Are You Scared of the Dentist?

A lot of people have fear of going to the dentist.  But my Throwback Thursday story today involves my fear of someone else going to the dentist.

About six years ago, my birth mother called me one evening.  She said she had a conflict in her schedule and asked me to take my Grandma to the dentist the following morning.  As soon as she asked me, I had a feeling in my bones that it wouldn’t go well.

That night, I had a dream that while in the dentist’s chair, Grandma had a heart attack and three paramedics had to take her to the hospital.  I dreamed they all came and left through a back door  — which was odd because I had gone to that dentist for several years of my life and I never even knew they had a backdoor.  I knew she would be fine in the end, but the experience would frighten her and make it much worse for her, especially while they tried to hook her to a machine.  She was already dealing with early stages of dementia, and I just saw her in my dream being terrified.  I also saw in my dream that I would be at the hospital with her, and we wouldn’t be able to reach anyone to tell them the news.

Besides taking Grandma to the dentist, I also had plans with my friend Angie that day.  Angie’s a nurse, and it was her day off.

When I woke up, I first picked up Angie, then we picked up Grandma.  We took her to the dentist and waited until she was called back, then Angie and I went to lunch.  The dentist’s office said it would be a two hour procedure and they’d call me when they finished.

As Angie and I ordered lunch, my mind was a million miles away.  It was on my dream.  Angie saw I was preoccupied and asked what was wrong.  I told her about my dream and included every little detail.  She laughed and told me it was only a dream and tried to assure me that I had nothing to worry about.  And she tried to convince me that since she was a nurse, she knew Grandma’s procedure was simple, and since Grandma had no prior history of heart problems, I should relax.

We ate lunch, though I was still dwelling on my dream.  We were going to do some shopping, but I couldn’t get my head out of the dentist’s office, so we went back to the dentist and sat in the lobby.  About a half hour later, the dentist called me back to his office to explain Grandma’s procedure.  He told me about her post-op care and said she did fine.

My jaw dropped open, and I said, “Really?  Because I’ve just been having a feeling all morning that she was going to have a heart attack here.”

He chuckled and told me I had nothing to worry about.  He said the assistant was cleaning Grandma up and they’d bring her up front in just a few minutes.

Just then, the receptionist stepped into the room and urgently said, “Doctor, we need you in back right away.”  He smiled and told me to go ahead and sit back in the lobby which I did.

Not two minutes later, the nurse came up front and quietly asked me to come to the back.  She said, “I don’t want to alarm you, but your Grandma is having a heart attack at this very moment.  We’ve called 911, and an ambulance is on the way.  I think she’ll feel better if you’re back there with her.”

When I got to the back, a back door was open, and an ambulance was parking in the back.  They had to open Grandma’s shirt to attach some wires to her chest, and she started freaking out and making the monitors beep even more wildly.  She swatted wildly at the medics trying to get them to stop, and they kept trying to calm her down which only made her more frightened and agitated.

After my morning of feeling panicked, a feeling of calm abruptly washed over me, and suddenly I saw everything as I had in my dream.  I stepped forward and told them, “She’s afraid because she doesn’t know what you’re doing.”  Then I turned to Grandma and calmly explained that they were trying to help her.

After the ambulance left, Angie drove with me to the hospital and stayed for a while until she had to leave and pick up her child from school.  Then I tried repeatedly to call my birth mom as well as other family members, and no one was available.  Every number I called went straight to voicemail… just like in my dream.

So tell me: Are you afraid of the dentist?  Have you ever been in a scary situation, yet had a calming feeling wash over you and known everything was going to turn out to be fine?

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Enough to Reduce a Grown Man to Tears

Well, friends, today is our last Throwback Thursday in May, and I want to wrap up our discussion about “truth is stranger than fiction.”  This month, I’ve picked on myself and my own poor judgment (which I hope gave you a few good laughs), and I’ve tagged my sister for some funny stories, as well as some of my previous landlords and some of my wedding photography clients.  But today, I’m going to share a strange-yet-true story about my son.

jeremy six

As many of you know, my son is Autistic.  One of the characteristics of his Asperger’s Syndrome is that he has an incredibly high tolerance for physical pain.  When he was only six years old, we lived in New York.  Jeremy started running extremely high fevers, and I took him to the pediatrician.  The doctor didn’t find any evidence of infection, so he did some blood work.  As it turned out, Jeremy’s white blood cell count was exceptionally high.  The doctor put him on antibiotics and decided to run more tests before he was going to admit him to the hospital.  Of course during this time, I was frantic with worry about my baby.

The new tests also came back bad, and the doctor said he suspected that Jeremy had leukemia.  He scheduled Jeremy for a battery of additional tests over the next few weeks.  During that month, Jeremy went to school only once a week so that he wouldn’t be retained and have to repeat kindergarten the following year.  I was in danger of losing my job because I was missing so much work, and though I didn’t care if I was fired for being with my son, I needed to keep my health insurance to see that his medical needs were covered.

The fourth Friday after Jeremy’s fevers had started, he was at school his one day that week.  When I picked him up afterward, he casually told me that his teacher said he should see a dentist.  I replied that his teacher should mind her own business!  (I couldn’t believe the unmitigated gall of that woman who knew my baby was scheduled to go Albany the following week for more blood work through the Center for Disease Control.) I figured the class must’ve been talking about the importance of flossing or some such nonsense that was insignificant in light of what we were facing.

The rest of our afternoon went smoothly, and Jeremy ate dinner then went to bed with his fever medicine and antibiotics.  However, late that night, I was woken from a deep sleep by the sound of my son weeping at the foot of my bed.  I sat up startled and asked him what was wrong, and he said his tooth hurt.  (This was the first he had ever complained of it, and I figured that since he was so sick and miserable with his fever, that the minor toothache had gotten the best of him, since he never really cried.)  I ran out in the middle of the night and bought some tooth numbing medicine and made him an emergency appointment at the Saturday dentist the following day. I felt so bad that with all he was dealing with, he had to visit the dentist as well.

So as poor Jeremy sat in the dentist’s chair the following day, I explained all about his month-long ordeal with being tested for L.E.U.K.E.M.I.A. and how I hadn’t yet told him why he was being poked like a pincushion so many times and was missing school and feeling so miserable with his fevers.  The dentist listened sympathetically and promised that he’d be as quick and painless as possible once he looked in Jeremy’s mouth.  As soon as Jeremy opened his mouth, however, the dentist let out a loud gasp and yelped something to the effect of, “Oh my Gawd!”  A dental assistant ran in to see what the problem was, and I jumped up in a panic.

The dentist said that Jeremy had the most infected abscessed molar he’d ever seen and that it was bad enough to reduce a grown man to tears weeks prior!  Being so far in the back of his mouth, there was obviously no way I could’ve known this without Jeremy ever having voiced a complaint.  (Suddenly it made sense to me why his teacher said he should see a dentist… He must have mentioned that his tooth hurt in school the day before.)  The dentist further went on to say that the antibiotics the pediatrician had him on weren’t designed to work on a tooth infection.

(I should interject here that in case you don’t know it, tooth infections are very serious and can also lead to death.  In fact, I personally know someone who died from an infected tooth, so that was also scary news, but of course it doesn’t sound nearly as frightening as leukemia.)  

The dentist said typically he’d need to put the patient on antibiotics and pull the tooth later, but because Jeremy’s infection was already so severe, and because he’d suffered for so long with fevers and was also being tested for the mysterious blood illness, he wanted to extract the molar right away.  The dentist pulled the tooth and put Jeremy on a very strong dosage of a different antibiotic.  By the time the weekend ended, his fevers had disappeared.   And when he had his doctor’s visit the following week, the day before our appointment at the CDC in Albany, his blood work came back nearly normal.

So there you have it.  This story is completely true, yet if I included it in a book, wouldn’t you think it was far-fetched, or at minimum, a sci-fi story of the childhood of a superhero?

Have you ever known anyone with a mysterious illness that baffled doctors?  What’s your worst dental experience?