Sunday, September 6, 2015

Filling a Need

Some people get it. When they do, we realize that God has put them in our path to fill a need; their presence in our lives is no coincidence. Finding the right professionals to work with our children who have autism is an important task we autism parents face. Over the years, we have been fortunate to find some outstanding individuals to work with Alex while others have been less impressive. At times we have stayed with some professionals longer than we probably should have, not ready to make a change. Sometimes God has to push me out of my comfort zone with both hands so that I know that it’s time to do something new. That happened last fall, and my full understanding of the need for change was clearly reinforced this past week.

Last August, when we took Alex to the pediatric dentist he had been seeing for nearly ten years, we were told that his upper twelve-year molars were badly decayed and would need to be removed. This came as a shock to us because his teeth had been fine when we had taken him six months earlier for a check-up. What was even more frustrating was that we were told this could wait unless the pain became so severe it kept Alex awake at night, which struck us as negligent. In addition, the dentist left this rather important news to a hygienist to relay to me instead of talking to me himself. This was the same dentist who had condescendingly dismissed me repeatedly anytime I had asked about Alex’s wisdom teeth, telling me that we weren’t going to worry about them.

Unsatisfied with the information they had given, I decided to make an appointment with my family dentist, whose judgment and skill I completely trust. He wisely had a panoramic x-ray taken of Alex’s teeth, which revealed that his wisdom teeth were badly impacted and likely damaging the roots of his twelve-year molars, which probably accounted for their decay. He recommended removing the twelve-year molars and the wisdom teeth at the same time and referred us to an experienced oral surgeon. As I explained in my November 9, 2014, blog entry “Healing,” Alex came through the surgery to remove his molars and wisdom teeth­­––as well as the recovery afterward––amazingly well, and we were thankful to have this procedure done by such a skillful doctor.

After this experience, I began to question the pediatric dentist’s decision to ignore my concerns as a parent regarding Alex’s wisdom teeth. Perhaps if he had taken my questions more seriously, Alex would not have lost his twelve-year molars due to the damage by the wisdom teeth. Moreover, I was not happy with his dismissive attitude toward me and insistence that any dental procedures done on Alex be performed under general anesthesia, which carries its own risks. Consequently, I decided it was time for a change. For his next regular dental appointment in February, we took Alex back to our family dentist. Encouraged by the kindness and compassion shown by both the hygienist and the dentist, Alex complied beautifully with having his teeth cleaned and checked, and we felt this was a sign we had made the right decision to change dentists.

When we took him again a few weeks ago for his six-month appointment to have his teeth cleaned and checked, we were pleased that Alex was quite calm and comfortable at the new dentist’s office while they worked on his teeth. However, we were a little disappointed to discover that he had a small cavity. Nonetheless, our dentist felt confident that Alex could handle having the cavity filled because he had been so good during the cleaning and check-up appointments. In addition, we were able to schedule an appointment to have the tooth filled the next day, which meant that we could get this procedure done before I had to go back to school the following week. Or so we thought.

The next day, the appointment began with putting numbing cream on a cotton roll as preparation for the numbing shots. As the numb began to spread through Alex’s mouth, he started to panic at the strange sensation he’d never felt before. (When he’d had his first two cavities filled two years earlier, he had been under general anesthesia instead of a local anesthesia.) He also wasn’t very happy about having the wad of cotton under his upper lip and complained that he had a fat lip. Although he never really escalated, he was anxious and kept grabbing my hands, seeking reassurance. Even though we tried explaining to him that this was temporary and that his lip wasn’t really fat, he was still unnerved (pun intended) by the situation.

Fortunately, our compassionate dentist understood Alex’s anxiety and offered an excellent idea. He gave us a tube of numbing cream and long handled cotton swabs to practice at home with Alex so that he could get used to the sensation of numbness and realize that the feeling does wear off in time. Additionally, he reassured us that Alex’s tooth could wait a few weeks without worrying about further damage, so we could reschedule the appointment when we felt Alex was ready to handle it. Most importantly, he emphasized to us that he didn’t want Alex to be scared, and he didn’t act a bit inconvenienced that Alex wasn’t up to having his tooth filled that day.

After practicing with the numbing cream at home, Alex became comfortable with the sensation of having his mouth numb, and I went ahead and made another appointment to have his tooth filled. Truthfully, I had a lot of trepidation about whether he could handle the numbing shots, the drill, and everything else involved in repairing the tooth. Nonetheless, we prayed that he would not get upset and put our trust in God and our dentist that everything would be okay.

Last Thursday, I scheduled a noon appointment: after lunch, between The Price Is Right and Jeopardy!, and at a time when he is usually fairly mellow. The dental assistant took us back to a large private room where Ed and I could also stay with him comfortably and where they could close the door so that he wouldn’t hear noises from the other procedure rooms. After turning on the television to a baseball game that provided a welcome distraction, our dentist and his assistant compassionately and calmly took care of Alex’s tooth, preparing him for every step of the process by explaining what would happen and praising him for being so cooperative. Thankfully, Alex was remarkably calm and didn’t seem bothered a bit by anything they did to his mouth. He appeared completely comfortable and relaxed the entire time he was in the dentist’s chair, which was a blessing. The dentist did everything possible to reassure Alex, and Alex trusted him completely.

In fact, things went so well that with our approval, the dentist also sealed another tooth to prevent decay since Alex was already numb, and the assistant smoothed a tooth that had been chipped a while ago so that it would not bother his lip and would look better. Not only did Alex sail through the planned procedure, but he also handled the extras added at the last minute quite well. Of course, Ed and I were extremely relieved that things went smoothly, and we were especially proud that Alex handled perfectly a new situation that many people find difficult. We also truly appreciated the understanding and wisdom of our dentist, who knew what Alex needed to feel safe and comfortable and waited until he was ready.

Consequently, we know that God has led us to change dentists to one who can provide what Alex needs. We need someone whom we can trust to take care of Alex and not only make him feel comfortable in a new situation but also provided a good first experience that will make him not afraid to face similar situations in the future. As Alex now ends his nightly prayers, “God bless Dr. Lyzak.”

“He will once again fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy.” Job 8:21

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