At my most recent visit with the dentist, about a month ago, I finally asked her about the oral surgeon’s recommendation that I get a full implant to replace my upper teeth – with screws in my cheek bones to stabilize it – and the dentist said it was the best option for me, despite the cost. She said that I will lose more teeth, more rapidly, in the near future, because of the progression of gum recession and bone loss. She was definite, and the hygienist, who I’ve been going to for about twenty years (she worked with my previous dentist too), agreed with the dentist’s assessment, and said that I’d be in good hands with this particular oral surgeon. My mother had also done her research, with friends in the dental field and of course on Google, and she felt that this was the right plan too. And, Mom said, as a result of my father’s death last fall she would be getting a larger social security check from now on, so, in a way, my father would be helping to pay for it.
I was still scared, though, of the cost of the procedure and the radical nature of it; but I was more scared of not doing it, or of not doing it in time, and losing more teeth without having something to replace them.
As soon as we called the oral surgeon to say yes, the process started to move forward at high speed. The office manager at the oral surgeon’s office had to do a credit check to see if I qualified for a loan, and then I needed to go into the office to sign the loan papers, and get x-rays and a lot of pictures of my smile, and intra-oral pictures to cover every centimeter of my mouth, so that the surgery could be planned out and the temporary and permanent implants designed. The doctor’s assistant, who did all of the pictures, some even with her cell phone while I used the retractors to hold my mouth open, also gave me a rundown of what to expect after the surgery: a lot of pain (with a prescription for Percocet, just in case), and bruising on my face for ten days to two weeks, and oh yeah, it might be difficult to get used to eating and talking with the temporary implant (the permanent one would come in three months and be made of less bulky and more long-lasting materials), and I’d have to be on a soft food diet for the whole three months to protect the temporary implant, and probably not eat much at all for the first few days while my gums healed, before they could even put the temporary implant in place.
I went home with a gift bag (a Water Pik, signed loan papers, cough drops, and colorful plumes of paper), and a lot of fear. I knew I had to follow through with this, not just because of the loan papers, but because this would be my best option to feel like a viable person in the future, but I had a lot of nightmares: teeth being pulled out of my mouth with rusty plyers, monsters shoving things down my throat while I’m under anesthesia, etc.
A day or two later, I got an email from the Anesthesiologist’s office telling me what I’d need to do for medical clearance before the surgery: I’d need an EKG and blood tests and an overall exam from my primary care doctor, and an okay from a pulmonologist. But my primary care doctor didn’t have any appointments available until the week after the surgery, and it took a while before one of the schedulers at her office offered to let me see the nurse practitioner there who had an opening. And then I called the office of a pulmonologist I’d seen five or six years ago, for shortness of breath, and his scheduler said he didn’t have appointments available until October.
So, back to the primary care doctor’s office for a referral to another pulmonologist, and, wonder of wonders they had a name ready and he had an appointment available within an hour. And he was lovely. He read through my test results from five years ago, and checked my breathing, and took a short history, and gave me his okay for surgery. He told me that he’d had a similar situation where he’d needed pulmonary clearance for surgery, and they wouldn’t take his own medical word for it, so he’d gone to the pulmonologist I’d seen before (the one with no appointments until October) to get his clearance done.
After that, I was finally able to take a deep breath. It seemed like things were going to be okay, and there were even nice people in the world who understood what I was going through, and then I got home and found a jury summons in the mail, for the week of the surgery.
Really God? Really?!
I had to email the jury commissioner’s office directly because the only postponement options offered online were for during the school year, and luckily they were able to give me a new date in August (by which time my bruises would, hopefully, be less visible).
At the same time, I was preparing for the trip to the hospital in Philadelphia (which turned out to be a virtual visit at the last minute, thank God), and worrying about whether or not to take the next semester of my online Hebrew class over the summer, knowing I’d have to miss a couple of class sessions, and possibly stay off camera for a few others, what with bruises on my face and lispy, awkward speech. But the idea of not having those classes, and only having the pain to look forward to, seemed too awful, so I stuck with it. And then I needed to go for a Covid test and pick up the meds from CVS that I was supposed to start three days before the surgery, and…
And then Mom’s hip replacement popped out. Her hip had been sore for a few days, but the doctor wasn’t worried and just recommended more rest. But when I came in from walking the dog’s Saturday morning Mom said, “I have some bad news,” or something equally as understated, and she told me she could feel something protruding under the skin and she was ready to throw up from the pain. I raced around looking for the doctor’s phone number, which was probably in plain sight somewhere, and eventually found it online, and the doctor said to call for an ambulance and go to the emergency room. The dogs barked up a storm from behind my bedroom door when the paramedics arrived, but Mom was really calm and just needed some help getting her shoes on before they guided her down the stairs in a wheelchair and out to the ambulance.
The ER was crowded with Covid patients, so I wasn’t allowed to go in and had to wait for news at home. And I still wasn’t allowed to go in later in the day, after they’d decided to transfer her to the hospital in the city where she’d had the original surgery, so I had to drop off her clothes and phone charger with a very nice security guard, without seeing her at all. And then I went home and called the oral surgeon’s office and left a message (it was the weekend) telling him that I would have to postpone the surgery, which was supposed to have taken place that Thursday. And then I had to sit and wait.
Up until that moment I’d felt like I was on a speeding train with all of the doctors’ appointments and the upcoming oral surgery and jury duty and then getting Mom to the emergency room and bringing her clothes. And then the world just stopped, and all I could do was sit by the phone.
But Mom’s second surgery finally took place mid-week, and it went well, though the surgeon sounded more humble on the phone this time around, explaining exactly what he’d done to make the hip replacement more stable. And then I heard from the oral surgeon’s office manager that my new surgery date wouldn’t be until late in August, dangerously close to the beginning of the synagogue school year (though I’m hopeful that with the latest Covid sub-variant going around, I will be able to wear a mask in the classroom and not feel too self-conscious).
Now that Mom’s home, and safe, I should be feeling better, but I’m afraid of what will happen when the world starts moving again and I have to rush to the drug store, or see doctors, or go to jury duty, or prepare for my own surgery, or go back to teaching in the fall. I feel like a stopped clock that has to be reset, and my arms will flail out of control as I start to speed forward through the hours again. But for now, there’s a calm in our house, as Cricket climbs back up onto her grandma’s bed, and even lets Ellie sit nearby (though not for long); we can all breathe a sigh of relief, knowing we are home, together, where we belong.
If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.
Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?