I’ve always hated going to the dentist, and the older I’ve gotten, the greater my loathing. When the pain or discomfort is in my head, I can’t separate myself from it like I can with a smashed toe or burned finger. Mouth pain is too close. It feels crazy-making.
So when I learned several years ago that I’d have to get my wisdom teeth out, I put it off for as long as possible. But last spring when I made like a two-year-old and began wisdom tooth teething, I pulled on my my big-girl panties and set an appointment with the oral surgeon. All the professionals said that the way the ruptured bottom right wisdom tooth was positioned, it would get cavities and eventually rot. Same as the top one. (The bottom left tooth wasn’t a problem since it was wedged under another tooth and might never emerge — messing with it posed a greater risk than leaving it alone — and I didn’t have a top left wisdom tooth.)
At the pre-op appointment with the surgeon, he said there was a risk of nerve damage. (I thought “nerve damage” meant a life-long stabbing nerve pain in my jaw, so when the surgeon explained that “nerve damage” meant a tingling numbness, I was like, Oh hell yes, that sounds lovely.) The surgeon also said the surgery would cost a minimum of $1200. He said they didn’t prescribe narcotics because prescription Ibuprofen and Tylenol worked better, and they’d sent home a topical gel, too. The nurse said I could pick what kind of Ben and Jerry’s I wanted to take home.
The closer the surgery got, the more I relaxed. The decision had been made. So be it. To prepare for the tedious recovery, I ordered four books and made planned to sign up for a free Hulu trial when I got back from surgery. I cleared my schedule and cleaned my room. I filled all my prescriptions, swished with Peridex, and borrowed my husband’s sweats.
The surgery was marvelous. I adore surgery, really. There’s something so utterly divine about passing out so completely, so deeply. I had wonderful, unmemorable dreams for a couple of blissful seconds and then all too soon voices were asking me if I could hear them and, before I could even open my eyes, people were shoving me into the car.
My husband had to hold my head up whenever he drove around turns, and when we got home, he drove all the way around the house to the front door so I wouldn’t have to go up steps. Which was smart because my legs kept giving out, much to the children’s enormous mirth. My son took photos, and in the one video he took (and that I just watched today), I flipped him off, ha!
I was fine.
I iced my face religiously. I made phone calls. My parents visited and brought bananas for smoothies. I ate the boxed mac and cheese they sent home (they didn’t send home the ice cream!), and binged Fleishman Is In Trouble and started read a bunch of Viola Davis’s book and took pain meds and slept.
My younger daughter went to the store and sent me a photo of the Ben and Jerry selection and I picked out three kinds (so there, doctor’s office), but my numbed tongue made the ice cream taste hot so I didn’t eat any.
She brought me flowers, too.
I took the meds. I continued icing my face. I slept. I made smoothies. I ate veggie soup that a friend gave me ahead of time. I ate an egg. The tooth pain wasn’t bad but my brain didn’t feel like it was working. I had constant headaches and I felt woozy, probably from the meds. I read and watched Tiny Beautiful Things (which I don’t like — it’s overdone). I made a gingery curried chicken noodle soup.
I switched to heat compresses. I kept going with the meds. I filmed the making of a fenugreek-spiced Gouda and made mozzarella (my husband and kids did all the heavy lifting and dishwashing, and I didn’t talk to the camera — I’ll do voice over later).
I visited the cows, and I ran errands with my husband.
seltzer with a splash of sweetened home-canned grape juice concentrate
I very slowly ate a piece of pizza. The pain began intensifying. My head was still hurting.
I slept in the morning and in the afternoon.
I read my book and watched Pain Hustlers which was fitting and also really good. I still had that constant headache and the tooth pain was worsening. I began to notice a pattern: after taking the Ibuprofen, it’d take 45-55 painful minutes to kick in, I’d get 3-4 hours of relief before it wore off, and then I’d have to wait another 3-4 hours until I could take my next dose. I felt pathetic, like Mrs. Dubose in To Kill A Mockingbird, counting down the hours till I could take my next pill. Tylenol and the oral gel didn’t noticeably help, but I took them anyway.
I ate lots of chicken noodle soup and tenderly munched on chips (yay, texture!). My husband and I started watching season two of The Bear. We ate the Peanut Butter Cup (my fave) Ben and Jerry’s — he got the chunks and I ate the smooth part. I watched the newest season of The British Baking Show.
That night, I woke up in pain an hour before my 2am alarm went off for my meds. I waited an hour, took the pill, and then waited another hour for it to kick in. While I waited, my husband rubbed my back (and then fell asleep), and I paced the floor and cried a little.
I called the surgeon’s office and we increased the meds to the full amount: 3200 mg Ibuprofen and 3000 mg Tylenol. I worked out an around-the-clock schedule to best manage the pain. They also prescribed Oxycodone, which my husband picked up on the way home from work. The doctor said Days 3 and 4 would be the worst, so I tried to behave as normally as possible, hoping to pull myself through. I made a chocolate cake and washed dishes. I pierced my blue cheese and packaged some of the cheeses. I went for a very slow, very short walk. I visited the cows. I baked bread and made a big pot of spaghetti.
Claire Saffitz’s recipe: the frosting’s a bust, the cake’s a triumph
That night after much hemming and hawing (I’m scared of drugs, my daughter had thrown up after she’d taken it, and my brother said it made him weird and grouchy), I took an Oxycodone and went to bed. I slept for about 2 hours, dreaming about being in pain the whole time, and woke up shortly after midnight, in. so. much. pain, pain that was all the more startling because I thought I’d pulled out the big guns and it wasn’t touching it. I took my regular prescription Ibuprofen, but it took two hours to kick in instead of one (probably because I’d fallen behind on pain management). The pain was deep — in my cheekbones, in my lower jaw and chin, my temple, my ear. I watched some dumb Netflix, cried, tried hot compresses, squeezed my husband’s hand for a long time, and finally fell into a fitful sleep around three.
I caught back up on my pain management and began functioning (I made pancakes and phonecalls, edited video, baked bread), but I was exhausted, emotionally wrung out from the relentless pain and the lack of sleep. I felt like an absolute baby for hurting so badly, or else a hero for hurting so much and surviving. I couldn’t decide.
And then I started worrying that I had an infection or dry socket or some other horrible problem. The doctor wanted me to come in, but I couldn’t imagine driving anywhere because I felt like crap or having anyone poke around in my mouth, so I called my husband and wailed about my woes — I’m sick of meds, I’m sick of hurting, I can’t do this, I’m sooo tired, I want to be normal, I hate taking medicine, I’m killing my liver, I miss exercising, my brain isn’t working, I can’t make decisions, I want someone to tell me what to do, when will this be over — and he reminded me that it’s fine to take tons of medicine for a week or so, so why don’t I just take one of my anxiety pills leftover from when I did the show and try to sleep?
So my daughter photographed the inside of my mouth and there was no visible bone, no inflammation, no puss, no weird redness, and I was like, That’s it. I’m totally fine. This just hurts so wicked bad because I’m not a teenager anymore — the NORMAL age for wisdom teeth extractions — and my face is freaking set in its bonehard ways. I am fine and I will make it. Period.
And then I took an anxiety pill and passed out on the sofa for the rest of the afternoon. We went to my brother’s house for supper that night, and my face killed, but then I took another anxiety pill at bedtime, slept the whole freaking night, and woke up with hope in my heart.
Today. First thing, I tried to cut back on my meds because I’m kinda stupid like that, but 15 minutes later I caught myself (or the pain caught me, rather), took the full amount, and now I’m sitting on the sofa in front of the fire, fuzzy-brained and tired, but feeling okay because I know that I’ll be able to sleep tonight, a pill that works, yay!
I am on the mend. I will be done with this soon.
- If you can afford it and if your dentist recommends it, get your kids’ wisdom teeth out when they’re teenagers. My youngest is the only one who hasn’t had his out yet and I’m gonna make sure it happens within the next year.
- I’ve lost my taste for coffee. I’ve tried to drink it twice and it tastes like crap. Tea’s good, though.
- I miss miss miss feeling strong. Since I love being sedentary, the fact that I miss exercising — as in, I miss it to the point of pining after it — is a little surprising.
- I have this Hulu trial for another three weeks: recommendations, please?
This same time, years previous: seven fun things, the quotidian (11.1.21), a hallowed eve, egg bagels, lickety-split pizza crust, smoking, cilantro lime rice, listening, watching, reading, apple farro salad, stuffed peppers, instead of quiche, posing for candy.