Friday, May 08, 2009

Fun with Gums!

Turns out I need three periodontal procedures; two can be done at the same time, but the third will have to wait until the other two have healed and until my insurance has rolled over. Two involve grafting new gum tissue onto places where it's missing, and one involves snipping gum tissue away from places where pockets between the gum and the tooth have allowed bacteria to collect, resulting in bone loss.

The periodontist was extraordinarily thorough. First he examined every tooth, calling out arcane descriptions to a scribe. "Fickle buckler on the ninth meziodontal tyrannosaurus!" (Okay, obviously I'm not remembering this precisely, but that's more or less what it all sounded like.) Then, after telling me, "This will be the worst part," he probed every millimeter of gum with a sharp instrument. It actually hardly hurt at all, which means he's good at what he does. Then he pondered his notes and drew up a treatment plan, and then he showed me diagrams and charts and explained in exhaustive and dizzying detail -- making notes in handwriting even worse than mine -- the treatment options for each situation. Then he had the scribe hold a magnifying mirror in front of my face, had me open my mouth, and showed me the three places that absolutely must be fixed now, as opposed to many others where the gum integrity's somewhat compromised but where he doesn't expect it to get any worse.

(Having my gums poked with the sharp instrument wasn't the worst part of the exam: looking at my magnified face in a mercilessly brightly lit mirror was the worst part of the exam. Ah, the perils of middle age!)

There's a two-week healing period and I'm leaving town June 10, so we've scheduled the first two procedures for May 18, if I'm not on jury duty. Right now, everything in my life is contingent on whether I'll be on jury duty starting Monday, or possibly the following Monday.

If I'm not on jury duty next week, I'll teach one final class, attend one departmental meeting, and go to two doctor's appointments (including the one with my PCP about allergy/arthritis/asthma issues). If I'm not on jury duty the following week, I'll have the periodontal procedures, and if I'm on jury duty long enough to have to reschedule the periodontal appointment, but not for the entire week, I'll be having lunch with one of my priests. If I'm not on jury duty and do have the periodontal procedures, I may or may not be up to lunch, depending on how my mouth feels.

It's all very complicated. I need a flow chart to keep track of my life these days.

My sister had gum grafts some years ago and says they were hideous. My doctor said that the pain level depends on whether the putty he puts over the donor sites stays on or not: if it does, you don't feel anything, but if it comes off, you're very sore (and it can't be replaced).

When I told my sister how thorough he'd been, she snarled, "He probably knows my guy. My guy teaches the damn stuff."

"So does mine. Did you like yours?"

"His job was to inflict pain. How could I like him?"

Of course, I doubt that would be his description of his job. I'd asked my Gum Doc if he likes his job, and he says he loves it, and I said I was glad to hear that, because I'd always heard that dentists were miserable and had high rates of suicide. He said, "That used to be true, but not anymore. We've gotten a lot better at giving shots and handling pain, so people don't hate us anymore." My sister's Gum Doc was back in the dark ages, I guess. I hope his patients are happier now!

Meanwhile, the good news is that we're going to start a new Literature & Medicine discussion group, this one as part of a new program at VA hospitals, next year, and I'll be facilitating it. Yippee! I love Lit & Med, and I feel like I have a connection to the VA through Dad. I met the VA folks over lunch today, and they were all very nice and seemed enthusiastic, so I'm really looking forward to it.

Also, I express-mailed a Mother's Day card to Mom today. I'd already sent her a small gift, which she received today and seems to like. I'm terrible about mailing cards on time, though, and one of the things I regret about Dad's time in Reno is how holidays went by the wayside. He was in the hospital on Thanksgiving, and Gary and I were out of town on Christmas, because my father-in-law's funeral had been just a few days before. We meant to have a belated Christmas celebration with Dad and Fran when we got back, but it never happened. Dad said he didn't mind, but I minded. I've always loved Christmas.

So, anyway, I'm doing whatever I can to observe holidays on time with Mom, so I won't have those regrets with her when the time comes. The postal clerk who waited on me understood completely, even though $17.50 postage for a greeting card seems a bit extreme. "This is my first Mother's Day without my mother," she said, and we shared stories about our parents. I told her about Dad, and she told me about her Mom, who died very suddenly, in apparently perfect health and on vacation, at the age of 76. We agreed that there are much worse ways to go, and that we both think about our dead parents every day.

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