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Entries in dental demons and exorcism (13)

Monday
Aug172009

Into The Frying Pan

I must have been having too good a time after my wisdom teeth were pulled a few weeks back. There had to be a villain in there to put me right. I fully thought my weekend after the surgery was going to be one with much Vicodin and icepack action. But I was out and about on my bike, walking the dog, having lunch with church folks. A bit later on there was pain, and I was wondering if it was the dreaded dry socket, but a couple calls to the surgeon's office said it wasn't that. I had been told by my general dentist weeks before that the tooth that chipped off (neighbor to one of the wisdom molars) would probably need a root canal before it would be crowned properly. So he built up the surface with some anesthetic goop and some composite material in mid July.

Not really having any experience with extractions, I wasn't really sure what the pain would be like. Of course I am equally inexperienced (by some amazing grace considering my dental history) with a genuine tooth ache like I have had for the last week and a half. But, once I was sure that it was not extraction pain (because three of the four sites never hurt at all, really), I had to admit that it would be root canal time. That was made clear for me when Vicodin effectively did nothing, and the number of OTC pain pills almost numbered the hours of daylight.

The handwritten referral looked a bit hard to read. I waited the next week to see how the pain was. It ebbed and flowed, and for a day or two seemed gone on its own. But a couple nights now it was enough to keep me up. About a week ago I called the office that my dentist referred me to but got no response after leaving a message. I guess the practice changed hands or something because the referral and outgoing phone message had different names, and doing a web search was as confusing. Finally I just biked to the office this morning to get someone in person and to my good luck they saw me on the spot and did the whole thing in one visit.

I guess I didn't even know enough about root canal work to dread it. I certainly didn't have the years to build up a root canal phobia like I did with extractions and deep scaling. I was waiting for some agony but didn't experience it. I mean, I thought the whole thing was going to be torture, but I felt just a handful of stabs as the procedure got to its deepest points. More awkward was the business of having my jaw spread for an hour, but even that was more bearable by the jig they put in and the dental dam which kept my tongue from doing its usual job as jealous security dog, fending off all intruders. Two hundred bucks and a couple hours later, I was enjoying some delightful cold treats with joyous abandon, no longer sent into the fetal position from cold sensitivity that I have had since the gum surgery in late 2007, but more so since the back area of that tooth was exposed to the world a few weeks back. In a couple weeks I get the crown work under way. Let's hope there aren't any surprises along the way. Brave as I've become now that I am a revolving door guest at dentists and periodontists and such, I don't think the stuff becomes enjoyable. Except that of course, I am finally tacking my demons.

Sunday
Aug022009

Worship

Fixed gear first timer
As salaam alayka, friend
I'm headed to church!

The short form of my entry is in the haiku and its 17 syllables above. The longer form is as follows.

What a week it has been. I feel like new. I feel victorious. I put the dreaded wisdom tooth thing behind me after 13 years, and so far it hasn't really been an issue. I got a new bike which was meant to be a challenge to myself, improving upon the other new bike that itself was quite a challenge in its time. I love my new church and the life it is bringing to me, and also the life I am feeling I have to bring to it.

my new fixed gear torelli bike, a little laden with a rack and full size drop barsThe new bikeToday, less than a week after getting the fixed gear bike and still having a bit of anxiety about getting two flats in the first week, I decided to take it to church. Yeah, its gearing is rather harder to drive than the Specialized (70 versus 62 gear inches, respectively), but it just feels magnificent in its long circles. Graceful. Responsive. I've messed around on the local hills here both as sprint exercises and at whatever slow pace it takes, so I was emboldened a bit. But on this morning, I headed off to church at 8:30. It was cool outside. I wanted to get there before the sun broke through the marine moisture, and with time enough to mellow out before the book study group I participate in. I started at the bottom of the hill not knowing if I would end up walking half way from getting my heart pounding like a drum and knees bearing my 220 lbs.

As I started from the bottom I heard what sounded like a madman screaming nonsense from the hillside. Coming closer, away from traffic noise, I realized that it was actually a Muslim man at prayer, and he was giving it his all (and I felt a little embarrassed to have so misjudged his utterances). I barely saw him but his chants filled the air as I too got into a moment of Zen like concentration, focusing on my breath and the long cycle strokes that propelled me 70 inches each time around, up a hill that I had only done once before. However it worked out, I took just one breather break to listen to the man at prayer, then looked back and saw some mountain biker on the way up. So I started off again, slow at first, getting into the straps and clips a bit clumsily, but after a moment, I got a nice new bit of air and some scenery, and was able to actually gun it for a short way, even uphill. I passed a fellow on a ten speed and the mountain biker never caught up. Eventually the ten speed guy got past me, but we pedaled a few blocks at about the same pace. For a newbie on a fixed gear/road bike, I was feeling oddly empowered today, all the more when the dental surgery is taken into account. I really thought my weekend was going to be four days of vicodin and ice packs. What a pleasant surprise I had in my "disappointment."

I think I've written before that biking has added value to most of my trips now, particularly to church and things that branch off that. I just get to these things feeling alive now; empowered; vitalized. While it takes motion to accomplish, it is not just "going through the motions." People say they skip church because they don't get anything out of worship. Well, it isn't God worshiping us. It's for us to worship God. I guess if you don't feel that you have reason to do so, then there is little appeal. But right now, I feel empowered. I feel alive again. I feel like there is something to give back to God and my fellows. Like there is some energy to spare. I feel like the great narrative has had me spend various times in the desert (sorting out how to relate to church and finding myself in a new paradigm in 2006-2008), or in the tomb (the eviction), and now there is the part of me that needs to get back in the saddle (actually and figuratively) and give back. The dental thing was death to me, and taking that on like I have in the last two years has made way for resurrection as I understand it. Driving a car is death to me too, and the return to biking reminds me of a time when I actually enjoyed life more, sans automotive "help." Other aspects of my life, many well blogged about here, are also being met in similar fashion. I feel that somehow, grace has descended on me when I was certain I was not worthy of it. I feel that my present church is a gift, which is not how I felt about my old church. Christianity and its theme of renewal and transformation is not just stuff in a stodgy old book to me.

I've been oddly compelled to take the reins of a young adults group that was started last year but had flickering success. Trying a new approach, I think that it has been appealing to more people. I hope so. I have memories of disconnection so bad as to want to cut myself out of the fabric of life. So now I understand it is my role to play the counteractive role maybe to do someone else some good. So far it has been around a table for food or drinks, modeled on Jesus' table fellowship and its power to unite. However it works, I've somehow been animated to actually meet new people and make the invitation to join in on things. This is far from my old church experience where I was the dutiful technical assistant who had little community life because I did so much stuff. But that is not why I wanted to go to church (to recreate my work life in a new setting). Right now, things seem so much more on track as they are, where instead of doing technical and media tasks, I invite people to talk and to stay connected to each other and a better narrative than the working and consuming world offers. Instead of not being able to be taken seriously on topics dear to me (on account of being perceived as one of the kids still), I am invited to be on the Christian Education commission because I am understood to have these concerns. For myriad reasons, this is better.

I think it amazing that the Muslim man had conviction enough to go out and chant from a hillside in the misty morning air. That isn't quite my style. But, taking a cue from what I think I heard of Frederick Douglass to say: I used to pray to God [to be delivered from slavery], but none of the prayers worked until I prayed with my feet. I find my prayers sort of mesh with the biking experiences that challenge me (my knees bitch some but my heart is doing cartwheels). Somewhere I get the chutzpah to think I can do something I never did before, somewhere the means are found, and then somehow I have the sense to see what was done and be glad for it. And more so, to think that I could do it again next week—and better.

Friday
Jul312009

Wisdom To Spare, Redux

Here we go again. Time to go to the oral surgeon's office to get my wisdom teeth pulled. Only this time, I actually DID get it done. The evidence:

four of my wisdom teeth on the gauze. it only took 13 years to get to this pointSo much wisdom, so little space in my head

The background:

It was in late September of last year when I thought I would be getting my wisdom teeth pulled—all of about 12 years after I was first told to do so. It was the very thought of that procedure that helped condition me to stay away from dentists for um, let's just say, years at a time. Finally, the whole thing caught up with me, and for the avid readers of TAPKAE.com, you know it was a hell of a summer in 2007 which led me to getting gum surgery and all that. The plan for gum surgery was partially derailed by high blood pressure. Not surprising considering the whole dental chair phobia runs deep in me, and that year was just devastating to me. But it got done—in 4 procedures, not two—and I lived. So last summer I finally was told to get the wisdom teeth out so that other problems would be headed off.

But, the blood pressure thing reared its ugly head again, and this time it was enough that the doc couldn't operate. (You can read last year's anticipatory blog entry here.) Last year it was high enough that the surgeon said it was not just because I was in his chair, and that I'd have to get it looked at just to be in general health. It was a huge letdown that the surgery didn't go forward but it helped shine a light on some systemic problems that needed fixing. The answer was to get to work on doctor's visits at an office I had only gone to once before, biking, diet changes and all that, various aspects of which I have written about. A while ago the doctor seemed to think that it would be okay to revisit the oral surgeon. So, since then there has been barely a pizza or two, barely a burger or two, no sodas, far less cheese. That tackles some of the worst offenders, and I have been keeping track of the BP daily in addition to taking the meds. The biking is obviously more blog worthy than that routine, so you see more news about that here.

Anticipation Part 2: The day before

I do know that the vigorous 10-20 mile bike rides help, but those aren't the usual rides I do. The busy days at work and the commutes keep general activity up, as does a dog walk most nights. I took a ten mile ride home tonight for my ostensibly three mile commute. But still, with regards to tomorrow (July 31), there is still anxiety about meeting my demons head on finally. My escort tomorrow is a woman from church named Marla who perhaps knows a trick or two about relaxation and stuff, being into fitness, Tai Chi and other such things. This time I think I will take my relaxant pill earlier than last year. (I couldn't help but wonder if I had indeed taken it too late to do any good. By the time I was rejected and out taking care of other business an hour later, it seemed to have me pretty knocked out.)

And then, the good part...

This day started off with me taking the pre op meds at the right time, two hours in advance. I prepared a veritable cocktail of prescription meds between the antibiotics, ibuprofen, sedative-relaxant, and my usual couple for BP and cholesterol. I cleaned a little house to help keep my mind on other things. Last night's BP reading was a bit high so I was bracing for last year all over again, but trying to remind myself of how different today is from last September. Marla picked me up on time and we got there just in time to sit but not dwell for long, then I was in.

The room was cold which usually I would like but today I took the blanket they offered. There was the dreaded BP moment to contend with but no one mentioned any numbers. At least I didn't have to do mental math to compare to last night or last year or any of that. They let it go for another test cycle a few minutes later and I guess it was in the clear, particularly after I said that this was 13 years in coming and I had to get this out of my way finally. So the IV started up and I heard them busying themselves as I kept my eyes closed to be in my own world. I brought my stuffed pig Luau (a pocket sized piggy) and me and Luau were listening to the music. I was counting time as if I was playing the stuff myself. The next I remember I was having my jaw prodded a bit with gauze being crammed in, revived, and whisked off to the post op recovery room being told not to fall asleep. Marla joined me and collected my gift bag of teeth, gauze, and other stuff. Then it was off to the car, a bit groggy like a night of boozing perhaps, but on foot.

The post op time was hardly touched by pain. The greater annoyance is the numb and rubbery lip and tongue that seemed worse a case than the gum surgeries in '07. But as I write this just after midnight, all that has subsided. I took two vicodin at once in the afternoon before the initial anesthetic wore off. I took the antibiotic drug a few times. But the best part was that I got to gorge myself on yogurt! I think I had five cups of frozen stuff which, being numb like I was, barely seemed frozen. I had a couple regular cups too. Later on, as in '07 I had some dinner of mac and cheese with the girls (while they ate the bowtie pasta and seafood mix, I went lowbrow, but nibbled on their mix too).

Rinses have now been pretty clear, numbness is mostly gone, only two vicodin have been used so far. While it isn't a pleasure cruise, it does not seem as dreaded as it was for all those years. Tomorrow I start on salt water rinses and the prescription stuff to keep clean, but so far it has been surprisingly bearable. I get a four day weekend to boot.

Tuesday
Sep232008

Wisdom To Spare

In early 1996, I started my admittedly shameful record of dental appointments. Well, that is if you ignore the three year interval between the previous visit whilst on my old man's work insurance, and the self-funded trip of May 1996. It was at least that far back when I was first told I would need deep scaling and also got a recommendation (but not a prescription) to get my wisdom teeth pulled. At that point, I am pretty sure they had not erupted at all, but given that I had already had orthodontics done some years before, he cautioned that that work might be undone in part due to shifting geography. These two suggestions really just put the fear of God in me and so I met them with utter contempt and did my best to stay away from dentists for eight years. I did so well indeed that I never went once until maybe the middle of 2004. And then it was that the scaling that I avoided in '96 was finally critically necessary. It got done shortly before my wedding in August of 2004, thanks to my job then offering an effective dental plan. I remember it being far less agonizing than it had been made out to be. I don't want to minimize it; but it didn't seem so bad except in sheer volume of crud. Nothing was said about the gums, but they were in bad shape then.

Then there was that three year interval until last summer when basically the whole thing had to be redone, and this time the gums were far worse off for that added time. I had to face it: it was this or start watching teeth go. (At least I had some insurance through my job then, and then the COBRA after they cut me free almost as soon as I even got eligible.) And of course you can read in this journal how I had to get the surgery done to make that right. And from the periodontist, the message was reiterated: I need to get those wisdom teeth out. This time is was not speculative about the damage they might do. Three had long since erupted. Two on the right came in in remarkably good form, but the left top is not erupted at all and the bottom left juts forward and upward and has forced other teeth around a bit and made it hard to clean between it and its second molar neighbor, possibly leaving a cavity at a point where they meet. Between this one that was an obvious problem and the two that are otherwise fine but almost impossible to reach with regular cleaning tools, it was time to move to plan B. My way hadn't worked.

I've been getting regular non-insured cleanings on two or three month intervals to stay ahead of things. (The better way to go since HMO plans are crap and give only the basics. So I agreed to pay out of pocket like I always should have been doing all along so I can get more time in the chair.) This last time around, the dentist told me to get the wisdom teeth out finally and prescribed me a consultation at a wisdom tooth-harvesting surgeon—where Kelli had just gone to get one of her wisdoms taken out a month ago. It was a mixed feeling to hear this. All the apprehension of my 22 year old self revisited me. But the present, post-gum surgery me said, ah, finally dude, get that shit behind you. So here I am.

I got a few days off from work so that I might finally get past this ordeal and at least put some of this dental drama to rest, and I reasonable expect, to raise some new issues. So far I haven't been jumping out of my skin at the prospect like I was about the gum surgery. Maybe it is because wisdom teeth extractions are so common, but maybe it is because I've offloaded a great burden in just getting past the first wave of surgeries last year and adopting some new habits, and that this new procedure is just part of that trend. At least with the four-at-once procedure, it won't drag on like it did for two weeks of repeated surgeries because my blood pressure was too high to do the gum surgery in two passes instead of four. Last time I was jumping out of my skin, even on the second-, third-, and final stages, despite knowing the routine. This time, it is all done in an hour and I get to go to sleep for it :-)

Maybe now that I have all these wisdom teeth, I am a bit wiser. But the irony is not lost on me. It would have been wiser to get this done 12 years ago. Grrrr. Oh well, you don't get wise by making the right decision at all turns.

Friday
Jan042008

The Exorcism: Epilogue

Some of my die hard fans have been on the edge of their seats in suspense, with fan mail pouring in to find out how things have been since my entire mouth was exorcised of dental demons in December. The saga continues.

Just under a month since it began and about two and a half weeks since it concluded, my gum surgery has been more or less moving into the rear view mirror. I don't expect I'll forget this one. Every drink or bite that is cooler than room temperature is pretty damned painful since more of each tooth is exposed now, and the gums sit closer to the root crowns where the sensitivity is greatest. Yeah, so far every drink or bite that is colder than I am has reminded me of this. Not that there is a problem with lukewarm water. But there is a problem with lukewarm beer or lukewarm cottage cheese, or lukewarm ice cream! The beer and cottage cheese have been sampled, but I have yet to venture near the ice cream!

The surgeries were finally performed over four sittings, spaced across eleven days. That was perhaps closer than I might ever want to do things if I had to do it again. The second half of December got to hurting a lot, though I had a pretty fine meal on Christmas night, though it was a matter of going real slow and starting off so that nothing really had to be bitten into and torn, like I would if I had to eat a sandwich. The gums themselves stopped hurting reasonably fast; the bones are what reminded me of the work. It took most of the time up till a few days ago to feel like I could bite into anything with any power. So, for much of the last few weeks, I've been holding my jaw in just such a way that it wouldn't clench nor would it stretch anything. I feel my speech has been real lazy for this time since I was really limiting the range of motion. There were a few remaining sore points that had cold sores. I asked about those and they are normal parts of the process. They would sting a bit when confronted with certain foods and toothpaste. That's over with now, and the motion is back so I can stretch out and whatnot, though I am almost convinced that my teeth are in different places in the back left bottom. After a few weeks of not closing completely, or being on a painkiller or having ice on things (only on the day of surgery), I maybe forgot how top and bottom fit together, and maybe I am just rediscovering it now. But there is a distinct feeling that things are in different places. Odd. So I still refrain from clenching, and certain chewing is also awkward.

The gums themselves are healed up and shiny and new, with no signs of incisions or repairs. They don't hurt anymore. They sit lower on the teeth, and it is interesting to behold some of the openings between teeth now. I have found a number of syllables (and combinations thereof) to be hard to voice properly and in normal speech. The spaces leak a lot of air. The tongue also touches different surfaces now—more hard, less soft. Or, where it used to block a space between teeth, it might not now. I guess I'll have to do what my grandmother always told me to do better: enunciate. (An interesting byproduct of this increased leaky space is that fluids can take advantage of the openings too. Sometimes swishing makes me sort of a slob. But less so now that I can more confidently close down all the way.) The good news is swishing does a lot more good now that there are bigger spaces that can't hold food bits as well, so a lot of the stuff departs after a few good swishes. Flossing is far easier now, as it was expected. The dentist gave me a spiffy little bit of pipecleaner called an interdental brush, which is meant to do what floss can't do.

Considering this has been one of the few experiences in my life where I genuinely knew dread, it hasn't been as bad as I anticipated. Each day's surgery was sufficiently clotted and trouble free by the next day. The stitches dissolved on the most recent side and left no hassle except for dangling bits that had to be pulled like loose threads sometimes. I don't particularly recommend that you wait as long as I did to get your teeth cleaned, and I don't recommend letting it get as bad as I did. But I do feel better now.

Tuesday
Dec182007

The Exorcism (4 of 3)

Yes folks, you read right! The Exorcism, part four of three! It was all so good, there would be an encore!

I've sort of gotten out of the habit of getting up with normal people at a reasonable time close to when the sun comes up. But today was no problem somehow and getting up at 7:00 was no problem, even considering the day I had ahead of myself. I was vaguely excited. I slept well and would finally get the last of this surgery business out of the way. I decided I'd drive myself and let Kelli get some rest. After all, she has been doing amazingly long days during her season of finals—all take home essays and research papers. So for the first time in weeks, maybe a bit of sleeping in would do her some good. Since I wasn't taking valium today I could drive fine. In lieu of the tasty king's breakfast of yesterday, my breakfast today consisted of three cans of Costco's version of Slim Fast shakes. Hey, that way it's about 750 calories and a bunch of other stuff that isn't too bad for me. I meant to make a smoothie but thought it would all be too cold for the newly discovered spot on my top right molar area. With all the work now accumulating in one mouth, it was also sort of hard to chew with conviction. The shakes did fine for the morning.

You can read the routines of the first three surgeries to get an idea of what was going on. Today was essentially the same, but somehow I was nervous like on the first day. I was shivering in the seat. It was a cold morning, but that wasn't all there was to it. I think what was at work was that I was now facing that all my mouth would be affected for a few days. Even yesterday's work made it hard to talk and I avoided eating for the remainder of the day. All I ate yesterday was that nice breakfast. On top of that, my front bottom teeth, always a very sensitive few for me, and the worst affected of the bunch before I got cleaned up in July, were giving me a feeling of strain or weakness. One is a bit mobile. It has been quite a psychological ball and chain for a long time, but certainly in this whole process, it has been brought to the fore.

I can't believe how much I was shivering, even with a long sleeve and collared shirt. The day I actually needed valium I didn't have it, and today, when you would think that I had the confidence of an old champ, I lost it. However, there was not one gag reflex today compared to about five yesterday when I actually did have valium. Today felt like there was a lot of tooling around with pick-axes and chisels. The grinder thing too seemed to pierce my bone matter and get right to the center of my head. I wasn't liking today. But I survived.

A small bit of the silly putty dressing was taken out on the lower right (last Wednesday's work) and it revealed the very low gumline between two front teeth, and it was a bit of a shock. Even though yesterday's work got included the removal of the top right's dressing and stitches, I was quite tentative about investigating the look and feel of my newly shaped mouthscape. But a glimpse of the lower front (offset a bit to the right) with the stitches still in was a bit of a startling thing. I didn't know it all could be taken so low. Yow.

I was on my own today, so I just drove back home. Kelli was up and about, and even though I left at 8 am or so and was back by 10, she was buzzing around cleaning house with the doors open and the TV on. I threw a stack of pillows together and listened to Keneally's Wooden Smoke CD for the thousandth time this fall season. Then I listened to some more of the Joseph Campbell/Bill Moyers Power of Myth audio, which gives me a far bigger thing to think about than my present situation. And between songs or disks, it's rinse, rinse, rinse with lukewarm water. Today the drugs were not hitting me in the way I needed, so I ended up getting out the big ice pack and while Kelli took a break we napped in the afternoon. The icepack did more good than the drugs but I can only really get what I want from it by laying down. For my lunch, I drank another couple shakes like in the morning. Five of those is a new record for me, but I haven't died yet, and the past few weeks seem to have lost me about 12 pounds from the average of recent years. I guess that is an interesting benefit from having my mouth increasingly incapacitated for almost two weeks now.

I finally got hungry enough to conjure up some tasty, somewhat real food by about 6 pm. I had some soup and a bunch of cheese & spinach raviolis. Mercifully it was nothing much to masticate. We went to Costco to get some more stuff that might give me reasonable nutrition without having to chew much. A giant pack of V8 helps counterbalance the shakes—now I can have chocolate flavor or tomato flavor shakes! In reality though, I think in a couple days I shall be eating real food again, at least some bread and stuff dipped in soup, some lunch meats, and the like. Friday I get all my dressings removed—three at once—and the remaining stitches will dissolve on their own. Days later, it's Christmas at the Calabrese compound, so I am looking forward to eating tasty food there, hopefully with no "event."

We went from Costco to the Calabrese compound for another Urantia book reading, and contrary to my better judgment I did some readings, but it was sore, sore, sore, and hearing certain syllables made me cringe. I don't know yet if it's all the soreness that makes me not enunciate, or the physical stuff like goops of silly putty dressing and newly shaped gumlines, but some syllables just don't get articulated right. I might need to practice speaking. Grrr.

I got home and finished watching Patton, and now this. I shall survive. The demons are gone. A few weeks from now we shall see what condition they left me in.

Monday
Dec172007

The Exorcism (3 of 3)

We now return to the gripping drama of dental exorcism, TAPKAE style...

Today was to be the last of my surgeries, and it was to be the most involved for one day, taking on the remaining half of my mouth (left). I woke up at about 10 am for my 1:30 appointment. I was a bit disappointed that I had gone to two pharmacies on Sunday only to find them closed. I had to get some more drugs to get past this third date with the periodontist, and then I supposed I would be on my way. Since my pharmacy attempts were foiled on Sunday, I had to again scramble around in order to get the meds. I wish that the doctor had just prescribed me enough to do the whole procedure, because I've now purchased the same order three times, and I am sure that at least part of that cost could have been avoided. This time I also was prescribed a valium to mellow me out before the surgery. My blood pressure has been too high to get the first half done in one shot, and later after today's session, even with valium, I was told I'd need to do only a quadrant, not the remaining half. So there goes about $11 for a single valium! Oh well, it's all been expense after expense. I bleed money on this the same as I bleed blood.

Anticipating a very arduous day of sore-mouth that might make me loath to eat for many hours, I fixed myself a king's breakfast of a few eggs, bacon, and hash browns, and Kelli ate likewise. Today was the last day she'd have to knock out the last of her papers to wrap up her fifth semester at school. Since I would be on valium for today, she had to drive me. Maybe the valium did some good, but I didn't notice it on the way to the appointment nor during it. If anything, it was able to put me to sleep for a few hours after I got home. But that is getting ahead of myself, isn't it?

By now, it was getting to be a routine. Sign the consent form, lay out the plastic and get reamed for another $650 for two quadrants' work, a few tense minutes in the waiting room, a trip to the pisser to calm a bit, and then to the electric chair for a few minutes of BP checks, chit chat, and prep. Cookie, the assistant of NuYorican descent, made a few jokes in her thick New York accent, and said the last time I was in she was quiet on account of a headache. Today she was a bit chatty but still not as chatty as the first time when she went on about mothers-in-law and their not-so-subtle requests for grandchildren. I wasn't shivering today as much as the first time, but I felt a bit antsy and wasn't as comfortable as the second date on Wednesday. I was beginning to think about what it would all mean once this was done, and what else the doc would have to say about the next plan to fix what still needs fixing, and I know that extractions are in the plan one way or another.

The doc came in and fairly promptly let me know I may have to do just one quadrant again. My heart sank. I just wanted to get this over with during December. Their timeline was either to do it this week or wait till January, and I have work plans for then, and I don't want to prolong this any more than I need to. So I asked if he might do the top left first. He said we'd go through that then see how I was doing, and maybe the bottom could be done too.

Numbing is great once you're numbed, but the needle plunging into not-yet-numb tissue just kills, and I think they worked a bit faster in getting me numb, moving toward the needle faster than it took the topical, Q-tip stuff to kick in. I seemed to feel more tooling this time than the first as they drew back the gums and did some scraping. I don't know if it was a bit less anesthesia or whether the gunk took more pulling at and chiseling, but I felt jerked around more. The first day's bone grinding was not pleasant in the sense of a nice summer breeze, but the subsequent ones seemed to make tones that rocked me deep in my head more than that first day. Still, it all goes pretty fast. It is probably about 10 minutes of that sort of thing. It seems that it's just a few minutes for each process, according to real time, but with four tools in there at once, tongue being held back, and unable to breathe, each bit is an eternity until I can relax. Even with the valium, I don't think I was relaxed one bit. With that realization, the doc said I'd need to come in later to do the last quadrant. I was able get the last one done but it was sooner than I planned—tomorrow at 8:30!

Before long it was over and time to have the dressing put in like a "worm" of silly putty packed in along the boundary between gums and teeth. Then it's pretty much up and out with my ice pack. Today Cookie took out the top right dressing and stitches from the first surgery. I called Kelli and she hurried up to meet me at the street, then it was back for a couple hour's reading (Henri Nouwen's In The Name of Jesus—a short little thing, nice reading about the role of ministers in the 21st century), rinsing, and for once, biting down on a wet tea bag in order to let some tannic acid hopefully stop any bleeding. Don't know if it did, but the peppermint flavor sure was a nicer thing to taste than the bloody gauze. I found that the top right has a real sensitive spot in the back now that it is officially cleared out. I had been rinsing with cold water, but this surely made me rinse with lukewarm water! I read my book all the way through in a couple hours then thought I'd try to watch a long-awaited movie, Patton, but found myself a half hour in with a very sleepy head. Maybe it was valium, but maybe it was just nap time and I was trying to forget. I slept about three hours or so till about 10 pm. Kelli was just getting done with her paper and emailed it to her professor. Instead of getting all happy that she is done, it was a quiet, fall into bed night with not much talk. She was excited but totally depleted of ability to think anymore, and I was sore, with three-quarters of my mouth in some sort of pain or ache—today's work, Wednesday's on the wane, and the first sensations of the first days' work being cleared out and on their own.

See you tomorrow morning. This time, there won't be that king's breakfast to start off with.

Thursday
Dec132007

The Exorcism (2 of 3)

Welcome to the second installment of this gripping drama about periodontal surgery. For the previous installment, skip back a few entries, or search by tag: "Dental Demons and Exorcism."

Today started off at noon when I awoke to the sounds of Mike Oldfield's Ommadawn album. Hearing a few opening notes is enough, and today I had to cut his 30 minute tune down to about 12 bars because I had just a bit over two hours to prep today to get to my next dental exorcism. So it was off to the kitchen to prepare a hearty feast, but I found I had no bacon ready to go. It was all frozen. Good thing I had some taters that I cleaned up from dinner last night but hadn't used. Breakfast was tasty but I think I copied my dog in the way it was almost inhaled instead of chewed and digested properly.

I had to get more medication, and since I am quite unexperienced with going to doctors and dentists, I don't really understand certain things like how to plan to refill prescriptions in a timely and not-rushed manner. So today, I was calling pharmacy and dentist to organize that, then ran out to get the meds, and more daringly, to run to Costco of all places on the way to the dentist's. It was all a sensible trip; it just was crammed into too tight a time, so I got to Costco and was running around like mad trying to dodge people and carts, and to find my product, which as if it knew I was in a rush, was hidden so that a few laps around the aisles were turning up nothing. I got out of there after the world's slowest checker helped get me by. Good thing Costco and the dentist are about a mile apart. So I came blazing into the dentist's office with 10 minutes to spare, a little excited and rattled from the ordeal on the way. At least I wasn't as worked up as last week when I had the car ride to ruminate and get nervous. This time, Kelli was at school and I was on my own.

At the periodontist's office they got me in and took my blood pressure reading and it was high again, no doubt due to the last minute obstacle course to Rite Aid and Costco. I actually was far more mentally prepared for today, having last week to prepare me, and having no complications since. But the BP was too high so they let me mellow for a while, and took it a few more times, then we were off. It was less chatty this time, and no humor, but it was silent and I had a chance to breathe and to think of piggies or whatever stills my mind. Then it was all business. I had a vague and unfamiliar feeling that I wanted to talk about mothers-in-law and their almost obsessive desire to have grandchildren. But I put that to rest quickly.

The work was much the same as last week, and with a few exceptions was about as smooth as then. Maybe there is less tissue in which to inject anesthetic in the lower teeth, because I seemed to feel things more this time, but it still was not agonizing or anything. I have a tongue that is a jealous protector, and every dentist has to fight it to get to the bottom in particular. This procedure required an assistant anyway, so there was one more tool or finger in there at all times, in addition to the doctor's pieces. It makes it less organized an effort though when it's time to relax or swallow, or with some cutting edges in there, not a good idea to have a gag reflex!

About an hour was all it took, same as last week. This time I went out with no gauze, and sort of wish I had, but I have the stuff on hand. I inquired about a relaxant for next week since they will do half my mouth at once, and this on the heels of the first half being done. Despite the "practice" I will have by then, they thought maybe I should relax so my BP is more acceptable and my tongue does not make such a stand against the invading army, and so he prescribed a Valium.

I got home to find Jim Kunstler's new, as-yet-unpublished book World Made By Hand on my porch. I got a proof copy for review because I did some work on his website and he asked me to make a site to promote the book itself. So this was my homework while I am convalescing, and during the slow, no work period to come. After getting my freeze pack together and rinsing a lot for a half hour (and listening to the audio of the Campbell/Moyers Power of Myth show), I started in on the book. Then, over the following five hours or so, I read about 130 pages of it like it was nothing! I had to rinse a lot today. There was a lot of bleeding. I packed it a couple times but didn't like the feeling of the gauze. So I kept rinsing and icing. I have always been quite sensitive to the bottom front teeth. They always feel to me like they are out in the open somehow, and most sensitive. So they have also been the worst affected because I was almost scared of them so I didn't apply as much care when I should have. So today, I was quite aware of them hurting rather more, but that might be because of the undue mental attention I give them when I worry about them.

Eventually, close to midnight, I got sufficiently hungry that I ate some soup and rice cakes and was happy. Then I busied myself with some dish washing and chronicling this whole thing so you, my dear reader, could enjoy it.

Friday
Dec072007

The Exorcism (1 of 3)

Finally, today was the date of the first surgery on my gums. Last night Kelli drove down from school a day early to hold my hand like a total sweetheart. We got to bed late. It must have been almost two in the morning before I was really out. I awoke to my phone alarm buzzing before the calm opening notes of the Brokeback Mountain theme music. I use that music because it doesn't come crashing in, and it actually sort of sounds like it is meant to sound, even on a speaker about the size of a thumbnail. And, if I don't actually get up, the tune is a beautiful way to start off the day. I usually awaken to the vibration that comes first though, and today it was at 7:55. I had about an hour and fifteen minutes to get ready. So I fixed myself up a nice eggs, bacon, and toast breakfast, knowing full well such a hearty meal would not be had for hours if not days. Outside it was raining; not ferociously, but delightfully so after a very dry year. It was one of those days that was made for staying indoors.

I had other business to tend to that would keep me indoors today. Kelli drove me down to the periodontist not far from our old house. This doctor's office is a place I love and hate now. I hate it because I had all the opportunities in the world to avoid the place. I love it because there is salvation with the doctor-priest who will wave his magic wand over me, and mutter a few words, among other things. I have had a cough for the last week and a half, and today it decided to make itself known in the hour or so before I went under the knife (or whatever the hell he used). I was tense and sort of shivering in nervous anticipation. (Buber the dog shivers that way before he goes for a walk, but I think he does it from delight.) The receptionist took my "money" before the procedure, good for half the total work to be done. Then a trip to the bathroom to collect myself, and into the chair I went.

They were trying to take my blood pressure reading with a digital device and it kept reading too high. Then they tried another device which had fresh batteries, and it too was not satisfactory. The doctor got wind of this and said that maybe I was not ready, or that today would be better off if we only did one quadrant instead of a whole side, top and bottom. I didn't really want to hear about that. This tension was enough and I already had at least one other appointment to look forward to, and dividing the job further was not happy news. There would be three of these mornings? He said since my situation was as bad as it was, this might be a big enough project to take on at this time. The assistant took a bit of time to calm me down with a bit of small talk about mothers in law who beg for grandchildren. I never thought that would calm me down, but it must have worked, though I think that establishes my fear of dental surgery is greater than that of a mother in law who might "get her way" (sorry, Kay).

Anyhow, the first half hour from 9:30 to 10 was pretty much that sort of thing—calming me down so they could work. They had to fumble with some software on a screen behind me, but it sounded like they had a map of what was to be done. Shortly before 10 am, the chair went back and the syringes fired off their magic elixir into my gums on the top right, and we were off and running. The coughing stopped too, for some reason. I think my brain was allocating resources to what had to be front-and-center for the next hour or so. I had nifty face-surrounding shades put on to keep the bright light from fatiguing me, and to keep any blood splashes away. But I was content to just shut my eyes, try to breathe, and fight the urge to climb up the walls.

Some of that was unfounded though. The anesthetic was pretty damned good. I don't know the real order of events, but I do know he first cleared my gums out of the way which on my end felt as if he was bumping them with a rubber spatula. Then there was some time with a motorized/electronic grinder thing which he used to grind down irregularities on the exposed bone, to smooth out the pocketing and rough edges from the random bacterially-induced loss that was the chain I forged link by link over the last years. This part of things actually didn't hurt at all. The tone was piercing but mostly consistent. The time I was there last, doing the general planing work in July, was much more insane in the way the tone resonated my teeth and bones, sometimes hitting a real hotspot of sympathetic vibration in my head. He did about 20 minutes of this bone carving work and then it was on to something else, which I think was the gum work itself, which involved cutting back the parts that had to go, and I guess some other work to give the gums a clean start, so they might have a chance to reattach to bone and teeth now shorn of their toxic and random surfaces.

The next thing I know was at work was that he was putting me back together again. I opened my eyes just a few times and before I knew it, it was time for needles and thread. He worked quite fast, and not much was said even to his assistants, so I didn't have the benefit of narration. As it was, I was more at ease in part because the white noise roar of the vacuum tube and water spritzer nozzle masked the more articulate sounds of speech. When the vacuum was taken out and shut off, it was like having a blanket taken of my ears. I sort of wanted it back in so the clang of tools on enamel and muttered phrases wouldn't register as real sounds. I had far fewer gag reflexes today for some reason. The general "blind" cleaning in July was full of such responses, which slowed the thing down some. My tongue is a staunch defender of its territory so being pried open and having three or four tools bumping around is just too much usually. But today it was manageable, more so considering the cough was lying in wait the whole time.

Then it was over. Considering how months of dread, a short night's sleep, a cough, and more than a $500 copay (for half the work—after a credit from an earlier visit—ultimately the total bill is $1300 not including prescription and other incidentals) all conspired to make it hell, upon leaving, it was actually okay. The dressing they gave me was like silly putty that was pressed all along the row of teeth. It is inside and out, sitting just astride the boundary between tooth and gum. The stitches will be in for a week. This means that my third appointment will be on the the 17th, with the stitches ostensibly due to be taken out on Christmas Eve. We'll see how that goes. In between the originally scheduled dates of today and the 17th, I will have another surgery date next week on the 12th to get the stuff that wasn't done today.

Kelli drove me home, and the rest of the day was just hanging around. For her, this is finals week with many papers to write. For me, bed with an ice pack and some reading or tunes. Today got more and more sore as anesthetic wore off (it's about 9 pm now). Minimal talking. I haven't eaten anything, but I did get some diet-friendly shakes down, which aren't anything to chew of course, and don't have to be flossed out afterwards. Maybe a few pounds might be shed in the process. That wouldn't be a bad thing; I need to keep the general practitioner doctor at bay too.

While chilling out, I got a call from Mitch who offered me a gig for tomorrow. Interesting timing, considering that I was just told not to do any lifting or straining. Man. Mitch's timing is impeccable that way! Even last week would have been good. Or maybe in three days. Or in January!

Time for ice again.

Monday
Dec032007

The Day Of The Dental-Lord Cometh

You can read a bit of the backstory in an earlier blog on my theology of dentistry. That post was written a day or two before I went in and got a second go-around of under-the-gum scaling treatment, three years after the first round in mid 2004.

Well, my heart is in my throat again, and my stomach is in knots, with the Day of Reckoning just a few days off. This Friday is the first of two hemispheres’ worth of gum surgery to be done this month. It will be my Christmas present to myself, and perhaps what I deserve for being naughty all these years. There will be, to quote the Gospel of Matthew, “much weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Mercifully, there will be drugs too.

Theological implications aside, I wonder about how it will change me. On the physical level, with receded gums already a reality, I have to wonder what I shall look like with even “longer” teeth as the gums will be trimmed of their bad tissue, the bone reshaped some, and the roots planed while the gums are laid out like flaps, and ultimately the idea is to have the gums be able to be freshened up and able to cling better to thoroughly cleaned teeth. But they will cling lower to the bone and roots of the teeth, so my teeth will look longer. Ah, I can say that the age of 34 is when I officially became “long in the tooth.”

The other concern of mine is how this might change my speech, if at all. I’ve noticed already that certain syllables are harder to voice from what already seems to be a changed mouthscape after a cleaning which, combined with receding gums, opened up spaces where I didn’t know they existed. Certain syllables whistle with a bit of sibilance. So I don’t know how much this surgery will change things. I learned a bit in my voice class at Mesa how sounds are formed against hard and soft surfaces in the mouth, and surgery will change that ratio for me.

On Thanksgiving night, I found myself talking to a fellow partygoer who had this surgery done and he tried to put some comforting words out that if I really “got religion” and followed orders about regular care at home, the surgery would be a major help. Then a week later, I went to another dentist who confirmed the need for surgery but also took a fantastic amount of time to give me a good pep talk/counseling session.

So wish me luck on the Day of the Dental Lord. May he have mercy on my soul.