Ben has been complaining of tooth pain since Friday. This may sound like something minor but it sends chills down my spine just to think about any issue with his teeth. As a baby he had a hard time teething but his teeth came in quickly one after the other during his first two years. He slept in bed with us and nursed throughout the night until he was almost two. I was told that breast milk doesn’t cause cavities, although at this point I’ve heard that of course it does, and of course it doesn’t. The dentist who saw us when he was about two and a half said of course it does. She also said that he needed eight fillings including three root canals and two caps. Take a moment to imagine what getting a root canal is like for an adult. Then imagine what it is like for a two year old. Then imagine being the adult holding the two year old down while he gets a root canal. Then imagine going back to the dentist four times and doing this over and over. It was horrible. That doesn’t even begin to describe it. The worst part wasn’t the screaming. It was him being totally compliant for the first half of the visit as he did his best to keep it together. My chest is tightening as I remember how brave he was and how much I wish I could have done it differently somehow. There was an option to do all the work at one time with him knocked out in the operating room. The out of pocket cost to even walk into the OR was $3000 since it was elective to do it that way. The cost of the work itself even after insurance covered part of it was several thousand dollars as it was, so adding to it was out of the question.
Fast forward to this past spring when Ben and I returned from Israel at the very end of March. I was thirty-six weeks pregnant and we traveled alone. Mo had to finish his contract at his job in Israel and it didn’t seem safe to wait any longer for me to make the trip. The journey itself was exciting and it felt like a positive, forward motion after months of stress and difficulty. Physically it was draining to travel so pregnant with a little boy and six large duffel bags (I had to bring as much as possible because we were moving back to the states). I did much more shlepping than I would have liked even though thankfully many people helped me along the way. My favorite moment of the journey was the security guard in customs who saw me with my carry on bags and Ben in the stroller and said, “You are the woman!”
When we got back to Mo’s parents’ house in Teaneck I was exhausted to say the least. As I got Ben ready for bed he told me that one of his teeth hurt. I panicked a little but took a deep breath and looked in his mouth. I saw that it was one of the two teeth that had a silver cap, so I figured we were in for some kind of drama the next day, especially since we didn’t have any dental insurance. In early February I used our address in New Jersey to apply for Medicaid. We didn’t get an answer about the kids and I being accepted until the end of May. I knew that if we were accepted we would be retroactively covered to the date we applied, but that was not so comforting at the time. Anyway, it didn’t matter at that moment because we were on our own for the dental work.
The next morning I called the dentist who had originally done the work, Dr. Liraz Spear in Riverdale. She was out of the office but fit us in the following day. Dr. Spear was sad to see us back from Israel, as she had been very happy for us to make aliyah and had wished us the best. She looked at Ben and took a few x-rays, then determined that the only thing to do was to have the tooth pulled by an oral surgeon the same day. She made some calls herself and referred us to a friend of hers on the Upper East Side. She didn’t charge us a cent for the visit. We had a few hours to wait until our visit with the dentist in the city, and Ben would be given anesthesia so he was not allowed to eat anything. I took him to Fairway and stocked up on smoothies and yogurt for afterward, then made our way to the office. He fell asleep in the car, thank G-d. I drove around for a while looking for parking, then finally found a spot on the street a few blocks away. When he woke up he had to pee very badly and walking those few blocks with a hungry four year old who had to pee was pretty painful. I was nine months pregnant, I had to pee too, but I wasn’t crying about it! We walked into the fancy Park Avenue office in a whirlwind of tears and requests for the bathroom. Once we had freshened up, the doctor came out and introduced himself. He was one of the kindest, gentlest people I have ever met and he made Ben and I feel totally comfortable. Ben was given some kind of anesthetic in a cup of juice and after about ten minutes he became limp and started slurring his words. I helped him walk into the room where he would have his tooth pulled and one of the hygienists helped me lift him up onto the chair. I watched as his eyes rolled back in his head and he couldn’t speak. I wanted to cry just seeing him like that, so vulnerable, so out of reach.
After a few minutes that felt like forever the doctor came in and they began the procedure. At first Ben was relatively relaxed but as the minutes ticked by and the doctor began yanking the tooth out with pliers (yes even on Park Avenue they yank teeth out with what look like pliers), he started squirming and screaming and I was there, holding him down, just like two years before. It was an experience I had hoped I would never have to relive.
When it was finally over he couldn’t stop screaming. He was still totally disoriented and not able to walk from the anesthetic so I carried him even though I was so pregnant I could barely lift him. I took him into the recovery room and he just kept screaming and screaming. He couldn’t stop. I knew he was scaring the patients in the waiting room. The doctor came in and gave him two hot wheels cars and the hygienists brought him stickers and tried to help. It became obvious that there was nothing we could do for him in the office and that it was time to go. But how to get him the several blocks to the car? The doctor, bless his heart, offered to carry Ben all the way to the car for me. I almost took him up on it but I knew that in his traumatized, confused state Ben would freak out if the person who had just done the painful procedure tried to pick him up. He was already yelling at the doctor, “I hate you! I never want to go to the dentist again! I hate the dentist! I hate you!” So I mustered up all the composure I could manage and lifted Ben over my giant belly and carried him screaming and crying and snotting all over me the three blocks to the car. I buckled him into his seat and probably gave him a toy or a treat of some kind or something, I honestly don’t remember. I got into the car and started driving, and didn’t stop until I got to my mom’s house in Vermont. It was a five hour drive in traffic but I just couldn’t manage to see anyone else and I knew she would take care of us.
Now you can understand why I was filled with dread on Friday when Ben said his other capped tooth hurts. We don’t have a dentist down here yet and it was the weekend so there wasn’t anything I could do. Now that it has been a few days the pain is worse and we will spend tomorrow trying to find a dentist who will see us and who takes our HMO and then get a referral to an oral surgeon who also takes our insurance and who will hopefully see us right away. I’m terrified. I’m scared about finding the right people to take care of Ben in this extremely sensitive situation that comes with such a back story. I’m terrified of seeing my child in pain. I’m terrified of him being terrified.
After Ben and Ella went to bed tonight I went to the store and wandered through the aisles looking for soft foods that would be good for him after he gets his tooth pulled, hopefully tomorrow. I bought him a toy to cheer him up afterward. I felt completely disconnected and brokenhearted walking through the busy store among everyone finishing their last minute shopping before Christmas. I tried to pick things that I thought would be helpful tomorrow, to get groceries for the rest of the week so I can give my attention to the family for the next few days. I was trying to put pieces together but it didn’t help. I felt lost and adrift in my own fears and anxiety.
Let me say that I have always been very good in an emergency. My boss at a busy restaurant once called me “unflappable.” However, that was me with all my walls and emotional coping mechanisms to keep pain out. Since moving to Miami and moving beyond the just-get-through-it mentality that was so necessary during the past year, I am much more present and feeling my feelings. It sucks so much! It is so painful to actually experience this, as well as all the emotions I shoved away in that extremely vulnerable time of being alone with Ben. It is all flooding back to me now. He is obviously scared since he has already woken up twice tonight calling for me. He said it’s not that his tooth hurts so badly, he just misses us when we aren’t there. He is scared about tomorrow. There’s nothing I can really say to comfort him, except that Mo and I will be there with him no matter what and we’ll take care of him. I can’t make any promises I can’t keep so I’m just telling him the truth.
Wish us luck tomorrow, since we’re still in the thirty days of blogging every day, I’ll let you know how it goes.