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)
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Thank you for this. I sobbed. I love the concept that the world needs our children. I seem to spend my whole life apologizing for his sometimes bizarre or socially unacceptable behavior. It made me cry so hard to think that he could be a blessing to someone other than me.
Margaret Bicker says
Beautiful! Absolutely beautiful! I think a lot of people needed this reminder. Thank you!
Wow. It has been a LONG time since I could relate to a post so much like my severe son. It made me realize I am not alone in having a son with severe issues…..and I guess I am not as alone as I feel regarding God in my situation, either…….
Wow. Wow. Wow. Speechless. Have not been able to relate so much to something in a very long time. Beautifully written. Reminded me I am not alone…not only in having a severe son, but that God is still here……..
Wow, this was fantastic. I laughed and cried, and thanked God. Keep up the good fight. May God continue to bless your family.
Emily A. says
What a great reminder! I often apologize for my special needs sister’s behavior (usually for being too friendly/invading people’s personal space, etc) and sometimes strangers have said, with tears in their eyes, how much her bear hug or kind comment meant to them. I am usually too mortified at the time to realize what is happening.
On another note, my sister also doesn’t do the dentist. She goes in pretty regularly and gets about one tooth cleaned at a time, because that’s about all she can handle, if that. It depends on the day. And when she got her wisdom teeth pulled (which was quite the ordeal!) the valium made her hyper and an anesthesiologist had to come from behind her ninja-style and jab her in the arm, just like Jake! Slightly horrifying, but effective nonetheless.
Thanks again for sharing your stories and what the Lord is teaching you in the midst of them. I know it encourages me!
Timothy Fountain says
Bless your family and thank you for helping folks understand that a normal, boring “appointment” for most families is a high anxiety, complex operation for those with special needs.
Where to begin? (Alright – short version, this is a comment people!)
PTSD stands for Post Surgery Trama Disorder in our house, and it can look quite similar to yours. SO I begin with understanding.
Next I type this with tears running down my face. So many lessons and so many ways we learn. Jake, so full of overwhelming anxieties and one nurse and one mom to help him through. I believe he meant and understood every kiss.
Love this. – Ms
What an awesome testimony and a wonderful reminder to those of us without your struggles to not be judgmental. We never know what someone else is going through. Thank you for sharing.
Janet S says
WOW! I can SO relate to your experience. My daughter is 25, but any kind of medical or dental appt. is definitely an ordeal with her, too. We have been blessed with lovely dental and medical people in dealing with her. She is more of a witness for Christ than I am! She has no filters and will tell a hurting person that she will pray for them and then she DOES! Our children are tough for us as parents, but they are so great for the world around us. Thanks for sharing your struggles with us. It reminds us that we are not alone in our struggles. We have God and our fellow believers/parents to lean on. God bless you! 😀
Cynthia B. says
Our little agent of grace is now 10. We are celebrating the fact that he is finally eating and chewing real food after 2 years of targeted feeding therapy. In rhia area, and in many others, we still have miles to go. Our son blesses our lives with his love and trust. His unbridled joy brings a smile to anyone who spends a little time with him. His discriminating judgement of anything other than an absolute tone of kindness (such as a parental reprimand to one of his brothers) often brings upset to his gentle nature and results in his pulling movie lines from his memory banks such as, “You’re fired!” Through the years, his public meltdowns forced us to come to terms with the imperfection of our lives at a new level and to begin to see the blessings and graces of life in a new way. Your perspective in this wonderful article moves us further down that road. Although we have learned to look for the blessings in disguise and to often see those blessings on the front end where our family is concerned, we may not have thought as much about the blessing our son is and will be to others outside of our family. Thank you for this revelation of grace… another puzzle piece in contemplating the mysterious, higher ways of our God as we thank Him for our Logan.
Dentist visits have been difficult for us, too. Here are links to my blog posts about a couple of our dental experiences.
Blessings and grace, thanksgiving, and love to you and your family,
Thank you for sharing your heart. On this eve of a full moon, while hormones and sensory neurons go completely haywire and emotions unravel to the last thread, your words are encouraging to my heart.
Prayers for you & Kim.
Thank you for this article. This is our life as well. We try to make it out of the hospital before anesthesia wears off…no laying in the recovery room or Matthew goes ballistic! Tensions and emotions run high before, during and after, and I have never stopped to think that someone may actually see a blessing in our turmoil.
Beautiful thought: that a situation that is causing us so much stress and anxiety might be really blessing someone else. Your son gave that nurse what she needed, and she gave him & the rest of you what you needed. Thank you so much for sharing.
Aimee Jenkins says
We are going to be doing the same thing on Thursday. Our son is only 5 but we still have to sedate him for any procedures that he needs to be still for. We get so caught up in the day to day and are cut off from everyone else that we lose sight of how our difficulties can be a blessing to others. I have been wrapped up in my own self pity since getting his diagnoses that I have made things more complicated and automatically assume what others are thinking for the worse. This post is so much needed and really touched me, thank you!
I don’t know how I found your blog this morning, but I am glad I did. An “agent of grace”- huh, never thought of it that way. Thank you.
Kathleen Bolduc says
Greg, this is powerful. I have a similar story from several years ago, but reading this made me remember it. I think I’ll post it on Thursday! Yes, the world needs what our kids bring – they are a gift from God.
Sounds so familiar, after almost 35 years , my daughter has stopped getting so upset before the visit but still requires hospital dentistry. She does ok until her name is called to go back to pre op then it is non stop crying. But who can blame her…She has made great progress. It seems to have helped a lot for us that the dentist she has now is female and maybe she feels more comfortable with her because of that. Actually we had an outright miracle this past March. She was released from the hospital with pneumonia and just to add spice to our life she developed an abscessed tooth while in there so of course I was worried because I knew anesthesia would not be safe with the lungs in poor condition, I called her dentist soon as we were home, oh it was starting to snow and the dentist is located an hour away up a mountain, but we scheduled an office visit for the next afternoon as we hoped the snow would be brief and melt right away. The miracle occurred that afternoon as she calmly allowed her dentist to remove the tooth. She had no idea that removing the tooth was what would be happening to her, there was just no way we could admit that or she would have been out of that chair. There was intense quiet prayer in the room that day. I was sure the mountains had to have shifted from the whole experience. But the tooth was removed and problem solved.