Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Visit to the Dentist

OK, so no one likes to go. But for Moy Moy (and her mother), going to the dentist is like major surgery. Because her jaws are reflexively clamped shut and because she has sensory issues when anyone goes anywhere close to her face, expecting her to cooperate while a stranger pokes and prods her teeth with sharp instruments is like expecting a fish to ride a bicycle.

Ravi has a darling dentist - a young woman with a busy, new practice. She is charming, thorough and professional and when Ravi explained to her about Moy's special needs, she said immediately to bring her in so she could do a preliminary check up see what needed to be done.

That was Saturday. We drove to her clinic in town and she came out to the car to do the examination to spare us having to heave Moy out of the car and up the stairs. She was gentle and firm and was immediately able to diagnosis that the problem was a tartar build-up brought on by not chewing food for over five years (Moy eats through a tube). And having experienced Moy's acute distress at having her mouth pried open, she agreed with us that she would need to be sedated for any procedure.

We arranged that Sebastian would call her to discuss Moy's medical history and that she would have her anesthetist on hand for the procedure which we scheduled for today.

I got there a few minutes early. Vikram drove us in because I needed his help to get Moy up the stairs . He settled us in the waiting area (a low, shallow couch almost impossible for Moy to sit comfortably or safely in) and we were soon invited into the inner chamber. I had to ask the nurse to hold my bag while I hoisted Moy to her feet and then shuffled her awkwardly to the examination chair. Swati, the dentist, was standing there with the anesthetist who looked a little stunned at Moy's condition.

He already had an injection prepared and since Sebastian hadn't yet arrived, I asked him what he was planning to give. He told me the generic name and said it would keep her asleep for at least three hours. I asked him what his back-up plan was in the event of a complication, though I could already tell that he didn't have one in mind, let alone in reality. He kept saying he wouldn't do anything without the pediatrician's "clearance" and I kept thinking "You aren't doing anything anyway, buddy."

Sebastian arrived, took one look at the total lack of preparation and skillfully ended the discussion by suggesting that we should do it in a properly fitted theater with general anesthesia and adequate emergency backup. Before we left, however, Swati suggested that we should get a special X-ray of Moy's teeth so that if there were any cavities, she could be prepared to do everything all at once once she was under general anesthesia.

I tried to explain again about Moy's aversion to anything touching her face, but Swati insisted that the X-ray would be a breeze. Sebastian, game for any challenge and cheerful as usual, carried Moy out to the car and we set off for the X-ray place. It was, of course, in one of the most crowded parts of the city at the end of a lane so narrow we had to wait for four other cars to back out before we could cautiously thread our way in.

How can I convey the difficulties of extricating Moy from a car? Her long, stiff, skinny yet curiously leaden-weight body just can't simply be lifted and carried by one person, in spite of her weighing only 70 pounds. But the doorway of a car only allows for one person to do it. So there is an awkward and tense wrestling stage (no graceful way to do it) before it is possible for another to assist. Sebastian and I managed this maneuver together and finally got her into the X-ray clinic where we learned, to no one's surprise, that there was no way on earth she would be able to cooperate with the requirements for a successful test (like sitting straight up unassisted in a chair, absolutely still with a stick in her mouth while the machine circled her head very slowly).

Defeated, we wrestled her back into the car and drove down the road to the dentist's clinic. As we did, Sebastian said jauntily, "This is good, actually. It gives us an idea of what people have to go through. We should be able to tell parents what is possible and what isn't. If the dentist had just listened to you in the first place . . ."

If she had just listened. 90% of being the parent of a child with special needs is fighting. And today, I'm tired of it. Going to the dentist shouldn't mean general anesthesia and total exhaustion, but if it does, it does. Yet there's no need to add unnecessary trips hither and yon when simply listening to the expert (that's me, folks) could avoid them.

Having Sebastian along for the ordeal made it so much easier. His presence was like a protective shield between me and Moy Moy and that sea of onlookers who stare and point and say stupid things. He lifted and carried and made jokes and kept us from dwelling too much on things we couldn't do anything about while reminding us that our going through this might make it easier for others in the same situation - somewhere further down the line.
The moment we parted, literally (we were in our car and he was sitting in his, about to pull out) - a man who had been watching with avid curiosity as we transferred Moy into the back seat and buckled her in, leaned his head inside the still-open door and said "HAS SHE BEEN LIKE THIS FROM BIRTH?"

I felt like answering him: "HAVE YOU?"

But instead I remembered my old friend Jesus who said "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."


chicu said...

Jesus was also a big fan of opening people's eyes, Jo. 'Have you?' is good.. and has a lot more class than my ruder," kya aap pehele se hi badtameez hain?" - which i have only used once, but thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

tp said...

Hi Jo,
Forgive me for my ignorance and lack of understanding.I'll be grateful if you could elaborate (for the sake of my own growth)on what is it exactly that hurt when the gentleman asked that question? Just that it expresses pity - which you hate for children with special needs ?
Is'nt it natural to feel so for those who have not had the experience of having one on their hands ?

Jo Chopra McGowan said...

TP, good question. And a hard one to answer. In fact, as I thought about it later, I realized that the "public" really can't get it right with people with disability. Sometimes, as the parent of a young woman with special needs, I feel shut out and ignored by the world. Other times I feel assailed by unwanted attention. It's totally dependent upon my mood that day. I imagine something similar might be at work for people with the disabilities themselves.

That particular gentleman's question, however, didn't exactly express pity or sympathy as much as idle curiosity. What would he gain by knowing if Moy had been "like that" from birth?

I find common courtesies the best. A smile, an acknowledgement of our existence, an offer of help if it seems we are struggling with a physical task (I've had strangers lift Moy's wheelchair up on the roof rack for me, or offer to carry her up a flight of stairs).

Thanks for asking.