As you know, I can take a decent amount in the pain and suffering department. What happened to me at the dentist today, however, was off the charts. I cried like a little baby.
For several months now, I have had what I thought at first was a very long lasting mouth sore. Except it wasn't sore. It was kind of like a hole with hard edges. Naturally, after awhile I started thinking about mouth cancer. I made my regular cleaning appointment a little sooner than usual to have it checked out.
To my surprise, the hygienist, after scraping around it with that fun pointy tool of hers, declared it to be a bone. I had grown a bone spur on the upper inner quadrant above my last molar that actually poked a hole through my gum. What?! Who does this sort of thing happen to?! I've never even heard of such a thing. But leave it to me to be groundbreaking in a wide variety of medical fields.
Just at that time we were changing our dental plan to a better one that actually covers these sorts of things, so I decided to wait at least until our new insurance kicked in to see if it was going to go away. It was my plan that it would go away on its own and I wouldn't have to deal with it ever. Good plan, right?
While on our mini vacation this past week, I came down with a throbbing toothache right between two crowns in my upper left quadrant. I had by then become so accustomed to my own decision not to deal with the bone spur (and plus, I could no longer feel the bone so I was convinced it was on the mend) that it didn't even occur to me that it might be related. Sadly, I resigned myself to one or possibly two root canals, two new crowns or even (gasp!) a bridge, cursing the family teeth the whole way. As it turned out, any of those things might have been more pleasant than what actually happened.
When I arrived at the dentist this afternoon I told him where I hurt and pointed out the original "mouth sore" to show him how the bone was no longer showing through. After painfully prodding the entire area he informed me that it wasn't closed up, just swollen over. Uh oh.
I had developed an infected abscess behind my back molar that was radiating pain through the entire quadrant. Gum surgery, he announced, was in order right away. He happened to have an opening in his normally packed schedule, so he said enthusiastically, "Wanna do it now?" Oh, boy. No notice. No time to search for information/read horror stories on the internet. Just like that?
I weighed my options for about 30 seconds. I like and trust my dentist. I am sure he was not suggesting something I did not need. If I left, it would only get worse and I'd have to do it anyway. The kids are still out of school, there's not too much going on the rest of this week, our new and improved dental insurance is in place, Jay is home, so I couldn't really find a reason not to. "OK," I agreed.
"It won't be too bad," he cheerfully mentioned as he began gathering his tools. I looked immediately at his assistant who looked guilty and said, when questioned by my terrified eyes, "It is going to be tender for awhile after, but you won't feel the actual procedure."
She was right on both counts. He jammed so much Novocain into my upper left jaw that I thought I would never feel anything again. Six, seven or who knows how many shots later, even my throat was turning numb from the run off and I felt as if I couldn't swallow. My heart started racing (as it usually does when I receive Novocain but I had forgotten that detail), my body started shaking uncontrollably and I had a genuine panic attack. I made them sit me up so I could breath through it. Both the dentist and his assistant waited it out patiently as apparently this is a fairly common reaction to large amounts of Novocain. Sure enough it passed in less than a minute and they talked me through it gently, but it really rattled my cage. Far worse was this than the head stabilizing cage of the brain cancer patient in terms of claustrophobia.
What came next I could not feel, but could hear and imagine. It began with his assistant asking which tools he would be needing, and his answer was, "All of them." Really?
From what I could gather, he cut my gum in a horseshoe shape around both sides and behind the three last molars on the top left. You know, right where my gag reflex is. He is very lucky I did not throw up on him because I wretched pretty severely half a dozen times or so during the procedure Good thing I didn't have lunch before I went.
He peeled back what he referred to as "the flaps" and got busy shaving and grinding the bumps off my bones on both sides (prophylactic as I had many such small spurs) and thinning the surrounding tissue (why, I don't exactly know).
When the assistant was suctioning the area near the original hole, her vacuum got clogged by a piece of bone that had come off my jaw and was just hanging out in the gum. I was so fascinated by this that I made her give me the bone piece in a zip lock bag (yes, she thought it was weird, but who cares?). This was not a bone he shaved, it was already off when he opened me up. No wonder it hurt so much.
Next, he cleaned out the infection (I won't disgust you with the details) and then sewed me up. Stitch after stich after stich, the dangling thread ticking my nose and face as it dragged along. Finally, he packed me with a silly putty type substance to hold the stitches together, cleaned the blood off my face and told me he'd see me in a week. I didn't feel anything except pressure during the whole procedure. Even his initial shots were painless as he is particularly good about jiggling and pushing the Novocaine slowly so you don't feel it. My kids go to him too and not one has ever realized that he has ever given them a shot of any kind. It is a total bonus to truly like your dentist, the tour guide of such painful and scary adventures.
Normally when I get a cavity filled I wait for hours and hours for the Novocaine to wear off so I can eat normally without biting a hole in my cheek. It drags on and on. Of course that was not the case this time. By the time I was a few blocks from home I was wondering what the heck happened to the numbness as I could feel everything as if I'd never had any medication at all.
The word "pain" does not describe it adequately. The only time I can ever remember hurting more (and remember, folks, that I have birthed seven babies under a variety of conditions) was when I suffered a severe wrist fracture from the air bag that opened to save my life when we were in a car accident in 2006. It took a pharmacy (and thank goodness I happen to have one--cancer bonus!), a creative and experienced pharmacist (me), and nearly four hours to get my pain under control. Now I am in maintenance mode and feeling like a human being again, but boy what a ride.
Most of you probably stopped reading this long ago out of disgust or sheer boredom, but for those of you still with me, thanks for sticking it out. It was such a refreshing break from cancer blather that I really couldn't help chronicling every detail. I feel oddly happy to have some other kind of news to share.
My dentist's post-surgical instructions remind me that the worst pain will likely peak 36 hours after the procedure. So don't call me on Saturday as I probably won't be in a very good mood.
Happy New Year! And thank the good Lord for decent dental benefits (if there is such a thing). We changed our plan in the nick of time, which I know was no accident.
Oh, and by the way, after a careful review of the situation, I can now see that I don't REALLY think a root canal and new crowns would be preferable to this. After all, this is over now...I hope! That whole root canal and crown thing goes on for weeks. I guess in retrospect I can admit that this was the better source of the pain. See, writing this blog is better than counseling for me!