Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Smilin' Ouiser Gloats over the Rotting Corpse of her Fear

Sorry... I've been playing violent board games.

I've written in the past about my fear of dental work, which is really a fear of medical procedures in general, especially my phobia of needles. I also wrote about overcoming that fear, and having eight cavities filled in two visits, not to mention a smidgen of cosmetic dentistry. It was a pretty amazing experience... but it was two years ago.

Yesterday, I had a gum graft, over just one molar, in the back on the left. Just for that one tooth, the gum had receded so far that I basically had none. I've been living with it for years, and it's never caused me any real discomfort, but it was sort of a time bomb. The wrong bacteria could so easily get in there, and cause serious infectious problems. So, I had to have a skin graft.

And no, all you gen-Xers out there, this was not caused by brushing too hard. This is something that just happens to certain people. It's not because I didn't floss for awhile. They don't know exactly what causes it. And you know what? I don't really care.

'Cause mine's fixed now. And it didn't even hurt.

Sadly, I do still have to deal with my fear. I had a consult with the periodontist a month or so ago, during which I explained to him that I am basically a phobic, crying, nutjob. My brain knows exactly what's going to happen, and it doesn't matter. I'm even quite fascinated by the medical science behind it all, and I think the teeny scalpels and circular needles are totally cool. But the minute I see that novocaine injector, I'm going to freak out. It's not rational, and I'm working it, but it's going to happen. I will probably cry. I may shrivel into the chair, and tremble, even as I'm muttering it's ok, I can do this and opening my jaws wide.

The good doctor was completely unfazed. "I need to know how you will react to me," I told him, somewhat sheepishly, but determined to be understood, and respected. "In the past, professionals have not handled me well, and that's why this has gone untreated for so long. How are you going to handle me?"

The doctor sat down next to me, and said all the right things. He wants this to be a positive experience for me. He scheduled me 2.5 hours for a 30-minute procedure. He prescribed me Xanax, so I could get a good night's sleep the night before, and said it was ok to take one in the morning if I was still really scared. He reassured me that my comfort and happiness was his priority.

This guy was recommended to me by the brilliant dentist who filled my cavities in 2005, and I trusted him... so I decided to trust this gentle, polite periodontist who cracks jokes like they are going out of style.

He took a long, long time to numb me. He did this slowly, in tiny injections, instead of pushing a lot of fluid in quickly. I honestly did not feel them. There was one in the upper palate - a VERY sensitive area - that felt like the tiniest of mosquito bites, but then it was over. He'd give me two mini-shots, and then chat with me about living upstate. Then two more mini-shots, and more banter. and this continued while we watched NY1 in the background. Sassy Pat Kiernan read me the papers, and I got another mini-shot. Some joking about overpriced restaurants in Piermont, another mini-shot.

Next thing I know, it's scalpel time, and I'm laughing at the doctor and his assistant while they crack jokes over me.

My appointment was at 8:00. The whole thing was over before 9:30. When they were finished, they put these weird rubber band-aids over my surgical wounds. I have two small rubber band-aid thingys inside my mouth. This is some weird-feelin' shit. They'll be here until next Monday, when I go back to have the stitches removed. Meanwhile, the one on my gumline is thick, so my left jaw looks like Marlon Brando. Oh well. I'll live with it.

The hardest part was after the surgery. For the rest of the day yesterday, I was in recovery. Since the inside of your mouth bleeds freely and easily, I was instructed not to engage in any physical activity for the day. I had to keep my blood pressure down - I was instructed to "walk slow." Walk SLOW?? In MANHATTAN? Can I tell you how hard that is? And I had been thinking I could do some shopping after the surgery. Nope.

Well, I was pretty wrecked anyway. Instead of shopping I went to a friend's apartment and crashed on his couch for several hours.

I couldn't eat or drink anything hot, or even warm. Room temperature or colder, again, to prevent bleeding. And No biting into anything, like a sandwich. I could only eat things in small pieces, and I could only chew on the right side. Ok, again, no problem, it's just for one day.

This morning, I was free to have hot coffee and soup. And I did, and they were delish. But I'm still chewing only on the right side. I'm just too creeped out to do otherwise.

Oh - and most fun - I am forbidden to brush my teeth on the left side for two weeks. TWO WEEKS. I can swish - gently - with Listerine to kill the bacteria, but oh, Goddess, how disgusting. It's only been two days and I'm already yearning for a toothbrush. Another reason to only eat on the right side - the side I can brush.

Again though - seriously - I can live with all this. It's really not that big a deal, compared to the idea of what could have happened, had I not had the procedure. Jaw infection anyone? *shudder*

Also, I'm thinking about my fillings, done in 2005, and how far I've come. I used to get nauseated just flossing my teeth, and watching other do it. Now I floss every day, sometimes just because my teeth feel sticky. My last cleaning was a breeze, and I bounced out of that office, calling G and bragging like I'd gotten an 800 on my SAT.

Yesterday morning I handled that needle pretty well - and best of all, the doctor and his assistant handled me with tenderness, compassion and some mad skillz with those instruments. I felt genuinely cared about, and respected. Is this what it's like for celebrities? I wondered.

It's worth mentioning that G and I paid THROUGH THE NOSE for this minor surgery, because this doc is such a rockstar, and does stuff like schedule 2.5 hours of his time for a 30-minute procedure. And it was worth every penny. My liberal guilt rises when I realize that nobody I know would have this kind of experience, because this doc doesn't take insurance, and charges high fees to boot. I am simply incredibly lucky that G and I were able to take two years to prepare for this experience, both financially and emotionally. We will submit the expenses to our PPO, but we don't expect much. Whatever we get will be gravy. This is just how we choose to spend our money.

It's interesting... we don't own a DVD player. We have one piece-o-shit Dell Vista-running laptop. We have a 19-inch thick, fat TV. We do have TiVo, but we don't get any premium channels or anything HD. We don't own a video game system. We don't eat out a lot. We don't spend our money in ways that most Americans seem to enjoy. Sometimes it seems like sacrifice... but really, a very small, petty one. Yesterday was my reward.

It's weird to think of rewarding myself for a simple, frugal lifestyle with dental surgery, but that's how I feel. I'd rather have this level of healthcare than movie or theater or concert tickets. I'd give up a vacation for this. (Hm.. I kind of did.)

Would this doc still be allowed to practice in this manner under a Universal Healthcare system? Would his fees have to go even higher, so that even with our financial planning I would no longer be able to afford him? Now that the surgery is over, and I'm recovering, I'm thinking about this. I realize that the availability of premium services is something I'm grateful for, and that somehow I have become a person to whom they are actually available. G and my household income is firmly middle-class - but I was able to do this, and I couldn't be more grateful. Maybe ten years ago when I was deeply in debt and alone, I would have been bitter, and said that nobody deserves special treatment just because they can pay for it.

I still feel that way. What I say now, is why doesn't everybody get this kind of compassion and skill? I know taking insurance means not getting paid half the time, and getting underpaid a lot of the time. So I know that "non-premium" docs, so to speak, can't afford to spend 2.5 hours of their time hand-holding a phobic patient. I do understand the economics of that. But... still... Maybe this is the part of the system that needs fixing first? Why can't more doctors have this great attitude, these great assistants, these mad skills with their instruments? And all that patience?

I sound like a bleeding heart, but hey, why not? I also know that 50% of all practicing physicians are in the bottom half of their class - but maybe there are some standards of care that could be examined as well. After all those years working in hospitals, yeah, that much I know.

So... much pondering going on.

And much gratitude. Overwhelming gratitude.

After I had convalesced on my friend's couch, I slowly crept to the 102nd street 1/9 stop. I baby-stepped onto the train, baby-stepped my way though the transfer at 42nd street, walking like a 90-year old. I caught the N to 34th street, and molasses-walked over to the PATH trains. I rode to Hoboken, and met my husband there. We rode the NJ Transit train home to Nanuet together. And I talked about the surgery the whole way home. I felt so proud of myself, and I felt so lucky, and so blessed, to have received such good care.

The first day after Thanksgiving weekend, and I am still coming up with things to be thankful for.

Oh - and wasn't I pleased to note that there was a new moon on Thanksgiving. I was having my procedure during the early stages of the waxing moon, a time of growth.

Blessed be.


Pua; Bakin' and Tendin' Bar said...

Ohhhh I can so relate. I'm STILL a big baby when it comes to needles and doctors and such. You'd think after three babies and the fun of labor, I'd be over it, but NOOOOO. My surgeon for my Lap Band still laughs at me when I have to go in for my adjustments which are done by injection through a port in my belly. Fun! And he wants me to try it without anesthesia. I ask him what color the sky is in his world!

Also, the not eating thing, I've learned to deal with. But not brushing on that side for two weeks? I give you props Girl!

But look at you...you've come so far indeed. I'm proud of you. Maybe next time I go for an adjustment I'll think of you and try it without the numbing.


But I'm still proud of you!

Dr. Zoom said...

Which board games?