The players: Dr. Jones (no relation to me as "Cleolinda Jones"), longtime family dentist after I got too old for Dr. Roebuck. (Incidentally, to Birmingham readers: I understand he won the lottery and then died of a heart attack a few years after that. I liked him and was sad.) Also Dr. Buck, not to be confused with Dr. Roebuck, although I'm sure I've done a great job of doing that, who I had never met before today and was the oral surgeon Dr. Jones referred to me. He was a nice guy and apparently his father took out my mother's wisdom teeth. Which she lost no time in telling him. Heh.
Why I had them out: I had hoped to keep them, myself. My father still has his. I didn't see any reason to have someone go in with a knife and "cut them out," or, as many people described it, saw them to pieces and dig them out. AHHHH. So I fought valiantly to keep my WT, yea verily. And Dr. Jones was always trying to get me to have them out, except that he is super-laidback, and so I was able to get my way by saying, "Yeah, I'll schedule that... sometime" and then never doing it. So we had this discussion twice a year for ten years, in essence.
Dr. Buck was able to clarify for me why I had to have them out. (I'm sure Dr. Jones told me something like this a thousand times, but you tend to listen better when they're priming the gas for you to go under in two minutes.) If they had come in sideways, I'd have had them out immediately when I was 15 or so, and I would have wanted it that way; you have no room for those bitches from the start. Mine, on the other hand, came in straight. It's just that there wasn't a whole lot of room for them, although I'd done all right so far. Once Dr. Jones convinced me last November to set a date to have them out, however, they immediately got their bitch on and started giving me grinding jaw-centric pressure headaches. Bastages.
If you want to know the real, absolute reason I had them out over a hard-won, totally ruined spring break, it's this: Cavities. Dr. Buck circled some sort of dark pocket on the X-rays, a "cyst" that was supposed to be there but tended to operate as a food trap. Sometimes, you just can't clean the bastards, particularly if the gum still sort of covers the tooth. Apparently I also have unusually deep grooves down inside my teeth that even the dentist couldn't clean too well, so they were sealed over when I was young, but nobody wants to seal over wisdom teeth when they can just yank them out. But then, this is yet another digression and I'm sure you don't give half a shit about my personal dental history. Ahem. So Dr. Buck added that when people have them out in their twenties, as opposed to holding onto them for the long haul, cavities and/or crowding tend to play a large part in that, and it's common. So don't feel guilty, basically.
How I had them out: Dr. Jones referred me to Dr. Buck. I set the day wayyyy in advance, partly because I just couldn't get to it before spring break--in grad school, you can't afford to miss a class most times. I'd had a schedule that frontloaded my week M-T-W and gave me four days off in a row, and that possibly could have worked, but this semester I had Monday and Thursday classes. There was no way I could know how long I'd be down or how the surgery would go, so I had to wait until I had an uninterrupted pocket of free time.
Here's why I'm writing this: there are so many variables involved that will determine how it goes, but I wish I'd had a clear understanding of them, even so. People will scare you and tell you this or that or the other happened to someone or other--seriously, I heard this stuff for ten years--and I can tell you now, fairly clearly, what the deal is. Or what Dr. Buck told me, anyway.
If you're in your teens and your WT have grown in sideways and you have to have them out NOW, prepare for the long haul. This is when the cutting out and possibly the sawing out will have to happen, but really, you won't even know about it until you've woken up. If you're scared of anesthesia, that's one thing. If you're scared of cutting and sawing, well, it's not fun to contemplate, but that's not really what you have to worry about. You'll probably have more stitches than I did, and those stories about puffing up and being in bed for days and subsisting on liquids? Well... that's you. I'm really sorry, man. Have a milkshake on me.
If your WT have grown in straight and you're having them out whenever, you can chill. The horror stories generally will not apply to you. It will depend, of course, on how fully your WT have emerged. Mine were so far out that they were all but tap-dancing atop my gums, with the exception of the lower left, which was out, but still cozied up to the gum: the mama's boy of wisdom teeth. They might have to dig or cut if yours aren't out, but really, if there's no big rush? Most dentists will let you wait until they've come out fully, because it's an easier procedure that way. If you can stand it, insist on it. I knew a guy in high school--seriously, not "some guy someone knew," I mean a guy whose full name I can give you on request, but won't otherwise, because I had a fearsome crush on him--who had them out before school and walked into first period half an hour late, and picked up as if nothing had happened. But then, D. was always hardcore. (Sigh...) That's your ideal scenario.
Mine went pretty well--not too far from that, although I'm glad I didn't have class today. Seriously--don't tell anyone, but I'm pretty sure I could have gone to class tomorrow if we'd had it. They had talked about not putting me under anesthesia--having me numb but awake--but decided to put me under (general anesthesia). I was way doofy when I woke up, had to be driven home (yes, you will have bring someone to shepherd you), and tucked into a recliner in the den until I could feel my mouth again, all while trying very hard to talk and make sense at the same time. It took about half an hour, maybe an hour, before I was really lucid again. More on that in a bit.
So I'm in Dr. Buck's office, sitting in a very small consulting room, the kind you might see in a general practitioner's office, only with a dentist's chair instead of that table with the lame white paper on it. He shows me all this stuff on the X-rays, and was a youngish guy and very laidback, very cool and friendly. Two thumbs up, all that. (Dr. Jones, by comparison--well, he's also cool and friendly and laidback, but he sort of reminds me of Donald Trump, the voice and the face. I don't know how else to explain it. Nice guy, though.) Anyway, when I went in, the thing I was most afraid of was the anesthesia, because I'd never been under before. The only time I'd ever been in the hospital was for a case of dehydration-by-flu when I was four years old, and so far gone my skin stood up when you pinched it. The whole stay was pretty traumatizing, but I was so out of it to begin with that I never needed any kind of sedative, and in fact, the most traumatic part was when they took the IV out at the end, because this was back in... '83?... and I had this huge gaping bloody stigmata wound. Did I mention I was four years old? They didn't have this self-closing-upness feature I hear the kids today get--no, we had to get our IVs out barefoot, uphill both ways in the snow when I was a wee sprat (*shakes cane*). Damn kids.
At this point, the screams outside started up again. I'd seen a very cute little girl in the waiting room who went in before me, and about fifteen minutes later, we started hearing the shrieks of a banshee. One of the nurses had come out and smiled nervously at the rest of us, who must have looked a bit perturbed, and said, "We have a six-year-old back here, she's fine. Just a little scared." Fast-forward back to me in the dentist chair. "She's having an IV put in," said Dr. Buck with a rueful little laugh. "Not doing so well with it." I told him my story of toddler terror in the hospital and said not to worry, I didn't think they were murdering her back there or anything. He thanked me for my understanding. Heh.
So I had to go sit back in the waiting room for a while after I'd had the X-ray debriefing, because the six-year-old was taking a while. It was 8:30 in the morning and I was sort of sleepy anyway, so it didn't occur to my mother or me until then:
"Am I gonna have an IV?"
Mom looked at me. "I... I don't know."
In all the horror stories of wisdom teeth I had ever heard, I had never heard IVs mentioned. Apparently that isn't how they did them in Mom's day, so she didn't know. Maybe other people had assumed I would know that "anesthesia" meant IVs. I didn't know--I assumed it was gas or something.
"Wait!" I said, after about ten minutes of silent musing on both our parts. "She's six years old! I don't know what she's having done, but it ain't wisdom teeth. I might not have to have an IV at all."
This was true, she agreed. So we sat there. And then I went back to another little room, further back into the labyrinth of rooms, although it looked just like the first consulting room. And that's when I found out I was getting an IV.
You have to understand, I had had a severe phobia of needles and shots after the hospital thing. I'm talking sixth grader weeping at her inoculation severe. Just really, really pitiful and embarrassing. I went on Medifast to lose a major chunk of weight--about fifty pounds--when I was a junior in high school (hey, my mother had just started it, and she offered to let me do it with her), and this required having blood taken every week for a while, and then every six weeks. I immediately realized that I, as a seventeen-year-old, could not go in there and break down over a needle and look myself in the face ever again. So I panicked a little that first time, but told the nurse what the problem was, and she kept me chattering while I looked away, and I held my shit together. So basically, I have a nice little line of patter about how I used to be terrified of needles that keeps my mind off actually being terrified of the needle, and by the time I'm done with it, the nurse has usually done her thing. And that's how I got over it.
Still... if I had known an IV would be involved, I probably would have lain awake all night worrying about it. You may not get one. I don't know.
Dr. Buck also laughed and said, "Well, we put you on the gas first, so by the time we do that, you won't care." They asked me if I was "floating" yet, after I'd had the gas thing on my nose a few minutes, and I said something along the lines of, "If I can tell you I'm not, I haven't had enough yet." It made sense at the time, people. They told me to breathe deeper, and more through my nose, and... wooo, that was some good shit. I still felt the needle go in, though. I sat there with my eyes closed, sort of doing this weird slo-mo roller-coaster thing in the colored dark behind my eyelids, thinking, "Hey, that hurts. Stop that, dude. Woooooooo." They were having a hell of a time finding a vein--I don't have any, according to Dr. Buck--but this is something my regular doctor-doctor complains about a lot, and I told them so. Well, I think that's what I told them. I could have told them that the electric pickle barks at midnight by that point; I have no idea. They did manage to fuck up the inside of my elbow right proper, but I get that a lot--nice indigo-plum bruise I have going, but nothing too scary. They ended up putting it in a vein a few inches below my wrist ("Whoa, dude, I didn't even know you could do that! Woooooo!") . Nice bruise on that one, too. My point is: if I can live through this with a twenty-plus-year phobia of needles, you can live through it.
"Gonna give you a little Demerol," Dr. Buck said. I assume that's what the IV was primarily for. Because it was kinda scary to contemplate what else they might need to feed me. I mean, the idea of needing vital fluids during a minor dental surgery is sort of troubling. So I settled down for a long winter's nap, having already been sleepy the whole morning so far, and I don't remember a damn thing else. In fact, my mother says that one of the first things I said when I was in the recovery room was, "The sleep is the best part, man." I am a connoisseur of naps, I will have you know. Of course, the very first thing I said, as I have previously reported, was, holding my arm up against the light, "What the shit is this?"
"You are so cute when you are drunk!" she crowed later, even though I think "what the shit" embarrassed her a little. Hey, I was terrified I'd mutter something even less appropriate in my sleep, possibly pertaining to something inane in one of my stories or some particularly hot actor, so I felt like I'd gotten off pretty easy.
"I wasn't drunk, man."
"I know, but you acted like you were..."
"Dude, that's not even how I act when I'm drunk."
But that may be because I don't drink much. If I ever really got shitfaced, it might really have been like this. For example, I vaguely remember walking out of the dentist's and managing to get to the car and then flopping over in the front seat. I seriously do not remember any sort of "recovery room," or saying any of that shit at all. I was at my doofiest in the car, although we still had a perfectly functional conversation about where in the house I was going to camp out. I just wanted to get back in bed, frankly, but she wanted to have me in the den in case "she needed to get to me." She seemed to have some dire idea that I was going to throw up. So I kicked out in the recliner with my quilt and took a nap while she went to fill out the prescriptions.
Prescriptions: three. Cephalexin, 500 mg, antibiotic to ward off infection; "Hydrocodone/APAP 10/500," whatever the hell that is, for pain; and Promethazine, 25 mg, to counteract nausea brought on by the Hydrowhatchamahoo. You ever heard the story of the Scottish hunters and the lion trap? The first hunter says, "What's that?" The second one says, "A lion trap."
"But there aren't any lions in Scotland."
"See? It's working."
That's sort of what the Promethazine was like, because I never felt any nausea. They did tell me not to eat dairy before I took the Hydrocalamazoo, but you're basically told to prepare to live off pudding, Jello, and milkshakes for a couple of days, so that put me shit up a creek for the moment. I ended up nibbling pieces of a Krispy Kreme like a rabbit and then sucking on them until they dissolved. It took me the better part of an hour to eat one. Complicating the matter was the fact that 1) I had pads of gauze clenched between my molars for the bleeding and 2) I couldn't feel my face. I kept choking on my grape juice (crushed ice, yay!) because I couldn't feel my chin, bottom lip, or tongue. It took me at least half an hour to master the art of swallowing liquid, and I had to change out the gauze about four times. And then I said, screw this, there's hardly any blood now. So an hour after I got home, I was off gauze, doing a Denethor on my grape juice, and working on my one sad doughnut to the strains of Strictly Ballroom on that Women's Entertainment network. But of course, since I couldn't feel my face, I had some time to kill before I got to the Hydroexpialidocious.
In fact, I probably could have lived without pain meds at all, just some Tylenol or Aleve, had it not been for that bastard of a left tooth. Dr. Buck did end up having to cut under the gum to get it out, and that, he said, is the reason I will puff up like a chipmunk on that side on Wednesday. Not today; not Tuesday; Wednesday. Apparently that's how the body heals, he says--takes a little time to get going, so the worst isn't even the first couple of days. Yay. It's like I've got a time bomb of chipmunkitude back there or something. But if you're worried about puffing up, that will probably only happen if cutting's involved. If you can get a nice, straight extraction, you can probably move on to the rest of your day like my man D. back in high school.
And I tell you what, the Hydrocopacabana is not up to snuff, as far I am concerned. The Bastard Tooth has never stopped hurting the whole time, but it's sort of the pain level of biting the inside of your cheek pretty hard. Or having an inflamed gum over your wisdom tooth, so I'm not much worse off from where I started. In fact, once the doofiness wore off, I was checking my email and talking to Vladimir and running up and down the stairs to get more juice; you'll notice my Lemony Snicket post previous to this went up sometime before three pm. While the doofiness was wearing off, after I had finished gumming my doughnut, Mom camped out with me and we watched most of The Missing on DVD, because I love Cate Blanchett but I hadn't heard great things about the movie, and I figured I'd rather potentially pass out during The Missing than Whale Rider or Lost in Translation. And as for The Missing, well--we were probably half an hour from the end but did not hesitate to switch over to Days of Our Lives at one pm. Yeah. That exciting. However, I may be having a Wisdom Tooth Film Festival this week while I have the house to myself, so I may get some reviews out of this yet.
And then we had pudding, and all was right with the world.