... ;)

My friend had to go through the same operation, because the food would travel up into the roof of her mouth. She had a speech problem for the longest time and received help and now speaks TOO much. (lol) Love her though.

I'm sorry your doctor is no longer with us, but I am so happy that he helped you.


San said...

Hi Jeff. I came over from David's place. I'm glad to see your post was named Post of the Day. I was your runner-up, man.

You are an attractive man with a beautiful story to tell. Your parents must have felt the cosmic dice were loaded against their little son. But what champions you and your parents proved to be.

Now pass the cat shit, please.

Jules~ said...

I just gave you an award as well Jeff. You can pick it up at my site.

Ron said...

Beautifully expressed, Jeff...just beautiful.

And what touched me the most, was how you were able to share both the challenge and the humor.

It's amazing how LOVE can move mountains, isn't it?

Thank you, budddy!

Real Live Lesbian said...

Great story. Thanks for sharing. He really did an amazing job. You ARE a stud!!!!

katherine. said...

wow...I'm torn between wanting to hug you...and make some joke about your it is a great heartfelt story.

but it was the comments from your Mama and your Aunt that made me a bit teary...

Jeff B said...

Deb- Thanks for noticing the stud part. I feel much better now. LOL

Losing a doctor with that much concern for others made it an even bigger loss.

San- I'll be by later to visit your site. Thanks for stopping in a reading. Hope to see you again and one helping of cat shit coming right up. Bwahaha

Jules- Thank you, you're a doll. I'll come by and look for it in a bit.

Ron- Love is a beautiful thing brother, beautiful indeed.

Real LL- Wahooo, that's two votes for stud! It's about time for my brother to comment and bring my ego back in check. hehe

Katherine- What moustache? That's just a big hairy catapiller, at least so I've been told.

Truth be told, I had a few tears flow while I wrote this too. Some things I hadn't thought about for a long time.

lynn said...

A great account of your life. Brave and interesting to put on here.

Oswegan said...

Great story man and most definately a studly come back. I'm especially digging the Magnum P.I. stash you've got goin.

Anndi said...

Jeff... thank you so very much for sharing that with us.

Gosh you were an adorable little boy and have become an outstanding very studly, most definitely sweet and caring hunk of a man. ;)

We meet people in our lives who make such a difference.. looks like you've met your share of flesh and blood angels.

And your mom... I'll admit I had to wipe a tear there.


Jeni said...

This was truly a fantastic post! I've been meaning to come by here for a while - I've been reading your brother Gene's blog for over a year and always loved "the Babe's" comments there. But today, it was David McMahon's recommendation that got me here. Would you believe it but the grandfather of the dentist my kids and I go to was a pioneer -world-famous -in clef pallet restorative work? And I live in a dinky little old coal mining town in central Penna -about 15 miles from where this guy, his son, grandson now, had/have their office! Your parents must have had some special secret they used though to have raised the fantastic sons I can see at least two of you are -reserving judgment here till your middle brother comes forward with a blog too. LOL
Kudos to you -to your family too - for being able to come through something that scary and relatively intact on the normal scale. (Remember, I read your brother's blog, love your Mom's comments -so normal is "relative" then is it not!)

Jeff B said...

Lynn- Thanks for coming by a leaving a comment.

Oswegan- Thank you sir. The stash also doubles as a great soup strainer.

Anndi- You know flattery will get you everywhere with me

Yes, I have had the good fortune to be surrounded by some gifted and gracious people. That's something try to remind myself of often.

Jeni- I'm glad you came over to see the good looking brother. Bwahahaha

If you've read gene's stuff and mom's comments then you have a pretty good idea what your in for here too. We're kind of like one big happy nut farm without the bars on the windows.

Hope to see you again.

Travis said...

Terrific story! Thanks for sharing that.

And I too am a fan of the 72 A's! I grew up in the bay area and that was my team. I could recite the roster, complete with batting and pitching stats.

I was heartbroken when the team was traded and sold off. In 1975 I switched to the Dodgers.

Latharia said...

Wow! What a wonderful memoir!!!!! It sounds like your life has intersected some truly amazing & generous people - what a blessing!!!

Wendy said...

Hi Jeff, thank you for your visit to Wichita Ks. I thought I'd, in turn, make a visit to your "Word in edgewise" and did so on a day that you shared an inspirational story of what you and your family went through so gracefully. You clearly had some great wind beneath your wings, coming from loving and caring family members and professionals. And, you did your part of the flying through the trials and conquests of the obstacles in your young life. Great story, and the comments show the wind beneath your wings still blows softly towards you from your loving family members. You may not of been blessed with a perfectly formed pallette and lip, but you were blessed with the kind of family that could help you get to where you are today. This world needs more families like yours. Thank you for sharing so openly about your life experiences.

Zathyn Priest said...

It's ironic I visited your Blog when I did. Literally minutes after posting an entry revealing my envy at the way some people can tell their personal stories, I read this amazing one.

I'm so glad you had such a wonderfully supportive family and group of doctors to go with your own determination.

Love the little cardboard arm thingy's!

Best Wishes,

Jeff B said...

Travis- The names Steve Garvey and Ron Cey come to mind. The Dodgers did have a heck of a team back then. I later turned into a Giants fan and still am today.

Latharia- To say I was lucky would be a gross understatement.

Wendy- "The Wind Beneath My Wings" was the song at my our wedding we most liked. Thanks for leaving such a heart felt comment. Alays nice to have new faces here.

Zathyn- I just read your post and I think you're on the right track about telling your story as well.

Thank you for coming over and feel welcome to come back anytime.

Gene Bach said...

It was always good for a laugh watching you put something in your mouth...and having it come out everywhere. And I do mean everywhere! Remember, Mark and I wre laughing with you, not at you.

CrystalChick said...

My son was born with a cleft lip and palate. He's 14 now. With a dental procedure coming up on Tuesday next week, I may share some of my story in a future blog, but for now just wanted to say hello and thanks for a great read!
Funny but my son couldn't quite say dump truck... came out 'dumb f*ck'. LOL