Diary of a wisdom tooth extraction

21 March 2010
Today is officially the first day of spring, and this year spring has been a long time coming. But the sun shone today, and I dug out a strip of lawn for our new potato bed. The reason for writing this is that tomorrow, Monday, I shall be having a bottom wisdom tooth out under general anaesthetic. I have never been put to sleep before, so only know second-hand what to expect.
I am really rather scared about the whole thing. One hears of horror stories about people dying or, worse, becoming seriously debilitated because of mishaps during minor surgery. And, of course, I am a little worried about that, to the extent that I have slept badly the last couple of nights. But I am also dreading the pain in my jaw when I wake, and even the whole process of being knocked out. My father says it is unlike being asleep; you become nothing and have no concept of self or time. And the unknown is frightening.
There are mundane procedural points to note. I have had my last supper – a rather good beef chilli, guacamole and tomato salad, with a glass and a half of wine – and I am not allowed anything but water now until after the operation. Claire will be coming with me, and taking me home.

Following surgery, I must be accompanied for 24 hours, though I am not entirely clear why. The information sent out recommends that once home I wear old pyjamas for a while, which suggests I am expected to bleed copiously.

I am not good with blood, particularly my own. I have to sign a consent form for the hospital to keep my tooth for research purposes. On the plus side, Claire has filled the freezer with ice cream and the fridge with ‘Thick and Creamy’ yoghurt. We shall see what tomorrow brings.
22 March 2010
What a strange, and not entirely unpleasant, experience. The very worst moments were all at the beginning, and not what I was expecting to write about. Firstly, parking was awful. We left the house this morning at quarter past nine, which I thought was cautiously early for a ten o’clock appointment. I had not factored in the car park for hospital visitors being entirely full, or the ‘on street’ parking being limited to two hours and no return.

Eventually, we left the car in a residents only area about a seven minute walk from the hospital, hoping that the traffic wardens would fail to swoop. And we arrived at the dental hospital in a thoroughly bad mood.
We arrived at the one-day patients’ waiting area. Once called, Claire and I went through the ward into a consultation room. Margaret, a lovely, mumsy nurse, asked several questions, mostly verifying my identity, the operation and when I had last eaten and drunk. I think I was asked these questions four times over during the morning, once by each one of the people involved.

The amount of cross-checking was comforting: it reduced the chances of having dentures fitted by mistake. Margaret offered a cream anaesthetic for my hand, where the tubes would go in, and I gratefully accepted on the basis that ‘stoical’ is not one of my preferred attributes. She also allowed me to keep my wedding ring on, provided it was taped over, and again I was grateful.
Next, after a short period back in the waiting room, I met the surgeon. She explained the procedure, warned me of side effects and risks, one of which was a potential permanent loss of sensation, and had me sign a consent form. Later, I was asked twice whether the signature on the form was my own.

I was struck by how careful everyone was not to get the procedural elements wrong. From the surgeon, Claire and I were ushered back into the waiting room where we were now the only people and we chatted as happily as possible under the circumstances. About 10 minutes later, the door opened and I was called back to get into the hospital gown. This was it – no opportunity to escape now.
Before getting into the gown, a fetching one-piece number with ‘Leeds NHS Trust’ written all over it in pink, yellow and brown, I met the anaesthetist, who I took to immediately. She was called Helen, had a friendly manner and face, and was probably about my age.

She also explained the procedure and risks, but left me feeling reassured about the whole process. I got into my gown, got onto the bed, Margaret covered me with a silver blanket and a woollen one, Claire left, and I was wheeled into the anaesthetist’s room.
Margaret put a blood pressure band round my arm and some device to measure my pulse, and the tube for administering the anaesthetic was put in the back of my right hand. I hardly felt it enter. Helen then pumped something in, claiming this was the ‘fun part’ and it would feel like a gin and tonic. I started to feel a little dizzy after a few seconds and she then put in the substance to send me to sleep.

I felt my arm go slightly cold and stiff, I had a brief moment of wooziness, and the next thing I knew I was telling Margaret that I had been dreaming of Barbarians. So, it was not quite true that I had no concept of time passing, but the only moments that felt like proper sleep were at the very end, just as I was waking up.

In that period I had obviously been ‘conscious’ (wrong word – ‘aware’?) enough to dream of ravaging hordes, but before that, nothing. And when I woke I could tell something had been done to my mouth, but I was not in pain. Mostly, I felt really rather drunk.
Time was also deceptive in the hour after the operation. Claire came to sit beside the bed and I yattered to her about what had just happened.

But what felt like five minutes was nearer thirty, and apparently I had a couple of ideas which I told Claire several times over. Four hours on from this, I have little memory of that.
Margaret brought me a blackcurrant, went through some ‘post operation’ information, Claire went to get the car, I got dressed, was walked around the ward slowly and was discharged. In the car – Claire drove – I felt worse than I had in the hospital, but nowhere near as bad as I had imagined I would. And a couple of thick and creamy yoghurts and a small bowl of tomato soup helped sort that out. Probably my blood sugar levels were just low.

The local anaesthetic they gave me has gradually worn off, and I have taken a couple of painkillers, but at the moment my jaw just aches a little. I have not dared to run my tongue against the hole. Nor do I have any plans to do this soon.

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