Thursday, May 19, 2011

Give Me The Tooth, Nothing But The Tooth

I guess I've been in a bit of financial shock lately. So much that the idea of writing has not really come up on my radar. I'm still absorbing the shock of the dentist bill for Sean. A cleaning and sore tooth that ended up totalling $1818.00. I'm not kidding.

First things first. His mouth was sore. It took me a while to figure it out though. He's not the type of child who is going to approach me and say, "Gee Mom, my tooth hurts. I think I have a cavity." Instead, lots of tantrumming, struggling at school and just general unhappiness. Then he asked me to scratch his tooth.

"Your tooth?" I asked.

"Yes." Scratch it." And he took my finger and tried to make it scratch his tooth.

"Why?" I asked pulling my finger away from his little tooth and tight grip.

"It itches," he said plainly.

"Does it itch or hurt?" I asked.

"Both. Itch my tooth Mommy."

My girlfriend Christy told me her son, who has autism, came up to her with a pair of scissors and pointed with the sharp edges to his toothache. This is the last resort usually. We wonder why our children seem to be upset too easily, or wake up too much during the night and it's not until a strange pantomime or request ("itch my tooth") that it finally makes sense. Aha. Your tooth is killing you. I get it.

Now, the discovery is sometimes a maze but the worst part is still to come. The actual dental appointment -- finding a dentist that is willing to work with your child. Many children with autism need to be sedated, even for the littlest event like a cleaning. So naturally we go to a dentist that provides "sleep dentistry" -- if that's not an oxymoron I don't know what is.

We went to Sean's dentist who is really a kind man and his staff is great with Sean. I've done this solo twice before with "itchy teeth" but this time I asked my husband to come with me since I was able to make a Saturday appointment.

Sean is okay at first. The assistant asks if he wants to watch Diary of a Wimpy Kid. My husband asks if they have Wiggles (much more Sean's speed) and unfortunately they don't. They begin with laughing gas, which by no means ever works for Sean or makes him laugh. He constantly pulls at the rubber mask and my husband and I are quite sure he's not even breathing the gas through his nose but rather mouth breathing.

Next it's the sedation. Sean will be "awake" but unaware of what is happening. Even still, we hear his holler and yell from the room. It takes quite some time to relax Sean and when the dentist does the cleaning and x-rays he discovers two teeth that need to come out.

This is when I am shown the bill. $1818 -- includes sedation, two teeth pulled, cleaning and xrays. My mouth runs dry. What choice do I have really. I wonder if I should offer up my liver for payment - -a little rusty from college and my early twenties but probably worth something or maybe a kidney -- I only need one, right? My husband looks like he might throw up when the bill is shown to him. I'm sure he's doing the math and that is like at least three airline tickets to somewhere really warm during the rainy season in Portland.

He staggers over to the mini-fridge and snack baskets and tries his best to eat and drink $1818 worth of fruit soda and granola bars. All in all, he ate maybe $4 worth and there were no free toothbrushes or trial size toothpaste to snag on our way out to make up for the rest.

It is the day before Mother's Day and my husband laughs, "Happy Mother's Day. Do you love it?" Just what I've always wanted -- $1800 worth of decayed teeth, x-rays and a little to-go plastic bag with sparkly strawberry Crest toothpaste and a toothbrush.

I agree and sign the papers and start consoling myself. Hey, at least they take credit cards. Just think what I will do with 1,800 VISA points. That's a little more than a $15 Starbucks gift card. I'm making money on this deal. This is actually a good thing...

After THREE hours, Sean is rolled out to us in a wheel chair. He is slumped over and looks like he's been on a two week bender, his eyes rolling to the back of his head, and his back curved like a comma, his chin nested in his neck.

"You okay, little guy?" My husband asks.

Sean's mouth is filled with gauze and he is as sweet as a lamb. No fight in him, just droopy eyes and lips.

"Sean, are you okay?" I ask, bending down to him and wiping blood from his cheek.

"I'm not Sean, I'm Bertie," he slurs and my husband and I look at each other. Even in this state, he still wants to change his name to Bertie. You've got to be kidding me.

The dentist tells us he will probably sleep most of the day. We snicker thinking fat chance. We wheel Sean to the car and he slumps into the back seat with me. He is like warm play-do and I love how pliable he is in my arms. Often times, I'm hesitant to touch Sean, knowing that it will startle him or upset him but at that moment, he is a blob and I'm enjoying his tenderness.

We take him home, and try to steady him, he staggers and falls into the wall -- this boy who has incredible balance can hardly make it two feet in front of him. He doesn't sleep but lays around asking us to pull out his tooth.

"It is out, Bertie. It's just going to be sore for a little bit."

A week later he finally stops asking us to pull out his tooth. I feel like we are through it, at least for now. All I can do now is wait for my credit card bill and dream about the money I'll make -- my $15 Starbucks card. Coffee, anyone?

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