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When Writing Isn’t Enough

May 22, 2013

Four years ago, I experienced a “traumatic tooth extraction.” It was traumatic in the way we all think of trauma. But the term is clinical too. The procedure punctured my sinus and splintered my jaw. My regular dentist (who is awesome) couldn’t take the shards out without causing more trauma and infection, so my body had to work the shards out through the damaged gums. My gum expelled the shards to a certain point, the way a foot expels a splinter. My dentist then removed them.

Took a while for the jaw (and the patient) to heal. During that time, my husband and I considered suing the oral surgeon. In a nutshell, he did not read my patient form or he read it and did not note that I have asthma. He started the sedative drip, then stopped when he saw I was carrying an inhaler on my lap (as per the nurse’s instructions). Without sedative, I told him to stop the procedure. He went ahead. My husband and I considered suing. I still can’t quite name the reason(s) we didn’t. But instead, I wrote the story and published it. You can read it here, on page 6 of Hawaii Women’s Journal‘s inaugural issue.

This morning, a different (and better, kinder) oral surgeon performed what should have been the first of two surgeries to replace the tooth. We talked about asthma and music and our children. He told me to take a preventative puff on my inhaler. He stuck in the needle. The sedative worked. I felt relaxed. Relaxed and imaginative. Still, I was aware of the procedure and my body—especially my tongue and jaw—were very, very reactive. After, he told me he could not imagine if I hadn’t had the sedative. He also told me that despite his best efforts, the jaw was still too messed up—four years later—to place an implant. There was enough of it, as his scans had showed, but it was soft. He stuffed it with jaw from a “bone bank.” In six months I return to try again. What should have been two surgeries four months apart will now be three (just three, I hope), spread over ten months.

He also told me he knows the oral surgeon who did this. He said he worked in his office and lasted only thirty days because he couldn’t stand the practice. He said he and his colleagues are hoping the surgeon either retires or is sued. Then he told me I should have sued. I said wait… wait… one of the reasons I didn’t sue is that during an angry call with his staff (he refused to speak with me), I was told he was retiring in short order. This morning’s surgeon told me he did not retire. In fact, he’s still practicing, and dentists around the city avoid him.

As of 2007, when this morning’s surgeon spent a month in that office, the original oral surgeon was not supposed to be removing teeth. He had dental residents do it because he had lost the skill. He removed my tooth in 2009. My new oral surgeon asked that several times. He did it? he asked. He did it himself? He shook his head.

I wrote about it, I said. I sent him a copy of the story. That felt really, really good back then. It still feels good. My new awesome oral surgeon said that’s great. I wish you’d sued.

From → Life

  1. That is a terrifying story. At least writers have this: When something goes really, really wrong and we are dragged into the muck of human failure, we have new material.


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  1. Setback | Suzanne Farrell Smith

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