Monday, August 17, 2009

A Trip to the Dentist

My mother hasn’t been to a dentist since before they had Novocain. That isn’t exactly true, but pretty close. She has avoided going for the past 10 years due to intense and irrational fear, interesting for a woman who labored 36 hours with my brother. Add in her dementia and I knew we were in for an interesting afternoon.

I realized something was wrong with her teeth when she started refusing a scoop of ice cream with her pie, and began asking for water straight from the tap instead of nicely chilled from the fridge.

“Ma, do your teeth hurt?”

“They’re killing me.”

“Shall I make an appointment with the dentist?”

“Yeah, I think I have to go.”

That was easy. Or so I thought…

It began in the car.

“Why am I going?”

“Because you said your teeth hurt.”

“Oh.” Pause. “Well, they don’t hurt anymore.”


“Jesus, Mary and Joseph!”

“Don’t SWEAR.”

We arrive at the dentist and she continues.

“This looks like a third rate place. Why is it so hot in here? Dentists make me sick!” The last said just a bit louder than I would have liked.

“STOP it.” I said through clenched teeth. “Settle down right now.” She huffed at that. She rarely takes me seriously. But then again, I am a daughter reprimanding her mother…what is there to take seriously?

I filled out the paperwork, recording her extensive list of medications and filling in the circle marked Alzheimer’s, something I will never get used to. When it came time for her to sign, I saw her honing in on that little spot.

Oh no…here it comes.

“I don’t have Alzheimer’s. Why did you check that??”

“You have dementia, Ma.”

“Who said?”

“Your doctor.”

“I haven’t been to a doctor in years!” she sneered and gave me the, 'what are you scheming,' look. She let out a hard breath. “My God, why is it so HOT in here.”

“Take your wig off Ma. You’ll feel cooler and no one will care.”

“Are you high?” She heard that in a movie years ago and it has been one of her favorite lines ever since. Amazing sometimes what she DOES remember.

We were ushered into the office and the hygienist, who couldn't have been more patient with her, began to look over her chart. “So you have high blood pressure?”

“High blood pressure? I have NEVER had high blood pressure in my life.”

“Ma, you do now…that is why you take Atenolol every morning.”

“What? I don’t take Atenolol. I don’t take any pills.” In her world, she takes no meds. In reality, she takes them 4x a day.

I turned to the hygienist and explained that my mother does in fact take all the pills listed and has high blood pressure.

My mother shot me that crinkly-eyed look again.

The hygienist stepped out for a moment.

“I’m gonna die of this heat!”

“Take off your wig!”

She wrenched it from her head and threw it to me.

“Now don’t you feel better?”

“Actually, I do.” Score one for Lisa!

The exam went as well as it could for teeth that have been neglected for a decade. The doctor viewed the X-Rays and gave the final diagnosis (cavities, gum recession, possible extractions). Then the doctor hit us with a big one.

“You must brush your teeth every night Mrs. Pasto, and lather then with a paste I’m going to give you, especially near the gum line.”

I’m sorry, what was that? Did you say my mother had to brush her teeth every night? And then add a paste? While you're at it, perhaps you can tell me how I can get her in the shower.

She didn’t get a lollipop or gold star when she left. She did, however, begin to put on her wig.

“Ma, what’s the point? Just keep it off.”

She threw the wig on the receptionist’s desk. There it sat, looking like a frizzy, startled cat.

Both people behind the desk froze.

“How about putting it in your pocketbook?” She stuffed it in and off we went.

Oh, won't the extractions be fun!

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