Wednesday, April 13, 2011

An important recent development I seem to keep forgetting to mention.

About a week ago I realized something. After the end of May when I had my last three extractions (for a total of 13 so far) which were some of the most painful and irritated, and a few days of taking Vicodin, but also beginning antibiotics before my final four extractions, a few days later, I also got the flu. After a month of painkiller numbness, lethargic, bedridden movie boredom and slurping down soft foods, I felt so out of it that weekend. When I finally began to heal and as my most recent stitches dissolved and I was once again off of my meds, a funny thing happened. I realized that for the first time since I was a teenager, that there was virtually no more pain in my mouth! It was truly, the strangest feeling. My whole mouth felt foreign to me.
Over the past several weeks I had followed doctor's orders to a "T" to a point I had practically memorized the waiver sheet and could recite it myself back to my fleet of oral surgeons, and I had taken the utmost, paranoid OCD care to not eat anything that might poke into my healing root holes or get stuck in my stitches or whatever the worst case scenario might be. There would be no risk of dry sockets in THIS mouth, damn it. A lot of pudding and yogurt though, perhaps.

 Previously, as stated earlier, I had for years taken great care to maneuver all my food around in my mouth to the perfect spot I could chew and hopefully manage to not poke any sharp corner of it as I was chewing into a sensitive spot to avoid piercing pain. I was a pro, even, and for the most part could manage to chew in one tiny little spot on the right side of my mouth for a while, then next year it would be a little further forward, the next on the left side, etc. Over the years those spots of course got smaller and smaller.

The weird part is, as my gums healed, I technically still had the same contact points among my upper and lower teeth as I did before I had the majority of my wreckage removed, yet it nonetheless seemed like I had a totally different mouth. The last time until a week ago I chewed anything potentially problematic was in early February, mostly on two premolars on my left side. As my extractions worked their way in a "U" from my lower right to upper right quadrants, to upper left and lower, I begin to allow food to slowly slip out of the central cavity of my mouth and into those spots as they toughened up. I noticed that somewhere during that process, I had shifted my predominant chewing place now to the opposite side. I also noticed, that though I had thirteen less teeth, I actually seemed to be chewing more efficiently!? Now, if I managed to misplace my food while chewing it, if a hard or pointy piece happened to slip past my pain boundary back onto the place where soreness used to be, it didn't matter, because it had nothing to make contact with! So while I might not have technically been able to chew any better yet, it was for the first time in over a decade, not hurting me to try.

In a way, it really feels like a "rebirth" in a way. I've been basically eating baby food for several weeks now, and after working my way up to "Gerber Graduates," or, foods with LUMPS finally, I am relearning to actually use my teeth again. The diet I have now is really confusing. Not quite like my "before" diet, and far from my "after" diet, but...I am recultivating slowly an entirely new relationship with food again. I am standing today, on shaky legs, taking my first steps, curious what my strange new body is even capable of. I ate chips a few days ago for the first time in two months, and though it was even slower still than before (though the teeth I've had pulled may have been pretty useless and it did hurt to chew on them, they did nonetheless get used somewhat and add a little more function) I was surprised I could actually do it.

Today I met my friend Alia for lunch at Paisley Violin which I had only went to a couple times when I first came to Phoenix and, having flashbacks of my frustration back then of there only being a few vegan items on the menu, today I was completely at a loss to decide what the hell their option were for "chewing-challenged" people. I was incredibly anxious with frustration, awaiting first sight of my order already planning on being disappointed like how for so many years they had accidentally put cheese on my vegan plates when my order arrived. I couldn't help but feel stupid as I explored its ingredients, bit by bit, thinking "DUH, Paul, what were you thinking? You can't eat that, you've been eating overcooked pasta and eggs and smoothies all week." Searching my hummus plate in shame, it was littered with chunky parts of lettuce, cucumbers, and a thicker, harder pita than planned. My first thought was, "Oh shit, where's your spork?" I looked across to my friend Alia, thinking "Why did I order the side of much softer pasta salad that came free with this when it obviously appears to be what I should be eating right now of all things on the table?" and began my familiar ritual of cutting the pita bread into small pieces with my fork. And guess what? To my surprise, I actually didn't have too much trouble eating it! It was still slow of course, and I drank lots of water to soften the bread, but there was not the least bit of pain during the whole long process. There has been much to celebrate lately, but today was certainly worth remembering for a different reason that all those others for their generous donations and progress of procedures. Today is truly a day that my mouth felt positively different, despite what my eyes have been telling me as I have watched closely the stitches disappear, the swelling go down, the colors change. Today is evidence that my babysteps are truly beginning to add up.

In planning my next several appointments a few weeks ago, Rakhee knew that I was initially self-conscious about every little bit of my remaining front teeth, given how much that small piece of #8 had seemingly changed my entire life on the bike tour, and despite the quick progress removing all my other teeth, we arranged to postpone my top front four extractions til last and take care of all my fiillings first. However, at my recent appointments, we both remarked that with the majority of the ugly, broken and infected teeth now gone, how nice it was to look in my mouth and see mostly all healthy teeth now. Unfortunately, we each agreed that only made my last leftovers now become even more of a focal point, and though I feel like lately for the first time ever, I can deal with it and don't worry what people think if they might catch a glimpse of them in conversation it was most certainly consensus that they have got to go immediately.

It is going to be really strange to say goodbye for a while to my ability to bite my lip, as hard as it has been since October to do it with only two teeth. I am also nonetheless scared at what my voice will sound like and how much more hard it may be to enunciate for the next several months. I am torn regardless, over the decision to have a "flipper" made or not, a temporary partial made to replace those four, but mostly for aesthetics, (or as I like to say, for "fashion over function," or, basically the opposite way of how I generally live my life.) A flipper feels like a "stunt double." Though I currently suffer from somewhat of a "handicap," I definitely am a "do my own stunts" kinda guy. Frankly, I'm not sure I want FAKE fake teeth. In a way, I feel like it "ruins the suspense" as well. Haha. I have not seen myself smile with anything resembling a full happy mouth of healthy teeth for over fifteen years now. I kind of feel like that is the big finish. I want to reserve that feeling of when I first look in the mirror and see myself with teeth again after all that time, for when they are actually ones that don't pop out and get kept in a little plastic bucket like Legos or something. I want them to be part of me.

We shall see if my thoughts change over the coming weeks, but for now, I am celebrating. I am excited to for the first time in years be able to chew on both sides, even if only on a few teeth. I am excited that I ate at a restaurant for the first time in over two months. I am excited to currently be FIXING my real teeth for the first time ever in my life, to witness Rakhee transform them with each appointment, and proudly believe that they are worth fixing. I am excited to be eating more of a variety of foods and textures again. I am excited to, counting my savings and fundraising, be over two grand ahead of my current appointments, and can't wait to schedule as many new ones as I can afford to immediately to get #s 7-10 out, heal, finish my fillings and start tackling the REAL epic parts of this adventure with my superhero partner as soon as I can possibly raise all the money for each step of the way. It's kind of like a race, to me. The more cups of Gatorade you all continue to hand me as you cheer from the sidelines, I promise, the faster I will run to the end to smile with you all. Maybe we can pull it off by Halloween and the whole world can see me dressed up as Happy Paul and you can all bob for apples with me! That's ten days before my birthday, in case any of you are wondering. Hint, hint, hint...

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