The Root of the Problem

I had great plans for the past week – my third last week before becoming a mother of two. I was going to tick off a whole lot of things on the “to do” list, such as:

– huge Baby City shop
– take friend for belated birthday lunch
– do fun-filled, half-term, holiday activities with The Princess
– arrange preggy belly photo shoot
– birthday and kitchen tea gift shopping
– clean-out my half of the study
– learn how to use sewing machine inherited from Gran
– buy final pieces for nursery
– go to theatre on date night
– host a weekend lunch

And the list could well go on… So yes, I had great plans for this past week and a bit. But my 37 week pregnant body, together with the universe, had other plans for me.

On Wednesday last week, I felt the onset of sinus pain. By Thursday it was making me miserable and I took myself off to my GP. He thought my pregnancy heartburn might be aggravating my sinuses. (Time to stop with the over-indulgences.) Still, the pain persisted. I tried to ignore it and get on with important things like attending Disney on Ice with The Princess last Friday. By Friday afternoon, I thought I just might be experiencing tooth pain, not sinusitis, so I called my dentist. He was in theatre that afternoon so he couldn’t see me until Monday. By Saturday mid-morning, I was literally lying on the couch, curling my toes and groaning in agony. A hot water bottle to the cheek brought some relief. Challenge: you try to get hold of a dentist in Joburg on a Saturday. Mine was on voicemail. Another I knew of in the area was out of town. Another, offering “emergency services” (which turned out to be a one-man show IF he answered his cell phone) was delivering a training course in Kenya.

The result was that I was referred to a medical centre somewhere in the vicinity of Strijdom Park. Not to be a snob, but it is an area I associate more with warehouse-based businesses or panel beaters rather than top medical practitioners. And of course I got lost on the way trying to find the centre. Evidently, asking the receptionist: “Should I travel north along Malibongwe Drive from the intersection with Republic?”, was a bad idea for the clarification of directions. I know we don’t have Table Mountain as a landmark in Jozi, but seriously, the general direction of Pretoria is north and the general direction of the CBD is south. Right? As a result, I wound up in Kya Sands at 10:27 am when I was supposed to be in Strijdom Park before the dentist closed at 10:30.

When I tore into the rooms at 10:31, dragging The Princess (who insisted on walking around in her socks) behind me, I was asked to fill in a form. At this juncture, I was in so much pain that the prospect of two pages’ worth of admin was more than I could face. I was more than happy to turn on the waterworks. I had applied Make Up Forever’s “Smoky Lash Mascara” that morning which is no longer available in SA in waterproof. (Evidently, people in emerging markets don’t cry.) Needless to say, in a few seconds, I had mascara running down my cheeks. I think myself and my toddler in her socks in the middle of winter were a real sight for sore eyes – even in Strijdom Park. Fortunately, one of the receptionists took pity on me (admittedly not the receptionist I’d called an idiot for not knowing north from south – understandably, she did not look very sympathetic). The nice receptionist filled out my form while I dictated my personal information to her in between sobs of pain.

I then got to see the dentist, while The Princess sat on my lap. She x-rayed my teeth, where I was complaining of pain, and could find nothing. Absolutely nothing. Fortunately, she was ethical and said she didn’t recommend performing root treatment if there was no evidence of any problem. At that stage, I was in so much pain I was tempted to tell her to rip out all three suspect teeth, but my better judgement prevailed and I tried to think about what to do next. The Husband was out cycling and not answering his phone and I wanted my mommy who was 1,200km away. The Mother-in-Law was about to board a cruise ship in Copenhagen and I realised that I was going to have to put my big girl panties on and make a plan myself. The Princess, however, had other plans. She chose this moment to flatly refuse to be strapped in to her car seat. No amount of begging, blubbing or beseeching would change her mind. At two years and three months old, she instinctively knew that in that moment, she had the power and she was going to use it.

Force was my only option.

Eventually, I managed to strap my kicking and screaming child into her seat, but as I climbed into the drivers seat, a defiant and triumphant little voice declared:

“Look, Mommy!” and she wormed her arms out of the car seat straps.

I turned away from her, took a deep breath, waited a few seconds and then told her very calmly and very clearly though teeth clenched in frustration and pain, that she’d better put her arms back in VERY QUICKLY! Miraculously, it worked! I tried to hide my relief that I’d managed to win this battle as she elicited a guilt-ridden cry of:

“Help me, Mommy!”

And so we were off. But where to? 1) The only dentist apparently available on a Saturday in this 12 million person city could find nothing wrong. 2) I had been on meds for sinus relief for three days and they were not helping at all.

I really wanted my mom.

Thank God, just then, The Husband called. He took me to our GP who was still finishing up with his Saturday patients. The GP surmised that I might be experiencing referred tooth pain from something to do with my sinuses, although he too, could not find much evidence of this. I spent the rest of the weekend popping Stilpayne, Panado and antibiotics which brought periods of relief followed by periods of intense pain.

On Monday morning I raced to my dentist. He too, could see nothing but suspected immediately from my symptoms that there was something going on inside one of my teeth and sent me to an endodontist. Yes, an endodontist. Before Monday, I had no idea that a branch of dentistry called endodontics existed. By the time I got to Dr J, I was so overwhelmed by the pain that I was in tears once again (but at least I’d remembered to apply my waterproof MAC mascara instead) and begging for his help. His x-rays could not reveal anything either but he strongly suspected that one of my back teeth on the left hand side was infected internally. As to whether it was a top tooth or a bottom tooth, he couldn’t even be certain because apparently intense pain often presents itself as referred pain. He then set about bashing and prodding each tooth to try to ascertain which tooth was experiencing the most pain so that he could figure out which tooth to open up. I felt like an actor who had to perform on cue to the pain signals (despite the fact that everything he did hurt) or else he would hack into the wrong tooth. I eventually blurted out:

“I can’t do this! I am so stressed at the prospect of misdiagnosing myself. It’s all really, really sore!”

I think if I wasn’t 37 weeks pregnant he probably would have given me a tranquiliser at this stage.

Fortunately, some more prodding and hot and cold tests and my apparently appropriate and somewhat differentiated squeals of pain led him to choose the correct tooth to open up and begin the first of a few procedures in what is commonly termed “root canal treatment”. Phew! This first stage he called a “pulpectomy” where he removed the “pulp” of the tooth containing all the inflamed nerves, etc. This was supposed to bring relief.

But it didn’t. Despite the local anaesthetic I was still in agony when I left his rooms. I took two more Stilpayne which brought some relief, but once they wore off a few hours later, I was in hell again.

The next day, Tuesday, I called Dr J as soon as his rooms opened, crying and begging him to fit me in to finish the root canal procedure that day instead of three days later, on Friday. He is one of those special kind of medical practictioners gifted with a brilliant bedside manner and who know just what kind of a note to hit with an hysterical patient:

“No, that won’t be possible,” he replied, “I squeezed you in for a pulpectomy yesterday and my day was all out of kilter as a result.”

Really, dude? Your day was out of kilter? Are you frigging kidding me here? I was blown away. But I was so desperate that I accepted his offer of squeezing me in to check things out at 1pm that day.

I climbed into his chair and he started prodding around to ascertain what the problem was. When he put pressure on the tooth in question I nearly went through the roof.

I think he got the message that there was still a problem.

Apparently I had a rare complication of some sort and the solution was to “adjust my bite”. Of course, as a layperson, I knew exactly what that meant. The previous day I had actually wanted to ask him to please stop speaking behind his little dental mask and to

e – n – u – n – c – i – a – t – e 

his words, rather than swallowing them at the end of every sentence. (Slightly patronising, though, so I refrained.) But, as a result, I later learned that I had completely misunderstood him. I learned that one needs to wait several days after a pulpectomy before the time-consuming process of having the root area filled in, is done. Thank you Dr Communication Skills for mumbling under your mask and telling me that I threw your schedule “out of kilter”!

Fortunately, that afternoon, I managed to find an endodontist who could look me in the eye, explain to me in simple English what had been done and what still had to be done, could warn me about unlikely, but possible, further complications and could set my mind at ease by opening up the tooth again and checking that everything that needed to be taken out, had indeed been taken out. Thank God for medical practitioners who can communicate with their patients!

The long and short is that after 8 days of being in varying degrees of pain, the pain finally stopped. After this root canal, experience, I feel almost ready for natural childbirth in 15 days time – with epidural, bien sur 🙂

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