Today my younger brother had oral surgery. Years of neglect of his teeth had finally caught up to him and his tooth has abscessed so badly that the entire right side of his face had swelled. Earlier this week he had gone to the dentist and they immediately sent him to an oral surgeon. That was Tuesday after Labor Day. The oral surgeon cut into his gums, which were bloated with puss, to relieve the pressure and to begin cleaning out the area. He scheduled oral surgery for Friday afternoon and my little brother asked me to come with him.
We waited in the reception area for over an hour. It was a meat-market type place; totally packed with the low-income and the uninsured – an inner city dental practice. I sat in a white dress with a black tapered Burberry blazer looking like the wealthy upper crust that this ilk of people tend to despise – that I despise. To exacerbate the class divide which was taking place in my head, Fox News played on TV – clearly I would be voting for Mitt while the whole of reception area would were Obama supporters.
It was late Friday afternoon. They finally called his name at quarter to six. Five minutes after he disappeared, I was summoned to the operating room. The dentist was an older fellow with a beard as long as Tolstoy’s. He wore surgical scrubs and a leather necklace with some kind with a dangling stone – he was clearly a sixties throwback. At that moment I only hoped that he had a medical degree of some kind.
We chatted. He was warm, caring and personable and took the time to get to know us – not at all what I was expecting from a practice that herded people in and out like cattle. He asked us loads of questions. Then we got into the topic of the procedure. I asked questions about how much pain and discomfort my brother would be in after the operation. I then inquired about the pain killers that he would prescribe. He tried to put me at ease and explained that people shouldn’t be afraid of pain killers, but rather the abuse of them. He said in our case we had nothing to worry about – but I knew better.
My role in this endeavor was to make sure that my brother didn’t fall asleep after the operation so as not to choke on the gauze that was in his mouth. I returned to the reception area and waited until they called me into the recovery room. The entire operation took about twenty minutes. I came in and my brother was pretty lucid, especially compared to the other patients who were groggy and couldn’t stay awake; even those who had surgery an hour ago.
I sat on the table with my brother and waited for the doctor to come in and check on us. When he did he turned to my brother and in a stern voice said “you and I have to talk, my friend.” My brother looked up at him like a child looks up at his parents and we both listened intently. He said “You have a drug problem and if you don’t take care of it, you will die. It is as simple as that.”
My brother remained silent and listened while the doctor continued to speak. He then went on to explain that it took three times the normal dosage of anesthetic to knock him unconscious approximately the same dosage that he would use to pull four wisdom teeth. It was clear to the doctor that my brother’s liver was accustomed to metabolizing drugs, which is why he needed an increased dosage of anesthetic. It was also the reason why his recovery was so rapid. The doctor went on to explain that continued drug usage would eventually damage the liver beyond repair, not to mention the possible risk of overdose.
Hearing the doctor’s words knocked the wind out of me, but only because the conversation was unexpected surprise. The doctor knew by my earlier line of questions, that I was well aware of the situation. For years, I have struggled to help my brother, but never with a sense of certainty, that I actually have [helped]. I continue to do what I can and watch him closely. But never being sure of what he is up to, I live each day in a perpetual state of anxious concern.