That, actually, is a headline all of us could legitimately use for every year we lived in and didn’t die. The truth is, we don’t know all the small and large things happening around us that brought us just the smallest distance from death, both accidental and intentional, by people’s moves around us. Most of them accidental, of course.
But I am ending 2018 with the knowledge the an employee of my dentist of 20 years let the personal inconvenience I might have caused her in getting to her long weekend on time lead her to lie to me and not inform the dentist that I had stopped by with a serious dental problem that turned out to be a serious dental/sinus infection that could have spilled over to infect my brain by the time their office was open for business 6 days later.
If I hadn’t spent the next three hours wandering around Kearney, MO on foot looking for anyone who could advise me or treat my condition, being turned away from three different dental practices that were themselves booked full, and being told by a CVS minit clinic that they couldn’t help me on a dental issue, even though it involved my teeth cutting and gashing my tongue open, only to land back at the dentists office just before they left for lunch at 1 p.m. (their last appointment of the day turned out to be 2 p.m.) I never would have known that they had never discussed my issue with the dentist.
All of this is so very disjointed. Perhaps I should put a little chronology in place.
Ever since moving to Missouri in 1997 I had been the patient of Dr. W.R. Reed DDS, since he had been the dentist of my wife and her parents from when she lived in Missouri previously.
My kids went to his son-in-law, Dr. Kevin C Allman DDS, who shared the office with him, though not the practice.
Somewhere during the past couple of years, without any announcements being made to us, Dr. Reed took breaks for surgeries, and ultimately retired, and we found ourselves as patients of Dr. Allman.
During that time frame we had moved from living near Kearney to living near North Kansas City, but continued our journeys to Kearney for Dental care and also eye care, which we have and continue to have with Dr. Barry Bowles, O.D., of Kearney Vision Care.
While we have had nothing but good care and service with Kearney Vision Care, our dental care has become more problematic. The four day a week dental schedules have proved trying at times, as has getting any contacts for emergency dental care when teeth have cracked or fallen out. In the past couple of years my wife has dealt with teeth where fillings have fallen out, leaving sharp edges that gouges her cheek and tongue so it was impossible for her to talk because the effort caused her tooth to rip apart her tongue. That required a wait to get into the dentist’s schedule. And it required my struggle with the receptionist to convince them to get her in.
During one of those episodes Dr. Alman had mentioned that a sharp edge could be smoothed off with a piece of fine sand paper. So when I started having issues with sharp edges on a tooth of mine, I started using the fine sand paper from a bicycle tire repair kit to take care of the issue. I certainly didn’t want to wait to get into the dentist’s office.
So we had me taking care of my own sharp edges, which seemed to work. And during this timeframe I continued to have the issues I usually do with biting my cheek or lip, though sometimes I wondered if they weren’t getting more prevalent. Dr. Reed had at times smoothed teeth out to prevent this, and it had seemed to help, but dental checkups are months apart, and a lot can happen in that timeframe.
During the past month, say between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I seem to have an eruption of both sharpened teeth, cheek biting, and a sinus cough that seemed not excessive but incessant, and often interrupted my sleep for hours. I sanded my teeth more and more frequently, and during these weeks ended up with a gash in my tongue that made eating a chore to prevent irritating it. At one point it seemed I was sanding teeth on all sides of my mouth until suddenly things seemed better, except that the gash was there.
This lasted for a few days, and then suddenly, right at Christmas, it wasn’t sharp teeth everywhere, but as-if all my teeth had decided to move and slant inwards so my mouth became too small for my tongue to fit into it. It wasn’t too bad on Christmas, but by the day after I could not swallow or eat anything without my teeth abrading my tongue and irritating the gash near the place where I had smoothed the most serious of the sharp edges. And even though the edge wasn’t sharp, it hurt my tongue like skewers to have it touched anywhere near the gash.
Since my dentist would be closed Friday, and not open again until Wednesday for New Years, I decided to see how I was on Thursday morning.
It was worse, so we ran an errand for the kids at 9 a.m., which took longer than intended, and then called the dentist’s office, while on the way (though the receptionist did not know we were driving there as we called, my pain and anxiety over my condition being that severe). We were greeted with an its too bad sort of tone to the greeting that told us they were fully booked. To which we asked if the doctor could be talked to for advising on what to do about the pain. I had already given my name, and the receptionist asked me to give a number I could be reached so they could talk to the doctor when he had a break from a patient. To which I gave my phone number that they had on record, and heard the phone hang up without any pleasantry of ending.
So we continued our drive to the doctor’s office. My wife stopped off in the bathroom on the way in, so she didn’t see receptionist glare at me when I stepped up to the window in the office. When she finally said anything to me it was “why didn’t you call me back?”
“Because you told me you would be calling me back.”
“But you never left me a number.”
“I did, and then you hung up on me.”
“You hung up on me.”
“I gave my entire number and then the phone went dead.”
“No you didn’t.”
“Ah, I see, there was a misunderstanding, I gave my number and was certain you had gotten it, but your phone disconnected before you heard it.”
“Why didn’t you call me back.”
” Why would I call you back when I thought you had the number?”
“But you didn’t give me the number.”
“Yes, I can see this was a misunderstanding.”
“Why didn’t you call back?”
“I couldn’t call back when I thought you had the number.”
“You should have called me back.”
“I admit it was a misunderstanding. Does it matter whose fault it is? Can we just ask the doctor to advise on what to do.”
“We don’t have any openings. You should have called back.”
“Then I will just sit down over here until the doctor has a moment to advise what to do about my condition until he has time to look at me.”
When I went to sit down I was told there was no reason for me to be staying around. That they had no appointments. That I should leave.
When I wailed in pain, to match the volume of the receptionist responding to me, “why are you sending me away when I am in such pain!”
She said I had to leave at once for yelling in an office and upsetting their patients. I knew I couldn’t win that one — they would call the police for not leaving their private property, as they had the right to do. But since my wife had arrived near the end and not said anything. I told them I would leave, but asked her to stay and wait until the doctor could talk to her.
But they wouldn’t let her stay, and the hygienist said should would be afraid to be in the same room with my wife.
So I left while my wife also left and called back. The receptionist talked to her in a condescending tone and told her she would talk to the dentist and get back to her once he had a break from a patient.
Three hours later they hadn’t called either of us. I could detail what I did in those three hours, on foot, trying to find someone to help me. But the important point is that I finally wasted my efforts and had my wife join me back at the dentist’s parking lot. Where the dentist and staff just happened to be leaving for lunch at 1 p.m., and the basically the day, since they were closing early, without having said anything to the doctor, and definitely not calling us back about anything.
Dr. Allman talked to my wife, because I dared not talk to anyone lest they make good on their earlier threat to call the police on me. He told me to come back at 2:45 after his last appointment.
When he did examine me it turned out not to be my teeth that had moved, but my tongue that had gotten so enlarged that the pressure made imprints of my teeth on the edge of the tongue. And he could see the gouge in the lower right of the tongue that had a mirroring inflammation on the left side without an apparent gouge or reason. So he prescribed a pain opiod and an antibiotic even though he wasn’t sure there was an infection.
He had asked me what hurt, and I had told him I couldn’t tell whether it was the tongue or the teeth or the gums at any one point. But I can tell you now that I know that the inflammation and congestion in all my tissues that is was all three and my sinuses as well. My filing of the tooth might have eliminated the source of major irritation, but not before it let something in to infect my systems, and went through all of my tissues and cavities. The tongue became a roadway for something.
And that receptionist’s concern with getting out on time would have allowed me to suffer through 6 more days of buildup, if I was fortunate enough to last that long, or realize that I needed to get to the emergency room before all those overloaded systems in my head dumped over and overloaded the protection for my brain or some other equally vital component.
When I finally got the prescriptions later that evening from the pharmacy, and started to feel the effects spread through my system, by morning the swelling was down far enough in my tongue to not have jabs of pain every time I swallowed or tried to eat something. But it also let me feel the other places in my head where the infection and pressures had penetrated, and still give me moments when I cannot mentally form words, and have problems putting things down to writing.
Is my title claim to this blog dramatic? Yes, Is it hyperbole? No. Is the likelihood of my actually dying a stretch? No. Was the percentage that high? Probably not, but it definitely was a plausible possibility. And the pain and misery that would have occurred in any of the cases is definitely sure, and definitely was preventable.
I shouldn’t have had to risk the threat of being hauled off by the police to get my dentist to take a look at an urgent case on his steps that took him less than 15 minutes — less time than the receptionist took trying to avoid doing something about it. The real tragedy, beyond the one I described, is that she actually took more time trying to save time by allowing me more pain (I have yet to describe my 3 hours running around Kearney, or what else ensued during my day), than she would have by offering me the minimal service I should have been able to expect.
All this to say, I need to go to that dentist again. But I cannot stay with him. I cannot use a dentist who will allow his staff to mistreat a patient so, and to accept care from people who I cannot trust to treat me in a safe and humane way.