To start with, both of my kids have terrible teeth. So do I. Isn’t that the way it goes? To add to this, until recently, E has not let us anywhere near his mouth in terms of brushing. Other special needs parents can commiserate. Teeth are one of the last things on the long list of things to take care of with a child like E. I have taken E to the dentist for his 6 month check-ups to get him used to the idea of the dentist. He has responded well but hasn’t let her do much in the way of an actual checkup. One day, after E fell asleep in the car, I noticed his teeth. The ones he never lets me get a close look at. They were rotting through. The next day at school, his teacher called me to tell me that one of his molars had chipped. E is a grinder. Whenever he gets excited he grinds. The dentist and I had talked about needing to put E under to fix his teeth that I was sure were deteriorating, but we wanted to wait a bit longer until there was more obvious damage. I knew it was a thing we had to do most likely, it was just a matter of when.
We chose a day. I wasn’t too nervous about it. E has been under before. Two different times for minor procedures. Procedures that took under 30 minutes. This was going to be about two hours. The dentist wanted to x-ray, do a cleaning, seal his teeth that didn’t need fixing and just get a general idea of what needed to be done. She said that she could restore the front teeth but those fillings often don’t adhere as well and need to be fixed later. Wanting to avoid going under again I told her to just pull those. E has done a lot better with doctors lately and I wasn’t worried about the waiting time before the procedure as much as in past times. E did well leading up to the procedure. He was scared when we took him back to the OR, but he let them put the mask on, and fell asleep pretty quickly.
Often times I look back at situations in my life and I think of the person before the situation. The person who has no idea what is going to hit her. What I thought would be a very routine procedure, and it was in a sense, no complications, turned out to be a traumatic experience for the both of us. I remember waiting for him to wake up and thinking, the worst of it was over. He might be a little grumpy, but I would take him home and we could watch a movie and lounge for the rest of the day. Turns out I underestimated the situation quite a lot. A typical five-year-old, I could have prepped for the surgery. I would have been able to explain what would happen. He would understand that teeth fall out, and they grow back. I would have been able to explain why he was hooked up to wires and most importantly, I would have been able to adequately comfort him. That is what kills me the most with these situations. I feel helpless. I have no idea what is working for him. If I am helping him, if I am making the situation worse. I don’t know what he needs from me. I do my best anyway, trying to guess what he needs. It’s such a hard thing as a parent, to see your child in so much distress and not be able to do a thing.
They told me in the recovery room that he would start waking up slowly and may get a bit squirmy and grumpy. After 40 minutes of waiting, I asked the nurse when he would start to wake up. He said it could be up to an hour. After he left the room, E sat straight up. For 10 minutes he just sat there rather catatonic. I thought the worst was over. I thought I had lucked out and he was going to be fine. No grumpiness. However, right at the 10 minute mark, he seemed to realize what was happening. He started grabbing at the wires, he started screaming and trying to get away from everything and nothing. For his privacy, I’ll won’t go into the details of the behavior. It’s sufficient to say, he was very upset about everything. He was feeling funny about the anesthesia, his numb mouth, the blood, the cords, the new feeling in his mouth. It was a long 30 minutes of trying to calm him down and keep him from severely hurting himself. I almost asked if they could give him a sedative, but I thought that once we got out of there and he knew we were going home that he would be okay. In the past that has worked. This time he was too agitated, disconnected, and out of control to be able to realize what was going on. He wouldn’t sit in the wheelchair so they had to wheel both of us out with him on my lap flailing and screaming. A few years ago, I was very aware of E’s movements when he was in this kind of state. I anticipated his moves more and acted defensively to avoid getting hurt. It didn’t work all the time, I still had my share of split lips, black eyes, broken nose, etc. This time not as trained as I used to be I took my eyes off his head. We were about to leave the hospital, and I was keeping my eyes open for my sister who was driving us home. Right at that moment, he hit his head back at me full force straight toward my face. There was a huge crack and everyone around me stared in shock, not sure what to do. I told them I was fine, because I didn’t really have any other options at this moment. I just wanted to get E in the car as quick as I could. With the help of 3 people, we finally got him in. My sister dropped us off at home and the meltdown continued. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him for more than a second or he would try to harm himself. Out of all of his meltdowns, this was the worst. Adding to that, he is a lot stronger than he used to be. With my nose in so much pain, I had to sit there and try to hold him and keep him safe. I had no idea if this was making it worse or better for him. I just was trying to do anything I could to help him and keep him from harming himself. I had Eric come home from work early and help me, but his work is an hour away, so I still had to wait. When E calmed down enough to look in the mirror he was so upset. He kept asking for his teeth back on. I was heartbroken for him, not being able to explain in a way that he would understand what had happened to his teeth. I finally was able to take advil once Eric got home, and he took over for me. I shut myself in my room for the rest of the day. My nose was hugely swollen. It took me about 3 days until I felt I could parent again. His behavior currently is not as bad as it was that day, but he’s still had an increase in self harm and meltdowns. The third day after the surgery, he started to have a meltdown. I felt like I was up to the task again to help him. I was nervous about it, but I tried to comfort him and help him. I started showing him old photos on my phone and he started to calm. After a few minutes, he turned to me and said, Mommy big hug? I gave him a huge hug and he stayed that way for a full minute. I felt like maybe I was adequate as a mother after all.
He doesn’t understand the situation still. He still asks me to put his teeth back on daily and then tries to take my teeth off when I say later. I still have pain where he hit me. The black eye went away, the swelling has subsided some and I went to the doctor for an x-ray. The doctor confirmed a break but didn’t think that it needs to be reset. He thinks the crookedness is because of swelling. I guess we will see. If I’m still having problems in a few weeks, I will go to an ENT.
I’m not sure really the purpose of writing this is. Not for sympathy. That is usually why I avoid writing about certain things. I don’t want the pity. I know that I go through hard things and this was difficult, but I am overwhelmingly grateful for all of the blessings that I have. For my healthy children, for an amazing dentist, for amazing nurses that helped us through it. For family, for friends. Things could always be much worse than they are and I am grateful for my situation. Writing this is mostly cathartic. And a little bit about sharing my story. There are a lot of things that happen that I choose not to share. I share tidbits here and there, but a lot of the really hard stuff I don’t. My life is so much more than autism and I like to celebrate everything. When I do share, I like the humanity of sharing my stories and hearing other people’s. We live in a culture of everything being perfect for the internet. Everything is curated for social media. That’s not life. Life is real, full of good and bad. Hard and harder. Joy and happiness.