One of the last things that has needed to be taken care of, has been getting Cheryl to the dentist. It’s been something that I wanted to take care of back when she was in the hospital, but no matter how many times I mentioned it to the doctors and nurses, they never followed through with getting it done.
Since she’s been out, it’s just been one of those things that has been looming over me. Her teeth have never been great and one of her bridges came out while in the hospital. By the way, for those not keeping track: that was almost 5 YEARS AGO!
It didn’t help that we didn’t have dental insurance. That shit costs money and there was no spare cash to be found to get Cheryl to a dentist. Eventually, 3 years after getting out of the hospital, we found ourselves in a position to get the process started. I called around to a couple of dentists to try and suss out the situation.
Clearly, I needed someone that was going to be able to handle her lack of direction and “special needs” situation.
FINDING A DENTIST…
I found a regular old dentist who seemed great. The staff was nice and the woman on the phone helped me with everything that I needed. I wanted hep and they went out of their way to give it. I explained Cheryl’s situation and it seemed like they were able (and open) to helping.
Done. I asked what kind of dental insurance they took and, once I found out, I called up the company and got Cheryl some dental insurance.
I went up to the office to check things out and they gave me a complete tour. I gotta say, I was blown away. They went over and above the call of duty to make the whole “dental experience” easy n their patients. They had a zen room, an arcade room for kids and teens and a small movie theatre room for the adults.
CHERYL vs. THE DENTIST – ROUND 1
So the day comes and we get Cheryl to the dentist closest to us. They made us wait a little longer than usual given the place was pretty much empty. Come to find out, they had the decency to call a dentist that only works there part-time. It just so happened that he was a bit of a specialist when it came to patients with brain injuries.
Great. Maybe we can get her teeth fixed. At this point, they weren’t looking too good.
We get in there and they can barely do anything. They can’t take X-Ray’s because she can’t bite down and keep the little tab thing between her teeth. They can’t fill her cavities, because she can’t keep her mouth open. They can’t give her a proper cleaning because she couldn’t rinse or spit.
Basically, all the dentist could do was scrape away some of the tarter that was around her teeth. At this point in time, she couldn’t stop moving her jaw. It was some weird tick caused by her brain injury. The dentist was seasoned enough to figure out the pattern and scrape along with her stride.
At the end of the day, nothing much could be done. What could be done was getting hit with a fat fucking bill of all the services SHE couldn’t do. We got charged for X-Rays. We got charged for a cleaning and even though I carefully researched and bought the insurance this dentist would take, we still got hit with a $600+ bill for being “out-of-network.” Total bullshit and a refused to pay it.
What should have been a $0 bill became a $650 bill. Fuck that. I canceled the insurance and refused to pay the bill. I guess they worked it out because I never heard from them again.
One good thing that came out of the appointment with our “brain dentist” was that he suggested “hospital dentistry,” a concept that was foreign to me. Basically, undergoing hospital dentistry meant you’d get lightly sedated and they would do what they needed to do. The thing is, being from Michigan, this is pretty normal. In California, apparently, it wasn’t.
There were only a handful of places that catered to “individuals with disabilities” like Cheryl. Or as it’s known out here: “hospital dentistry.” Which basically means they’re gonna knock you out and do what they need to do. We’re not talking laughing gas, we’re talking full out IV sedation.
I called the first three places on the list and they all refused to see Cheryl based on the description of her problem that I gave. At the end of the day, there was only ONE place in Southern California that would see her. Unfortunately, it would be a bit of a problem to get her in.
UCLA’s School of Dentistry is the leading specialist when it comes to dealing with patients who have disabilities. In order to qualify for the program, you have to be assessed and approved to become a patient. A process that a) only takes about 15 minutes and b) I knew there was no way that Cheryl WOULDN’T qualify for it.
So I called to make an appointment. I called in February of 2017. The first appointment I could get was May of 2018. That’s right. We would have to wait for over a year to get her into the dentist.
There was no list if anyone canceled, as I was told that “no one ever cancels.” Obviously, if our appointment was a year out. A frustrating year, given the fact that she was having major mouth pain, was missing sections of her teeth and, well, they just looked awful. We already knew, from going to the “normal” dentist, that she needed some major work.
I called from time to time to see if we could move her appointment up, but no go. There was nothing. When a random tooth ended up falling out when she tried to eat a sandwich, I called…told them that her teeth were literally falling out and this felt like an “emergency,” they didn’t care. They told me there was nothing they could do and if I felt like it was a true emergency, to take her to the emergency room. Yeah, you don’t go to the ER for teeth related issues.
THE PROCESS BEGINS
A year later, we finally get our day in court. We show up and, yeah…it was literally 20 minutes. The head of the program took one look at her and said, for sure, that she was a candidate for what they do. He explained the cost and, what would be, the plan for her care. He also explained that the students, while the top of their class to be in the program, change out once a year. We were in May. The new class was slated to come in in early July.
He explained that it wouldn’t be a problem, he just wanted us to know that the student that does her assessment, wouldn’t be the student that carried out said assessment. We couldn’t care less. I only tell you this because this is going to be an issue further down the line.
Now, I’ve been at this for some time and make a point to ask VERY specific questions and remembering the answers, verbatim, to the questions that I ask. Not to put too much a point on it, but this shit is borderline life and death…I make it imperative to remember everything.
In that first appointment, to qualify us for the program, we were told that our next appointment would be about an hour. It would be under light sedation and they would take a look at her, do a full assessment and tell us what the plan was. They would give us a full report and we could decide, based on cost, what was the most important and work our way down to the least important. I was also told to bring her medical history, which was okay because we had JUST gone to her regular doctor for her annual check-up and I had the report.
That’s very specific, right? No fucking that level of instruction.
Yeah, we show up to appointment number two, ready to figure shit out and the kid, yes…KID, that talked to us just took down her medical history. Most of which involved asking me questions. In other words, he barely looked at the report that I brought him. I’m a walking Cheryl encyclopedia and could answer everything off the top of my head.
It was a total waste of time! We could have done that in the first appointment. When I mention to him what we thought was going to happen, he just kept telling me that he was sorry for the “misunderstanding.” THAT pissed me off. I got livid because it implies that I was told something and I was the one who couldn’t understand what I was told. File that under “fuck off.”
Thank God for Ally, because she’s a beam of calmness and she talked me down from causing a total scene. The “kid” wrote out a prescription and told me, twice, the following thing: “Here is her prescription for her sedation. Bring this with you for the next appointment.”
How would you interpret that?
Probably the same way I did. She was going to have some IV sedation and this as the prescription for that medication. I handed it to Ally and told her what he said. I went to make the NEXT appointment, which I was now told would be a 4 hour full out assessment and work. She would be knocked out for the entire time at $100+ bucks an hour for sedation plus whatever work needed to be done.
This was in early June. I’m already irritated that, in my opinion, was a waste of a drive up to UCLA from Long Beach and the chick behind the counter tells me that she doesn’t have July’s schedule yet, so she couldn’t schedule an appointment. She told me I would have to call in early July to schedule.
Now you’re just kicking me while I’m down!
I left in a huff while dropping some choice language. I later realized that my anger wasn’t with them specifically. It was with the system. The system that is constantly broken and lacking any form of logic. More importantly, it was a system that I hadn’t had to deal with in a few years. I had forgotten how stupid all of this bullshit was. I’m not the smartest cookie in the box, but I sure as fuck know that this whole thing could run a lot less idiotic.
ONE LAST THING…
Remember that prescription? The one that we were told to bring with us? I handed it to Ally, who actually read the prescription rather than rely on what I was told. The prescription was for a pill that she needed to take one hour BEFORE arriving for her appointment.
That was NEVER mentioned during the WHOLE conversation I had with the kid.
He told me his instructions with the prescription, I listened and repeated back to him what he JUST said to me and he approved that I heard correctly. We were in sync.
Apparently, we weren’t. I left the appointment so frustrated and annoyed.
July rolls around, Cheryl lost another tooth and we desperately needed to get our appointment. I called and they told me that a whole new crew was in place. I explained that we were already aware and ready to move forward with treatment. That’s when the dumbass, I mean nice lady, on the phone, told me that she would have to start over and get reassessed. Meaning going back to square one.
If you looked up “losing one’s shit” in the urban dictionary, you would have seen a GIF of me…on the phone…with this woman.
She told me that she would have to email the director of the program and get back to me. Didn’t help that it was a holiday weekend. She assured me that she would get back to me ASAP.
Spoiler Alert: she didn’t.
I called back after the holiday and got a different woman that told me the same thing. Cheryl would have to start over, back to square one. I, very nicely, explained “fuuuuuuuuuuuuck that.” She told me to hang on, checked with her supervisor and came back ready to schedule the appointment. Cool. We’re ready.
CHERYL vs. THE DENTIST – ROUND 2
The bar was very low when we showed up for our appointment. We knew her teeth were a mess and didn’t expect to get some weird clear bill of health. We had no insurance and this would be completely out of pocket. We looked into insurance but it would have been a complete waste of money and time. Based on the insurance that UCLA took, it would be a year before she’d be able to even get a cavity filled.
It would have been $1800 in insurance money before we even could have started getting any of the work done that we THOUGHT would need to get done.
I helped get her into the chair and held her arm while they stuck her with the IV. Kissed her on the forehead and told her that Ally and I would be waiting in the lobby.
After about an hour, the dentist…a goddamn Godsend came out and told us the bad news. It was NOT what we thought it would be.
Her gums were so infected and her teeth were so rotted, that the only solution they could come up with was pull ALL of them and fit her with dentures.
To say it was a shock would be putting it lightly. We knew it was going to be bad, but not THAT bad.
What made it worse is that they wanted to do it that day, but there was no way we could let Cheryl go through that and not give her permission. She was sedated and wouldn’t be able to give her okay. So they took out the roots of the missing teeth and sent her home, allowing us to talk to her and get her on board.
She slept most of the night. At a certain point, she woke up and asked how it went and what needed to happen. I told her the truth. She needed to have all of her teeth removed and fitted for dentures.
She cried at first but stated that she knew it was going to be bad. She then stood up, got pasty white and passed out. Thank God she passed out into the couch.
The countdown to getting her teeth pulled began.
Eventually, she got on board. She was excited for the pain in her jaw to subside. She was excited to eat chocolate again. Cake again. Ice cream again. She was excited for pizza and steak and all of the things she’s had to avoid because her teeth weren’t strong enough and eating anything other than the things that she was used to caused her pain.
She was ready for new teeth.
CHERYL vs. THE DENTIST – ROUND 3
It took a little less than 3 hours to pull out 22 of Cheryl’s teeth. She went in looking like this:
and came out looking like this:
The first 48 hours were the worst. She had a hard time swallowing and really wanted to eat. We threw everything at her. Coffee, protein shakes, applesauce, pudding, jello. Nothing worked.
Luckily, after that initial 48 hours, she regained her ability to “eat.” She downed everything. Coffee. Shakes. Jello. Pudding. All of it.
The bad news? She won’t even be able to get started on the process of dentures until December. Her mouth has to heal for 3 months before we can get started.
As for dentures? That’s going to be a 5-6 appointment process. So it doesn’t look like Cheryl will get her new teeth (and be able to eat her way through her list) until early 2019.
This process is just beginning, so for now, I’ll just say…
To be continued…