Another Day in the Life Episode

Actually, it should be a week in the life of Matthew.  Poor guy.  Last week he woke up and the side of his face was all red and swollen.  He was complaining that he didn’t feel good and kept rubbing it all day.  We’ve been through enough illnesses that I know when he’s faking it so we went to the Urgent Care center for a check.  His ears and throat looked okay.  The doctor looked in his mouth.  She didn’t see anything obvious but thought maybe it was a tooth ache.  That was on a Friday, meaning nothing could be done until Monday morning.  It was a long weekend.

Family and long time followers may remember that after much stress we had found a dentist who would work with Matthew.  Unfortunately, they were a pediatric office and our last visit they talked about how they really weren’t set up to handle a “big person”.   At 150lbs Matthew was right at the limit of their equipment.  Still, as difficult as it was to find someone who would take both our insurance and Matthew was one of those tasks that I put way down on my priority list.  Until now.

Monday finally rolled around and I was on the phone early.  A friend had suggested one of the dental schools since they had a special needs program.  They said yes, they could see Matthew on an urgent basis but at their Gilbert office.  Could I be there in an hour?  Fifty miles.  Morning traffic.  But we jumped into the car and sped off.  After a pit stop at the gas station (lesson learned–don’t let the car run too low on gas) we breathlessly made it.  It’s a beautiful clinic and they are set up to see lots of patients.  They tried to do an exam of Matthew but without success.  Even with the most modern of x-ray equipment they weren’t able to see his teeth.  So as, in past experiences, they told me the only option was for Matthew to be given anesthesia and then they could take care of everything.  Unfortunately, they did not take insurance and the cost just for the anesthesia was $1500 to start.  They would schedule Matthew for their first availability which would be in three weeks.  Seeing that I was discouraged, the office worker recommended that I might try to find someone who took insurance.

When we got home (yes, driving much slower than the earlier trip) I got back on the phone.  A little searching and I found a dentist on the insurance who worked with special needs kids and adults.  When I called they offered to get Matthew in the next day.  I was excited that it could be this easy.

Even though we were a few minutes early on Tuesday the assistant did not keep us waiting.  I was surprised when Matthew willingly sat in the dental chair.  Until the assistant tried to lay it flat when the dentist came in.  Then it was “NO”.  And in no uncertain terms Matthew became Matthew.  No, he wouldn’t sit in the chair with it tipped back.  No, he wouldn’t cooperate.  No. No. No.  “Sigh.”  The dentist folded his arms and turned away from us.  I could get Matthew to sit in the chair but he wouldn’t tolerate lying down.  The dentist finally turned to me and said, “You apparently cannot manage your son. I cannot even look at his mouth unless he is supine.  The only thing I can do is take him to the hospital for work under general anesthesia.  You are done.”  With that he left the room.

Well, as you can imagine, that was pretty stressful.  We have friends with autistic and other special needs children.  Matthew is one of the most compliant of the group.  But he does have fears.  And like most of us, he has irrational fears.  I know that I am perfectly safe walking to the edge at the Grand Canyon and looking over the rail.  And yet, I can’t.  My feet will not work.  I also know that a cockroach will not hurt me but I scream and run like a crazy person when I see one.  For Matthew he fears, not the dentist, but the chair moving and his loss of control.  We talk and talk about it–but don’t tip his chair back.

So.  What to do next?  Interestingly, last month when checking out at the grocery store the cashier took a shine to Matthew.  She worked with him to bag our groceries and asked him about his cool shirt, etc.  She explained to me that she too, had a handicapped child.  And for whatever reason told me about her experience at Gomper’s Dental Clinic.  She said her daughter’s multiple problems caused other dentists to refuse to even look at her.  (Does that sound familiar?)  But she had success at Gomper’s.  I pulled that out of the back of my mind as we drove home from dentist #2.  When I got home I called to get some information.  I explained our predicament to the director of the program.  They had a cancellation on Thursday and she wondered if we could make it.  I’ll be honest, crying might have helped.  Plus they take insurance and if insurance doesn’t cover the procedure or if you didn’t have insurance they charge at the lower AHCCCS (Arizona’s medicaid) rates.  They did need a whole bunch of paperwork filled out showing proof of disability, medical history, etc.  BUT within minutes of receiving it the office called and asked if they could prescribe some sedation medicine prior to our visit to make things go easier.

This time Bob decided he’d better come along with us so that he could provide moral support.  Thursday morning I gave Matthew his pills (he’s had several different “sedation meds” in the past) and “one more time”.  At this office an experienced hygienist came out for Matthew.  I explained he was very nervous.  “Let’s see what we can do,” she showed us where to sit and took him in the room.  It was a straight view in to the room so I could observe everything.  The hygienist had an assistant and they spent several minutes just talking to Matthew (and of course, looking at his TV Guide).  She tried to sit him back but when he balked she immediately told him it was no problem and began to take x-rays.  Mind you, Matthew has never managed to have a successful x-ray of his teeth while awake.  We watched her take the first one (of the sore area) and breathed a sigh of relief.  At least that one was done.  Then she set about to take x-rays of all his teeth.  It was not a new fancy x-ray machine but she was efficient, her helper worked well with her, and they managed to get them all…with no repeats.

Bob and I looked at each other in amazement.  Matthew is 28 which means we have been going to dentists for at least 26 years and each time it’s been a struggle.  Could it be that it was as simple as finding the right person? 

After the x-rays were finished the dentist came in for his exam. Matthew continued to cooperate like it was something he had done many times before.  Wow.

So, his sore mouth?  Well, it turns out it wasn’t his teeth.  At the clinic they had given him an antibiotic in case it was an abscess and by Friday he was feeling better.  Maybe he had a sinus infection?  Who knows, but in two weeks we will go back and get his teeth cleaned.  We’ll see.

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