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How I Ended Up in the Emergency Room–and What Came Later

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I’m going to have to ask you to bear with me this morning.  Of course, you always have to bear with  my typing, because I’m bad at it, but today I’m likely to be worse. 

And the content may be a little incoherent.

We’ll get there.

Before we get there, though, let’s go back in time a little.

Right after Bill died, say about a year or so, I developed a problem. I started to grind my teeth in my sleep.

I didn’t know I was doing this, which means I also didn’t know that this is the most common way for  teeth to develop tiny hairline fractures.

And what I also didn’t know was that tiny hairline fractures are what most often lead to tooth absesses.

One afternoon, in whatever year this was, I decided to take the boys to the movies in a mall a fair distance away.  Disney’s Hercules was out  in theaters, and it was the kind of thing they liked then, so we went to that.

I bought them soda and candy and we sat down and started to watch the movie, and about halfway through I got up to go to the ladies room.

I was just about to wash my hands when I caught sight of my face in the mirror.  It wasn’t that I had, as the dentist said later, “some swelling.” 

I had a really impressive amount of swelling.  It looked like I was carrying half an inner tube  under my upper lip.  And I could see it visibly getting larger, albeit just a little.

And it hurt.

It really hurt.

It hurt worse than labor.

I didn’t want to deprive the boys of their movie, so I managed to get through it, but we stopped at the dentist on the way home. 

He took me in immediately, checked me out with x-rays,  gave me a couple of prescriptions and made me make an appointment for a week from the day. 

It turned out that I had not one, but sixteen interlocking tooth abcesses, all of which needed root canals and caps.

Let me point out that, in my family, you get one of two kinds of teeth.  You get teeth like my father’s, which fall apart if you so much look at them with cotton candy.  Or you get teeth like my father’s father, which can be neglected for decades and subjected to every known bad food and bad drink, and still be perfect.

My grandfather thought toothpaste was a government plot to rob immigrants of their virilty.  He died at eighty four, never having had so much as a single cavity.

Guess which kind of teeth I got.

Anyway, I got all that cleared  up, and that was a long time ago, but when my jaw started to feel a little funny on Thursday, I remembered it.

The problem is, all my jaw felt was “a little funny.”  And when it actually started to hurt, all it took to make it feel fine was a little aspirin.

So I started waffling, and I waffled and waffled.  And the pain got worse.

But then the pain would get better and I’d be fine for hours.  And then the pain would get worse.

By the time I actually reached the point where the pain was unbearable, it was six thirty on Friday night.

Here is something true:  the one thing you are not going to find at six thirty on a Friday night, especially in summer, is a dentist.

What you can find is an emergency room. 

So, mindful of the fact that I was in no shape to do much of anythng, I called my friends Carol and Richard and got a ride to the emergency room.

Now, at the time I called to ask for the ride, I was in a lot of pain, and I wasn’t very clear on what was going on, which would cause some problems later.

I was, however, in enough pain so that I didn’t realize I hadn’t been clear.  My older son was home for the week-end, and I wanted him to come along for moral support, and he realized I hadn’t been clear, but there was no talking to me at the time, and no way I could have understood anything anyway.

Richard left his dinner to pick me up.  Matt and I got out at the emergency room entrance, Richard went back home to eat his dinner, and then we waited.

At this point, a number of things conspired to make everything even worse.

First, Carol and Richard do not live anywhere near the emergency room.  It’s at least a half hour drive to the closest hospital. 

Second, it was a slow night in the emergency room.  The wait was no wait.  I’d hardly sat down before I was called in.  I’d hardly been called in than I was seen and prescribed for.

Third, somewhere in all that, my mouth decided to play another of its little games  and the pain pretty much disappeared.

For a while.

The “for a while” is important, because if the pain had just disappeared, things would have been a lot simpler.

Instead, Richard had barely gotten home when Matt called him to tell him I was done.

He got back into his car and headed out again, still not having had any dinner.

I sat in the waiting room and read all the material about what I should worry about the drugs they’d prescribed for me.

One of those drugs was Vicodin, which I had never taken before, and of which I knew nothing except that House was addicted to it.

It had one of those lists of warnings that would make any sane person swear off medication forever.

So when I got into the car, I was joking about how I’d just as soon skip the painkiller because it didn’t sound worth it.

And anyway, I don’t like painkillers.  I don’t like feeling out of it.  I don’t like being in the kind of mental condition where I can’t think and I can’t read and nothing makes sense.

I know there are people who get addicted to this kind of thing, but I think I can say with some certainty that one of them is never going to be me. 

That spacey “high” feeling that makes millions of people crave opiates does nothing but get me annoyed.

At any rate, when we got to this town’s single all night pharmacy–by then, it was around nine o’clock–I was still feeling more or less okay, but I was also just a little twingy.

And then, between the time Richard and Matt went in to pick up the prescription and the time they came out, twingy had gone to definite pain. 

So when they came out to ask me if I’d been serious and didn’t want the Vicodin, I was working on heavy duty denial and unable to make much in the way of sense.

They then went back in and tried to work it out, and at that point they realized that Vicodin has tylenol in it.

And tylenol does absolutely nothing for me.  It doesn’t relieve pain.  It doesn’t reduce fever.

So, since it seemed that I was hinky about taking the Vicodin in the first place, and the Vicodin seemed to be tylenol based and unhelpful in the second place, they bought the antibiotics alone.

We got home–to my house–about quarter to ten, and by then I was in active, really nasty pain.

We then stood around talking about the situation, sort of.  It was only sort of because I was in no shape.  But in the m iddle of all that discussion, Richard said that maybe he should go back and pick up the Vicodin, except that didn’t make any sense, because since it was Tylenol based, it wouldn’t have any affect on me.

But Vicodin isn’t tylenol based.  It’s got tylenol in it, but it’s hydrocodone based.  It’s in the same class of drugs as codeine.

And, unlike tylenol, those work on me just fine.

Matt and Richard packed up and went all the way back to the  pharmacy.  Carol sent me a frantic message that Richard hadn’t eaten yet and was about to fall over.  I was in so much pain by then I read it but didn’t understand it. 

Then Richard came back,  handed me the Vicodin, and took off for home and finally dinner. 

It was ten thirty.

Did I mention that I have really good friends?

I also have some new and interesting knowledge about the way my body works.

The tylenol in the Vicodin is supposed to “kick start” the hydrocodone. 

True to my history with tylenol, it still doesn’t seem to do much of anything to me.

So once I’ve taken a pill, it takes a really long time–like, say, an hour–before anything starts happening.

But once it does start happening, it’s really–well, happening.

There is no longer pain in my jaw, as far as I can tell. 

This is good, because that pain was getting really out of hand.

But the real effect of this stuff on me is–it makes me the calmest person on the planet.

I’m not high, mind you.  I’m just really, really, really, really, really, really calm.

And I’m supposed to take five of these things a day for two days.

I figure that by the end of the week-end, I’m not just going to achieve world peace, I’m going to be world peace.

In some ways, it’s a little disconcerting–or would be, if I could work up the energy to be disconcerted.

I did manage to work up the energy to write this post.  I even worked up the energy to open the latest Gregor and look at it, but I couldn’t come up with a single idea for what was supposed to come next.

I listened to a little Paganini.  I’m not sure if I heard most of it.

And I know, of course, why they don’t give this stuff as anti-anxiety medication.

No work would ever get done again.

Even so, this is probably the most effective anti-anxiety medication ever made.

They could announce the start of a nuclear war in fifteen minutes, and I wouldn’t be able to work up enough alarm to turn on the news.

I’m going to go off and be calm now.

Written by janeh

June 22nd, 2013 at 8:20 am

Posted in Uncategorized

6 Responses to 'How I Ended Up in the Emergency Room–and What Came Later'

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  1. Kickapoo Joy Juice. It’s an old “Li’l Abner” series. They discover–this is the height of the Cold War–that ingesting enough of the Kickapoo Indian’s traditional hooch renders one immune to nuclear weapons. Then they realize that a nuclear attack would do less damage to the US than having everyone drunk on the stuff.
    I’m glad your calm is enhanced. Be well.


    22 Jun 13 at 8:34 am

  2. Good luck with getting the tooth problem resolved.

    When I had my wisdom tooth out, they gave me something, I think it was codeine, a tiny useless-looking pill, which didn’t seem to be having much effect until the thought that my mouth should be hurting drifted into my mind and when I really tried, I realized, sure, it hurt, but it didn’t matter. Nothing really mattered. I was aware it hurt, but wasn’t feeling any pain. And then my mind drifted away from my teeth again.

    Now, the stuff they give you for a colonoscopy makes you remember little and feel less, but in my case, makes me feel completely alert and competant as soon as I come around. This feeling is highly misleading. There’s a good reason they insist you have an adult take you home after such ‘procedures’.


    22 Jun 13 at 8:58 am

  3. I often wonder how the human race survived when the best dental care available was a pointy stick and a sharp blow with a rock. :/ I recently had an abscess that took 2 courses of antibiotic to clear up before the root canal could happen. The pain was really bad…worse than a gall bladder attack or, as you point out, labor.

    For me, Vicodin combines the best features of Valium, Demerol, and marijuana. It doesn’t hurt, you don’t care if it did, and you’re all floaty and you sleep REALLY well. What never made sense to me with House was that if he was taking enough to affect his leg pain, he should have been far more mellow. It’s really hard to be an aggressive asshole on Vicodin.

    Although I always enjoy the brief mental vacation of medically sanctioned Vicodin use, I taper myself off as quickly as possible because the lackadaisical effect is annoying. Luckily Tylenol works very well for me. You must have a unique chemistry for it not to have any effect. It gives my husband vivid, unpleasant, recurring dreams.

    Good luck with the teeth. Bad teeth can make your life miserable, and cost a fortune.


    22 Jun 13 at 12:30 pm

  4. Some people point out that due to the diet in the old days, people had fewer cavities. Nevertheless, there are all those dental ailments that aren’t related to high sugar diets, people who just inherited poor teeth, and of course damage due to accident or attack. As my mother used to say in some of her more worried moments, infections in the mouth can be rapidly fatal if not treated promptly. Modern medical care might have its failures and flaws, but I’d take it over any of its predecessors, no matter how many novels I read in which the local wise woman cured everything from arrow wounds to cancer with locally-grown herbs.

    I think most of the comparatively few drugs I’ve taken have had the intended effect on me, and only that one. I don’t take tylenol, though. I was always used to taking aspirin, and I figured if I’m going to risk either my stomach or my liver for mild pain relief, I’d rather it be my stomach.


    22 Jun 13 at 4:40 pm

  5. Vicodin isn’t the same for everyone, though. I had a prescription for it when I had surgery on my hand, and it helped with the pain but put my head in a weird place – kind of floaty. But not remarkably so, just slightly. I was actually kind of disappointed – I mean, what on earth was House thinking of?

    But maybe he had your reaction.


    22 Jun 13 at 7:40 pm

  6. I don’t think I’ve ever used vicodin. But I had a tooth removed last week and was given a prescription for Panadeine Forte for pain relief. The cure was worst than the disease because I got 4 hours of severe stomach pain after taking 2 capsules. The only conclusion is that some people have side effects and others have none.

    I hope Jane’s dentist can solve her problem!


    22 Jun 13 at 10:12 pm

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