Saturday, October 29, 2011

Appointment 37 and My Provisional Smile

On Monday, October 24th I had my 37th dentist appointment since January 19th. On the agenda for this appointment was my last 3 extractions of the remnants of my 3 front teeth, bone grafts and my first implant placement, and also the immediate delivery of my provisional 5-tooth denture, or "flipper" upon extraction. This would be the first time I saw myself with the appearance of all my front teeth in nearly 14 years, though it was more like 17 since I first began to be self-conscious from cavities and began tightening my lips in all conversations with the world and suppressing my smiles and laughter around 10th and 11th grade.

I can't deny that I wasn't kinda nervous going into this appointment. Many of my actually painful, bloody and intense appointments took place months ago, and though I have not forgotten them, I have been lucky to experience several visits that felt more like art classes that Dr. visits. I also knew that though exciting, seeing myself with a different face after half my life was going to be surreal and awkward and hard to process.
It was a really busy, crowded and more "formal" appointment with a doctor performing the procedures and two students assisting, so this time unfortunately I don't really have many pictures, but I will describe the process as best as I can remember. On some occasions I may be incorrect as to what was actually being done, but I am going to describe what it felt like to me.

 First up we were performing my final 3 extractions on my front teeth numbers 8, 9 and 10. Here is one last "before" picture I took on the way to my appointment:

After 3 or 4 shots, one of which made my eyes water despite my overall fear of needles, including one on the palatal side which always feels awkward, I believe a long incision was made laterally across the gums to sort of create a flap of flesh on either side of my upper jaw bone. Though in the case of my molar extractions there were many times bone had to be filed down in order to get a grip on my fractured roots, great care had to be taken in this case to preserve as much bone and tissue as possible because it is the site of the weakest bone in my mouth and also because it will be visible in my future smile. Amazingly enough, though one of which was surely buried, the first two teeth came out quite effortless and faster than expected. The final one however would introduce me to yet another of my least favorite dental tools/procedures/sensations to add to the list, a perio-tome, which if I had not asked to see it afterward, I would have swore was like 10 times larger.

From what I understand my last root was somewhat stuck, and the perio-tome was basically used like a wedge between the root and the bone in several places to help break it free. I was thinking in terms of my wood-splitting experience as this was going on however, and though I knew we were trying to preserve as much bone as possible, I was envisioning as a much wider wedge that was in fact spitting my jawbone at all 3 tooth sites so as to pry it apart on the end and pull the last root out. I never got to see if there was actually a mini dental "hammer" or what, but it most certainly felt like a nail was being driven about an inch into my skull. It didn't hurt exactly, but because of bone conduction, hearing it reverberated throughout my whole head and it was entirely freaky.

All three teeth were out in probably a half hour though and we could gladly move on!
Next up we would be inserting bone graft material at the site of all 3 extractions. Though I am tentatively scheduled according to my treatment plan to receive a 2 implant-supported FPD (fixed partial denture), the middle site is still important because over time the bone can re-absorb/recede without a tooth in the hole. We want to prevent that hopefully so there's the least amount of gap possible between the bridge and my gums at site 9.

Bone grafts are a little weird. I have never really had any kind of major injury in my life and never had to receive any part of another person's donated body. I had never really imagined even of all those people donating their organs, that a small portion of someone might end up in people's mouths or help others, OR me, smile again. My particular bone grafts came in the form of bone dust that was mixed with water (or saline maybe?) and applied into my root holes after they were fully cleaned with a syringe. It was totally painless. I asked my new student dentist assistant Elif how my living bone could somehow attach to someone else's dead bone and she described it as acting more like a supportive "scaffolding." Perhaps more like a tressle for tomato vines to grow up? A guide? I don't know. I keep making jokes however, wondering whose bone I have in my mouth. Whether it might be some hot girl's pelvis, from the femur or a runner which will make me talk even MORE, or the cranium of a brilliant mathematician or something. Haha. Whoever it is, I am grateful, and I hope their bones and my bones get along.

After this to help guide the tissue to grow back in a more pronounced and uniform way across the formerly sunken in sites of my gums, a collagen membrane was applied covering the holes. It basically looked like a little inch-long piece of scotch tape. This felt particularly weird because Rakhee was using like, a little "spatula" thing to hold all that flesh away from my jawbone while the doctor was applying it. I'm not sure sometimes if my powers of visualization freak me out more that I would be if I was actually watching these procedures done on someone else or what. Upon completion, I received several stitches, and we moved on.

We tried my provisional denture in for the first time to see how it fit and determined that it would need to be modified slightly in order to not interfere with the healing tissue of the extraction sites before the day was over. Then we went to take my 3rd I-cat X-ray thus far to get a better picture of how my bone has healed over the past several months at my extraction sites before beginning my first implant.

The implant actually also went quicker than I thought, though there was one slight snag: my mouth is too small! We would only have time for one implant today, once again beginning the process with an incision at the site of tooth 30--my bottom right first molar. The Dr. then filed down the rounded bone slightly to create more of a broad surface to begin the first of several pilot holes, increasing in size. I asked to see the implant, which was 4.7mms in diameter and 13mms long, or about a half an inch. We continued on with more holes of increasing diameter, I think 3 in all, with the students confirming the angle and "perpendicularity" of the drill from their more advantageous perspectives. We took more X-rays to confirm with some other metal  piece in the hole as a reference, one of which happening to be my least favorite angled X-ray because in order to bite down on it hard enough to hold it in place it supremely cuts into the bottom of my tongue, this time from the taste I think making it bleed. During the final pass with the largest drillbit it was virtually impossible to get started at the correct angle because try as I might I could not open my mouth any further to begin the hole more perpendicular. The implant was screwed in very slowly with a cute little mini-rachet until it was flush with the surface of my jawbone, with each turn making a hard click that also reverberated through my skull. Upon the final X-ray it appears because of my small mouth it went in at a hair less than the ideal angle, but the roots of the adjacent tooth were also a little curved and it seemed actually perfectly in line with tooth 28. It was however, no big deal and will just require a custom abutment, or the joining part between the implant and the crown. More stitches to cover the implant with my gum tissue, my appointment was finally almost over! Today was a total MESS of tools and blood, and this wasn't even all of them used:
6 full carpules of Lidocaine, (3 for upper and 3 for lower) and 3 1/2 hours later, I was almost ready to go home. Rakhee made the modification to my partial and explained I needed to keep it in for 3 days in case of swelling it might not fit again. When it was first put in my mouth I think my tongue was so confused I could barely seem to make the sound of any consonants. It was incredibly disorienting, and I hadn't even seen it yet!

Being under orders not to lift or exercise for a week and under strict dietary limitations so as not to cause complications with the sensitive bone graft sites, I took the next few days off of work to rest and try to get accustomed to the sight of my mouth full of teeth again. This is, in fact, quite harder than it seems most people think. I've spent a lot of time in the mirror just looking at my mouth and making faces and taking pictures and trying to fight my perpetual urge for years of keeping my lips as narrow as possible in all conversation. I have come a long way over the past several months at opening my mouth, both to friends and strangers, wearing my story on my sleeve in regards to what was "missing" from my mouth. It feels like a different story altogether however finding comfort in teeth being put back IN. I posted a few pictures on facebook before I began to awkwardly make my new public debut of this new transitional smile.
A few hours after surgery.

I think some people may have felt that these pictures represented my "big finish" or something at first, and in order to clarify I wanted to also share the following few pictures I did not post on facebook. The teeth in the above pictures are part of a temporary partial denture, kind of like a retainer that just sorta pops in.

I think it kind of looks like an elephant!
It is not what my final smile will look like, and in fact I still have probably 6-8 months and about $12,000 worth of appointments to go. The purpose of this denture is to provide support to my other teeth throughout that time so they do not collapse. I'm sure it also will help to ease the transition in my brain, and also help me eat better once my sutures heal.

I have been wearing this crazy thing for five days now. Though it is getting a little bit more bearable in general, it is still very hard to overcome my public resistance towards speaking with perky enthusiasm and unleashing big smiles. I feel that some people are disappointed in me that I don't outwardly seem "excited enough" yet, but trust me when I say it is not that easy, and that I am working on it.

I have taken a few other pictures after resting and sitting with this new plastic friend for a couple of days that I feel look a little bit more natural to me, or just being playful. Here they are:
This is probably my favorite thus far.

And here is a pic, in case you are wondering, or maybe just because Halloween is around the corner and I have gore on the brain from watching zombie movies, of what is healing slowly behind this surreal new plastic smile:
That's all for now! I have a post-op appointment on November 7th and at that point hope to schedule my next 3 implants for early December providing everything looks good and the implant doctor is available, but now things are kind of a waiting game for me to heal and to raise the remaining $9K for the remaining implants and subsequent crowns to be mounted on them. So I guess it will be nice to have a break from so many appointments and stress over finding rides, though I am honestly going to miss my dentist. I'm sure that sounds crazy to some people! I am going to redirect my energies toward more fundraising events and catching up on a great deal of things I wish to write about in this blog I have been neglecting. Thank you for reading along, though I understand if some of the detail of procedures like in this entry may be monotonous, I am trying to be as thorough as possible in reporting all I remember, all I feel and experience to provide the truest account that I can for all of you wishing to know the story of this transformation. Thanks, as always, for all of your continued support and kind words. It is far from over. I hope to give you more to read really soon! Goodnight.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Reflections of the past year on the verge of my first implants & the "home stretch"

There has been a lot on my mind lately. My 5th and most recent fundraiser on October 24th was the one year anniversary of the day that my 3rd front tooth, #8, broke in half while in Trinidad, California on a 6 week bicycle tour down the Pacific Coast with my best friend at the time and former partner, Pinar.
October 24th, 2010. Trinidad, California.
 In some ways it felt like the worst day of my life. It was certainly the key toward letting go, releasing nearly 20 years of pain, alienation and isolation and my first step toward moving forward and changing my life, even if in that moment I had no idea how to even remotely begin that journey.

I could barely speak to or look at anyone for days. It continued to create distance between us for the remainder of the bike tour. On our last night together before the drive from San Luis Obispo back to Phoenix an also the eve of my 33rd birthday on November 10th, I found myself with a horrible toothaches, awake most of the night listening to songs I recorded 5 years prior during my final months in New York. My voice has changed a lot since I left the humidity of my forest upbringing and Lake Ontario, partially I think due to allergies and the pollution of cities, the dry heat of the desert and continuing decay of my teeth. Listening to me screaming lyrics felt like hearing the voice of a friend from beyond the grave, a voice I felt I would never hear again.

It was hard to come back to Phoenix. When I left 2 months earlier I had dreamed I would find a new place to start over in and in a way returning felt like just one more thing to be "ashamed" of even though we had successfully completed our 1,100 mile adventure. This was further complicated by not all of our memories being as perfect as I may have hoped, by knowing that our dynamic as partners and friends would be different than it once was, by knowing that I had never opened up to anyone but Pinar about my secret, and that I had no idea how to begin. How do you come back "home" after that when no one really knows shit about how you are feeling and all you have been through in the 2 most intensely beautiful yet tragic, life-changing months of your life? How do you put on a fake smile (when you don't even smile to begin with) to reply to all your friends questions, "Yeah, it was SOOO awesome!" when you are also totally fucking scared to even look at them?

I returned to Phoenix with about $3-400 to my name, homeless again, broken-hearted and completely unsure how to even begin to tackle the road that lay ahead if I were to finally begin to fix my mouth. (I did however, have the strongest legs of my life!) Pinar left to continue her own healing journey alone in Peru, I moved in with my friend Robyn temporarily and tried to figure out what was next for me. It was around this time that I wrote my "Ask for Help" note on facebook and stenciled a shirt, began trying to make money bartering bike repair services, and worked part time cooking and baking vegan food at the downtown collective and hangout space, Conspire.

I tried searching the internet for dental resources, but found little hope or answers. I began to talk a little about my secret with a few close friends. Everywhere I tried to call, from non-profits with once a month dental lotteries, resources for the homeless and a few random private practices, none seemed to have any answers or guidance for someone like me or were over a $100 just to even look in my mouth.

After talking to a friend who is an ER Doctor it was suggested I pursue a dental university as a possible cheaper option, but after calling around I could not be seen for over a month at the closest one. I tried again at A.T. Still University in Mesa and finally made my first appointment in 20 years for early February.
I still had a lot I was trying to process about the past several months of my life, and was repeatedly dissapointed upon Pinar's return that I could not find the time I felt was needed to work through all our experiences before she would leave for college. The night before she left, at the end of my rope, I wrote what would be the first attempt at an autobiographical narrative trying to put into perspective what the fuck happened in my childhood to make me this way and somehow put into words what it was that I felt happened to me to make me stop brushing my teeth. I wrote the majority of it in one sitting with virtually no editing, and cried several times reading it aloud on the phone to my former partner as she drove further and further from my life toward her own new journey to begin. It was the first time in my life I felt any of it even made sense or registered to me, like the first step away from over 15 years of denial was finally over. Shortly after I posted my secret to about 40 of my closest friends on facebook, and after such an overwhelmingly supportive and positive response from friends and acquaintances alike, a few days later took a deep breath and posted it to the world.

What followed in the months to come is hard to even put into words. I am still struggling every day to understand all that has changed in my life as documented in this blog, struggling to find enough time alone with myself and my thoughts and my mouth to really take it all in and realize how far I have come. I got a call mid-January from the dental school saying that my appointment had been moved up a few weeks and on that fateful day I would meet a very special dentist that would change my life, with each appointment helping me to find the strength to face my fears and little by little rebuild something I thought I had lost forever.

In the past 9 months and 36 appointments I have suffered through 13 extractions, 12 fillings, 2 root canals, 2 crowns, probably a 100 shots, dozens of X-rays, like 15 impressions without gagging, and have managed to find almost 2,000 miles worth of rides from friends and strangers to my Mesa appointments without ever missing one, with the exception of my grandmother's funeral. My blog has been viewed over 45,000 times in over 75 countries, and between it and the 5 fundraisers I have hosted I have raised nearly five grand from all over the US to make my grand total just over $12,000 counting the $1,000 my insurance covered and my savings. My autobiographical narrative, largely summing up what for years felt like the only "life story" I could see yet never speak of alone has been viewed 17,000 times. In a way, it feels like I have sold like 500 copies of a $10 book to the world. It feels like for once my writing actually really is making a difference and having a positive effect on others around the globe.

I now have 17 healthy, finished teeth out of final 24 I will have, am no longer in any pain, and can most of the time feel comfortable even opening my mouth to total strangers, now wearing my story on my sleeve everywhere I go. I am slowly relearning to eat foods I have long since avoided and/or forgotten, and trying to visualize myself with a real smile on my face again, even if my face oesn't quite yet seem to naturally contort into one correctly.

Tomorrow morning at 8:30AM will be the most expensive and intense appointment I have ever had, at over $3,000, and I am paying cash. After never really finding the discipline to save over maybe $1,500 at once my whole life and always being in debt, it is truly empowering to know that for once I have been able to pull out all the stops and make lots of daily sacrifices for the greater good of myself, to be able to confidently KNOW and say that in a year and a half I will have found a way to raise 22 thousand dollars. After that, I hope that as predicted, it will truly feel that anything is possible. I can't even begin to imagine how in addition to all I have learned and grown and healed and overcome, what new doors being able to smile again will open for me, what doors I have kept locked for so many years that I will now choose to open.

Tomorrow I will finally get my last eyesore of a tooth that you can still see extracted, #8, along with its 2 nearby friends buried deep beneath the gumline that I lost when I was 20 and 25. I will probably have bone grafts at those sites to help regenerate supporting bone for future implants, and will also be getting my first two mandibularly molar implants at sites 19 and 30. On top of all of this, I will be fitted with a provisional denture for my top 5 missing teeth to wear for the next several months mostly for cosmetic reasons but also to restore some function and stop my other teeth from collapsing. I am frankly not quite sure which one of these makes me more anxious! Though they will look somewhat different from the finished product months from now, tomorrow afternoon will be the first time I have seen myself with this many of my upper teeth in nearly 14 years. It is going to be a trip, and I am sure probably going to somewhat freak me the hell out and be really weird to get used to. I am really curious how it will effect my voice, and what it will be like to begin chewing everywhere after my extraction sites heal. I am actually kinda scared for the most in quite a while, but definitely still excited. I am not supposed to exercise for 5 days, and plan on staying in bed watching movies for most of the week, and all of my readers out there have ever been thinking about sending a "get well" card, this is most certainly the one! My birthday is also coming up on November 10th, wink wink.

I hope that you all have enjoyed and found meaning in my story, and I am eternally grateful to have found so many compassionate and supportive listeners also eagerly awaiting to see the new and improved me. You all help me to continue to find the strength to move forward and to strive to find a focus and balance in my life as never before. I hope you will think of me tomorrow morning and send me as much positive energy as you can spare. It is probably going to be my longest appointment yet. For now, I will bid you goodnight, and leave you all to wait in suspense of my tomorrow's pictures! Thanks, as always, for reading...

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Crossing my first bridge toward better chewing.

My last few appointments have been a scheduling nightmare. Every appointment I make basically has to be approved by like 20-30 people's schedules, between my dentist's schedule and her faculty of other doctors depending upon what procedure we are doing, then my schedule and that of my co-workers so we can not be short-staffed, and then if I make it through all of that first wave of hurdles, I have a list of like 20 possible people who help give me rides to the dental school about 26 miles away. Every appointment is tied to the next and if there are any complications it messes up several future appointments as well. In this case, a slight modification needed for my bridge needed more time from the lab, which in turn pushed back tentative date for my final extractions and first implants 20 days. It has been hard to be patient sometimes when I have suffered through all of this for so many years, and harder still when I actually have a ton of money saved that covers my next several appointments. I am however, trying my best to remain sane and focused and trust in the journey and my dentist and not get discouraged. Everything happens for a reason, right? Everything is all still going "according to the plan." Slow and steady wins the "face," as I often joke.

Here is a picture of my first bridge after the porcelain was added before trying it on.
It's weird how discolored it looks in comparison to the white plastic container it is it while technically still matching my teeth. I know that my teeth certainly aren't the brightest and artificially-whitest in the world, but it doesn't seem like this would possibly match when compared to something that's actually white.

So we tried on my new Snap-On teeth and went through the same ritual as before every time any big change is made to the crown of a tooth to check its occlusion, or basically how well these 3 teeth get along with the 3 that live in the apartments below them, but also how their party compares to the chewing party across the courtyard with the only teeth that really make contact well, #s 13 and #20. We went several rounds with articulating paper, "tap-tap-tapping" and "grinding all around" and rechecking for marks and slight modifications to the bridge to achieve the correct fit and try to get contact on all 6 upper and lower teeth without effecting the contact on my left side also, alternating tests with shim tape as well until it would no longer slide through my teeth. After more X-rays that were some of the most challenging ever due to location and angle and my missing teeth, and searching for an elusive bit of glue to remove, my bridge was finally after like 6 appointments seated and finished and ready to scrutinize!

This would be the first time I have seen myself with my first premolar (tooth #5) in years--I frankly don't even know when I lost both my maxillary premolars--and the most teeth I have seen on that side of my mouth in general, let alone that were actually healthy, in who knows how long. For the past several months I have been doing virtually all my chewing with my two premolars on my left side, and I was really curious how this would effect my ability to eat. The color seemed perfect, something Rakhee prides herself on, informing me once that there are actually some color blind students too. I have been comparing prices of dental procedures in my mind lately to different things. It began when I realized that for me to fly to visit a friend was roughly the same cost as my root canal on my front tooth, and it was strange to think about in terms of how we prescribe value to things. Is a weekend with one of your closest friends more important or meaningful than a root canal? I guess depending on the circumstances, it is hard to say. This bridge cost me about as much as my bike is worth, which is my most valuable and arguably most important possession that I have traveled over 4,000 miles with through 4 states in the past 15 months. In many ways, my bike feels like my new best friend I can always trust in any circumstances to get me through. It has very rarely ever failed. When compared to my bike, it is weird to wonder if 3 teeth are capable of "adding up," but nonetheless despite hating them for years, I am still grateful to now have them. It is just something I think about. The more I learn about my teeth, the more questions I have, the more I think about them, the more I make analogies and metaphors, and the more I remember from my past and my relationship to them and how they have always effected me as well.
I went home that night, and tried my hardest to imagine what I might look like when this journey is all over next year. I took a bunch of pictures trying to smile, trying to cover up the teeth that were still missing and pretend my mouth was complete. I must admit it still looks incredibly strange to me, but it is most certainly a huge improvement. This is what I think is the best and most "natural" I took in that series, and the most recent picture of all of my progress and what my teeth and smile looks like as of today. I will write about my new adventures in chewing very soon!

And below is my updated Dentrix diagram of my mouth, with all the work that has been completed in blue. Not too much red left! I will have to post some side by side comparisons of things so far once I get some of the new pictures Rakhee took at my last appointment with those mouth spreading contraptions in my mouth. Get ready!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

On Building Bridges: A brief overview many of my past several appointments

I believe since I last left off I was on the verge of receiving my final crown on tooth #3 and beginning my bridge on numbers 4-6. I don't have pictures of all of this and some of the details have escaped me over the past few months, but I will share with you the bits and pieces of the story I managed to capture.
Here is a picture from my 28th appointment showing the prep on teeth #4 and #6 at the start of the huge number of steps necessary for the completion of my first bridge which my student dentist was using for one of her numerous needed competencies.
Basically the outer surface of the teeth are removed to leave a "peg" of sorts which i kind of think of like a Lego that the final 3-tooth porcelain and metal bridge can be cemented onto. Note my FINALLY finished crown, post last-minute emergency root canal on my first (and only) molar behind them, tooth #3.
Here is a pic of the temporary crown Rakhee made and fitted that day to cover the exposed and sensitive inner tooth surface of my canine.
At my next appointment upon a consultation with my dentist's advising doctors, it was decided to slightly refine the prep on those teeth and drop the margin of tooth #6, or basically remove the surface of the tooth slightly deeper than the gumline so on the finished bridge you would have less of a chance to see the edges where the fake tooth meets the real tooth since it was in a more visible location.

Thank god today would also be one of the last times I would ever have to endure one of my biggest dental pet peaves, PACKING CORD, as you can see above in the blue lines of cord stuffed into the margins on teeth #4 and #6.
 Today we needed to take impressions again so the lab could have a record of the modifications made to my teeth in order to prep my final bridge, including the inner metal support that would first need to be tried in before the porcelain could be added around it.
In a weird way impressions always feel like 5-minute head hugs of sorts. A speechless internal reflection on all of mine and Rakhee's time together and how far we have come, like we just reached another landing in the skyscraper of babysteps we climb every day and at every appointment toward my finished smile. Every impression is a record of a new and improved me that she has created, and I adore she has like, a whole "shoebox" of models of my mouth. After spending much of my life always thinking that if I were to die in a flaming wreck that I would probably never be identified because I had no dental records, that is most certainly no longer the case.

After impressions I received a temporary bridge. Though a far cry from what my finished bridge could look like, this would be the first time I would see my mouth with a first premolar on the upper right side in years, and I couldn't help be be a little freaked out in once again seeing myself with one more tooth in my mouth after so many years without so many of them, and certainly so many others I was ashamed to look at.

Today's appointment also came a few days after my dentist's birthday, and I was up half the night before creating her present and card, which in the spirit of the open honest ways I am documenting most every aspect of this experience for the world to see, I wanted to share those words as well. I gave her a flash drive full of the nearly 4 gigs of pictures and videos I have taken since the beginning of this story from all my appointments, fundraisers and all aspects of my story that has, quite arguably, become her story as much as mine in my opinion. Here is my floss-shaped "card" I made her:

Over the next few appointments, X-rays, consultations and scheduling of MORE appointments, I was prescribed an extra strong toothpaste and encouraged to also use Listerine to help strengthen my roots and enamel. It occurred to me later while looking at my arsenal of tools and prescriptions I have used in relation to my mouth in comparison to the crappy old folding travel toothbrush and Tom's of Maine toothpaste I was using a year ago, that I have come a LOOONG way in how much care I try to take of my teeth.
At my 31st appointment I had my metal try-in of the internal support for my bridge. I couldn't help be be amused and feel like a cyborg. I am still wondering to what extent having implants may complicate my ability to pass through airport security when my teeth are finally finished.
I'm going to end this entry here and keep you in suspense to see my finished bridge I received on October 4th and read about how it has effected my life. More updates real soon!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Looong Overdue Updates

Wow I just realized I haven't really written in here in like a month! Have been so busy. A lot has happened since my 26th appointment. I am going to keep this general for now and write some more specific appointment updates real soon.
Let me see...In the past several weeks:

I had two more fundraising events totaling almost $300 more dollars.
After pulling those events off and working on my birthday presents for my dentist, I kinda exhausted myself for 3 or 4 days, in addition to my quest I haven't really mentioned in here yet, of trying to break some of the world records for most pull-ups. I am up to 292 in an hour. I wasn't really eating and sleeping enough that week and it took me a few more weeks to build my strength back up.

I am up to 31 appointments now, and about a week away from having my first bridge delivered on teeth 4-6 (upper right side canine and premolars).

I stumbled upon a Crest and Oral B-sponsored contest as an ad while browsing youtube with a grand prize of $25K and to be a guest on the Rachel Ray Show, and a friend and I spent like 20 hours at the last minute filming and editing my 2 minute video submission in order to make the deadline in time. I learned a lot about video editing and am excited to work on playing around with some other video projects soon, possible a silly "training montage" like the ones from Rocky and other movies of me doing crazy exercises or prepping for a bike tour in random downtown Phoenix locations. The two grand prize winners are announced right around the corner on September 30th, so please cross your fingers for me! I will discuss more about my thoughts on and all I learned from my video later.

The one year anniversary of when Pinar and I left Phoenix to begin the bike tour just passed on September 15. (Ironically enough, it was also the deadline for my submission to the Life Opens Up Project.)
This is what the beginning of an epic two month camping, hiking, biking, life-changing adventure looks like.

It was both a heartbreaking and inspiring day to know how much of my life changed as a result of that adventurous two months we spent together, the majority of which I still haven't fully reflected on, written about, or shared with anyone.
Hike and Bike 4 Life, Bitch.

Pinar taking a break in the Redwoods on Avenue of Giants, CA.

One of my many action figure costumes. Almost to San Fran.

Avenue of Giants, in love with the Redwoods

I spent that day thinking about our time together on that journey and how profoundly life-changing our year together in 2010 was for the both of us as friends, healers, lovers, traveling partners and playmates, and my current transformational journey with Rakhee and how far I have come in the past year as I biked 51 miles that night and also set a new personal pull-up record, doing 4 reps with 50% of my weight added.

I won the Employee of the Month award for the first time in my life as voted on by the homeless youth I serve. It felt really great, thinking back to how far I have come as a social worker at Tumbleweed in the past 3 1/2 years, also knowing that when I first got re-hired in January when this whole story was beginning I barely spoke and was incredibly self-conscious with my recently broken tooth and it was really difficult for me to open up and engage with dozens of youth on a daily basis and not fear potential questions about my mouth. It was a true honor to know that they feel I am helping them, when in some ways I feel like I am the most focused on myself as well as I have ever been. Their stories are an empowering inspiration in my life right now as much as anything, and I am honored to have my job and every day try to fill these crazy intense shoes and be the most positive mentor and role model I can summon the strength and face to be each day. I know I never could have done this job a year ago, and that fact and my picture hanging on the wall is one more empowering fact to remind me daily of how much I have grown, both with the support of my dentist and with Tumbleweed.

At my last appointment, Rakhee and I met the Dr. who will be placing my implants for a consultation, and I have scheduled my appointment for my last 3 extractions, bone grafts, first two molar implants and also to receive a 4-tooth provisional denture for the time being til implants are finished if all goes according to the plan for October 4th. (That is a LOT for one day.) I must admit I am pretty intimidated by this one. This will be the first time in like 15 years I will be able to see myself with all my front teeth, even if they aren't permanent yet. It is definitely going to be weird. I got all my extractions out of the way like 6 months ago and have worked on smaller stuff for so long, and so much pressure in my brain seems to be riding on what my front teeth will finally look like that now that we are finally reaching that moment it seems a little surreal to lose the last parts of me that are to be removed. I am currently payed through all of that and a little more for now. So it is also going to be weird to not go to the dentist for a long time, or have the remainder of my appointments much more spaced out as I can afford them after I spent the past several months sometimes having as many as two a week. I frankly have spent more time talking to my dentist than I have with probably anyone else I know outside of work since this journey began, and I would certainly be lying if I didn't already miss my dental partner in crime as I think of the months that lay ahead.

Next up, I basically need to raise the funds asap for my remaining four implants to be placed, while I wait for all of them to heal and fuse to the bone so the crowns can be placed. I.e, now comes the expensive part. So now I am basically back to trying to organize more local fundraisers and sell art and cookies and tshirts and do bike repair and odd jobs and basically every crazy thing I can come up with to try and hustle like three more grand by late October to hopefully place those implants before Rakhee leaves to go on rotation in for a few months. So this is me, once again, asking for help, in any way you have the time, energy or funds to offer. This could mean as little as sharing my story with others and helping me to network and/or get media coverage, to offering to perform, donate ingredients at future dinner parties, letting me tune up your bike for tips, tshirt printing orders, stencil art commissions and basically any and every idea you might have is possible. Host your own event, have a yard sale, donate things for raffles, you name it! Tell your friends when I have events. I feel like I work like 5 jobs right now, and also am trying to exercise 10-15 hours per week which is a whole other job in and of itself, but I am open to all options and I know that I am capable of whatever I set my mind to. It is always just a matter of finding a balance and staying focused.

Please send me positive energy around the 30th and maybe this contest will miraculously answer all of these questions for me!
Thank you all for reading, and I am going to try to find more time to catch up on a lot of the entries in my head I have been neglecting to get out over the past month. Please drop me a line at if you would like to discuss helping me in any way, or if you need help I can assist you with. Thank you!
Remember when practically this whole thing was red?? It's getting closer and closer to being all blue!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Please vote for me by Thursday September 15th for a crazy chance to possibly pay for all my dental work!!

Hello. HUGE apologies for such a long hiatus. I have SO much to update, but for now, I have to put it on hold for a bit longer to invite all my readers around the world to PLEASE take a few minutes and watch this video I made as my submission to a Crest and Oral B-sponsored contest, the Life Opens Up Project. If they pick my entry, I will win $25,000 and a guest and I, HOPEFULLY my dentist (!) will be flown to NYC to appear on the Rachel Ray Show in the next few months.

Here is the LINK.

Please share and help me get last minute votes--some other videos have been posted weeks ago and the contest ends in 4 days. Votes are only a small portion of the judging, but every little bit counts and could mean the difference between winning and losing. I have never been more excited about a potential opportunity. This could be my chance to tear down all the walls of repression around dental care and speak for millions of people suffering and living in alienation and fear on National Television. Tell me, when in all seriousness is the last time anything about dental care and oral heath ever made the news, or anyone with teeth like mine was ever shown in any media unless being made fun of. I think I have a pretty good chance to win, but I need your help!

This video is also the most recent footage of the real me that exists. I hope you will watch and vote, and I will love you even more if you repost and share in any manner possible. Maybe at the last minute I can go viral on twitter and have a landslide! At this point, after all I have been through and all the showers of positivity from around the world, I truly believe than anything is possible. So thank you all for helping to manifest those dreams and slowly build my new empowerment. Wish me luck!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

First Friday, Stencil Art, Guerrilla Marketing & Upcoming Events

Over the past few months, I have regularly been selling cookies for donations out in front of my friends Matt & Lesli Yazzie's gallery, Longhouse Studios on 5th Street in the heart of the Downtown Phoenix arts district, sharing the street with Jobot Coffee and Crepes, Made Arts Boutique, the art collective, performance space and vegan cafe Conspire, Of the Earth, Lost Leaf, and Tumbleweed Drop In Center, where I work, among others. Though it is a far cry from similar bohemian neighborhoods in other cities, it is a place that many of us downtown creatives share a love/hate relationship with, and like it or not, it seems, the only place that seems like "home" to us, where a few hundred of us all know each other, and you can always find something going on. If you haven't yet been and live in Phoenix, I hope you will come check it out, preferably on any day but First Friday, though that is a different kind of experience in and of itself. I think that many of us just wish that the 1000s of wanderers who show up on that night would acknowledge that it is not the only night of the month that it is "cool" to support the arts in Phoenix. If we are in fact, your "entertainment" and a point of Phoenix pride, please recognize, we're here all week. Many of us in fact, seem to never leave.

This past First Friday Lesli invited me to put some work up in the gallery in addition to hustling my reasonably famous if I do say so myself vegan, gluten-free, peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. I have begun to bake a little bit for Conspire again also and recently a customer actually cleaned out the whole remaining supply of 18 cookies--$18.00 worth. I was a vegan fiend for years always looking for cookies and snacks everywhere I went but I must tell you despite my 11 years vegan, I don't think I even ever spent that much on cookies in a day. So they must be good :-)

While I haven't really made too much visual art in the past few years, and I have rarely seemed to be able to both focus on writing AND visual arts at once, successfully, I am trying to begin slowly to work on some stencils again. Though I am still a little unfamiliar with how they work or how popular they are with my crappy old Cricket phone and general resistance to embracing shiny new technology, I recently cut a stencil of a QR code via the website that people with smartphones can take a picture of  with the right app and be taken directly to my blog. Try it!
I am brainstorming some new guerrilla marketing techniques for my blog and have been putting a few of these in public just to try and see what other random people I might be able to reach, though I am trying to be careful and not do it in any way that could be perceived as "vandalism" because it basically links to my whole life. Though I wholeheartedly support graffiti as an art form, guerrilla art and taking art out of galleries and creating things in a public context to reach out and make people think, there is a fine line when it comes to the law, and I cannot afford to get arrested at this junction of my life. I do however, think there is still a lot of room to play around with this code without damaging any property, like making inserts to place in the New Times around town, in dentist office waiting rooms, making stickers of it, etc. We will see what else I come up with in the coming weeks. For now I have just put up a few in the Roosevelt area, which is already covered with all sorts of flyers and graffiti.
Guess where this is? If you know me, this should be an extremely easy question.

I screenprinted some shirts and gathered several of my favorite old stenciled works to prep for First Friday. Though for years they have been dear to me, I am feeling more easily ready to part with them, even though many are one of a kind and the stencils that created them no longer exist. I feel that all of my creativity is a rallying cry toward my one focus of healing and raising the next several thousand dollars needed over the next few months. Everything must go! If everything goes as planned with my next several appointments, I think that we should be able to begin placing implants by late September/early October. I have made it my aim to try and raise $4-5K by that time as of the beginning of this month between my own wages at Tumbleweed, cookie sales at Conspire and elsewhere, fundraising events I organize, art and tshirt sales and commissions, random donations, and whatever means I can come up with. Here is how I started out the month at the Longhouse:
In case you don't happen to be aware, all of the pictures in my blog are much larger if you click on them!
Domino/Keira Knightley in the lower left is the most detailed stencil I ever made in my first 6 months or so of stenciling while selling stencils in the streets of Portland. The tree in the middle is still by far the most elaborate single layer stencil I have ever cut, with around 1,800 pieces cut out of a single sheet of posterboard and using over 40 X-acto blades. The antique Singer sewing machine is one of the more popular images I have made and is also on the tshirts I just made.

From a small portrait series I was working on of women who inspired me. Katie, my first love, fellow "thought criminal" and partner in crime, Anastasia, a Phoenix poet who helped break me out of a writing funk and inspire me to go to Mexico to try to perform poetry in Spanish with friends 3 years ago at a big writers' conference with friends, and Miranda July, a performance artist, writer, director and actress who also is the inspiration for my "tramp stamp" tattoo I got as a birthday present to my closest friend I ever met on the internet who I also stenciled for this series, Kathleen.
This show was somewhat of a retrospective "greatest hits" of many of my stencils, many of which are personal to me as far as what they represent, or the time of my life they were created. This is actually how I met a lot of my first friends in Phoenix, as the crazy new homeless guy in town at Willow House Coffeeshop who for several visits was always cutting a ramen noodle stencil. Like 540 pieces later and about 23 blades I believe, here is a cropped version of the finished product painted on a record.
Thanks Lesli and/or Lori for making me this sign!
Between my art and cookies sales there and at Conspire that night, I raised about another $160 and with my own payday that day as well I was able to add another $485 to my credit at the school, bring my new total to almost $10,000 since January 19th! I have currently spent about half of that on everything I have had done so far, leaving me with $4642 in credit for my upcoming visits. It is quite amazing to know that ever since I began this journey, there has not thus far been a single appointment or procedure I have had to miss or a schedule I have had to change due to lack of funds. I hope to keep it that way. Implants are creeping up on my soon, and after so much momentum over the past 7 months, I don't want to get stuck just sitting here forever while I raise money in waiting for the priciest procedures. I also wholeheartedly am determined to try to find any way in my power to finish my treatment plan before Rakhee graduates next June. We have come so far together, and that is seriously probably my sincerest single wish in regards to any other person in my life over the next year. It would simply be such a wonderfully profound mutual gift to the both of us and resolution to this chapter of my life, and in my humble opinion, an awesome big finish to her education. Before she and all of the other 4th year students depart to figure out the next stage of their lives, I would love nothing more than to have a huge and epic "Apple-Eating Party" in honor of so many of them from the class of 2012 I have come to know and call friends, along with the hundreds of others who have supported me throughout this transformation.

I hope if you are reading this, and if it is in any way within your means to help me achieve this dream in any way that you can, I hope that you will consider doing so. The easiest way I think possible is to repost and share my blog and encourage others to do so. Everyone keeps telling me to write to Oprah. I feel that everything kind of has a life of it's own at this point. I just keep talking to people and being honest and open and doing what I love and making things happen, and everything has seemed to fall into place, over and over again. Maybe Oprah should write to ME! Maybe one of you out there reading knows her and how to reach her, and can speak on my behalf? Or maybe I don't need a celebrity millionaire to help me, when I already have all of you :-) Everything seems to be going "according to the plan." I hope to finally get some more local press soon. I want to also finally try to submit my story to NPR. I just made some more blog promo cards:
This is the front. Picture taken by Rakhee during my 3rd appointment after my full mouth debridement on January 26th. It's practically actual size, which gave me another crazy idea to get more printed without the text to pass out at shows and get photos of those in attendance with my old teeth in their mouths!
And the back. Panoramic X-ray taken by George on January 19th..
I also have two upcoming "FUNraising" events this coming Sunday, August 20th. The above cards, the text of which I wrote over 3 years ago somewhat inspired the first one. At 3:00PM at my friends Leann and Sven's used bookstore, Bard's Books I am going to host an open mic of sorts, with a theme of "secrets, fears and confessions." I will be providing vegan snacks and refreshments for donations and also reading some of the more personal selections from my blog. The event is also a book drive of sorts, and the owners have kindly offered to donate a portion of what they would normally be paying customers who bring books in to sell but wish to instead donate  them that day to my fund, and also a portion of sales that day. Amazing.
My other event, on the SAME day which hopefully will not drive me insane this week to organize and prep for, is a punk rock show and vegan dinner party at my former residence, The Firehouse Gallery, which is also an artist collective, performance space and coffee cart, featuring several popular downtown musicians. Below is the flyer I made with an image from a Garbage Pail Kid. The fun starts around 8:00PM. Get there before the food is gone!
After posting this on the wall of my facebook event page, I couldn't help but notice how strangely similar it was to the other picture I had been using for the event, which I took a few months back with a peephole over the lens of my old Sony Cybershot I take to all my appointments:

I had forgotten how many Garbage Pail Kids seem to have had dental themes. Maybe I just grew up wanting to be a Garbage Pail Kid? Subliminal messages?? Haha. I apologize to the artist of 3/4s of these cards from my childhood, John Pound. I know not how to reach you to ask permission to use this image I found from a google search, but if it is any consolation, I hope you will forgive me and trust me when I say that you were probably the first artist I ever was introduced to or even liked as a kid. If not for you and Art Spiegelman and the other creators of Garbage Pail Kids and also those behind Mad magazine, I don't know if I would have ever even grown up wanting to be an artist. So if somehow this blog ever makes it back to you, I hope that my earnest "Thank You" now is enough. I would also someday, love to own some of your original work and would proudly display a large painting of one of your kids alongside any of the other "finest" art I will ever own :-)

I hope if the rest of you readers who happen to live in and around Phoenix will please share my event with your friends, and I hope to see you there to eat Indian food and slurp Jobot toddy through a straw with me so as not to stain our teeth! I have lots more events of all shapes and sizes in the works, and will let you in on them all real soon when I hammer out more details. Thanks, as always, for reading. I hope I can share how far I've come with more of you in person instead of always just through my writing really soon.