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?