This post falls under the following categories: stream of consciousness, emotional rant, and self-analysis. I’m a bit out of practice – having been on a writing hiatus these past few months – but I really need to sort some things out and I’ve turned to the page (so to speak) to do so. As with most tough-to-tackle life problems, I share this process with you.
When I was thirteen, I was riding a school bus when the bus abruptly hit a frost heave. Not surprising, considering it was March 12, 2003. March is a tough month for roads. Nice enough that snow melts, but so cold at night the freshly-melted snow freezes again. It also bears mentioning that I expected this bump in the road – and even joyfully anticipated it. Nothing is as exciting as your butt coming off the seat and catching an inch of air as you ride a school bus. I was thirteen, after all.
So, my sister and I boarded the bus, eager to race to the back for maximum air time. It was an empty bus – save for two passengers in the front seat (this was the “late” bus: running about twenty minutes after the rest of the buses left; intended for kids who had detention or after school activities).
We sat in our seats, perched on the edge, and placed our hands on the seat in front of us. Katy told me to get ready. When the bump came, we would grab hold. I did not have time for such a reaction.
When the front wheels hit the frost heave, I was suddenly and violently thrust out of my seat. My head hit the ceiling of the bus. I came down and landed right on my rump.
When the rear wheels hit the frost heave a fraction of a second later, I was again thrust out of my seat. This time, when I came down, my chin hit the seat in front of me. A school bus seat feels like a metal bar wrapped in thin vinyl. My mouth was positioned in an underbite (with my lower jaw extended and my lower teeth in front of the upper teeth) and the force of the impact cause my bottom teeth to jam my front teeth backwards into my mouth.
I remember standing up. I remember holding up my hand to the bus driver and trying to yell “stop” but my mouth felt funny. It was completely numb. I couldn’t talk. I walked forward slowly, swaying with each step as the bus swayed, and kept raising my hand in the universal “STOP” gesture.
Suddenly, I felt something in my mouth. I turned my head to the left and spat, seeing a spray of blood exit my face. I noted a tooth flew out of my mouth. From behind me, I could hear my sister laughing. She was walking behind me. I turned to face her, and her easy smile and carefree laugh was quickly replaced by an expression of shock and dismay. She immediately burst into tears.
The bus driver noticed me and quickly pulled over. I remember him handing me paper towels as he called someone on the radio. I pressed snow to my mouth and idly observed the way the blood changed the snow. The two children in the front seat looked on, impassive.
The driver took me home. My dad was striding out of the house and through the driveway as we pulled to a stop. I ran to him, clutching to him in panic and anxiety (he later told me that my face was almost unrecognizable as a result of the accident). I raced inside to look at my face. I bemoaned and panicked over the loss of my perfect smile and beautiful features. My dad ordered me to calm down and he called the orthodontist (ironically, I had been in the office just that morning to discuss the possibility of needing braces to correct an unrelated problem). The doctor urged my father to bring me in immediately, before the teeth set in place.
Once in the office, I was administered a few shots of Novocaine. I then lay on a table, in a back room, while a handful of dental assistants held me down. There was one for each leg, one for my shoulders, and one for my left arm. The doctor sat to my right and explained that he needed to press the teeth back into place. When one of the restraining assistants shifted her weight, I could just barely see my dad sitting in a chair by my feet, with his head in his hands.
When the doctor placed a thumb on each tooth and pressed them back into place, I was immobile and screaming from the pain. It didn’t feel like a scream, because my mouth was open, and I remember moaning. It was a desperate plea to stop, a helpless cry of someone who has no control over what is happening and in unbearable pain. My dad told me, later, that he had never seen so much blood in his life. It was spraying from my face, like a horror movie.
I was barely resistant in the placing of the braces. I just sort of laid there, probably in shock, or exhaustion. After that, we went to the ER to check for a concussion. Why they would make a child with a head trauma and no pain medication wait for more than five minutes is beyond me.
This was in 2003.
In the year 2011, I visited the dentist. At this time, I was 22. Freshly married and excited about my new grownup life. After taking my x-rays, my dentist advised me that due to short roots, I would likely need to fix my two front teeth (central incisors) earlier than most people. In my thirties or forties, he said. He explained that they drill down the tooth and place a crown over it. I remember going home to tell my husband this strange and not at all concerning news. The dentist was more concerned with my wisdom teeth, and they didn’t even hurt. That was 2011.
Two weeks ago, I visited a dentist for the first time in a few years. I’ve never had a cavity and take excellent care of my teeth, so when I didn’t have dental insurance, I simply didn’t go. I had my x-rays taken and immediately was questioned about the trauma to my teeth. The dentist was extremely anxious, and it was making me anxious.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Your teeth,” she said, “are so damaged from the trauma, they need to be replaced.”
“I know, my dentist told me that a few years ago. He said it wasn’t a big deal right now. Why are you so upset?”
The dentist looked at the assistant and then looked at me. “This is a problem right now. You might need a permanent retainer, or implants.”
“How much does this cost?” I say.
“Five thousand, maybe eight, it’s hard to tell. The surgeon will know.”
I went to the receptionist at the end of the appointment to schedule a follow-up with an oral surgeon. They scheduled me for a few weeks later. I went home and started poking around, looking for information on the accident. I knew it was a result of the trauma, and wondered if I could get the bus company to pay for it. I called my parents. They didn’t sue the bus company, just sent them the bills and the bus company paid for my braces. They didn’t have any paperwork.
I called the orthodontist’s office and asked them to send me any billing information in my chart. I received the name of an insurance company. I called, sent online requests, and eventually emailed with someone from the insurance company. She was very pleasant, and advised me she might need time to dig up these old records. I had been over ten years, after all.
A few days later, I heard from her. She told me that it wasn’t her office that processed my claim, it was a bus company claims adjuster. I contacted that person, and immediately received a response from her superior telling me the documents had been destroyed because the statute of limitations had been reached.
I was confused and frustrated. I had spent days trying this information down, fighting a mounting anxiety and sense of dread, and suddenly I was hitting a wall. I reached out to a local personal injury attorney – somewhat of a celebrity in this area – and he could not help me.
I met with the oral surgeon this past Monday, and the news was far worse than I had feared. My two front teeth (central incisors) are not connected to bone at all. Only soft tissue hold them in place. The teeth immediately to the right and left (later incisors; these four teeth are the front four in your top row) had over 50% bone loss. It would be irresponsible to replace two and not all four, as the second two have barely anything left.
For the front two? Maximum of two years. The second two? Five, maybe ten years. Maybe.
The surgeon then explained the only course of treatment available due to this advanced bone loss and root resorption. Remove all four teeth and place two implants on the lateral incisors and replace the front two with crowns. All four teeth are connected in a four unit bridge, drilled into the bone on the ends. Here is what that looks like. Same theory, but on the top row of teeth in the very front, instead of on the bottom row in the back (as pictured).
I again go to the receptionist desk and she types in everything the surgeon said. I am anxiously awaiting this dollar amount. A few minutes later she prints a long list of services – the treatment plan – with associated pricing. My insurance does not cover major restorative work. It should be noted that this is not considered cosmetic, as all the teeth lean on each other. These will fall out – and soon – and then my entire mouth is at risk, especially for increased bone loss and gum disease.
Total price tag for a permanent solution?
My heart dropped. Or maybe it started racing. My blood ran cold, or it started boiling. I was at ease, I was panicked. More than anything else, I was numb. And I desperately wanted this to not be my life.
Fifteen thousand dollars? That’s more than half what I make in a year. That’s three semesters of college. That’s more debt than I’ve ever been in – including student loans. It’s a new car, a down payment on a house, an impossible figure. I laughed at the sheer magnitude of this news.
Very quickly I discovered two things: I did not have the luxury of burying my head in the sand, and I had a serious problem: even more distressing than the massive dental expense was my insane urge to go completely haywire.
I have a tendency to behave very erratically when I feel powerless. In order to regain a sense of control over my own life, I act out in self-destructive ways. I sabotage relationships, put my job in jeopardy, blow off responsibilities, and engage in risky behavior. These make me feel empowered and safe, because I am doing something. The bad thing I am doing is better than the worse thing I can’t control.
However, I am a grown-up, and do not have the luxury of throwing a temper tantrum. I took a deep breath… and drove immediately to my job, where I worked as my last day of bar training for nine hours. My boyfriend was here and we talked through some creative ideas for funding, including a GoFund Me, becoming a stripper, and getting married to share insurance benefits. After a long day and impossible news, I was nearly hysterical with soul-crushing anxiety and exhaustion. Any option seemed better than the last, and I put Tanqueray on my feelings.
I awoke the next morning with a brighter attitude.
Technically, I woke up at the crack of dawn, and with a lot of anger. I snapped myself out of it pretty quickly – chastising myself for punishing Jeremy just because he was there. I think I only made one aggressive movement – throwing my chap stick a little too hard onto my nightstand – before pulling it together. I called my parents, told them what was happening, and came inside to find Jeremy on the phone with a family friend who happened to be a personal injury attorney. I spoke with her and she explained how the statute of limitations works and how firm the law is. If I were to file, it had to have been by 2010. There is no exception for this – not even ignorance.
Naturally, this sent me into an even darker place. I blew off class. I decided instead to spend most of my days off sleeping, cooking for Jeremy and myself, and watching Game of Thrones. I was determined to feel positive, but really I was just delaying the inevitable.
Today, the first day by myself since Monday when I got this news, I felt that overwhelming sense of anxiety creep in. I tried watching TV, I read Cosmo, I called a few friends. I couldn’t think about it, it was too huge for me to handle, and I felt myself want to unravel (which is a vast improvement to actually unraveling).
Then, tonight, I had sort of a breakthrough. I already know that I have control over my feelings (and how much things affect me), but I hadn’t admitted to myself that even if I want to be that kind of person, I don’t know how to do that. It’s pretty easy to say “turn that frown upside down, kiddo!”.
If I don’t want to get out of bed in the morning, it’s impossible to delude myself into thinking I do want to get up. I’ll get up, alright, but don’t kid yourself: I’m just going through the motions.
In the meantime, due to staffing complications at work, I’ve clocked 80+ hours of serving and training the past two weeks, the semester is nearly over, my sister is getting married in a few months, a close relative is going through a tough time, and I’m supposed to move to South Carolina with Jeremy in six months.
Right. Like I needed another thing on my plate.
Oddly enough, despite feeling worse for wear and positively drained, I’m tougher than this. I’ve gone through harder things than this. The accident makes for a great story, but I’m not a traumatized individual. I drive a car and don’t have a fear of public transportation or frost heaves. It makes for a great cocktail party story to entertain a crowd, but I’m really fine.
I’m pretty angry that due to a technicality, the bus company can get away with not taking fiscal responsibility for a mistake made on their watch. I’m pretty angry that my parents didn’t explore litigation, but they did the best they could with the tools they had. What’s that saying…? Put want in one hand and shit in the other, now see which one fills up faster? All the wishing in the world won’t change the law or the past. It is what it is.
Despite that mundane truth, my emotions are all over the place. Writing is making me feel better – more focused on the task at hand. At the end of the day, I just need to solve the problem. Get creative with funding, look into less expensive treatment centers, change my dental insurance to one that includes these services, and get a second opinion. Hell, maybe I’ll go to Mexico. I probably won’t become a stripper or start a marriage for insurance benefits. But I will figure it out.
In the meantime, I have to live my life. Like I said before: the semester is nearly over, my sister is getting married in a few months, a close relative is going through a tough time, and I’m supposed to move to South Carolina with Jeremy in six months. I can’t put this on hold much longer, but I can try to be more frugal and aware of my spending habits, and create a plan. Taking action will make me feel better and less like lashing out at coworkers or loved ones.
But, on those days when I “literally can’t even”, it’s a good idea to really explore those feelings to their natural conclusion, give the feelings rooms to just be, rather than feeling guilty or trying to manage them. Instead of shoving those feelings aside or trying to bury them, give myself the compassion and freedom to feel what I feel when I feel it.
In other words, I’m doing the best I can.