Dear Jan the dental hygienist-
I just had to write you and thank you for today’s visit with Howie at the dentist. I have to tell you – I had been dreading this visit all week, all month really. Every time I looked up at the calendar and saw “Howie: dentist appointment 11:15am” I got a lump in my throat. There were a million different ways today could have gone awry. But it didn’t. Thanks to you.
Maybe I should back up and tell you what a rotten week I’d had. Or should I say “crummy week”, because that’s the word that Howie used to describe his day on Tuesday. The week started with some conversations with a few people who I thought really understood me, but then I realized that wasn’t the case. Then came Howie’s “crummy” Tuesday – a day where everything went wrong for him at school. I tried to take away some positives from that day – his teachers had said he was very articulate about why he was having such a hard time – but it was still breaking my heart to see him so angry about school. Four year olds just shouldn’t have bad days. That night ended with him asking for his usual three blankets on his bed, plus his weighted blanket, a giant body pillow and his three foot long stuffed dog in bed with him. The kid was out of sorts even at bedtime.
Wednesday came along with new challenges and guilt. I took Lewis to the doctor for his two year old checkup. The kid screamed from the moment we entered the exam room until we left. And I mean screamed. He must have some post-traumatic stress thing going on with the doctor’s office from being there so much. When he was four months old, he had bronchiolitis and we made many trips to that office to check his breathing. In recent months, we’ve been in to get his ears cleaned after worrying about his speech delay. Can’t blame the kid for hating the place. He calmed down enough during the appointment for the doctor to advise me to get an independent speech evaluation. The guilt was swirling around me as she said “I don’t think he has PDD, but…”, and then Lewis started screaming again. And in my head, I was screaming too.
Jan, Thursday came and it was Lewis’ 2nd birthday. I was still recovering from Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. More guilt piled on me as I realized that I had no party planned, no cake made, and no presents wrapped. He was falling into the classic “third child syndrome”. On a day when I should have been celebrating, I was wallowing in family pity. The day ended ok, after a reminder from my husband that “he’s two – he doesn’t know”, but I still felt like I was failing him and my family. The kids weren’t happy and I couldn’t even pull together a simple birthday party for my own kid. What was happening here?
So Jan, you can imagine how I felt when Friday arrived and it was time for Howie’s dentist appointment. Of course, first we had to get through our monthly team meeting for him at his preschool. The whole ride to his school I was cursing myself for scheduling two anxiety riddled events in one day. But the team meeting went really well. He’s doing great in school and two months in, he’s fitting in just right in the full day inclusion program. This week had been tough for him, they said, but it was an anomaly and not the norm. His teachers were looking at this week as a teachable moment – his “engine” was running high all week and he was having a hard time regulating himself. I told them I was pretty sure he was coming down with the same cold his brothers had, and his sensory issues are usually out of control about 3-4 days before he actually gets sick. His teachers really seem to understand him and his needs, and I am constantly impressed by how well they work with him.
Even after all this, I was sure I should have canceled that dentist appointment. We really needed it to go well. Jan, his last experience at the dentist was miserable. It was their policy that parents stayed in the waiting room when the kids were having their teeth cleaned, and they stuck with that even after I told them he was on the spectrum and had sensory issues. Fifteen minutes in, I could hear him crying. I went to check, and they stopped me and told me he was fine. When he came out another ten minutes later, I could barely hear what the dentist was saying over his sobbing. I knew right then we had to find another place.
Which brought me to your practice, Jan. We had to get this one right or else I feared I’d never get him back to a dentist again. I talked about it all week. Offered all sorts of rewards and earning opportunities. And I made that call that I dread – I called your office before the appointment and told them he was autistic. I struggle with this all the time, the “should I tell” and the “who should I tell”. I didn’t want to say anything. I don’t want my son thought of as being different. But I had to. I needed him to be treated differently this time. I needed you to know before we walked in that door.
And Jan, you were wonderful. You took us in quickly and quietly told me you had been given the “heads up”. You looked right at him when you spoke and guided him gently through the appointment. You told him we were doing “science experiments” when you painted his teeth purple (his favorite color) to see the plaque. You let him sit on my lap the whole time, and whenever he got nervous, you backed off, talked to him about what you were doing, and took your cues from him. And he did it. He had his teeth cleaned, polished, and covered in fluoride. I was amazed.
When I thanked you for your kindness and understanding, you told me you knew. You told me about your cousin’s child with sensory issues and your nephew with Asperger’s. And that clinched it for me. You got it. I should have known.
And that’s why I had to hug you when we left. If anyone knew that I did that, they’d be shocked. I’m not a hugger. But it was the only way I could express my gratitude for what you did for us this morning without crying. You took what could have been a potentially disastrous appointment and turned it into something special. Life changing. My son left there with his giant purple balloon and told me he “really liked this new dentist”. I couldn’t agree more.
On behalf of my family and my son’s teeth, I thank you for all that you did. See you in six months.
“Monday morning feels so bad
Everybody seems to nag me
Come on Tuesday I feel better
Even my old man looks good
Wednesday just won’t go
Thursday goes too slow
I’ve got Friday on my mind” – Friday On My Mind by The Easybeats