Pulling Teeth

Yesterday morning Nate had oral surgery. Three wisdom teeth needed pulling. This has happened before, back in 2006, when Nate had a row of stubborn baby teeth removed. It’s big deal, involving general anesthesia.

For reasons we can’t reconstruct, I took Nate by myself the first time. All I remember is sitting by his bed, waiting for him to wake up. When he did I had to help him to the bathroom, a wobbly hulk not sure on his feet and very heavy. Him, not me.

The days before yesterday’s surgery went well, though Nate had plans.

“On Thursday I’m going to Albany with my mom.”

“Nate, I not sure you’ll feel well enough for that.”

“I’ll go on Friday.”

I realized how much advance notice he still needed. I told him that after the surgery he wouldn’t be able to eat his regular foods, that it may take several days until he could get back to his preordained schedule and that his mouth would hurt. I’m not sure how much of this he took to heart, but by Tuesday night he came to visit me in the big TV room and told me he was a little nervous.

I always wonder how much Nate understands what’s in front of him. So when he was changed and in his hospital bed yesterday, Karen and I were both very happy that he answered questions readily and mostly accurately. Sure there were the vague answers: “Have you been sick lately?” “Most times.” “Do you have any medical implants?” “Maybe.” Karen and I stepped in to clear up any confusion. We are more than used to that kind of nothing answer. He was dead on when it came to the details of when he ate and when he took his pills.

Under his warm blanket, Nate took most in stride, though the IV went poorly, resulting in a minor horror movie by his right wrist. I’m glad he couldn’t see all the blood. As he got sleepy and looked around I wished I knew what he was thinking, what he saw through those eyes.

We said our goodbyes. Karen was very upset. Nate can be helpless at times. There’s also a very emotional backstory here. When Joey was a baby he had breathing troubles that were adenoid related. He needed surgery. We were told if he didn’t have clear breathing it would affect his brain. That was enough for us to agree to the process, but when we watched as the doctor carried Joey down the hall, and he waved his little hand goodbye, we both broke up. That was on Karen’s mind as well.

About an hour later the surgeon came out. We wanted to be with Nate when he woke up. He was at peace, snoring like a mofo (Joey’s words from when he shared a bed with Nate), loud even through his clear plastic oxygen mask.

Nate woke up slowly, disoriented but not upset. There was no lashing out that can sometimes occur if a patient arises too quickly out of anesthesia. Once he was clearly out of his stupor, Nate wanted to go home. We helped him get dressed and got him to the car.

The rest of the day he dealt with his pain quite well. He’s all swollen and wants to know when his teeth will stop hurting. For dinner he had a chocolate milkshake from Stewarts and was content with that. After he sprawled out with me on the couch and played with my iPhone.

He’s not up yet. Hopefully he’ll be on the road to recovery today. He’s a strong healer.

These procedures are tough on everyone but for Nate, who doesn’t quite grasp the unknown very well, it has to be harder. Intellectually, we all can gauge what’s about to happen, to weigh the risks, to expect within a reasonable range what the recovery will be like. I don’t think Nate gets any of that. It makes it harder for us but, more importantly, harder for him.

Wish him well.


About Jeff Katz

Jeff Katz is the former Mayor of Cooperstown, the “Birthplace of Baseball” and home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. His latest book, Split Season:1981 - Fernandomania, the Bronx Zoo, and the Strike that Saved Baseball, (Thomas Dunne Books, 2015), received national attention, with coverage appearing in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Sporting News and NPR’s Only a Game, among others. Katz appeared on ESPN’s Olbermann and The Sporting Life with Jeremy Schaap and MLB Network’s MLB Now, with Brian Kenny. Split Season: 1981 was a finalist for the 2016 Casey Award for Best Baseball Book of the Year.
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