Having your wisdom teeth removed has become somewhat of a rite of passage for teens and young adults in the US. It seems like it's something almost everyone has to do at some point, and the experience often comes with a lot of firsts. It's the first time some people are ever put under anesthesia for surgery; for others, it's the first time they get to experience strong pain killers and surviving off mashed potatoes for a week.
For me, however, having my wisdom teeth removed came with a last instead of a first. The day I went in for wisdom teeth surgery was the last day I would ever be able to taste or feel anything on the right side of my tongue or face.
The whole experience started off pretty standard. My dentist had been hinting that it was time to schedule an appointment with an oral surgeon to get my wisdom teeth removed, and I booked a consultation over Christmas break. I shopped around for an oral surgeon in my area and found one that had good reviews and seemed fully capable of performing the surgery. I went in for the consultation, they took some x-rays, we cracked some jokes, and I scheduled an appointment for a few days later.
I wasn't nervous about the surgery. Most of my friends had already been through it at this point, and the worst they had reported were puffy cheeks and maybe some loopiness after the procedure.
The day rolled around, and my mother and I headed in for my 8 a.m. appointment. I had purposely scheduled the earliest time possible, so I would not have to starve all day; I was not one to miss breakfast. We arrived at the office to be met at the front counter by a nurse with a concerned look on her face. She informed us that the doctor was not even in yet. There had been an accident the night before; a boy around my age had tried to drive home drunk and hit a tree, and my oral surgeon had been called in to do emergency reconstructive surgery. The receptionist said he should be in within an hour.
My mother and I took this time to go shopping for some after-surgery-friendly groceries. We loaded up the car with mashed potatoes and lots of canned soup before heading back to the oral surgeon's office. When we returned, the doctor was still at the hospital helping the boy. I couldn't allow myself to be frustrated; clearly, the boy who had to have reconstructive surgery on his face was having a worse time than me. I decided to just sit and wait patiently for the doctor to arrive.
Finally, two hours later, I was called into the back. The surgeon was on his way to the office, and it was time to get me prepped for surgery. I chatted with the nurse as she hooked me up to various beeping machines. In an attempt to calm my nerves, she told me that my doctor had eight more wisdom teeth surgeries to do that day; if he was doing eight just today, he must be pretty experienced at the surgery. However, I couldn't help but think that if my surgery had been pushed back four hours, there must be plenty of other people already in the office waiting for their procedures as well.
When the doctor arrived, I was quickly put under, and the surgery that was supposed to take a little over an hour was done within 30 minutes. I didn't realize this, seeing as I was unconsciousness, but my mother was surprised when she was called to bring the car around after only half an hour. We didn't ask questions at the time and mostly just worried about getting my loopy self home.
The recovery process went as I expected. I had chipmunk cheeks and was seemingly connected to a giant carton of rainbow sorbet for the rest of the week. I watched a lot of boring movies on Netflix but found them fascinating under the influence of pain medication.
The only thing that seemed weird was that only the left side of my face "woke up" after the surgery. The right side was still completely numb, and when I ate a bite of anything hot or cold, I could only taste and feel it on the left side. I decided I shouldn't worry about it for now — these types of things must happen all the time.
It wasn't until the follow-up appointment a week later that I realized this wasn't a common occurrence. The look on the doctor's face gave it away first; the second I asked if it was normal to still be numb, his calm demeanor turned to concern and confusion. After a few minutes of poking my tongue, he confirmed what was already pretty obvious: I had nerve damage.
The only real option I had was to wait it out and see if the feeling came back. He said he could refer me to a nerve specialist after a few months, but there was a good chance that what the specialist could do would either leave things the same or make them worse. I didn't like the sound of that. I would like to continue tasting and feeling things on at least half of my face if I could help it.
I truly thought that, if given a few months, everything would get back to normal. However, in the meantime, I was having a seriously hard time talking. My new numb tongue and face was just like the few hours after getting a cavity filled at the dentist. I kept tripping over my words when my tongue wouldn't cooperate, and I was upset to find that I couldn't sing the same anymore. I joked that I should sue the doctor for the price of one famous singing career, but in reality, I really did find it all upsetting. Eating anything hot or cold was strange because I could only feel it on one side, and I worried about my teeth after months of only chewing on one side of my mouth.
All of this happened two years ago, and the only thing that has changed is that now I'm used to the numbness. I wish I had a direct answer as to why this happened. My theory is that, since the doctor was rushed for time, he worked too quickly and was not careful enough. However, nothing has been confirmed for sure.
I wish I could pose this as a cautionary tale, but I don't know what I could have done differently. Perhaps rescheduled my appointment altogether when I knew he was running late? I still hold on to a little hope that maybe someday the right side of my face will wake up from its prolonged nap, but in the meantime, I'm trying to look on the bright side. I have mastered the art of swallowing bitter medicine without it touching any of my active taste buds, and I can beat anyone at a wasabi eating contest. It's the ultimate "turning the other cheek" story, right? Turning the other cheek isn't so bad when it can't feel anything.