We’ve known for roughly a month or so that Jonah needed dental surgery, and it’s been a source of anxiety for me every since it was scheduled. Way back in July last year, I took an afternoon off and brought Jonah into the city with me to visit my office and do a few fun things down in lower Manhattan, just the two of us. My co-workers are amazing and lots of them love when kids visit; he was goofing around with a beloved colleague of mine (they were rolling hula hoops and running after them – that’s the kind of office I have) and ended up falling and banging his teeth on the tile floor. He screamed and cried like I’ve never heard him scream, but there was no blood and no visible damage so I did my best to calm him down and, when I couldn’t, we ultimately left. We were two weeks from moving to Michigan, and he’d literally just been to the dentist, so we didn’t take him back for x-rays. I should also mention that he’s what pediatric dentists seem to refer to as “noncompliant.” He usually won’t open his mouth, he bites dentists, and up until yesterday had never had a cleaning as a result (not for lack of trying). About two weeks after the fall, literally the day we set out to drive from NY to MI, we noticed that one of his front teeth was turning grey.
Once we were back in Michigan, Kristin drove two hours to try to get him x-rays from a dentist who knew her father (we didn’t have local insurance at the time and he’d offered to do it for free). Predictably, Jonah was noncompliant and the x-rays didn’t happen. A couple of months later, Kristin took him to a local pediatric dentist recommended by my parents. Once again, the x-rays didn’t happen. When the gums above that tooth suddenly started to look like there might be a more serious problem, I took him back to the same local pediatric dentist and by some miracle of bravery on Jonah’s part, we got the x-rays. As it turned out, the root above the grey tooth was completely gone and it needed to be removed, but the tooth next to it was also broken above the gum line and also needed to come out. We don’t even know when that injury happened, but it may have been the previous day when he bashed it on a classmate’s head while in a bouncy house.
The dentist said that they both needed to come out, for fear of infection and damage to the adult teeth behind them. We discussed a couple of options and ultimately decided that, given his proclivity for noncompliance at the dentist, he needed to be under anesthesia. We also really didn’t want to put him through the experience of having teeth extracted while awake since he’s already terrified of the dentist. We’ve had a lot of anxiety about the whole thing because, despite the low risk, anesthesia can be dangerous. They also gave us a ton of warning about how he had to be in perfect health or it wouldn’t be safe, and he had to have a pre-surgery physical to prove that he was healthy enough to endure the procedures. We all really wanted to get this over with, and getting on the hospital schedule takes some notice so the thought of having to cancel due to illness was awful.
We’ve been doing our best to keep Jonah healthy, and then naturally on Monday of surgery week the twins came down with pink eye. Then on Tuesday he returned home from school complaining of a terrible earache (so severe he couldn’t sleep that night) but thankfully my cousin and his wife are amazing chiropractors who live blocks away and they let us come over and get Jonah adjusted (in the morning the pain was gone!), and then on Thursday night, the night before surgery at 9:15 a.m., Vivienne came down with the worst stomach bug she’s ever had. She threw up all night long, roughly a dozen times. Neither Kristin nor I slept much at all, I slept in Jonah’s bed just to keep an eye on him so that we would know if he seemed unwell, and Kristin slept with Vivi and caught puke in a bowl all night long. In the morning, there was no way that Kristin and I could both accompany Jonah to the outpatient surgery center because someone had to stay with Vivi, so I dropped Jude at school and took Jonah on my own.
The windowless waiting room gave me the creeps and felt more like a methadone clinic than an outpatient surgery center, but ultimately I have to hand it to the staff; they were lovely and compassionate and took good care of Jonah. When we went back for the pre-surgery prep, they already had Paw Patrol playing on a portable DVD player. Somewhat surprisingly he seemed to have no fear whatsoever leading up to this. We’d told him very clearly that they needed to remove his two front teeth, and every time we brought it up he’d say “OK” or “Yeah I know” and seemed totally comfortable with the idea. I think a big part of it has to do with a lack of knowledge about surgery or tooth extraction. We’d told him that he would be asleep when they did it, and that I’d be there when he woke up. We went through all of the pre-surgery stuff and the only upsetting moment for him was when he had to take an oral medication to make him sleepy and calm so that he would be OK going back and being put under. He fought us on it, but once it started to kick in he asked me sleepily if we could go camping sometime. It was kind of sweet and totally unrelated to anything on the show that was playing, so who knows where that came from. I told him that we could.
When the dentist came in to talk to me, he went over the plans for the day. We’d already discussed that he would get a full set of x-rays (they only got his front teeth the last time), a cleaning, and that they would fix any cavities that were present, in addition to the extractions. What I didn’t know until that moment was that the plan to fix cavities in molars was to put crowns on. Crowns for baby teeth are stainless steel and pre-made, so presumably less expensive than the gold and porcelain variety, but still. I was shocked, but didn’t really have enough time to debate the issue or do any research or even consult K on the matter. I just hoped that his teeth would be in good shape and it would be a non-issue. I should have known better; I have terrible teeth, and a lot of dental health is based on predisposition and bacteria passed from the mother.
A nurse carried him back and he didn’t object at all, and I didn’t cry until he was out of sight. I’d been determined to be a rock for him so as not to pass along my own fear, and I feel like I succeeded. I got to the waiting room and called K and we both cried, and I promised to keep her posted. At some point they sent a nurse out to tell me that he went under the anesthesia just fine, really well actually, and that he did have cavities that they would be fixing. She didn’t know how many off hand, she’d just been sent to give me that message, so I didn’t have any idea what we were looking at. At some point during his procedure, a different dentist came out to talk to parents sitting behind me. They were engrossed in The Price Is Right, and when their dentist told them that their son had received six crowns and two fillings they seemed completely unfazed. I, on the other hand, was horrified, and immediately texted K. She replied with “Eek! Hopefully it’s not so bad for J. Praying.” I was honestly more shocked at their comfort with the news than with the results of their kid’s treatment.
When the dentist came out to tell me that Jonah was finished, by some miracle he decided to take me into a room to talk to me. I don’t know if that’s because he expected a poor reaction or if that’s just his approach, but I’m incredibly thankful. He told me that Jonah ended up with crowns on all of his molars: eight crowns. His cavities weren’t severe, but they were between the molars (his entire chewing surface was in great shape) and they prefer to crown them to prevent future decay (and to avoid having to put Jonah through this again). I immediately burst into tears. I felt like a horrible parent for not flossing his teeth regularly (I’m learning that few parents do, but whatever), and I was incredibly concerned about how Jonah might feel about his very obviously stainless steel teeth. What if his peers made fun of him? Would everyone think that he had terrible hygiene and was a total freak? I let the dentist know that I was really disappointed that he hadn’t given us more than ten minutes notice that this might be the plan for cavities. I cried and cried and did my best to focus on the post-surgery instructions, but it was clear that my reaction had totally thrown the dentist for a loop and he felt terrible. He told me that he felt like he’d failed me. I confessed that my feelings weren’t really about him exactly; I felt like a terrible parent for letting this happen to Jonah (and for passing along my predisposition for bad teeth), and I worried about how it would affect him socially. Honestly if we’d had time to research it we might have consented to it anyway, but not being given that choice was really upsetting.
I knew that I needed to pull myself together before seeing him, so I did my best (but I went to call K and began crying again), and then in a moment a nurse came out to tell me that he was awake. This is the other part that I was entirely unprepared for. I could hear him yelling before I saw him. He was thrashing and yelling but couldn’t really hold his head up, and there was blood running from the corner of his mouth. I went to him and picked him up and held him on my lap, but he fought me and kept yelling “I want to go home!” They offered him a popsicle and he refused, demanding to go home. He then tried to rip out his IV and continued to fight me, but I knew that I couldn’t set him down or he would hurt himself. When we finally got out of there I carried him to the car and I drove home telling him how brave he’d been. He seemed angry and disoriented, and I was completely overwhelmed by how much he seemed to be suffering. We offered him soft foods, water, and TV but he refused it all and just wanted to lie down. I lay down with him and reminded myself to just meet his needs and to try not to overthink it all.
He slept for a long time, and when he woke up he seemed to have transformed back into himself a bit. He was still clearly unwell, but he was now interested in eating and watching his favorite show.
Vivienne was still in a terrible state (and still is a day later) and was limp and whimpering all day long, needing to be worn or carried, so she needed someone’s attention at all times. Kristin was exhausted from the lack of sleep the night before, but wanted to do everything she could to care for Jonah since she felt awful for not having been with us that morning. I was actually glad to see her get in a short nap when they both collapsed from exhaustion.
Poor Jude definitely got the short end of the attention stick. With all of our attention on Vivienne and Jonah for two straight days, he’s pretty much been fending for himself. At least he did get some screen time out of the deal.
I was actually amazed by how “himself” Jonah was by the end of the first day, and even more so the second day. He may be on soft foods for a little bit longer (he wouldn’t object if that never ended – he would live on chocolate pudding), but he seems to be bouncing right back. I have yet to get a picture of his new smile, but I think that I can love it as much as his previous one. He’s still my lovebug.