Tuesday, September 27, 2005

 

In Which it is Exactly Like Pulling Teeth...




Not too long ago, Thomas lost his first tooth and we were so excited about it--because, hey, he lost his first tooth--that we almost completely forgot how relieved we were.

Relieved, because if it hadn't fallen out on its own, the dentist was going to yank it out.

Not to give you a crash-course in dentistry here, but my son has some fused teeth along his bottom jaw. Which means that the teeth coming up underneath them are usually too small to dislocate the fused big boys above, which leads to all sorts of unfortunate consequences, the likes of which fill up dentistry journals and cause people reading such accounts to wince and to feel sympathetic aching in all their teeth, much as if they'd just eaten an entire bag of gummy bears.

So we were relieved because one of those sets of fused teeth came out on its own (Yay Dad for being thoughtless enough to serve corn-on-the-cob that fateful night). We figured this meant the other set of fused teeth next to it would be loosening up and falling out on its own any day now.

Except it didn't happen.

And roughly a month later--also known as Two Weeks Ago--Thomas started to complain of an ache in his bottom jaw. His new tooth was coming in, pushing in futility on the fused mass above, causing uncomfortable pressure. That was bad enough. But now, looking in his little mouth, I could see the new tooth, its pale outline becoming clearer with each passing day as it pushed itself up at angle, tearing through his gums on a path to come up directly behind the fused teeth. Not cool.

Indeed, it was a not-cool situation all around. Because it meant that we'd have to go to the dentist to get the fused teeth yanked after all. And soon, before the new tooth came up.

I've written elsewhere about how anxious Thomas tends to be in the face of anything new or different or remotely off-putting. And that's just normal kid-anxiety stuff, like going upstairs by himself, or being alone in the back yard. When you throw in a situation that causes many grown men and women to cringe--as a visit to the dentist is wont to do--then you have in my son the anxiety equivalent of a nuclear event.

Saying my son is nervous about doctor and dentist visits is a monument to understatement. To put this in the proper context for you: When Thomas was starting kindergarten, he had to get the two vaccinations before he could go to school. Unfortunately, his pediatrician made the mistake of actually saying this while Thomas was within earshot. And also, he said it in April. We should have simply taken Thomas to get the shots there and then. But no, we waited. Til July. Which meant that not a week of the next three months went by without my son freaking out--either a little or a lot--about getting his shots. Dinnertime became a cross-examination about needle pain as compared to the worst pain Mom and Dad ever experienced. Every night it was the same thing: He wanted to know how much shots hurt--but of course what he really wanted was a guarantee on the maximum pain he was likely to experience (or better yet, on there being no pain at all). If Art Lad had launched back then, I'd have been helping him post pictures with titles like "The Needle Monster" and "Hypodermisaurus." It was agony for everyone.

I begged Her Lovely Self to schedule him for the shots sooner, but the pediatrician was booked solid and spring turned to summer til at last we came to July, a hellish month. Every day Thomas either woke up crying, or ran screaming to our bed, his dreams haunted by ghoulish mad doctors bursting into his room with syringes the size of harpoons.

At last, fate showed us mercy: the pediatrician called with a cancellation and we got to see him a couple of weeks early. Not really thinking it through, we told Thomas he'd get to go in the morning. Which meant he spent the night pressed between Her Lovely Self and me, whimpering. He greeted the dawn by racing into our bathroom and throwing up in the Jacuzzi. That's when I decided to take the morning off from work and join my family for the trip to the doctor's office.

You'd have thought we were taking Thomas to the vet to be put to sleep, the way he carried on in the car. I had to sit in the back with him and hold his clammy little hand, assuring him that it wasn't that big a deal, that he'd see how quickly it would be over, and how relatively painless it would be, compared to, say, 3 months of angsting over it. I was the very model of the calm, understanding Dad, validating his fears but also helping him rationalize them too.

Naturally, he screamed the whole way into the office, which got us right into an exam room (good tip to remember next time I'm stuck in a waiting room). The doctor showed up with the needle, and Thomas went purely crazy. I had to sit him in my lap and even then it was like trying to wrestle an orangutan. There was just screaming--"OOooahh! Ooo-ooo-auggh! Ooooaaghh!"--and a flurry of arms and hair and mad scrabbling and dirty fingernails furrowing skin until finally I got his arms at his side and held him in my lap and cried, "Okay, now!" and the doctor, in one fluid motion, brought the needle down, on target with my son's meaty little thigh, which the little shit moved at the last possible second.

And that's how I got an unexpected diphtheria booster.

Call us crazy, overwrought parents, but it occurred to us that telling Thomas he would now have to go to the dentist to get a tooth pulled out of his head might not be the best approach.

When the toothaches started, Her Lovely Self began wondering how we would spare everyone the suffering that had occurred last time we told Thomas he was heading for a potentially unpleasant doctor visit. I suggested she call the dentist first. Surely he had dealt with patients who were as nervous--maybe even more so--than our son. So one morning, while I went to work, that's exactly what she did. And by the time I came home, she was happy and relaxed and sat me down to tell me the plan she and the dentist had concocted.

"We're going to lie our heads off," she said.

Well, I'm paraphrasing a little, but it boiled down to this: The dentist advised us to tell Thomas that he needed to go have his teeth examined. "Tell him I just want to check out where he lost his first tooth, make sure everything's okay," the dentist said. "Then, when I'm in there--why, look at that--I'll just decide the fused teeth next to it are ready to come out too. I'll have them out before he even knows what's going on."

Her Lovely Self told him the story of The Dad Who Got Immunized Instead and the dentist reassured her that he could head off any freakisodes. "Don't worry. As soon as he gets in the chair, we'll give him a little nose mask to wear and he can breathe some laughing gas. By the time I get in there, he won't care what I'm doing."

I had to admit, I wasn't exactly thrilled about lying to Thomas. On the other hand, I remembered well the enormous tizzy into which he had worked himself the previous summer. Surely the less time he had to agonize about what was going to happen, the better it would be for everybody (plus--and I was merely considering this a side benefit--I wouldn't have to spend two weekends cleaning vomit out of the Jacuzzi jets with a Q-tip).

"Well," I said uncertainly. "I guess. If you're okay with it. I mean, aren't you going to feel a little weird, sitting in the exam room with him, knowing what's going to happen?"

Her Lovely Self's smile faltered a little. "Oh, honey," she said. "Are you kidding? I'm not taking him to the dentist. You are."

"What?!?" I squawked.

And then Her Lovely Self did the teary thing with her eyes that makes it very hard for me to refuse women who do that teary thing with their eyes. "I can't go in there with him, honey (she only ever calls me "honey" when she really wants me to do something unpleasant, like remove a dead squirrel from a gutter, or clear a toilet-based obstacle). I can't. I'll blow it. I'll start crying and he'll know something's up. Please, you have to do this. Please. Oh, please."

Well, it's not often my wife begs me for anything, so I sort of sank in on myself and said, "All right."

The mood brightened considerably after that. For her anyway.

But for the next few days, it was me who had all the anxiety. Thomas, blissfully unaware, went about his days without a care in the world. I felt like I was leading a lamb to the slaughter. "I have to tell him," I confided in Her Lovely Self one night. "I just don't think it's right to lie to him."

HLS wouldn't have it. "The morning of the appointment, I'll tell him. And I'll tell him just what the dentist said. What is the point of telling him he's going to get his teeth pulled? That's not going to help anybody. Let Thomas have some peace of mind til then."

I shook my head. "He's not stupid you know. That kid is so intuitive he's almost psychic. You just can't hide this kind of crap. They just know, instinctively."

"Oh, please," she said. And she wasn't saying it the beggy, teary-eyed way she was before. This was more in the usual tone of voice she reserves for me.

But as we got closer to what I was starting to think of a D-Day, I did notice Thomas seemed to be acting out a lot more than usual. Even though we had been exceedingly hush-hush about it, he knew. I was convinced of it.

And then D-Day arrived. I briefly went to work, but was so anxious I couldn't get anything done. You'd have thought it was my teeth they were going to pull out. I went home way earlier than I needed to and was sitting around for more than an hour waiting for Thomas when he finally got off his bus that afternoon. He looked as sick as I felt. He knows! I thought.

"Dad," he said. "Do I really have to go to the dentist to get my teeth looked at?"

Poor kid, still clinging to the illusion, even though he knows the truth. "Yep," I said, sounding so off-handed I wouldn't have been surprised to discover prosthetics at the ends of both wrists. "But hey! The good news is, I get to go with you! And afterwards, we can swing by the comic shop and you can pick out some comics."

Well, that brightened him up, so off we went.

But with each mile that we drew closer to the dentist, I was feeling an enormous pressure building, like a tiny but powerful storm cell manifesting in the car. Thomas fidgeted in the back seat, anxiously biting his nails. Once or twice he opened his mouth to speak to me, then clammed up.

Oh, the guilt! I couldn't stand it. However good our intentions, we had lied to our son. Well, technically, Her Lovely Self had lied to our son, but I had gone along with it. In just a few minutes, our ruse would be exposed. I cringed when I thought about that moment. I dreaded the look I would get when it dawned on him that Daddy had lied to him, had tricked him into the Dental Chair of Tooth-Pulling Agony. I was going to hell. I knew it. Somehow, I had to try and do the right thing.

We were still several stoplights from the dentist's office when I pulled the car into the empty parking lot of a closed business complex and turned around in my seat.

"Buddy, I gotta tell you something," I said. Thomas snapped to right away, gazing at me intently.

"You know that fused tooth?" I asked. My son nodded. "Well, the dentist said it has to come out. And he's going to help you get it out. Today."

There was a pause about 57 years long. The silence in that pause was so complete I could hear the very motion of molecules in the air.

Then Thomas opened his mouth. And I was sure he was going to tell me he had known all along. And so our father/son bond would be repaired and we'd go into the office together, stronger, braver for having shared the truth.



"NOOOOOOO!!!"

he shrieked.

"It's okay, buddy--"

"But-- but-- Mom said he was just gonna to look at my teeth. Just gonna LOOK!"

Uh-oh, I thought. Maybe he hadn't intuitively realized what was going on after all.

"No-no-no-NO-NOOOOOOO!" he cried, thrashing himself back and forth in the seat. Well, there was nothing for it now. I turned in my seat and moved to put the car in gear.

"It'll be okay, Thomas, I'll be right there--"

And that's when I heard the back door open and saw my son tear off across the empty parking lot...


Comments:
you could not have ever believed that you could get away witht that right?

telling thomas that he is going to be in "HIT THE FAN" kind of pain the very last minute?

You should have lied.

He'll hate you for it, but you should still have lied.

:( ... poor MM.

now he has to go running.
 
Oh dear god. Poor kid! Poor you! You do know that you are a Magnificent Drama Magnet? Seriously.
(I am a Bonafide Weirdness Magnet, myself.) Maybe you should have told the kiddo he could bring the video camera along, just in case you were to accidentally maim yourself with some dental equipment. (Don't try to punch through the little tray. Sharp, pointy drill-y things on the little tray...)
 
Eeeps! I probably would have caved in and told the truth as well.

I had a similar incident with my own brother's immunization (he's 15 younger than me) for kindergarten last year. After my moment of sharp surprise, my brother was laughing through his tears and they were able to give the shot to the correct patient.

If mighty Art Lad can conquer this, I'm sure he can get through anything...*g* Hang in there, MM.
 
The horror! But despite the traumatic experience, I'm sure Thomas will turn out fine. I'm pretty sure of it. I know I did. Somewhat.

I remember clearly the day my mom took me to get my first molar pulled. After 30 minutes of trashing and screaming bloody murder on the death-chair (and scaring the shit out of all those outside waiting), my mother wisely decided to abort the failed mission and come back another day.

She apologised to the none-too-happy dentist then held me and reassured me on the way home that it's ok and bought me my favorite candy.

That was what my fantasy mom did.

My real mom, on the other hand, had no such inclinations. Astronomically pissed and embarrassed by my "unacceptable" behaviour, instead of taking me home, she promply drove me to the local police station.

Yes, police station.

She wound down the windows and told the slacker I mean, police officer on duty what a terrible boy I had been and enquired if they had space for my kind in the lock-up, which whoopee doo, they coincidentally had. I couldn't believe this guy was playing along.

The officer then tried to open the door and get his grubby hands on me.

Note that I said "tried". Because that was all he had before I summed up every single last atom of energy in my little body and SCREAMED point-blank in his face.

Needless to say, that night I slept on my own bed, teeth intact.

Now, 13 years later, my only regret is that I don't live in America.

Because I would have sued that damn copper for every last thing he owned for "going beyond the call of duty" to inflict emotional trauma on a little kid who's afraid of getting his tooth pulled.

I hope his pension covers hearing aids, the bastard.
 
I can really feel for the little fella. I still break out in a cold sweat and dig furrows in my arms with my nails every six months when I have my teeth cleaned.

I had an unfortunate experience in 7th grade with a dentist who did not believe in numbing the tooth or gums when he drilled. I screamed & bit him. Then my father tore the door off the hinges and knocked the dentist out cold after screaming "What in the hell are you doing to my daughter!"

Poor little fella. What to do? Is there ever any easy answers with children? You just have to do the best you can.

Poor MM.... I bet HLS kicked your ass (unless that is you found a way to turn this completly around- hopefully) Waiting for the next post....

my teeth are killing me by the way.
 
Wow, Thomas and Mac (LegoBoy)could be related. I just took him to his 6 year physical and the whole time he kept asking, nervously, if he had to have shots. We reassured him that he didn't, but at the end of the appt. he did have to have a hemoglobin test. I literally had to lay on top of the boy to get him to be still, and even then it was like wrestling a tornado.

You should have stuck with the lie MM. But then, I guess you know that by now don't you?
 
I remember I used to hate going to a babysitter's house when I was little and my parents lying about where we were going. I think I threw such a fuss after finding out that it's something they stopped doing very much...I did better when the sitter came to our house instead.
 
OOO I feel your pain we just went through somthing similar with my daughter last night. Her front top tooth had to come out it was actually turning brown. We were going to take her to the denist but she started crying and flipping out and i couldn't take that. So I said mommy has a great idea lets pu a wash cloth in there and you bite down and we will see if that makes it come out. So she gets the corner of the thing in there and bites down and I gave it a big yank. The the terror of my little girl a tooth came flying out. Only well it was the wrong tooth. She also had a bottom loose tooth and the little shit bit down on the wrong tooth on purpose. Okay a bit of guilt at the trauma on my part okay a lot of guilt. But hey it wouldn't of come out if um it wasnt ready. Anyway about half an hour latter we got the top tooth out with a promise that if she let me twist it could she could watch a movie. Now she has forgotten the pain and can't wit to show the ever cute toothless smile off to her friends at school. My husband says he thanks God I never became a dentist to traumatize even more helpless 7 years olds.
 
Run Thomas! Run like the wind and never look back. Dentists are the spawn of satan.
 
I pray that Thomas has not inherited your immunity to novocain.

Three words:Child Safety Locks. Make sure they're engaged next time. It's the next best thing to rope & duct tape.
 
oh sweet jesus. bless his heart. I am the same way at the dentist. I highly advocate lying to children to spare them the pain and fear. Trust me on this...wish my parents had lied to me more often! ;)
 
Time to teach Thomas the Bene Gesserit Litany against Fear. ;)
 
I actually enjoyed my visits to the dentist. This is because my dentist allowed me to administer my own doses of laughing gas. I kid you not. He'd strap the mask on me and give me a bulb to squeeze whenever I felt I needed more. Needless to say, I needed more quite often. I can't imagine this possibly happening today, but back in the 60's ...

No, it probably wasn't happening too many other places then, either.
 
I have to say that I have full sympathy for Thomas - I went in for my normal pre-school year checkup one day and came out with a mouth full of metal. My parents and the dentist (dad's cousin) were in cahoots with each other and knew that if they told me I was getting braces there was no way in hell that I would have gone willingly. Bastards ....
 
There's almost no way this can end well... Is there?
 
oh - i remember being that kid.

... clamping my mouth shut - refusing to let the PDA give me a throat culture.

... being scheduled for my first flu shot ever, and spending the next two weeks trying to get my parents to convince me that it wouldn't hurt.

... opening doors with tissues.

... eating with one hand because the other had just brushed up against someone's arm.

... panic attacks every ten minutes. positive that my heart had stopped.

... an overall sense of impending doom.

he'll work through it.

i did.

good luck to you and HLS in the process.
 
Give Thomas a Zipline--that is how my eldest lost 4 not yet loose baby teeth. She jumped from a deck railing hoping to ride the Zipline--but missed and instead caught the wire with her front teeth . We never ever found her teeth in the grass. The Tooth Fairy had to drop lots of dough at the hospital that night. Oh and she screamed the entire night...
 
Well, every superhero has his weakness. It may not be Kryptonite, but I can certainly sympathize with your son. :( I had to get something pulled last year, and I might have done the same if it wasn't a busy street we were driving on.

Next time, tell HLS that Lying is not the way to go. :(
 
Um...wow. I'm sending this to my mom - she thought I was awful with doctors when I was younger (I once spit cough syrup at one who tried to make me take it after very clearly explaining that I'd do just that, since, "I don't like it"). Thomas might've just taken the cake, though! Poor kid - must feel awful to be that scared about dentists & docs.
 
Poor Thomas, I share his fear of needles. Advice, don't look and breath out while they do the deed. I wasn't able to get the best of my fear until I was in my twenties.

It is so terrible to hear everyone dentist stories. I had a bad one as a kid, painful and messy all performed by "Butcher Chang" as my brother dubbed her.

Now I have a wonderful dentist that PROMISED no PAIN and was able to keep his promise to my amazement. I don't even feel the needle! Apparently, pain doesn't have be part of any dentist visit. Ditch the dentist if he can't take good care of your kids.

Another hint, communicate with thumbs up or thumbs down rather than trying to talk.
 
Hey, I have enjoyed...your blog is informative - even entertaining.

I have a halloween sites. They pretty much covers costumes and masks related stuff.

Thanks again and I'll be sure to bookmark you.
 
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