Monday, February 2, 2015

Tooth Tales

About 2 weeks ago I noticed that one of my teeth "felt funny", then a few days later part of the tooth broke off.  I seriously thought it was two sesame seeds - all I could think was "when did I eat sesame seeds?"  Doh!  Sometimes I'm not the sharpest crayon in the box.  The next night I enlisted the help of 2 magnifying mirrors and looked first at the normal tooth on the other side, then the "funny" tooth.  My immediate reaction was WHERE DID MY TOOTH GO?!  Seriously, part of my tooth was missing and I completely flipped out.  Composure?  What composure?  

That night I continually dreamed that all of my teeth were falling out.  Clearly I needed to call the dentist.  It was mid-morning before I had a chance to place the call and I was sure the receptionist was laughing at my panicked OH MY GOSH PART OF MY TOOTH IS MISSING explanation followed by my begging for them to help ASAP.  She told me they could see me the next day at 11:00 and I immediately started arranging for a sub to cover my classes.  

Now here's where I need to insert some background information.  I brush twice a day and floss daily (I really do).  But I haven't been to the dentist since I was in college.  Clearly it was time to pay the piper and I knew this trip to the dentist was not going to be pleasant.  

The next morning when I entered the office and gave my name the receptionist responded with, "Oh, you're the OH MY GOSH PART OF MY TOOTH IS MISSING girl!"  Apparently I'd become a local celebrity in the office (I must have been pretty funny on the phone the day before).  They took me back and the hygienist greeted me with, "I hear it's been about 15 years.  No worries.  You're here now and that's all that matters."  Whew!  She also informed me that the tooth in question was nowhere near as bad as I'd described it and that my mouth didn't look like it'd been fifteen years since my last visit.  Apparently brushing and flossing really does help.  She was able to do a normal cleaning (she was expecting to have to do a deep cleaning), took some x-rays, and called in the dentist to have a look.  

I now have a dental plan.   It involves several small fillings and eventually getting my wisdom teeth pulled, but the urgent situation was clearly The Tooth and it needed a root canal.  They asked when I wanted to schedule it and again I said ASAP.  I didn't need time to talk myself out of it and I certainly didn't want to let it get worse.  They scheduled for 10 days out...


I'm not going to lie - I was pretty anxious about the whole situation.  It seemed every time someone heard about my impending root canal they had a story to share:
  • "Oh, you'll be fine.  I'll numb you and then it'll just be you and me hanging out while I fix your tooth."  - my dentist
  • "A root canal?!  Just talk to my mom - she was in soooo much pain!" - a 3rd grader who I stopped at that point
  • "When I had mine done the other month they had these goggles that I wore that showed a movie.  It really wasn't a big deal." - a fellow teacher at my school
  • "Oh, I'm so sorry!  I've had so many root canals.  And did I tell you I have to have oral surgery for my tooth that just fell out?" - another fellow teacher at my school, and I blocked the details of that story
  • "I had one, and they had these goggles that showed a movie.  They let me pick between 4 movies.  I chose Frozen." - no surprise there, this was one of my 4th graders
  • "A root canal?  That sounds kinda extreme." - a text from my husband when I told him the verdict
I reached a point where I asked people to stop talking about it.  Regardless of whether their story was good or bad, it just made me more anxious about the whole thing.  I'm sure the stories about movie goggles were meant to calm me, but they actually freaked me out more.  I'm somewhat claustrophobic and really do better if I can see what's going on around me.   I clearly was already having dreams about my teeth falling out, so that story certainly wasn't helping.  And I didn't need to talk to someone's mom about her dramatic tooth pain.  Even my husband's "that sounds kinda extreme" didn't help - it just made me wonder if it really WAS kind of extreme.  So when people would mention my root canal I'd respond with, "I'm trying to stay in my happy place, so let's not talk about it."  And for the most part they respected that (except the kid who really wanted to talk about her mom's root canal pain - she was pretty persistent).  

In the midst of my root canal worries we started 3rd quarter electives at school.  This means I had 4 days in which to get my classes into the swing of things and prep my students for me to be out today.  We spend Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday making sure everyone understood their class jobs, practicing our opening and closing procedures, and building our class family.  Then Thursday I had a meeting with each elective.  We talked about the fact that in my 15 years of teaching I've almost never had a substitute teacher who knows anything about dance.  This means these men and women have overcome their own nerves and entered an unfamiliar space to help keep my students safe.  My kids said they'd never thought about it that way.  I also talked with them about the fact that when adults get nervous and start to feel unsafe they tend to yell.  My kids said that made sense, too.  And so at that point we talked about what we could do to help the sub feel safe:  
  • Do our jobs.  Each job done by a student is one less thing the sub has to worry about (and one less thing I have to explain in detail in my sub plans).
  • Stay calm and follow directions.  
  • If at any point the sub starts yelling, this is our clue that the sub doesn't feel safe.  Stop.  Take a deep breath.  And relax.  This will calm us down, but it will also download calm for the sub.
  • Yes, we know each other well enough that we can look at one another and say, "you might need the Safe Place."  This is not going to work for the sub because she doesn't know how to use the Safe Place.  Just focus on being helpful and not hurtful.
Surprisingly, these suggestions were thought up by my students!  They all made a commitment to be helpful, not hurtful with the sub.  But then they also made a special commitment to me - each class promised to include me in their Wish Well ritual.  This meant that about 5 minutes into each class period the entire group would focus on sending me their well wishes while I was at my dental appointment.

That leads us to today.  I was fine when I went to bed last night.  I was fine when I woke up.  I was fine while I drove to the dentist (which is all of 5 minutes from my house).  I was fine when I checked in at the receptionist's desk.  And then I had to wait.  And I wasn't fine.  I felt my heartbeat pick up.  They called me back.  I sat in the chair.  And I knew I needed to take a deep breath and relax.  I think I would have been fine if they could have started right away, but I was back there for over an hour before the actual root canal began.  They applied numbing gel.  Then I waited.  And I got more nervous.  They took x-rays.  Then I waited.  And I got more nervous.  They gave me numbing shots.  Then I waited.  And I got more nervous.  When they reached the point of bracing the tooth, applying the rubber dam and inserted a bite grip I lost it.  It was too much stuff in my mouth.  I felt like I couldn't breathe.  And the tears started to roll.  They took out the bite grip.  I took calming breaths (in through the nose, out through the mouth).  And my mental mantra began - "I am safe.  I can handle this.  I am safe.  I can handle this."  

 And then the coolest thing happened.  I felt an overwhelming sense of calm wash over me.  I checked the time - 5 minutes into my 1st period class.  At that moment my kids were wishing me well, and I felt it!  40 minutes later I was starting to panic when once again I felt that sense of calm lapping at my panic like little waves.  Another time check confirmed that it was 5 minutes into my 2nd period class - once again I was feeling my kids wishing me well!  And again, when the root canal was almost finished and I was starting to feel some pain (why, oh why, did I have to have a curved root tip?) I felt the waves of calm.  Time check - 5 minutes into my 3rd period class.  

In the past I've asked students when they returned to school after an illness or event if they felt us wish them well.  They always say they did and I just assumed they just said it to make me happy.  But I've experienced it for myself now.  The Wish Well ritual doesn't just help those students in class learn to be of service to others, it is truly felt by those of us who are wished well!

So remember, regardless of the circumstances, when you start to get nervous and feel like things aren't safe - Stop.  Take a deep breath.  And relax.  And know that WE WISH YOU WELL!

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