Like Pulling Teeth


For the past 10 days or so we have been playing a game called, “Guess what it is that is bothering Clay.” It is quite a stressful game. A little bit like Clue, except there is no Colonel Mustard and the stakes are real. I suppose it is not really a game at all – for Clay or us. Especially for Clay. But I find that it helps to look at it as a mystery to be solved rather than a glimpse into Dante’s 10th level of Hell – the one his publisher asked him to leave out to protect the squeamish.

Now, you can play along at home.

It all started a week and a half ago with Clay moaning from pain and repeating the words “boo hoo” hour after hour. We had two immediate guesses – sinus pressure since it has been brutally hot and humid here or a medication situation. We have been gradually reducing the mood stabilizer Clay takes over the past year and had dropped it a little further just around the time that the distress began. Not wanting to change our course of reducing his meds, we went with sinus pressure and ratcheted up the sinus/allergy medicine he takes this time of year along with doses of Advil as needed.

Then, things got worse.

As the week progressed, the Advil would only buy about an hour or two of relief, and it isn’t particularly healthy to zap him with it three or four times a day for an extended period. Clay’s level of agitation rose. Our stress level climbed with it. I can’t imagine the frustration the little guy must feel in being unable to explain what he is feeling with any level of precision.  I have no trouble imagining the stress parents feel when they can’t figure out how to ease their child’s pain.


Facing the wrong direction in the chair of death

Fortunately, another clue arose. While I was brushing my teeth, preparing for bed over the weekend, Clay handed me his toothbrush. I should point out that Clay does not like to have his teeth brushed, and we are admittedly lax about it because he bites on the brush, preventing us from reaching any of the cavity-prone teeth. (It’s actually more productive  – and entertaining – brushing the teeth of our dogs, who at least stand still and, as a bonus, make silly faces that make us all laugh.)

I mentioned it to my wife. She noted that he had done the same with her a few days earlier. We added possibility number four to the list. The little guy had one or several toothaches. This seems like the time to mention that we are also lax about taking Clay to the dentist. No six-month checkups for us. As you’ll see below, a visit to the dentist represents a full-blown trauma involving “conscious sedation” administered via an injection to each thigh. And that is just for us parents. The last trip – three years ago – involved six cavities, and my hands are still shaking.

By Monday, it had reached the point where Clay was too agitated to go to school. Serious action needed to be taken. Out came Clay’s iPad, and he typed, “mouth hurts.” Now we were getting somewhere.

We moved dental issues to the top of the list and sprang into action. My wife called the pediatric dentist we used last time. Dr. Rob and his staff get it. They talk to Clay like a person and have the boundless patience and energy and medications and equipment (a huggie blanket?) needed to handle special dental needs. They made time the next day to assess the situation.

Here’s how it went down. Two hours before the visit we gave the little guy an Ativan to lessen his anxiety. (It is a measure of Mom and Dad’s state of mind at this point that we were both eyeing the Ativan – thinking one for him and two for us.) We drove to the dentist office. Clay and I waited in the car while my wife headed in to let them know we were there and fill out the paperwork. Clay doesn’t do well in small waiting rooms.

When they were ready, the staff signaled us from the door, and we shuttled the little guy directly to the examining room. He proceeded to circle the room, squeezing the magazines on the counter, touching all of the sterilized instruments, pulling on tubes, dropping precious dental machinery on the floor and generally raising everyone’s anxiety level while the dentist came to the reluctant conclusion that there was no way he could even get a look in Clay’s mouth without sedation. Dr. Rob is a good guy who means well and made room in a busy schedule for us, so I resisted the impulse to jump on him, red-faced, fists pounding his upper body, spittle flying, screaming, “For God’s sake, man, I could have told you that before we drove all the way over here. Don’t make me go home to another night of this.”

I kept my mouth shut and an appointment was made for later in the week. I won’t take you through the ugly, painful details – partly because I wasn’t there due to demands at work. Let’s just say that it took my wife, my older son and the entire staff of the dentist office along with a few people that were passing by on the sidewalk to get Clay into the dentist chair. (The only one not involved, for obvious reasons, was the mother in the waiting room who brought a big box of donuts for her kids to celebrate their good check-ups.)

Bottom line? Three cavities, two of them “deep,” according to Dr. Rob. At the end of the procedure, Clay was barely conscious, and had become essentially a dead weight, like a sedated grizzly. The staff rolled him to the car using a desk chair and somehow loaded him into the back seat. My wife and older son drove home, pulling right up onto the lawn to park at our front door and somehow maneuvered him to the sofa in the living room where he was still snoring when Dr. Rob called four hours later to check on him.

It took a couple of recovery days until we knew for sure if we had hit the right diagnosis, but the old Clay smile returned by Sunday. Mystery solved. Mom and Dad, meanwhile, are still thinking about those extra Ativans. Sitting unused in the cabinet. All by themselves. Why should they go to waste?


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  1. #1 by Judy Stavisky on August 1, 2013 - 6:08 pm

    Entertaining, painful and beautifully composed…you need to write a book!–JS

  2. #2 by Lynda Brown on August 4, 2013 - 7:55 pm

    God bless all of must be difficult to see Clay in pain and even more difficult to physically get him in and out of the worst nightmare place to have to visit.

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