Wisdom from my wisdom tooth extraction


By Kamrin Baker

Photo by Kamrin Baker/The Gateway

Scrolling through Instagram during Spring Break provided me with hours of questions and curiosities. How do college-aged people find the money to travel to the Caribbean in March? What filter is that? Where did she get that swimsuit? Why did I schedule an oral surgery the Monday of this week-long vacation?

The answers are as follows: They work a lot of restaurant jobs. The filter is A6 in VSCO. The swimsuit is from Target’s new collection. And I’ve put off my wisdom tooth extraction for two and a half years, and I needed those third molars to get outta town– just like everyone else.

I have mentioned many times before, both in writing and outside of publication, that I have some heavy, obnoxious, turbulent medical anxiety. Experiences that include needles, blood, or any possibility that something is inherently and irrevocably wrong with me allow my panic attacks to come to the surface like a dolphin peeking its forehead up for air. Except with anxiety, I don’t get to come up for air.

So since December, when I had my oral surgery consultation and set the date for March 19, I held my breath. My doctor, who was calm, collected and understanding, told me the truth; albeit making the experience more nerve-wracking and imminent. I had bacteria pockets near my incoming and impacted wisdom teeth, making room for cavities and infection. There was no more waiting until my anxiety subsided, no more waiting until it was convenient for my feelings.

I set the date, wrote it on my calendar, and ignored it until people started mentioning their Spring Break plans, their travel itineraries and the work they’d get to avoid. I had a one-way ticket to the couch at my mom’s house, ice cream vouchers an added fee. I started saying it was an excuse to take naps, to watch movies and eat high-calorie pudding cups, but we as a collective humanity often forget how difficult it is to heal.

That being said, I’m in the thick of it now, realizing that Advil liquid-gels can probably cure all, and somehow getting sick of peanut butter milkshakes from Sonic. I’m still bitter and starting to count down the days to my actual break of summer vacation, but I know there are enough people around the globe who need to hold hands to get through the IV portion of an operation, too, and this piece is for them.

1. The anticipation will always be worse than the real thing.
I haven’t allowed myself to celebrate the success of my procedure yet, simply because I still have an anticipatory reflex that thinks my horror story still hasn’t happened. I didn’t have an allergic reaction to any medications, there weren’t any huge complications, and I didn’t even say anything embarrassing when I came out of sedation. Horror stories are often very rare or very fictitious, and going into a situation with a premonition that all fears are non-fiction is the first and greatest mistake you can make.

As per some advice of a friend, I made a list of delusions and facts a day prior to surgery to prove to myself that this minor and routine procedure would not script my eulogy.

I’ll always remember waving to my mom the entire ride home, her eyes relieved and full of laughter from the rear-view mirror. My stomach bothered me for three days after the procedure, and my jaw is still tight as a baby’s fist around a rattle, but I made it out alive, and that’s what I wanted most.

2. Your experience is unique to your body.

For those of us who are still leaning towards believing the horror stories of others, or at least asking every other human person what their wisdom tooth extraction was like, you can interview and interrogate your friends all you’d like, but the biggest caveat is that their mouth is not the same as your mouth.

It could have taken one person a couple days to heal, while another person needed a week to recuperate. It’s likely you’ll fall somewhere in between that spectrum, but don’t count down your recovery when you could instead be using that time to– wait for it– recover.

3. Self care will look different this time around.

The most impactful thing I could say to myself to keep my anxiety at bay was that simply getting myself in the operating room was an act of self care. My wisdom teeth had been causing headaches and jaw pain, and as an adult, I realized what it must be like when a baby begins to teethe for the first time.

Problems were occurring in my mouth; the thing I use to eat and talk and scream-sing in the car. I needed to take care of it– and for the first time in my life, self care transformed from being something that made me feel good, better and relaxed into something that hurt, made me cry, swell and bleed.

And in the healing process, you’ll have to irrigate your sockets, ice your swollen cheeks, and probably take a laxative or two because of how many pain medications you’re taking. It’s not pretty. It’s not cute. It’s not your ideal Spring Break.

And yet, I found it important to use the A6 filter on VSCO to document the experience. I laughed about the shapes of my ice packs, the many flavors of Jell-O I learned about just this past week, and even how chipmunk-y my cheeks became. It hurt to laugh, to talk, to smile for a few days, but this one little milestone; my first surgery, I will cherish as the first hill I battled in a better life.

And get this– I only cried, like, six times.