The forceps were shaped like scissors. No sharp edges. Just goldish, browish rubber over the ends of the steel metal device. They were forced into his mouth as he was coaxed to say, “AHHH” which turned into a scream of terror in that instant.
His legs were held down by one assistant. One ABA tutor held his left arm. Another held his right leg. At his head, wearing rubber gloves was the dental assistant, manipulating the forceps to hold open his jaw. I was at his right, alternately holding, stroking, and kissing his tiny little right hand and arm.
Despite the forceps holding open his jaw, he was able to let loose with “O-U-T!! Dinosaur! Green, blue, yellow. NO!” and various other words between ear-piercing screams louder than I’d heard in a long, long time.
Once he realized he was trapped, the tears came. They fell down the sides of his eyes and headed toward his ears. I had tissues with me, and wiped them away, over and over. His hair, just freshly washed, less than an hour before, was soaked with sweat in less than a minute.
The muscle relaxant I’d given him did not have time to work before he was laid flat by the team. I had elected not to give it to him on the way down because he’d seem so well prepared for the visit. ABA programs, reading a book, knowing where he was going. Smiling, talking on the way down. Happily playing in the waiting room.
It was all gone in an instant. The instant he was told to lay on his back facing the ceiling. And that is when I got the relaxant and gave it to him.
There was a TV on the ceiling, playing Bubble Guppies. Didn’t matter. He was not distracted by it. He could not cooperate. He was terrified.
My heart bled for him, and fell out of my chest on the floor in a puddle. Instead of holding his hand down or away when he slapped and squeezed at my face, I let him do it. He did not hurt me. He was grasping and squeezing to help regulate some aspect of himself as the rest of his body was held down, restrained from getting free.
I know the others around me may have thought I was crazy or weak not to hold down his hands as he grabbed and squeezed my face and mouth but I needed to let him have that outlet.
The x-rays were done with a portable gun. Those old fashioned films that used to gag me, were still placed in his mouth. There were so many. It felt like it would never end. With each x-ray, he screamed bloody murder at decibels I did not know were possible. I noticed the dentist wore ear plugs.
Everyone else in the room was calm. They were encouraging. They would cheer when he finished each x-ray. All but me. I was barely holding it together, being squeezed and grabbed. I was dying inside with pain for him with each blood curdling scream. I do not think there could have been more dramatic exhibition of pain were they to operate on him without anesthesia. It was unparalleled.
That was just the x-rays.
Next, came the counting and exam of the teeth. Each time that dental probe made contact with his tooth, he let loose with a scream that would make Janet Leigh in the original Psycho, pale in comparison. I kept hoping the med would take effect and he would fall asleep. He did not.
I knew the worse was yet to come. The dentist was about to brush his teeth with the electric tooth brush. As he brushed away the yellow plaque, the screams continued. Blood now joined the party. Eyes wide open, as they dabbed his mouth with the gauze squares, he could see the blood, further terrorizing him. Add to that the suction, and well, I could not imagine a worse reaction.
It felt so surreal. I could not stop the procedure. It had to be done. I knew physiologically he would not suffer. Emotionally, he was beside himself. The dentist had set aside his time, and that of four of his staff. Two ABA tutors had been assigned to help. They were all calm and kind as they held him. The cleaning, the insertion of the rubber dam forceps, the taking of x-rays was done in the least intrusive, most gentle of manners.
But from the perspective of this six year old autistic boy, it was not. It was sensory hell. This was the first regular dental appointment of his life. He’d been before when we thought his teeth might have broke in a fall. That was how we found this true special needs dental practice.
We all did what we could to prepare him for this visit for six months. But none of that prep worked mattered when it came to the real deal. There was no program, no pretend that could mimic the real thing. We just had to live through it.
His teeth are horrible. He has multiple cavities. A molar is pushing its way to the front of his teeth, preventing the adult teeth next door from coming in. He will require an appointment under general anesthesia to do the work necessary to correct what is happening to him.
He hates to have his teeth brushed. He likes to brush them himself because he barely touches them. He does not have a great diet due to his many problems eating and so this is no surprise.
Could I have done things differently? Not the diet. Not the tooth brushing. I did the best I could.
Could I have done something differently with the appointment? I don’t know. I could have medicated him a half hour before we arrived but I did that with his EEG and he woke as soon as his head was touched. I think the traumatic nature of events like the EEG and the dentist are just too adrenaline-inducing for him to relax until they are over.
Sure enough, he fell asleep afterward.
And now, as I write this honest account, hoping I am not dubbed the worst mother in the history of special needs, he is playing Wii. He is smiling with bright, white teeth. He is happy. And yet, I continue this low level of shaking. I still feel it in my fingertips.
I’m sickened that he now faces general anesthesia again. I hate general anesthesia more than anything else for my son.
It’s just another challenge to overcome here. Life is different in our house. It’s just different.