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Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Day I Almost Died

Most people I know have had their wisdom teeth removed, usually without much incident. But when a friend asks me how bad it really is, I usually tell them to settle their debts and say their good-byes to loved ones. I thought I was joking, but since Husband has been studying to become a PA, he's actually learned that I was frighteningly close to not surviving the Great Wisdom Tooth Disaster of 2001.

I had my wisdom teeth removed the day after I graduated from high school. All four were impacted and had started to bully my other teeth into breaking formation. Needless to say, they had to go - I didn't suffer through years of a palate expander, braces, and retainers just for some rogue wisdom teeth to destroy all that hard work. The actual removal was uneventful, aside from being the first and only time in my life I've been under general anesthetic. I remember waking up in the recovery room, my mouth stuffed full of cotton, and seeing the nurses tending to the girl next to me. Sure, she might have finished before me, but I was suddenly awake and needed attention.

I struggled to alert the nurses to my desires - namely, to get the mattress out of my mouth. They looked over at me, but clearly misread the urgency in my eyes and muffled attempts at pleading to be the standard waking-up noises of someone coming out of general anesthetic. After another agonizing five minutes, they finally came over to tend to me.

Leaving the clinic, I felt like I was capable of anything. They explained basic care and rest procedures for the up-coming days, and I nodded knowingly, as if to show I was making detailed mental notes of their instructions, and would have no problems complying exactly. In reality, I was so proud of myself for being able to act like I was paying such close attention and so minimally affected by the anesthesia that all my mental efforts went to congratulating myself on my astounding feat of trickery. I was an all-powerful goddess on ether. When it was time to leave, I stood up to stroll out (again, full of pride at my togetherness), but they forced me to sit in a wheelchair, against my super-human wishes. Unfortunately, they didn't put the foot rests down, and I spent the entire ride out to the car, focusing all my strength and energy into keeping my feet from dragging on the ground. A perfectly with-it person would have no trouble keeping their feet up, so I decided this was a vital part to my performance, accompanied by appropriate smiles, laughs, and idle joking. Looking back, I imagine I most likely looked more like a hopeless drunk, fidgeting awkwardly in the wheelchair and struggling to stay seated in it in general, laughing and nodding to the sounds in my head, and most likely drooling a little down the front of my shirt.

I got in to the passenger seat and instructed my mom to go through a drive-thru and get me a vanilla shake - I did manage to at least hear that part of the nurses' instructions - I needed to eat something in order to take all the pain meds they had given me. On our way, I reclined my seat all the way back (while mumbling incoherently to my mom about my amazing, new-found goddess powers) and dozed off. I woke up suddenly while we were in the drive-thru lane and realized I couldn't see. I started screaming at my mom that I'd gone blind (so much for super-human abilities!). She calmly told me to sit up - and, upon looking out the window, I realized I was not, in fact, blind, but had merely been staring at the inside of the door. Ahh, a simple mistake for us super-humans.

When we got home, I took the pain meds I had been prescribed, drank two sips of the giant shake, and promptly passed out. I continued this routine (with a progressively soggier shake) for at least a day and a half. And then the fun began.

Earlier in high school, I had been diagnosed with mild stomach ulcers. I probably should have told the oral surgeons this. Or at least drank the entire milk shake when I took the pain meds. Instead, I thought I was still a super-human. Oh, how very wrong I was. I started a cycle of dry-heaving for 20 minutes, vomiting for 5 minutes, and then sobbing hysterically for 5 minutes before starting the cycle over. This continued for approximately an entire day.

My parents brought my an empty gallon bucket of ice cream so I could vomit in bed, at my convenience (who wouldn't rather throw up in the comforts of their own bed?) . Needless to say, I couldn't keep the pain meds (or any sort of nutrition) down. I spent those terrible 24 hours in bed, sobbing, and wailing about how I just wanted to die.

Then, after an entire day of this, the pain started to overwhelm me. I actually got to the point where I couldn't cry, the pain was so bad. I moved to the couch downstairs and I remember staring at the ceiling for hours on end, knowing this was the end for me.

Finally, my mom came home and realized something was wrong (my parents have always been very good at picking up on small signals). She took me to the emergency room, where they decided that my ulcers were not agreeing with the very strong pain meds, and instructed her to take me back to the clinic. When we arrived at the clinic, people started rushing around urgently and talking quickly. This was the first time it dawned on me that my experience was not, in fact, the norm. They rushed me back to an exam room, took a bunch of x-rays, and continued talking quickly in hushed voices around me.

Then the surgeon came in. With an army of nurses. They positioned themselves around me and explained that I had obtained the dreaded "dry sockets." In all four of the holes (evidently, the rogue wisdom teeth just had to pull one more stunt before they left me for good). The doctor informed me that the bone was now infected. In all four holes. And that the infection was spreading down my jaw. They were "thankful" that I'd come in when I did. Then they proceeded to give me twelve shots of novocaine and pack the sockets with these very long ribbons full of antibiotics and anesthetics, that tasted, like one of the nurses said, like sucking on a mouthful of cloves. If you've never sucked on a whole clove, I suggest doing it. Really. Go try it. It tastes awesome.

The relief was instantaneous. I went home, happy and with a renewed view on life. At the advice of one of the nurses, I made myself a big glass of chocolate milk (to combat the clove taste), put it to my numb lips, and started drinking it's delicious chocolately milkiness. But I couldn't taste it! Oh, how far the super-human have fallen!! I tried for several more seconds until I realized my younger brother was laughing at me. As he pointed out, I wasn't, in fact, drinking the chocolate milk, I was pouring it down my shirt. I couldn't feel my mouth for about 16 hours after the novocaine shots.

I had to get my sockets re-packed every week for the following four weeks. To this day, I still can't handle the smell of cloves. I also couldn't take any more pain meds - even plain tylenol -because of the stomach ulcers that resurfaced when attacked by the very strong pain meds and lack of any sustenance for over 3 days.

A (very small) part of me thinks it's a shame that I didn't succumb to the poison death spreading through my bones, as it could have impacted all of oral surgery history forever - "How risky is it to get my wisdom teeth out, doc?" "You could DIE." It makes the whole process seem much more glamorous.

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