At the Dentist With a 3 Year Old

Peatuk has finally gotten his teeth fixed. For those of you who don’t know, Peatuk has had trouble with his baby teeth pretty much since they came in. Around 18 months old, we started to notice graying on his front two teeth. Honestly, I wasn’t sure what it was and I wasn’t sure what to do besides brush more. Brush more!?! With an 18 month old that hated having his teeth brushed? Sure. Over the next year, this often turned into holding him down while he screamed to brush his teeth. Some nights were better. Some nights were worse.

We took him to our dentist to get advice. Our dentist said if he was older- 5 or 6- he would work on him, but we could really only take him to a pediatric specialist at this point. He suggested using tooth mouse (a calcium and phosphate paste) twice a day. We did, but Peatuk’s teeth continued to deteriorate. We took him to a dentist in Gabrovo, who also said he was too young, there was nothing she could do, and added fluoride tablets to our daily routine.

The poor kid’s teeth were slowly rotting away. The enamel was chipping off. His teeth, which had come in overlapping, now had a large gap where the tooth had just chipped away. We finally got the number of a pediatric specialist in Plovdiv and took Peatuk in. They did a full exam (the first full exam he had sat through) and determined that he would most likely need to have several teeth corrected to avoid decay spreading up to the permanent teeth. But he was still too small. He needed to be at least 13 kg. to go under full anesthesia. This was about four months ago.

He turned 3. He grew a few centimeters and put on quite a bit of weight and finally got over the 13 kg. threshold. It was time. And just in time, too, because his teeth had began to bother him. The flinching away while brushing the teeth had become even worse and he was starting to complain that his teeth hurt. This poor, brave kid had lived his entire life not knowing that his teeth aren’t supposed to constantly hurt him.

We scheduled his appointment for last week. But we were told by the anesthesiologist that he had to be fully healthy. No sniffles. No cough. Peatuk got the flu. So we had to cancel and be put on the wait-list for an appointment to open up, which it did for yesterday.

We drove down to Plovdiv Wednesday night and stayed with friends. One of our friends offered to take off of work to watch Jojo for us so both Nikola and I could go in with Peatuk. I was slightly terrified. I know full anesthesia has come a long way and is not as dangerous as it was 30-40 years ago. But still… the idea of my son falling into a dark abyss on his own was intimidating.

We took Peatuk to a park before the appointment. We had followed the instructions- a good night of sleep, no water and no food. Then, at the park, Peatuk somehow found a chocolate egg another kid had left behind and picked it up and took a bite before we could stop him. I had a small freak-out that he would aspirate chocolate during his procedure. We told the anesthesiologist about the incident, but he decided to go ahead with the procedure.

We took Peatuk up to the recovery room, where Nikola and I would wait for him during his procedure. The anesthesiologist let Peatuk get used to the room and play with all of the toys. Then, he came in with an assistant and got Peatuk excited about having his picture taken. In the middle of the excitement, he maneuvered Peatuk into a position where Nikola and the assistant could hold him still and gave him a sedative in the leg. He screamed and cried and my heart bled for him. Peatuk, who is always so brave and never even flinches when he gets a shot, was howling in pain at this shot. As soon as the shot was over, I moved in and took Peatuk from Nikola and rocked the poor boy. He cried into my shoulder. The wailing became a whimper. Nikola took him back and rocked him close like a baby and we both continued to coo our love to him as he fell deeper into sedation. His eyes glossed over and he slipped further and further away, staring at us, but also beyond us.

Just before he fell under full sedation, the anesthesiologist scooped him up to take him to the procedure room. It was then that I let myself cry. I felt like I had betrayed him. I felt fear and guilt and all I wanted was my cheerful boy in my arms. Even Nikola, constantly telling me that everything would be alright, let a few tears slip out at that point.

Then we waited. They were good about keeping us informed. Every 10-15 minutes someone came in to let us know what was going on. He was set up with the systemic anesthesia. They had finished x-rays and were beginning to clean the cavities. Did we want to put sealants on the molars that had just erupted? Here are pictures of his teeth. We are finishing up.

The anesthesiologist came back in the room first to tell us what to expect with Peatuk and how to help him come out of the anesthesia. It was good that he warned us how out of it Peatuk would be, but I still wasn’t prepared for what I saw. I don’t think any parent can be, unless their child has been put under before.

Finally, they brought Peatuk out. The idea was to get him into the recovery room before he started to wake up and saw the anesthesiologist, so the first faces he saw would be mine and Nikola’s, and the first voices he heard would be ours. But the timing was slightly off, and just before the anesthesiologist set him down, Peatuk looked up and cried out, clearly frightened.

The anesthesiologist set him on the bed and Nikola and I moved in front of him, soothing him as much as possible. His mouth was slightly swollen, his eyes were still glossed over, and he was shaking. We repeated over and over that we were there, that we loved him, that he was okay… but for the longest 5 minutes he just continued shivering and not responding. He made some guttural sounds, perhaps trying to speak, and seemed distressed.

I began to sing to him. All of the songs I sang to him as a baby. Hush Little Baby, Twinkle, Twinkle, The Itsy Bitsy Spider, Ba Ba Black Sheep… they seemed to calm him. The shaking was less while I sang. Eventually, he whispered, “Sing more,” and I gladly complied, happy that he was starting to communicate with us.

“Sing… twinkle…”

I did. He kept trying to sit up, so we had to firmly hold him down while rubbing his back and showering him with love. Slowly, he became aware of his fingers and hands, and that our hands were holding his. Slowly, his eyes began to focus on us.

Nikola put a fire truck in his hand and he gripped it. Dropped it. Then held onto it.

It was strange. His body was rapidly shooting through the stages of awareness from newborn to 3, but his face and his eyes, instead of looking infantile, looked too old for him. He was aged by the experience. He had experienced something too grown up- a betrayal of trust, in a way- and his eyes showed it. My heart broke again, seeing him laying on the pillow, looking like he was  7 or 8, not just a little joyful 3 year old.

Nikola read Green Eggs and Ham.

Peatuk stared at me. And stared. And stared.

Finally he whispered, “Mom. Why do you have two mouths?”

In that moment, I couldn’t keep from laughing at him. I tried to hold it in but it spilled out and my two mouths grinned at him. I explained that the medicine made his head see funny things, and that I did not actually have two mouths.

He seemed content with this explanation, but every few minutes he forgot, and he asked again why I had two mouths. It became the topic of conversation for us. What else were there two of? Were the two mouths funny?

Slowly, we were able to roll him onto his back and sit him up. Centimeter by centimeter, he inched his way up the pillows to sitting. Nikola gave him sips of water. First just drops from a rag, then a full cap of water.

The anesthesiologist brought in a present for Peatuk that Nikola and I had brought- a toy cash register he has been asking for over the past few months. Peatuk was happy to see it and started selling us things immediately. He was more or less back to his old self.

When the nurse came in to remove the heplock, Peatuk had a little freak out. Even the scissors she used to remove the gauze made him flinch. I have never seen him so untrusting and insecure in a medical situation. But she removed it quickly and painlessly, and he was happy to have his arm back.

We left, went home and had ice cream and bananas and played with the new cash register.

Later that night, for one of the first times, Peatuk snuggled me and fell asleep instantly, without crying or complaining or suggesting anything different.

I leaned over and told Nikola—

That was hard. I wouldn’t wish that on any parent.

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