Saturday, January 05, 2002

New Year's Day sunstroke

I could not participate in this year's annual New Year's Day Ceremony, a New Year's Day tradition, held at the Seicho-No-Ie Headquarters in Tokyo. This is really quite embarrassing--the first time since I became an executive of Seicho-No-Ie. This is probably what they call "the devil getting sunstroke", but I had a fever of over 100 degrees (Farenheit), and the right side of my face was completely swollen. Although I feel a little awkward, I'll write about all the things that led up to my being like this.

Around the 29th of December, the root of my upper front tooth began to hurt. I'm not sure why. Although I've had some dental work done in the past, I haven't had a toothache in over a year. The last work I had done was on one of my lower molars, and even that wasn't for a new cavity, but was only to replace a filling that had come out. The tooth that was giving me trouble now, however, was totally unrelated--the upper front tooth--where there couldn't possibly have been a cavity. I say this with confidence because even my dentist compliments me on how carefully and thoroughly I brush my teeth. On past visits, my dentist taught me the proper way to use a toothbrush and I've been following those directions faithfully, brushing after every meal, every day of the week. I pay particular attention to brushing after breakfast, and I use not only one, but three different kinds of toothbrushes. In addition to the traditional one, I use a brush with long bristles that can reach into the back-side of the rear molars, a toothbrush with a pointed end, and, finally, one that I use to clean between the teeth. Since I'm so thorough, I didn't think there was any way that I could have gotten a cavity.

But, since the reality was that I had a toothache, some sort of bacteria must have managed to get into my front tooth somehow and created an infection. I made light of it at first, thinking that the pain would eventually subside, but by the afternoon of the 29th, I had a sharp pain that shot from my upper jaw to my head. Even then, I managed to finish writing my journal entry for that day, drew a picture, took a digital photo of it, and somehow posted it all on the website. After that, though, all I could do was sleep. Being Saturday, my dentist's office was closed. Worried, my wife tried to find an emergency room with a dental department, but was unable to locate one. The next morning, we found a dentist office nearby which was on-call and open during the end of the year and through the New Year's holiday.

At 9 AM on December 30th, I rushed into "Y" Dental Office in Sendagaya. My gums had swollen from the area under my nose to the upper right of my face. It was painful and depressing. I couldn't open my mouth enough to talk freely. Unless I had this taken care of, I didn't feel much like greeting the New Year, and I wouldn't be able to give my message at the New Year's Day Ceremony? I became panicky thinking about this. A small, slightly plump dentist in his sixties looked at my tooth and said, "You must've hit it somewhere--It's discolored." I replied, "I don't remember hitting it on anything," and explained, "It's always been this color." Actually, I have some dark brown spots on the backsides of my teeth that are like "tea stains." My mother tells me it's due to some antibiotics that I took when I was a child, and my family dentist told me that they "aren't cavities." This slightly plump dentist, however, took an x-ray of the tooth in question, and, looking at it, seemed to reach some sort of conclusion. If he'd told me what he had in mind, I would have been able to prepare myself, but, instead of explaining, he put the chair in a reclining position and began treatment.

This was a first-time experience for me. I'd always thought that, after examining a patient, a doctor was supposed to talk to the patient about the results of that exam, discuss treatment options, and get the patient's approval before doing anything. This dentist, however, while mumbling some medical terms to the female assistant, gave me a shot of novocaine, and began scraping away at the tooth. Then, exerting a lot of pressure with his hands, he screwed something into the hole he'd just opened, pulled it out, twisted it in and pulled it out again, continuing for about 3-4 times. Lying in the dentist's chair, all I could do was groan, "Ahhhh" and endure the pain. After it was all done, the dentist was to tell me, "We did a root canal." It was an explanation after the fact, and he let his assistant do the rest of the explaining. She said, "We packed some cotton into the hole, but this is just a temporary emergency procedure. Please be sure to see your own dentist within a week." That's all the explanation there was, so I headed home, without any medication, and my face numb from my nose to my mouth.

"I'll feel better for sure now," I thought, but I couldn't have been any more wrong. As the novocaine wore off, I again had a throbbing pain shoot up from the bottom of my nose to my head. I wondered why since the nerve had been removed, and thought, doubting the dentist, "Maybe he didn't get it all." It was because he'd been so different from my own dentist. My own dentist always explained things thoroughly prior to treatment, and, after explaining, even before starting on the tooth, would say caringly, "We're just going to do a little scraping so it shouldn't hurt," or, "If it hurts, please frown or grimace." This difference between dentists was leading to mistrust. Then I decided to change my way of thinking to, "I'm grateful for simply having been able to get treated during this busy end of the year season." But, no matter how I looked at it, the pain and condition was growing, not better, but progressively worse.

On the afternoon of the 30th when I had the root canal, the right side of my face started swelling up. The sides of my nose were really swollen, so much so that I could see my right cheek with my right eye. As time went on, I could see my own eyelid with my right eye. In other words, the area around my eye had become thick and swollen, but, since my eyeball was still in the same place, my eye had become "caved in" within the swelling. The area under my nose was swollen so much that, looking at myself in the mirror, I thought I looked more like a "dog" than a "human."

Concerned as to how I was doing, my wife peeked at my face, and I said, "Woof" and brought my hand to the side of my face, like the front paw of a dog. I wanted to make her laugh, but she just looked kind of sad and puzzled. I guess I really must have looked like a dog. The pain got so severe that I had to go to bed, and eventually was able to fall asleep. I'd wake up every one in a while and have some of the liquid foods my wife had made, but, other than that, I slept a deep, undisturbed sleep. It was much the same on the 31st, and, when I took my temperature, I found that I had a fever of 100 degrees (F). I felt a little better on New Year's Day, but my face was still very swollen--not something I'd want people to see--and a fever of over 100, so I reluctantly had to forego the New Year's Day Ceremony.

In the afternoon on New Year's Day, I went to see another dentist in Shinjuku Ward. After listening to my explanation of the previous treatment, and looking at my face, he explained the reason for the swelling immediately. "In order to do the root canal, the dentist opened a hole on the backside of your tooth and then packed it with cotton. If it's packed too tightly, however, there is no ventilation and swelling results. Patients usually get antibiotics to prevent infection, but, since this wasn't done in your case, the bacteria must have spread and caused the severe infection." I listened saying, "Oh. Oh." The dentist continued, "The worst seems to have passed, so we'll remove the cotton, clean the tooth up, and you should feel much better." I shouted, "Ouch!" as the dentist pulled up my upper lip. It hurt. He looked relieved, however, and said, "I thought we were going to have to cut your gums to let the pus out, but they're already cut and bleeding. It should come out naturally now."

"Hmm," I thought. Even if the right half of my face, from the gums to my right eye was swollen, there comes a point when the skin just naturally breaks and the body tries to rid the system of this infection. This mechanism is something the human body possesses by nature. Even if the person involved doesn't have any idea what's happening, the body knows how to heal itself. Thanks to the treatment given by this second dentist, and the medication prescribed, the swelling of my face and gums went down after that, day by day.

Having gone through all this and experienced this "pain", I've come to realize that one's view of the world can be changed by just one tooth. Please, everyone, be sure to take good care of your teeth.

- MT

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