Nick Janikian ‘13
The chair reclines as the oral surgeon presses down a button on the floor with her foot. She is reassuring, keeping a mundane but comforting conversation about my senior high school career flowing while she prepares the tools for the surgery. A drill, an IV needle with accompanying bag, filled with a mysterious liquid, and an assortment of other sharp looking tools not necessarily meant for the inside of the mouth all lie on a metal tray to my right. I am not worried, only antsy.
A large rubber tube with an opening in the middle is placed over my nose. The surgeon tells me to start taking heavy breaths. Laughing gas. I’m smiling almost immediately and stare at the plaster tiles on the ceiling. Each groove of the tiles is different, like thousands of rocks surrounding me in a cavernous enclosure. I’m floating now, my whole body becoming a giant balloon. The IV goes into a vein on my right arm, allowing what I think is water to travel slowly into my thirsty blood (it has been ten hours since my last bite of food or sip of water, doctor’s orders). The surgeon comforts me, asking if I’m feeling okay. I tell her yes, my voice a weak, giggling whimper. I’m still smiling, on the verge of laughter as I keep inhaling and exhaling through the contraption on my face. She places monitoring devices on my right index finger, right and left wrists. The beeps on the monitor send me into a state of desolate brain activity. Every thought stops and then starts again by the beeping intervals of the machine.
Another woman enters the room, smiling at me and asking if I remember her. Of course I remember her. She's the receptionist from the front desk. I then realize I have no idea how long ago it was I was out in the waiting room, inattentively flipping through a magazine as I awaited this procedure. I picture my father still sitting out there, reading his book and chuckling out loud at the witty little passages that he tried to explain to me (without much interest on my part, but considering the gravity of my situation, could I really be to blame?).
The surgeon tells me she is starting the anesthesia and if the ceiling starts to spin, it’s a perfectly normal reaction. She is correct in her explanation; the plaster tiles slowly rock back and forth, move into a swirling motion, and remind me of Van Gogh's “Starry Night”. I don’t fall fully asleep, yet I am not aware of what is happening to me. My perception of time is lost, my eyelids heavy and free. At certain points I feel awake, conscious enough to have a clear image of the surgeon and the receptionist removing my wisdom teeth. I do not know if this is a figment of my chemically impaired imagination or a murky reality.
The operation ends in a cloudy haze, my vision and motions like that of a car crawling through an October morning fog. I shuffle slowly back to the waiting room, my knees weak and loose. I am stuck in my own state of mind, not aware of others around me. My father escorts me out of the surgeon’s office and into the car.
I arrive home not feeling much pain, just the taste of iron from the blood in the back of my mouth. My spit is a vibrant red like that of a heavily dyed fruit punch. Two small gauze pads sit atop the bottom-back corners of my mouth. The surgeon told me these pads are vital for the forming of blood clots. Still, trying to talk with gauze layering my teeth is not a lighthearted affair. My father fills two bags with frozen peas and places them into tube socks. He tells me to hold them against my cheeks. This task quickly becomes tiresome so I use an elastic band to keep them in place as I watch television. Every twenty minutes, the pea-filled socks come off, go back into the freezer for twenty minutes and then return to my face. Twenty on, twenty off. Everything has become an exhausting process.
For my first night of rest (or rather lack thereof), I have been instructed to sleep in a propped up position with my back flat, body facing forward. This is unfortunate considering I cannot recall a single night in my entire life in which I’ve fallen asleep this way. With my head inclined by two pillows, I sit back in an armchair and try to sleep. My mouth is sore, the pressure from my jaw sharp and constant. My neck is tense, strained from this awkward position. I look like a vampire resting in his coffin. I can’t sleep so I move from the armchair to a sofa, propping myself up with more pillows. No luck. I move to another sofa and end up lying awake for 4 more hours until the sun comes up. All hope of sleep is lost.
My diet for the first few days after the surgery consists of pudding, ice cream, mashed potatoes, refried beans, jello, chicken broth and water. To some this may seem like a dream come true but the desire for hard, substantial food drives me to the edge of insanity. I miss the feeling of grinding up nutritious delights between my teeth, which have been rendered useless by inflammation and pain. My jaw throbs and my gums burn whenever I accidentally open my mouth too wide, generally yawning or trying to talk. I watch as my parents indulge in a delicious meal, munching away with powerful bites that I am utterly incapable of performing.
The swelling at my jaw line extends into my cheeks I appear as I did in my pubescent days, chubby and clueless. Frozen peas no longer help. I sprawl my body across the couch and escape reality, entering a world of sitcom reruns and romantic comedies. Daytime TV programming proves to be almost as dreadful as my appearance.
Five days in, the bleeding has long since ceased and the swelling starts to fade, my skin no longer stretches across my face in an unequal fashion. These early teases of a healthy recovery make each day move by quicker, sunrise to sunset no longer takes an unbearable amount of time. I close my eyes and fantasize about my first solid meal: a juicy steak, cooked medium-well, accompanied by a baked potato (no more of that mashed nonsense) slathered in a heap of almost melted butter. For dessert a slice of chocolate cake with thickets of creamy frosting. Ah, the sweet bliss of chewing once again like a person with a fully developed set of teeth. I can barely stand the thought of these foods, can barely wait for their triumphant return to my palate.
Seven days after the extraction I look into the mirror to see a face staring back that will not scare off innocent bystanders, pedestrians simply strolling down the sidewalk to bask in the afternoon sun. Jolts of pain throughout my mouth still occasionally take hold of me, but, for the most part, they are much more subdued than those in the exhausting days past. The rawness of the sites of incision remind me of fresh puddles of mud an hour after a torrential downpour, soft and loose atop the wet earth. The dissolvable stitches still protrude from the corners of the inside of my mouth, poking and prodding my tongue. Hopefully they will soon wither away and release their wretched grips on my fleshy mouth tissue.
By the passing of the tenth day, post-surgery, I have made a full recovery. I walk amongst the masses, once again a human, with the permanent absence of four useless teeth. The two teeth the surgeon allowed me to keep are stored in a small transparent plastic case. The case sits atop a shelf on my desk on display as a reminder of the experience. Whenever my eyes wander over to it, a chill sails up my spine, echoing flashbacks of what was and always will be the loss of my wisdom teeth.