Sunday, December 27, 2020

A Kind-Of Christmas Miracle

The much-anticipated embryo transfer has been canceled.

The deciding factor was yet another visit to the dentist, where Dr. DeVille’s boss finally dared to show his face and confront the mess that is the hole in my mouth. He tapped my teeth and did the “ice cream test” (not as tasty as it sounds) and poked around before deeming the extraction site infected. He prescribed another round of antibiotics, this time amoxicillin (because penicillin is for lightweights – my words, not his). I was instructed to take the antibiotics for 10 days, which meant I’d be medicated through the new year. If the pain didn’t go away in a week, he said, I should see an oral surgeon.

I contacted my treatment coordinator at West Coast IVF to inform her of my current medication status. I had hoped that we could simply delay the embryo transfer a week (do endometrial linings hold up that long?) but nope. She said we would have to cancel. Upon the resolution of my oral ordeal, I could reschedule.

Six weeks of fertility medication wasted. A baseline ultrasound for nothing. Airfare refunded and hotel reservation erased. Fantasies of a fall baby now crushed.

All because of one fucking little tooth.

I thought I would be bawling and inconsolable upon cancelation of the embryo transfer, but what I felt was closer to resignation. I was tired of playing “beat the clock” with my body. I knew canceling was the right thing, even though it broke my heart. That afternoon, I took the baby out for an extra walk. We’d had very mild weather for December in Minnesota, and I wanted to soak up the fresh air before a forecasted snowstorm came.

As I turned the stroller towards our home street, the sun was setting, everyone's Christmas decorations were lighting up, and the song “What a Wonderful World” came on Spotify. I cried a couple of tears because, all things considered, it was a wonderful world and I have a wonderful life. I was about to celebrate my baby’s first Christmas. There was so much to be thankful for. And yet, precisely because the world is so wonderful, I felt that aching absence of our baby-to-be. I just wanted her to be here already, to share the holidays with us.

Instead of paralyzing me, the cancellation of the embryo transfer mobilized me. I was determined to heal, no matter what it took, so I could get another transfer date on the calendar. I called the oral surgeon and bullied my way into an appointment the day before Christmas Eve. At that appointment, a very young, sweet assistant with a glittering engagement ring took a 3-D image of my mouth and listened to me recount each traumatic procedure and dental visit I’ve had since the extraction. Then she asked me to swish with some awful solution that tasted like semen. Then the oral surgeon (a DDS and an MD, because why be one kind of doctor when you can be two?), who resembled a huskier version of actor Damien Lewis, embarked on solving the mystery of my mouth pain.

At first, he thought a whitish hook shape on the 3-D image was an errant nerve ending that had somehow been left behind after the extraction. But then he texted Dr. DeVille’s office – apparently, they’re on a personal-cell-phone-texting-basis – and looked at some more X-rays and declared it an “aberration.” His next best guess was that the prior clearing out of my dry socket was insufficient and that perhaps food or debris had been left behind. He hesitated, but finally said, “If I were you, or you were my sister, I’d recommend going in there, cleaning it all out, and starting the healing process over from square one.”

“Oh, man,” is all that came out of my mouth when I heard that.

Those first few days, post-extraction, were so hard – liquid diet, no movement, sleeping propped up, narcotics ‘round the clock (if I was lucky enough to get them). I really didn’t want to go back to that place. I wasn’t sure I could come out of it again.

The oral surgeon understood my disappointment. He said I could wait and see if the pain resolved on its own. But if I didn’t want to wait anymore (I’d been doing the wait-and-see approach for three agonizing weeks after all), he was willing to do the procedure – called “debridement,” which sounded to me like a wedding on horseback – for the price of an office visit. He even threw in IV sedation and bone grafting – to prevent another dry socket – for free. He also outlined his extensive post-op instructions: medicated mouthwash, a syringe to clean the site with saltwater, antibiotics, five days sans exercise, etc., which Dr. DeVille’s office could use a few pointers on. (Their after-care was basically: don’t disturb the site for 24 hours, take Advil and Tylenol, and cross your fingers!) The oral surgeon even gave me his cell phone number in case I had any questions or concerns later. All I could think was: where was this guy when I had the tooth extracted? I’m confident that in his care, I could have avoided three weeks of misery. Lesson learned: spend the extra money and go to the experts the first time. (If you can get a referral.)

The assistant brought in the consent form for the debridement procedure. It was all pretty standard – but then I got to the section on IV sedation. As nice as it sounded to check out of reality for a while, especially while my mouth was being excavated, the risks went from tolerable to terrifying. Nausea, vomiting, headaches, heart attack. Worst case scenario: you could die. My danger signals started going off.

A perky receptionist came into the room and said that if I fasted until the late afternoon, I could come back and get my procedure taken care of right away. I felt overwhelmed and weepy and afraid. So I told the truth: “I don’t know if, emotionally, I can do another procedure right now.” She totally understood and encouraged me to call my husband to talk it over with him. I did, and my husband said I should give the antibiotics a few more days to work, to rest over Christmas, and if I was still in pain, I could come back on Monday morning and go under the knife (or whatever scary instrument they use).

I heeded his advice, because I remembered one thing this tooth trauma taught me: don’t schedule procedures in the middle of the week – especially before a holiday – because if something goes wrong in those early days, you’ll be shit out of luck.

I scheduled the procedure for early Monday morning. Then I cried and prayed for healing. I was not optimistic that my mouth would repair itself in a mere four days. But I decided that Christmas Eve was a good time to test myself. Could I be off pain medication? How long? Initially, I made it 12 hours, my longest stretch without pain meds in over three weeks. I enjoyed a lovely Christmas dinner with my family – roasted turkey breast, Brussels sprouts with bacon, stuffing – and on Christmas morning, I woke up, amazed that I hadn’t needed to take any pain meds overnight. I got on the treadmill and while I could still feel my mouth pulsing, it wasn’t painful. So I tried running. One mile, then two. It had been weeks since I did any heart-pumping cardio, so I slowed down to a walk, but it seemed like another sign that I was on the mend.

I dressed the baby in a frilly red-and-black checkered dress and we all gathered in the living room to open presents. The baby learned to crawl just in time to make a beeline for the Christmas tree and is an expert wrapping paper ripper. (She also has several newly cut teeth as I'm losing mine. Ha.) Every year, we all write one another heartfelt letters; this year, my letter made my eldest cry. (Aw.) My husband and I referenced the same dreams for the future in our missives (and, yes, another baby is still one of them). His gifts for me were bittersweet, as they were safety items for my embryo transfer trip, like sanitizing wipes and latex gloves. 

It was a simple and lovely celebration. And I endured the entire day without pain meds. While the awareness of a tender, gaping hole in my mouth has never ebbed, I almost (dare I say it?) feel like a sliver of my old self.

To what do I owe this rapid turnaround? (Not counting the three-plus weeks it took to get here.) The wonders of antibiotics? The cessation of infertility drugs, especially estrogen patches? Mind over matter? A Christmas miracle?

I don’t know, but I am so grateful to feel like for once, real healing seems to be underway. I pray it is permanent.

My hope for this hellish experience is that, just like when we had to cancel our Minneapolis IVF cycle because of that mystery bump on my arm, this dry socket nightmare and subsequent embryo transfer cancellation will turn out for the best. Maybe it would have been too dangerous to fly right after the holidays. Maybe my body needs more time to recuperate before procreating again. Maybe the baby needs extra attention right now that I couldn’t give her if I’d gotten pregnant this month.

A reason why might only be visible in hindsight. And so, I wait.

They say time heals all wounds; that better not be just an adage.

As for rescheduling that embryo transfer? I'll keep you posted...

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