We took our son to his annual dentist appointment a few days back. Not really exciting or extraordinary news in the schedule of a typical family. Then again, nothing is typical for our tribe.
Autism, PDD, and sensory integration disorder make the dentist office one of the most fearful places on the planet—and not just for Jake. We have emptied more than one dentist office in our many years of trying to do “normal” with the abnormalities of our son.
So now, under the advice of doctors, nurses, dentists and dental hygienists everywhere, we get Jake’s dental work done at the hospital, in outpatient surgery, under general anesthesia.
It is one of the most stressful days of the year for us, and him, and everyone else lucky enough to have made their hospital appointment on this day.
Every year I worry about the anxiety of my son, the labored concern of his mother, the general danger of anesthesia, the stares from the waiting room eyes, the thoughts of the doctors, nurses and health care providers (who are really going to earn their money on this day), not to mention the filling and pulling of teeth and the aftermath of recovery.
This year was no different from the rest. It began with trying to pre-medicate Jake just to get him in the front door of the hospital. The doctor prescribed one valium before leaving home, which had absolutely no affect on him whatsoever. In the pre-op waiting area Jake was given liquid versed (Midazolam), which would normally send a grown adult to the third heaven. This also had little to no affect.
Finally, in a last ditch effort to simply get our son onto the hospital bed, the doctor snuck up behind Jake like the Crocodile Hunter and hit him with a small tranquilizer dart in the arm. In what resembled this scene from the movie Madagascar, Jake was properly prepped for the annual visit to the dentist.
Nearly three hours later the dentist met with us in the waiting room and gave us the bad news. “I had to do a lot of work in there this time. Pulled a couple teeth and filled most of the rest. It doesn’t look good for the future.” As if that wasn’t hard enough for worried parents to hear, he finished by saying, “You might want to take a lot of pictures of you son smiling this year, it wont be long till I have to take them all out.”
We didn’t have much time to sit and contemplate what the dentist had predicted. Just when we sat down again, the nurse came out and informed us that Jake was waking up.
This was the most dangerous time of the dentist visit. Sort of like the tranquilized lion waking up after the veterinarian finishes his work. You don’t want to be around for that. So, our mode of operation from years of experience is to go and get Jake while he is still slightly drugged, put him in a wheelchair and rush him out of the hospital before he comes completely unraveled.
An extremely nice, well-seasoned nurse helped me get Jake dressed. She was very gentle and soft-spoken. I was glad God chose her for this day.
Kim stayed behind to sign all the necessary paper work and I accompanied the nurse as she pushed the wheelchair and our sedated son down the hallway, past the waiting room, toward the elevator.
We were almost there.
The plan was going well until I made the mistake of thinking Jake was groggy enough to take the elevator. Note: Jake doesn’t do elevators (a story for another time). So as soon as I pushed the elevator button and the door opened, Jake fully awoke, flung himself out of the wheelchair and into the floor, screaming and thrashing like he was on fire.
He was too drugged to walk, but not drugged enough to get on the elevator. He was bleeding from his mouth where the teeth had been pulled so there was blood spilling all over the white hospital floor as I was struggling to coax him back into the chair and onto the elevator.
The screams grew louder and the blood flowed brighter.
Gentle, soft-spoken nurse struggled to lift Jake’s deadweight body off the floor as I struggled to figure out how to lock the wheels on the wheelchair. Beads of sweat formed on my forehead and my face began to flush as I imagined what was going through the minds of the nearly full waiting room behind us.
Then the longsuffering nurse looked at Jake and asked, “Do you want us to help you take the stairs?”
Jake immediately jumped up from the floor and headed unsteadily for the stairway exit with me supporting one arm and the nurse supporting the other. He was overjoyed that he didn’t have to take the elevator. He was so overjoyed that he stopped every two or three steps and kissed the nurse right on the cheek—big, sloppy, drunken, bloody kisses.
I apologized for the muddled morning this poor lady had to endure. She just smiled and didn’t even wipe her face.
There were about three hundred steps between the elevator and the exit doors two flights down. That translated into about one hundred kisses for the nurse, and probably fifty or so apologies from me. And, as usual, I was so caught up in my own pride, that I didn’t see what God was actually accomplishing in the hospital this day.
Nearly twenty minutes later we reached the bottom of the stairway. Ten minutes after that we walked out the exit doors of the hospital where Kim was waiting with the car. As we exited the hospital, Jake leaned back and gave the nurse one last kiss on the cheek. And I gave one final apology. I was sure she drew the short straw for work today.
And that’s when it happened. The gentle, soft-spoken nurse looked me in the eyes and said, “Will you stop apologizing! I needed every one of those kisses today!”
I thanked her again, put Jake in the car, and we were on our way.
Not until later, after the adrenaline dump, after the stress-headache was gone, after I was back at my office staring at my computer screen wondering what it was going to be like having a toothless son, did the words of the gentle nurse get past my ears and sink into my heart.
“Will you stop apologizing! I needed every one of those kisses today!”
Stop apologizing; people need your son! Stop worrying about the stares; people need to see the hard days of your life.
On the most stressful day of the year, God makes your son an agent of grace, and your life is on display to a world that does not understand the strength of true weakness—a people that cannot comprehend bloodstained kisses or muddled love.
But they need to understand.
And so God sends a broken boy into their midst, and into the life of a weary nurse. And He puts your whole messy life on display. And no matter how many steps it takes to get you to where you need to go, He takes them all with compassion—one step—one kiss at a time. And no matter how many times you apologize for the inconvenience, the weary, watching world accepts each kiss as being straight from God.
“But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ ” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)