Tippett-Wertz takes leave after jaw surgery


Photo courtesy of Heather Tippett-Wertz

Smile! Heather Tippett-Wertz and her family smile at the beach on their annual family vacation. This picture was taken before her surgeries and before masks were required.

Jocelyn Fetter , Reporter

As if having school completely online wasn’t challenging enough, Heather Tippett-Wertz and her students were thrown a curve ball. 

I had wisdom tooth surgery in early August, and three weeks later while I was eating, I felt and heard a loud pop. That’s when I fractured my jaw, but I didn’t realize it was actually fractured until I went for an xray two weeks later. I had hoped it would improve on its own, which is why I walked around with a fractured jaw for two weeks. This injury is the most severe complication of a wisdom tooth surgery. The technical term for it is mandibular fracture. It is so rare that it affects only 0.0034 to 0.0075% of people who have had their wisdom teeth removed,” Tippett-Wertz said. 

Throughout online learning, Altoona has created their schedule using synchronous and asynchronous days in which students switch back and forth between learning through Google meets and zoom classes, and then doing independent studies. 

Well, remote learning aside, I’ve had to use a text-to-talk program to communicate with my students. It’s good in a pinch, but it’s nothing like having a real conversation because I’ve been scripting everything I want to say beforehand, and that takes away the organic nature of true dialogue. I tried that for a week, and it fatigued me so much that my doctor has advised me to take sick time to recover. I do want my students to know that this isn’t easy for me. I’m not a person who knows how to slow down, take days off or relax. I haven’t missed a day of school in many years–it’s just not me. I want them to know that I cannot wait to be ‘normal’ again, and I’m really excited to get back in the physical classroom to teach,” Tippett-Wertz said. 

Tippett-Wertz announced to her classes on Sept. 9 that she would be having jaw surgery and that her jaw would be wired shut for eight weeks.  

At first a lot of the domestic chores and parenting responsibilities fell onto my husband, but now that I’m feeling better, it’s back to normal. He’s still doing the cooking, though, because it makes me sad to see food that I can’t eat. I never miss a night with my Golden Girls. I also decorated my house for fall this past weekend so that made me happy. My guilty pleasure is watching Youtuber, Moriah Elizabeth paint squishies. My youngest daughter and I like her. If I don’t keep myself busy, I’ll go crazy. I don’t really get to relax since I’m a mom of two busy girls, but I also have a side business selling Scentsy, and I do a lot of that via social media, so that keeps me busy,” Tippett-Wertz said. 

Tippett-Wertz cannot eat solid foods due to her jaw being wired shut, and has to eat everything through a straw. 

“Believe it or not, I’m keeping a list in my phone of what I want when I can eat regular food again: Panera bread bowl, popcorn (my favorite snack), tacos, and I joked with my husband that he’s driving us to Ocean City so I can eat all you can eat seafood at Phillips. I’ve actually been eating baby food blended with milk to thin it enough to go through a straw. I can’t say I’ve found any unique or creative combinations, but blended soups have been good, and lots of protein shakes. I’m sure I’ll never want to look at another protein shake again after this,” Tippett-Wertz said. 

Tippett-Wertz will remain in this condition (with her jaw wired shut) for three weeks until she will be getting the bands and wires out of her mouth. After these are removed, she will be able to talk normally again. She won’t be able to eat anything other than liquid for an additional four weeks after that. 

“The best part of my injury is seeing who my true friends are. I’ve had so many people reach out to pray for me, add me to their church prayer lists, deliver flowers, cards, milkshakes, send me daily check-in texts and anything else to brighten my day. The worst part has been the frustration. I am frustrated that I can’t talk, eat, sneeze, cough, yawn, exercise. Social situations have been hard because I’m very social and love to talk, so I feel isolated even when I’m with other people,” Tippett-Wertz said. 

“I’m also frustrated that I can’t be the teacher I want to be. We’ve been away from school for so long, and now I can’t even connect with my new students the way I want to because I can’t really talk to them,” Tippett-Wertz said. ”

— Tippett-Wertz

Tippett-Wertz will remain teaching without a voice for three more weeks. Once the wires are removed from her mouth, Tippett-Wertz will be able to talk again.