With Teeth

April 19, 2022

I know. I know. Yall should be used to the infrequent posts by now, though, yeah? I haven't wanted to write. But four months is inexcusable. Let me catch yall up. 

January. I started the year weighing one hundred thirty-five pounds. This has not happened in well over a decade. Last April I weighed fifty pounds more than now.

The past is prologue: I'd put most of that weight on beginning April five years before and kept it because I had given up on life and love and was waiting to die. I suspect the darkness of the past posts have reflected this well. I'd been drinking much too much during that period, and the more despaired I became, the more I drink. Hello. Alcohol's a depressant. I know this. I knew it would expedite the process of dying. It could not come fast enough.

I'd bought a miniature refrigerator for my bedroom to stash food and canned sodas so I wouldn't have to see my parents so much. And then I stopped stocking the food and sodas I did not need to eat and replaced those with canned wine and hard seltzers. I'd work (this was pretty much all last year), come home to have dinner and watch Fox with my parents, then go upstairs, take the prescriptions to help me sleep (drugs that weren't working--can't imagine why... DUH), grab four cans of wine or seltzer, play Seekers Notes on my mother's computer and drink until I felt I could sleep. Rinse. Repeat.

I couldn't tell you how long this went on... but there came a night when I'd puked up so much red wine I'd disgusted myself. And another night... or maybe the same one, I can't remember... I stumbled (my parents thought I'd slipped on a bath mat and, the next day put those rug holder things underneath them) and landed on my right elbow. Nothing hurt. My cousin, a surgical tech, said drunks often don't hurt themselves because their bodies are so lax. I woke my parents. My father called from the bottom of the stairs (thank you, Jesus, for keeping him so distant) to ensure I was alright, as I wrapped my elbow in an Ace bandage so I wouldn't get blood on the sheets. 

The next morning I woke to see I'd bled through most of the bandage. The cut on my elbow looked much deeper than the night before (can't imagine why). My mother said it needed stitches, and so I got them. 

My father knew I was drinking too much, of course. But he only mentioned it one time, long before this happened. 

I stopped drinking so much after this. I've not stocked alcohol upstairs since that fall. This would be one of the reasons I lost weight. The other is I stopped shoveling so much crap. So... January...

I resigned my job as a tutor because I wasn't tutoring. I had five hours a week to work with children, and the rest of the time I was doing administrative tasks. Part-time tutors were given more opportunity to work with students. My boss, a man who took over management of the center in December because the owner wanted to see a greater financial return on his investment, decided because I showed reluctance to do the work I had not been hired to do that he would demote me to part-time...which meant five hours times sixteen dollars... which means eighty dollars per week... which is sixty-five or so after taxes... and that will buy me one tank of gas because of Biden's inflation. The commute is thirteen miles, which doesn't sound so bad, except it takes about forty minutes, and my thirteen-year-old Nissan doesn't get the best gas mileage. So basically I'd be making money to buy gas to get to work to make money to buy gas... and I loathed the new manager, whose wife is the assistant manager. Neither of these people speak a word of truth, and the things they say to children are flabbergasting. The manager told two unrelated first-graders their parents had named them after a gun and his favorite adult beverage. What man in his right mind speaks to children this way? I quit cold turkey and collected unemployment, which was more than I would've made had I stayed.

I have seen five different dentists in the past decade.

Caveat: I smoked as many as three packs of cigarettes a day, beginning in April of 'ninety-two through June of 'seven. When I lost Adam in 'two and Jon in 'three, for a couple months after each loss, I went days without brushing my teeth. I smoked lots of cigarettes and drank lots of sodas. I have caused all the forthcoming crap with negligence and disregard.

The first of these, and I don't remember how long he "treated" me, loved milking patients for money by doing poor work which necessitated costlier work. One of those faulty jobs resulted in a necessary tooth extraction... I'd posted about this at the time of the surgery, but that post did not survive the great culling of 'fifteen... as far I can tell anyway.

After that surgery, I started seeing my mother's dentist, who informed me the previous one had left drill bits where he'd done root canals, who neglected to adhere to my caution at the beginning about my high tolerance for pain, resulting in the need for yet another extraction.

I was about to lose my job at the newspaper (which I did not mind, by the way, because they were working on moving me to covering news, and I didn't want to write such stories because I knew they would only feed my psyche's darkness, which has become less and less tolerable... I suppose because of the drinking, but more because I've been trying to understand things I should not touch). Anyway... I had nine hundred dollars on an FSA card that I had to use in four days or I'd lose it, and my dentist couldn't see me.

So I found another who extracted, without sedation, that tooth and put a crown on the one next to it.

The next dentist did not think my teeth had issues meriting attention.

The next one seemed better... which brings us to January.

I noticed that the last crowned tooth's gums had receded more than felt comfortable to me and looked gray. I went to that dentist, who said it just needed another crown. It didn't. I knew it didn't... the pain below it was too significant, even to me, and it looked like things were dying down there. She insisted. I went to church to pray I'd find a better one.

Four days before I'd seen that dentist, I drew a sort of barometric pressure map of how my face's muscles feel. That morning, I'm standing in this dentist's lobby, looking at an abstract painting that looked much too similar to that map, only the picture was flipped. Not a reflection of me but as though I'd come face-to-face replica, one that was eye-level. It was like looking at my soul. I'm standing there as an office assistant is trying to get a hold of my insurance company, and tears are streaming... so I go speak to the dentist again and reiterate my concerns and how I think the pain is caused by some sort of toxins. She says, "I'm a dentist. I deal in teeth. I can recommend a holistic dentist for you..." And so I went back to the reception area to stare at the painting some more, to weep some more. It's gray at this office. I see no blue anywhere but in that painting. When the assistant informs they do not take my insurance, I head for church.

When I arrive, the sky blue for what seems like miles. No gray. Anywhere. 

I go to the prayer pastor's office to get the wifi password. She sees I am stressed and offers to help. I tell. She listens. And then she tells me to give her my insurance card so she can make a copy of it and that she wants to find me a dentist. I let her. She texts me that afternoon with four names.

That Saturday, another crown comes off. This one's on the other side of the extraction site. The tooth is black and brown. I am grateful that it's come off so that when I tell the next dentist, whomever that is, of how serious my concerns are he or she might take me seriously. I had ruled out one of the four dentists. I call the others. One of the three doesn't have an answering machine. I rule him out, too, and leave messages with the other two. 

Monday morning, I decide against waiting until they return my call. I go to the one nearest my house. His doors are locked with signage all over them about COVID restrictions. I decide that's not my guy. I go to the other. That office had a cancellation five minutes ago and can see me right now. And I meet a woman who seems genuinely concerned about her patients. She believes she can save the first tooth, even though there's not much tooth left, that it only needs a crown, as the other does. So they put on temporaries. And when the permanents arrive... the crown on the back tooth (not the one that had looked gray) goes on without a hitch. The other one, though... the dentist who put the crown on it (the one I'd paid with my FSA) left little tooth. When the dental assistant goes to fit that crown, it fits so well the tooth breaks down to the gum when he takes it off to put cement in it. So... extraction, but I have to wait until February.

While I'm waiting, another tooth needs a root canal, and she sends me to an endodontist. This one's top left... the other work's been lower right so far. The endodontist says he can fix the root canal, but the guy who did it earlier punctured something he can't fix, and the root canal would be pointless. Another extraction.

Two more teeth need crowns and another needs a cavity repaired, but the extractions take precedence. I schedule the surgery, which would've been done in mid-March, except I found courage to insist it's an emergency... and so it goes on the calendar mid-February instead.

Right around this time I find work at a liquor store. (And before you say, oh shit! This is SERIOUSLY good for me. The more I stock these bottles of badness, the more I see the regular day-drinkers, the greater my resolve becomes to never touch the stuff). I've made all these plans. Fortunately, the owner is good with all of them.

February. Surgery, done Friday morning, goes well. Recovery goes well, I think, until Sunday night I notice something that looks like a pinprick at the broken tooth's surgical site. My jaw hurts, but I figure it's because of the surgery. I shrug it off, but by Friday I figure it shouldn't be hurting so I go back to learn I've got a dry socket.

Don't know what that is? Bone's exposed. The gum's not healing over it. Anything that touches that bone could cause serious infection. Not good. It takes weeks to heal.

I'm feeling as though I'm a nuisance with all the visits to the oral surgeon, the dentist and the orthodontist--I need Invisalign, too. All this work costs, before insurance, some thirteen-thousand dollars. My parents had thirty-thousand save to replace one of their aging vehicles. My father says they'll have to use that money to pay for all this. The guilt for all the work needing to be done, caused by all the neglect from decades before, weighed HEAVY on me. 

And then I go to the orthodontist for a consult. He takes REALLY good pictures of my teeth, and I see that they look SO MUCH MORE disgusting than I'd thought. The weight of all that guilt is crushed by the heartbreak of never feeling so ugly as I did that moment. I felt like monstrous inside and out. I struggled with that for weeks.

I wrote it out and realized all the gains I'd mad e in the past four years, of how this was third and four and I needed to get the first because the goalpost was too far down field. My mind replays footage of quarterbacks throwing balls that don't connect but the ref declares forward progress so they get to try again. I get to try again. And after all this work's done--the cavity, the crowns, the braces, the implants, the crowns--my smile will be amazing again. People used to say all the time my smile's amazing. I've not heard that in too long a time, and I miss the compliment. Anyway...

March. The dry socket heals. I get the cavity fixed. The bottom left molar and the tooth above it, the one next to the tooth that was no longer there, need crowns. The temporaries are put in, though the dental assistant helping this time seems agitated and somewhat inept. She doesn't get a good mold for the lower molar. That temporary comes off about a week later. It's got a hole on the top.  Another assistant fixes the hole, supposedly, and puts it back on over what's left of that tooth. A week later while having lunch with a friend, the lower molar's temporary crown comes off again as I'm eating, and I crush it. 

April. They make another temporary crown. It stays put. I make an appointment to see the orthodontist the day after I get the permanents placed.

A couple weeks later I go to get the permanents. The top one goes on without a hitch.

The lower molar's crown, poorly made by the absentminded assistant, feels terribly wrong in my mouth. I say so. The assistant--there are two I like, and he's one of them--tells me not to move and reaches for some tool to take it out, but my body reacts to the foreign object like you would expect. My tongue pops it off, but the crown lands too far back. He tells me not to sit up, but my body does this anyway, and my tongue's making feeble attempts to get the crown closer to my lips. But my throat is opposed to this. It can't handle that something's so close to it, and as though it's food, swallows it. The crown then gets stuck somewhere around my larynx. I'm coughing and swallowing, and eventually the thing goes down. Amazingly enough, I am laughing about this. I've not been able to laugh about dental work in a decade. I shouldn't be laughing about this, but I think at this point I'm delirious or something. Fortunately, and never has that word seemed more perfect to me, my parents haven't had to pay for temporary and permanent crown recreation. The guy makes a new impression for the permanent and puts on again the temporary. We schedule a new date for the permanent. I reschedule my orthodontist appointment for the day after that.

They tell me, yet again, to chew on my right side. I'm missing three lower teeth. Can you imagine for a moment how hard it would be to chew on your right side when there are no teeth there? And it's barely been a month since the last of those three was removed.

Saturday, the sixteenth. I'm watching Fantastic Beasts: Crimes of Grindelwald with my family. I braved a small bag of popcorn. I'm doing my best to eat on my right side but... I'm halfway through the bag when I feel something that's not a kernel. I suspect I've broken the crown in half. No. Not in half. I've crushed the thing. I fish splinters out of my mouth. 

Monday. I go to the gym and then the dentist. She can see me right then (it's half past nine), but I have to open the store at ten. 

Tuesday, today. They joke that I swallowed the temporary. It's funny, seriously. I laugh. They make me a new temporary, and now I sit at the counter banging these keys.

I have to keep this thing on my tooth until May second. It must happen. Please pray.