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ralph robert moore
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how many people are in my mouth?
june 7, 2003
So here I am, back after two weeks' vacation.
When we last left me, I was getting ready to have bone tissue transplant surgery performed on the teeth in my upper jaw.
I needed the surgery because when I was a child I contracted scarlet fever about the same time the hard dentin surfaces would normally form on my teeth. As a result, I've become over the decades more susceptible to bone loss in my mouth. The purpose of the surgery was to peel down the gums in my upper jaw (actually, peel up, I guess), scrape and shape the bone around my teeth, then insert sterilized bone tissue. The idea is this transplanted bone tissue will grow in my maxilla, snugly against my teeth, reducing any pockets around the teeth to an acceptable level.
(Where does the bone tissue come from? Donors. Are the donors living? Dead? I know people donate organs, like their heart or lungs or kidneys, but who ever heard of people donating bone tissue? Is the bone tissue from somewhere here in America, or overseas? Is the tissue from one person, or a roomful? How many people are in my mouth?)
Anyway, May 22, the Thursday before the surgery, about which I admit I was a little apprehensive, I planned to tidy up some loose ends at work (I work from home), then sort of relax.
Naturally, that didn't happen.
I went to sign onto the Internet that Thursday morning, with my 56k modem, and kept getting thrown off while I was trying to access the e-mail page for the company I work for, to see what work I had. After a few frustrating times doing that, I was unable to get on the Internet at all.
Then our phones went dead.
Then Chirper, one of our older cats, jumped up on my lap and I saw what looked like dried blood on the side of his jaw.
Then we got our water bill, which was for a ridiculous amount of money (we normally use about 7,000 gallons of water a month. This bill was for 48,000 gallons.)
And so on and so forth.
I called the phone company, contacted my job to take the day off, made an appointment for Chirper, and arranged to have our water meter reread.
While we were waiting for the phone guy to show up ("He'll be there sometime before eight o'clock this evening"), I decided to mow our front lawn, since I wouldn't be up to it after the surgery.
After being outside for that hour (it was still only about ten o'clock in the morning), I thought, the hell with it, I have the day off anyway, we don't want to just sit around waiting for the doorbell, so I asked Mary if she wanted to work in the garden. If we heard the phone guy, fine. If we didn't, he could come back some other inconvenient time.
A few weeks ago, we bought a chainsaw.
It's not as big as the chainsaw Leatherface used, but it's pretty big. The whole experience felt like buying a gun. Even the carton it came in was different: hard black plastic, perfectly square, except for this tall, thin extension at the top left side to accommodate the blade, like a suitcase with a peacock's tail sticking out the back.
I opened the carton carefully, as if unpacking something rabid. Lifted out the chainsaw, hefting it (incidentally, in this age of stepladders sold with dozens of warnings glued over every surface to avoid manufacturers' liability, the chainsaw was packed with a full tank of fuel, so if I had pressed the wrong lever trying to get it out, it could have inadvertently started buzzing around my forearms.)
Although I don't always read manuals, I did this time before pulling the chain. Never, ever, let the tip of the chainsaw touch anything, or the saw can buck back at you with alarming speed. Always brace your arms while using the chainsaw, in case the chain gets suddenly stuck in the surface it's ripping through, in which case the saw can buck back at you with alarming speed.
The thing started right up. I felt like I was holding a motorcycle in my hands.
We have a crab apple tree on one side of our home that died a few years ago. We pulled down most of the branches, but the trunk was still there, rising four feet out of the ground like a Druid altar. Like most dead wood, it had dried and hardened, to where it would be incredibly time-consuming to manually saw through (I had tried).
I carried the chainsaw over to the base of the trunk, Mary watching, dipped my knees, brought the side of the saw against the trunk, brought it closer until the chain vibrated against the wood, spitting out chips, sank into the trunk, came out the other side, effortlessly.
I lifted the saw away as the trunk fell over.
I looked at Mary. She looked at me. We were both grinning.
We have some very tall red-tipped photinia lining the fence with our neighbor. A few of the bushes had died (photinia becomes more susceptible to disease the more important it becomes to your garden design). The trunks had grown too thick over the years to manually saw through. I touched the chainsaw to a trunk's side, squeezing the trigger, hearing the buzz louden.
The trunk fell over.
I gingerly handed the chainsaw to Mary, showing her how to hold it, so she could slice through the next photinia. She braced her shoulders, lowering the incredibly dangerous blade.
We had two old blue point juniper stumps on another area of our property. I cut through them effortlessly, grass and pebbles flying.
We both looked around.
Nothing else to cut down here.
Without at first realizing what we were doing, we started looking at our neighbors' trees.
Would it be so bad, to climb over the fence and buzzsaw down some of their dying trees?
But we didn't.
Finally, after just walking around for a while with the chainsaw buzzing in my right hand like a giant wasp held by its wings (I'm enjoying these chainsaw similes), I shut it off. It's back in its box, in the garage, for now.
All the destruction took my mind off my operation. The telephone guy finally showed up, fixed our lines (He'd better. We could always lure him out to the garage. "No, seriously, I think there's a phone line out here.")
I didn't sleep well the night before my surgery, because the cats were trooping over me all night long.
Earlier in the week I picked up the drugs I'd need for the operation. The pharmacist, a stout guy with a ready grin, held up the most important of them, as far as I was concerned, a bottle of Triazolam, four small white pills rattling inside. "You're going to enjoy this one." The Triazolam was the sedative I'd take at the surgeon's office, about a half hour before the operation began (the operation is done with just a local anesthetic). I had a concern I might forget to bring the sedatives with me the day of the surgery, in which case I could picture myself going forward with the operation anyway, just to get it over with, the surgeon telling me, descending blade grasped in his white rubber glove, to "Think happy thoughts! Think happy thoughts!", so to preclude that particular nightmare, I had placed the bottle of Triazolam in the glove compartment the same day I purchased it.
I had been to the surgeon's office the Monday of that week to get my teeth cleaned, and so that he could inspect the sites he'd be cutting for one last look. He told me not to drink too much coffee the morning of the operation, so I wouldn't have to get up and pee halfway through (the surgery was scheduled to last about two hours, but actually went on for nearly three hours). I decided not to have any coffee at all. As soon as I got to the office the morning of the surgery, the receptionist suggested I urinate. The surgeon came out a few minutes later, had me take two and a half pills, telling me to place them under my tongue so they would dissolve into my bloodstream quicker. "If you have to urinate, this is the time to do it."
After half an hour of reading Sutin's biography of Philip K. Dick (the surgeon, pointing to the book in my lap, "Do you really think you're going to remember what you read?"), his surgical assistant came to get me. I wasn't sure if I were feeling the effects of the sedative yet. She asked me, as we passed the restroom in the inner sanctum, if I wanted to pee (apparently, patients who have to pee during surgery is a big, fucking problem). So I did pee, just in case. Looking at my face in the bathroom mirror I thought, the next time I see my face, this will all be over with.
I sat down in the dentist's chair, trying not to worry about pain or having to pee.
The surgeon came in, tall, friendly, white-haired. "Okay, we're going to give you a few shots of local anesthetic, wait a little while, then start."
He sat beside me in his white clothes, looking down at his shoes while his assistant loaded the needle, accepted it from her, asked me to open my mouth. "You're going to feel a little pressure."
The needle pokings across the front tops of my upper gums hurt to the same minor degree they always do, but then he angled the long needle into my mouth, slanting it up to push it into the hard ridge of gum behind my front teeth, on the right. It hurt like hell. My eyes blinked.
"Sorry about that. The flesh there is much denser, so we have to make a hole to get the needle in."
Then he poked it into the left side of the hard ridge. Same intense pain, like pushing in a straight pin.
"Okay, let's let that set a minute or so."
I was conscious during the entire operation, but it wasn't that bad. At one point, while he was digging into an upper molar on my left side, it did get a little painful, so he gave me a few more shots of anesthetic on that side, then worked elsewhere until the numbness took hold (at one point I used the word 'Novocain', and he told me that in fact Novocain was rarely used anymore as a local anesthetic. He rattled off a few other names, Novocain substitutes, but I don't remember any of them. I also don't remember if he told me why Novocain wasn't used anymore.)
Once he was finished, he stitched me up, then told me to not stand, but instead to slide my legs off the side of the chair, and just sit on the edge for a moment.
"Okay, now stand up slowly."
I did, and realized my body felt heavy from the sedative's effect.
He helped me down the hallway towards the front waiting room, where Mary was. I decided to pee, since we were passing the restroom. "That's fine. But don't lock the door. Shut it, but don't lock it."
I went inside the little cubicle, sliding the door shut behind me, left shoulder rubbing against the wallpaper as I zombie-shuffled over to the toilet. As I urinated, this distant voice inside my mind shouted, Rob! Hey! Over here! Listen! No matter what, do not pee on your pants! Look down and watch what you're doing. That's right.
So I was extra careful.
In the waiting room Mary gave me a hug, gathering up our books. The surgeon took my left forearm, guiding me out of his office, out of the building, to the passenger side of our CRV.
He waved across the top of the car at Mary. "Keep an eye on him the first few hours."
The drive home took about half an hour, the longest Mary has driven since her stroke, but she did a great job. I remember thinking, What if we were pulled over by the police for some reason? Mary still has some difficulty talking, and here I am, ready to brag to the cop how I didn't pee on my pants.
But anyway, we got home safe.
The day prior, Mary had made macaroni and cheese, and salisbury steaks (I had to eat soft food for the first week or two following surgery). We hadn't eaten all day, and it was early afternoon by now, so I had one small steak, and a half cup of the macaroni. It was absolutely delicious. I have to post her recipe here someday. I took a pain pill as soon as we got home, which is what the surgeon recommended, so I was a bit groggy. I slept for a couple of hours, woke up. Mary was lying in bed next to me, smiling. The local anesthetic had worn off by now, of course. My upper jaw was hurting, like a headache in my mouth, so I took a second pain pill. A little while later we spoke to Joe, Mary's dad, on the phone. I think I made sense.
That night for dinner I had a baked potato, butter, salt, pepper, the chopped white part of a few green onions mixed in with the potato, sour cream on top, the chopped green part of the onions sprinkled on top of that.
The next day, Saturday, I still had some pain in my mouth, but didn't want to take any more of the vial full of white pain pills I had, because they do tend to cloud the mind, so I swallowed a Tylenol instead, and took another Tylenol a few hours later.
We lay in bed most of the day, watching videos we had rented the previous Thursday.
Sunday I got up early, fed the cats, made coffee, felt fine for the first hour or so, but then started feeling really tired physically, the kind of tiredness felt in the legs and spine, so we went back to Blockbuster and rented still more movies, and spent another day in bed.
By Monday I was feeling better. The surgeon warned me against engaging in any strenuous physical activity ("If your upper mouth starts throbbing, stop what you're doing immediately"), but we were able to get out in the garden for a few hours anyway, to weed. When it got too hot, we got a couple of cold beers, sat at the rear of our property, under the trees, where it was as cool as a forest, and just tilted the bottles up to our lips, looking at each other, looking around at the birds, the butterflies, the occasional bunny that would hop across a path a safe distance from us, my tongue, for the thousandth time, tapping up against the stitches around my upper teeth.