As my last post and Twitter stream might indicate, I'm in a nasty mood. Normally, I'm happy at this time of year, anticipating warmer weather and a slight break. Not so much this year.
One of the things aggravating my mood is this freaky pain in my face. I feel as if I've taking a mean right hook to my jaw. I wake up in the morning oddly aware of the bones in my face, which is a sensation much like the one of hearing nails on a chalkboard. You don't really think of your skeleton on a regular basis, so when it hurts, especially in a place so central to your identity and so close to your brain, you become slightly alarmed.
This is not anything abnormal. It's just the side effect of the wisdom teeth extraction. When I last mentioned this procedure in my comments, everything had gone fine. Since I don't teach on Fridays and Mondays (nice work if you can get it!), I scheduled the procedure for a Friday morning. That way, I would have the whole weekend to recover.
Actually, I planned to recover by Saturday and spend the rest of the time blithely floating in a Vicodin haze as I watched the first season of Lost on DVD. What do they say about "the best laid plans"?
You are probably wondering what made me think that I would be recovered within 24 hours. Well, when I made the appointment, I asked the receptionist how long recovery usually takes. "Oh, a couple of days," she said. Now, my guts responded, "she's kidding, right?" But instead of heeding that skeptical voice, I decided that I liked the receptionist's voice better.
That's probably a fourth rule for girls: listen to your gut, not what you want to hear. Your gut is more likely to be in tune with reality.
On that Friday morning, I went in, entirely unsure of what to expect. They gave me oxygen first, which I inhaled with deep deep breaths. I did this because I once dated a respiratory therapist who told me how oxygen will clear out your sinuses and help with congestion. He was right; and, I felt better in some subtle, inexplicable way, like my cells had all been clean. Maybe it was just psychosomatic?
Then they turned on the happy gas. "Tell me when you feel anything different," the dentist said. "Are you feeling anything now?"
"Nah," I responded; but inhaled deeply, deeply, deeply.
I felt my cheeks twitch. "Heh," I thought. "It really is laughing gas."
I snorted. "Hee!" I thought, "I'm laughing on laughing gas."
I giggled. "Hey, look at me!" I thought, "I'm laughing at myself laughing on laughing gas!"
You can see how the loop progressed. This was exactly how I thought smoking pot would be, but wasn't. Pot just made me stupid, and aware of the stupidity. This was fantastic!
"Tell me if I'm hurting you," the dentist said.
"Ah heh," I said.
Actually, "said" isn't quite the precise term since is suggests actual power of speech, which I did not have both because my mouth was propped open with a gigantic syringe sticking in my gums, and because I'm not certain if I could form actual words in my state of bliss.
Normally, I scream like a little baby at the mere mention of needles. I only want them around me if they are going to leave something pretty behind, like a tattoo or an earring, and even that is becoming less appealing as I age. This dentist stuck me four time and I was so blissed out that, while I registered the pain, I couldn't have cared less about it.
Then, he began pushing on my tooth in the upper right side of my mouth. I waited for something dramatic, like a huge crack. Instead, he pushed and pushed, then a little tug.
"That's one," he said.
"Nnng ahh?" I hummed. "Nnnnahh!"
He had already begun pushing on the opposite, upper side.
"That's two," he said.
Somewhere in the still sober recesses of my mind, I realized that this was all going rather quickly. "Shit!" I thought. "This is going to be over in a few minutes and he's going to cut off the gas. Quick! Breathe deeper! Save some in your lungs!"
By now, he had started on the lower, left tooth. This one was larger than the others. It came in on my 30th birthday. I'm not sure that has any significance, but I thought it bore mentioning. The one on the other side had come in when I took the comprehensive exams for my PhD. I can't remember when the third came in, but it was sometime after my 30th birthday one.
Anyway, he was pushing on the lower one and it didn't want to come out. "More gas!" my happy brain thought, not because the dentist was hurting me, but because that part of my brain was quickly becoming a gashound. The sober part of my brain, however, was worried. The jawbone felt so fragile against the dentist's pressure. "What if the bone breaks?" my sober brain thought, presenting a slide show of skulls missing jaws, jaws hanging like second mouth joints, jaws crumbling like china inside the flesh. "Do I want to be present for this? How do I get out of this body?"
Then, the dentist tugged and the tooth came out.
"Ah, relief," thought my sober brain.
"Damn, there goes the gas," thought my happy brain.
Sure enough, the nurse shoved gauze into my mouth and shut off the gas.
They didn't let me take the teeth with me. These days, extracted teeth fall into the category of "medical waste." I really wanted to turn them into jewelry. Seriously! I thought a pair of earrings and a pendant made of my wisdom teeth would be really cool.
Instead, I took a picture:
The blood is a nice, nasty touch, as are the rotting spots on the big one. That's the one from the lower jaw and the one that led me into this whole procedure. One day I'll freak out my nephews with this picture and thereby become the Coolest Aunt. That, or considering some of their other relatives, the Most Boring.*
All went well for the rest of the day. The most bizarre part was the residual Novocaine, which didn't so much numb half of my mouth as make it disappear. I envisioned a black hole drilled into the lower half of my face. It just wasn't there. When all of the drugs began to wear off, I began popping Vicodin like House.
I exaggerate. I only took two Vicodin, which gave me a nice, dreamless sleep.
The next day, I woke up feeling no pain but about a fuzzy as a teddy bear. I wandered around my apartment for the rest of the day with no ability to concentrate. I remembered that, back in middle school, the stoners were all called "gells" (I have no idea why). That's what I felt like, gell.
Big gaps opened up in my thinking, too. Normally I have what other people call "brain farts," but I envision as a synapse that doesn't quite make the leap from one cell to the next. I have them quite often, actually, and sometimes another thought will helpfully jump in, totally forgetting that it is the wrong thought for the occasion. That is me on a regular day, so you can imagine on the vestiges of prescription painkillers. I would just stop in the middle of a sentence and phase out.
The haze stuck around in bits until Wednesday. In the meantime, I began to feel the need to pop pills like House, without exaggeration. Soreness I would understand. Sharp pointed pain I would have understood, too. This was like a loud bass line caught in the tiny space of my cheek and jawbone, except that it wasn't sound, it was pain. A glowing, low, deep pain. I ran through the remainder of my prescription ibuprofen, and half a bottle of over the counter ibuprofen. The Vicodin was mighty appealing, but I had to have my wits somewhat about me to get through my classes. The best solution that I could find was to suck on a Q-tip soaked in Anbesol.
The Anbesol also served to cover the rank cloud that had become my breath. Apparently gaping wounds don't smell so nice.
My follow-up visit was the next Friday. "Am I supposed to still be in this much pain," I gasped.
He took a look. "Ah, dry sockets," he said, and which you all had probably guessed by now. I considered that possibility, but thought that a dry socket would feel more like that needle of electricity that comes with hitting a nerve. I was sure that this was some infection eating away at the bones, and envisioned a future in a burka to hide my hideous, malformed face that would of course lack half of a skull. The dry socket diagnosis came as a big relief.
The dentist packed one of the sockets with some sort of putty, which promptly popped out and would not go back by the end of the day. Turing to that research tool of great medical scholars, Google, I learned about the miracles of clove oil. Small children were in danger of being run over as I blindly dashed to the CVS for the Toothache Kit.
The Toothache Kit comes with a tiny bottle of clove oil, some curved tweezers, and a little box of tiny cotton balls. You dip the cotton balls in the oil and cram them into the gaping holes in your gums. The excess oil will burn the hell out of the rest of your mouth, but that excruciating pain of exposed bone goes away for several hours. Ahhhhhh!
Yesterday, I went back for the final follow up. He says I'm healing and told me not to pack the socket any longer because that will keep them from closing up. As soon as they close up, the pain will go away. I confess that I've packed them overnight because, damn! bone deep pain in your face doesn't help with sleep. Nor do the bizarre fantasies of the hole going up to your brain, or infected and deteriorating bone, or bugs crawling into the sockets, or whatever freaky shit my subconscious digs up from the fragments of horror movies, X-Files episodes, and surgical film that I've seen over the years. I also pack them for an hour or so when the pain flares up. Bone deep pain doesn't help with grading either.
Meanwhile, anyone who lives with chronic pain has my complete sympathy. I don't know how they do it. Many people might say that you learn to live with it, but I doubt it. Pain is pain, and it is distracting to the point of obsession and depressing in the clinical sense.
Now, I have to go get my clove oil fix because I can feel my cheekbone from the inside.
*It will take a lot to compete with the aunt who had a cute butterfly tattoo on her pelvis until she became pregnant. Now half of it is still cute,but the other half is striped with stretch marks and resembles a comic stretched out on Silly Putty.