Wednesday, May 12, 2010

How I Got Screwed By The Tooth Fairy

Noah needed some oral surgery. This fact alone made my wife, Paige, and me feel terribly guilty. What had we done wrong? Too many sugared snacks? Not enough brushing? A sign of some more fundamental flaw in our parenting? We met with our great surgeon and he confided that his own son had needed the same surgery when he’d been in dental school. That made us feel better. Still, the whole event felt deeply unfair in every way for everyone concerned (except for the dentist who’d be making a few grand from the surgery and the anesthesiologist who charged $600 an hour). The injustice of it all served as the launching point for what would turn into something of an emotional journey, and I think I wanted to stay there on the dock, only mildly irritated, rather than let myself sail off into genuine fear.

The night before Noah went in for his oral surgery, Paige and I realized that neither of us have ever been put under for any medical procedure. She didn't tell me she was worried, so I didn't tell her, for fear I'd cause her concern. That was ridiculous. Paige is a worrier. I should have assumed she was concerned. Instead, I stayed up long after both if them were asleep, wrestling with my fears alone. I kept myself occupied with my normal late night insomniac pastimes; reading the op-ed pages of a digital handful of newspapers, listening to podcasts, opening just one more can of caffeinated soda and expecting to curse myself for going to bed with it half full, then cursing myself for finishing it. When I finally lied down I went into full-freak-out mode, allowing the worst kind of fantasies to play themselves out as waking nightmares in the darkness.

The next morning, we brought Noah in to the oral surgeon’s, after a forty-five minute drive from our small town to the slightly larger town up the highway. We were escorted into a little room and Noah sat on my lap while the anesthesiologist deftly gave him a shot before he knew what was going on. I held him and asked him to read the names of cities on a map of the U.S. on the wall, but in less than a minute his eyes glazed and his head lolled. He looked amusingly confused, but wasn't quite asleep when I laid him on the chair and left for the waiting room.

I couldn't sit still there for long. I stepped outside to grab some air, and I called my mom. When I confessed that I was nervous, she told me that Paige had posted a status update about her nervousness on her Facebook page before we'd left the house that morning. In a way, that made me feel better. My anxiety was validated, but it also gave me a job. It's my roll to be the one who says, "I'm sure it will be fine." Paige handles the worrying. Now I could focus on actively feigning confidence. I'm not sure how better poker players view bluffing, but for me a large part of bluffing involves not turning my brain off (which might appear different) but really turning it on and using the focus to make sure I don't do anything out if the ordinary. I did tell Paige about the call, and that I knew about her nervousness. Part of me wanted to let her know just how much I shared the feeling, in order to let her know she wasn't alone, as I'd felt the night before. I split the difference, telling her I was also nervous, but betraying nothing more about my anxieties with my voice or gestures.

To pass the time, I tried to shift my nervous energy to anger and disdain for Reader's Digest. I noticed a cover article about "The 100 Reasons Why We Love America". I flipped to the article, expecting a piece of piss-poor journalism. List articles are notoriously lazy. Also, I thought the theme of the piece would dictate something either painfully schmatzy or infuriatingly jingoistic. It tended toward the former, but it didn't disappoint in the piss-poor journalism department. I took notes to rail about it later on my blog, but when I told Paige about it she said it just sounded cruel. Which it was. But I still stand by my disdain for Reader's Digest.

Unfortunately, with the air drained out of my anger balloon, and with all the gears whirring in my head, I found myself contemplating the most horrid possibilities, outcomes so terrible I can't bring myself to describe them fully here. I wouldn't go so far as to say this was some kind of preemptive grieving. Instead, I imagined my own inability to participate in that kind of grief. It was like an extended trailer for an epic film about catatonia.

Then, Noah had the gall to draw things out further. The surgeon came out to tell us all had gone well, but Noah was choosing to take his sweet time in waking up. He came out a few more times to give us updates on Noah's continued unconsciousness. At this point I'd stopped worrying, but my anxiousness to see my boy grew and grew. It reminded me of those nights before my family would go to Disneyland when I was a kid; I'd lie in bed and remind myself that I needed to sleep to maximize my fun the next day, but I'd also be aware that every passing second of consciousness brought me closer to that moment when I'd see the Matterhorn rising above the skyline of Anaheim. Noah, half awake and wanting to be held by his daddy: That was my Matterhorn now.

Eventually the surgeon told us that, though most kids take about twenty minutes to wake up, in some cases it could be much longer, and the anesthesiologist had even called a colleague who told her about a case where the kid slept for seven hours. Noah didn’t break any records, but he slept for 900 more dollars of the anesthesiologist’s time.

After putting four grand in his mouth, Paige and I now had to calculate how much the tooth fairy would leave under his pillow that night for the teeth we’d paid to have removed. My next task is going to be haggling with my dental and medical insurance companies to convince them that they should take on some of these costs. So far they’ve covered $1500 (the $4000 is beyond that) of the surgery and refused to touch the anesthesiologist’s bill, on the grounds that it was elective, as though a five year old would have sat still under local anesthetic while a couple of his teeth were removed. I think, in the name of justice, the insurance companies should not only pay for the surgery and anesthetic, but because of their initial refusal, the time it will take to argue with them, and the stress at having our savings entirely depleted, if and when they finally relent they should have to hire someone to break into my house in the night (with any costs of damage added to the total) and silently slip a check under my pillow. That would really be the only fair way for the story to end.

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1 comment:

Kelsey said...

I feel bad for Noah, but it sounds like this surgery was harder for you and Paige!! Insurance companies should pay for the anesthetic, how do they expect a five year old to be awake through all that? I was 16 when I had my wisdom teeth removed and I was still put under (although I do have an unusual hatred/fear of any and all dentists). Hope the tooth fairy was extra generous to the little guy!