After six months of living with milk crate furniture and a park bench couch, I decided it was time to live like a grown up again, and I moved in with my friend Steve into an apartment in a reconditioned factory in Brunswick called The Brickworks.
One assumes “Brick And Also Corrugated Iron Works” wasn’t nearly as catchy.
None of the furniture in our apartment had at any time been used to freight goods, so it was a definite improvement. And between the two of us we had an improbably high number of games consoles, so I called the apartment as The Arcade. This name didn’t catch on with quite the same ferocity that The Ponderosa did, but it’s still how I remember the place.
Yes that is a 45 degree angle balcony. The apartment was made up of many of these non-perpendicular corners. It made for a quirky space, but it was a pain in the dick for trying to find a decent patch of wall to place a bookshelf.
It was while living in this apartment that a 19 year saga finally came to an end; a saga that started in 1993 when I face-planted into a catamaran on a six-lane road. But before things got better, they had to get worse.
It started one October morning in 2011, when I woke up and could immediately taste blood. My first thought was that I’d done something horrible in my sleep: As a child I had sleepwalked, sleep-talked, sleep-fed-the-cat and sleep-peed-in-the-linen-cupboard, so it wasn’t entirely outside the realm of possibility to consider I’d taken up sleep…vampiring. However, a quick scan of my bedroom showed no signs of murder, so it was looking more like the blood I could taste was probably my own. This was hardly comforting.
By mid-morning, after brushing my teeth ninety-seven times, nothing had changed and it was time for an emergency dash to the first dentist that would take me. One quick X-ray later, and the dentist had discovered the root (pun intended) of my problems. Want to see? Well you can’t, as their email was on the blink, so I couldn’t get a copy myself. But I did fire up MS Paint to draw a facsimile based on the description the dentist gave me:
I don’t know which is more terrifying: the dental trauma I was enduring, or the fact that a man in his 30s still uses MS Paint to make pictures.
That was the state of my mouth.
So, why the blood? Well, the two wisdom teeth that were head-butting couldn’t move, but they wanted to, so there was a lot of undetectable jiggling. The disturbance was keeping all the gum above it nice and soft and susceptible to infection. Which, I’m told, I’d had non-stop for who knows how long. It seems my healthy immune system had kept actual infection symptoms at bay, but the bleeding and mild swelling were signs that stuff was going on down there that I had been unaware of for years.
The dentist went on to explain that the two buried wisdom teeth needed to come out, but were far too deep for him to do in his clinic: I had to go in for surgery. He strongly recommended—in a terrifyingly serious, dour, dentisty manner—that if I was going to have the trauma of going under general anaesthetic and having my head yanked apart like a victim in a Saw film ANYWAY, I may as well get all those rogue wisdom teeth (and the shy adult canine) removed at the same time. Having 6+ teeth removed might seem extreme, but he reasoned that there was no need to have my mouth prised open with a car jack more than once.
He also reasoned that the expense of the surgery would be pointless if I didn’t fix up the whole business with the hit-by-a-boat-on-dry-land induced gap in my teeth while I was at it. By this stage the dental plate I’d been using was 17 years old (which even grosses me out to think about and I was the one wearing it). The dentist recommended a bridge, which would cost me in the vicinity of $15,000.
So, let my mouth destroy itself or plummet into considerable debt? One option would most likely prevent me from being able to eat food, the other would prevent me from being able to buy it. But I was still super jumpy from the time I lost the plate in my sleep, so despite never knowing in a million years how I would afford it, I spent the subsequent few months preparing and applying for loans.
Fast forward to January 10, 2012, the day of the surgery. My mother had flown down from Queensland to look after me during the surgery recovery. The last of the pre-surgery fillings (and there had been maaaaany) had been completed. Every last divot in my teeth had been filled in, up to and including the divots made by the wires of my old false-teeth plate, which now no longer fit in my mouth. The solution to this was to simply cut the wires off, meaning I spent one very unsettled week with no way of holding the plate in my mouth besides the awesome adhesive power of my own spit. “I hope you already cover your mouth when you sneeze, and if you don’t you’d better start” was my dentist’s advice.
At 12:15pm we drove to the hospital where my surgery would be taking place. Not dissimilar to a Big Brother housemate, I had to sign a thousand forms, give up my electronic devices and put on an outfit that revealed far too much skin. A big patch was stuck to the back of my hand to relax me (pretty sure I was more relaxed before a giant, squidgy bandaid I wasn’t allowed to touch was affixed to me), and then my blood pressure was taken (causing my blood pressure to IMMEDIATELY skyrocket because I hate not acing every test I take). We then waited for just long enough for me to feel incredibly self-conscious in my hospital-issued ensemble of dressing gown, shower cap (head) and shower caps (feet): so about six minutes.
Nothing calms the nerve before surgery quite like being patched, tagged, stripped and then paper-bootied.
Upon having my name called, I was swept into a room that felt just a bit too big, helped up onto a bed that felt just a bit too high, and set upon by three or four nurses who seemed to be moving just a little bit too quickly.
“Okay, almost ready to start,” said my extraordinarily carefree surgeon, who was so fancy his official title had gone way past “doctor” and all the way back around to “mister” again, “Time to get those wizzies out.” I tried not to think about the fact that I was having surgery performed on me by a man who said “wizzies” instead of “wisdom teeth” and wasn’t called “doctor”. He stuck a syringe into the drip to which I was already attached. “This is going to make you feel like you’ve had three or four bourbon & Cokes. Then we’ll see how we go from there.”
I didn’t even have a chance to ask whether he could make it three or four Malibu & Cokes before I was out.
Several hours, or maybe three seconds, or possibly three thousand years later, I woke up. I woke up with no real recollection of what I was waking up from. Unlike waking from sleep, where the brain kicks into action and eventually tells the eyes to open, my eyes opened themselves while my brain struggled to catch up. And it didn’t catch up well. I felt like the whale in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, just suddenly being an entity and trying to figure out how that works:
“I…what? Wait. Good morning, I guess? It is daytime. What is daytime? Who am I? Pass. Where am I? I am in bed. Mum is here. What is ‘Mum’? Oh, Mum is that person who is your mum. I have a mum. Why is Mum here? She lives in Toowoomba. Am I in Toowoomba? What is Toowoomba? What time is it? What is time? Am I late for work? Do I work in Toowoomba now? Fuck, I hope not. Wow, that’s a strong feeling to have about a place I can’t remember. Wait, this doesn’t feel like my bed. Am I in someone else’s bed? And if I was in someone else’s bed that brings me back to one of my earlier questions: why is Mum here?”
This continued for some time.
A nurse walked into view and, seeing me awake, asked if I wanted to drink something. The second she said it, it was all I had ever wanted in my life. Every moment of my thirty-one years on Earth so far had been leading to this point, where I would get to drink something. I was suddenly very aware of the space between my eyeballs and my neck: what were once cheeks, a mouth and a chin was now a lumpy, dry, misshapen slab of concrete. And I was the thirstiest thing to have ever had a thirst in the history of things that get thirsty.
I get handed what seems like a paper thimble with about seven drops of water in it, and a straw. I put the straw in my mouth, and nothing happens. I realise the straw is actually four inches to the right of my mouth. I get the straw into my mouth, and still nothing happens. I’ve forgotten how to work a straw. I fling the straw aside and drink out of the paper thimble. No part of my head moves in response to my brain’s “drink this water” command, and half a cup of water splashes over my closed mouth and down my front. Mum retrieves the straw and I try again. With agonising slowness, like a farm tractor being started after fifteen years rusting in a paddock, my facial muscles grind and pull and shriek and contort themselves in such a way that a tiny tiny tiny tiny tiny tiny tiny sip of water makes its way into my mouth, and it is the happiest I have ever been in my life.
After re-learning how to activate the parts of my face generally required for survival, I was upgraded from a paper cup filled with water to a metal cup filled with jelly.
I was BARELY ready for that jelly. Cute headband though, y/n?
After what felt like not nearly enough time, we were allowed to go home, but not before we stopped off to pick up a) the variety of painkillers I had been prescribed, and b) every custard, jelly, and ice cream I could find, in the hope of sliding them all down my almost entirely unresponsive gullet.
This, it turned out, was a mistake. Why? Because I entirely forgot about actual food. Nutrients. Soups, mashed vegetables, pureed things. Six days of Yogo, ice cream and jelly added to a body that was already suffering from some pretty harsh transgressions (stress, anaesthesia, painkillers, half a dozen people violently plucking teeth from one end of it) causes some pretty disastrous results. Well, one pretty disastrous result: barfing.
And more barfing.
This is followed by a one-two punch of sobbing and whimpering, which is in turn followed by a bit more barfing.
Do you know how hard it is to barf through a swollen head full of stitches? Imagine one of those ready-to-bake roast lambs you buy from Coles, already trussed up in a tight little ball. Now imagine jamming a hose into one end and turning it on until water comes out the other end. It’s like that, only it hurts. And then there’s the aforementioned sobbing and whimpering.
FUN FACT: I had been dating someone for barely two months when this happened, and he graciously came to look after me. We are no longer together, and when I stop to wonder what went wrong between us, I am reminded that he met my mother AND watched me cry AND watched me barf AND watched me do both at once in only our seventh week of dating. That probably didn’t help.
I’m going to do us all a favour now and skip ahead to the part after the stitches dissolved, the swelling went down and I was able to chew again.
It is May of 2012. Four and a half months have passed since the surgery, and I have had many trips to the dentist to get fitted for my brand new porcelain (yes, like what toilets are made from) bridge. No more plastic, no more wires, no more ill-fitting denture that is able to be sneezed out of my mouth.
I swear it wasn’t actually that discoloured: this photo predates Instagram. It was taken with an app that added its own filters willy-nilly, and it clearly settled on “Dental Dystopia” for this one. But it’s the only photo I was ever willing to take of the stupid fucking thing, so it’s what you’re stuck with.
I finally had, for the first time, adult, human-shaped teeth.
I realise this photo isn’t as mindblowing to everyone else as it is to me, because I spent so long masking my teeth in photos, or smiling in a way that didn’t show the full extent of the damage, that evidence I ever had a problem at all is hard to find these days. But this is one of my favourite photos in the world.
For nineteen years I had that horrible old plate, and it completely defined my self-esteem for that whole time. So much of my identity was wrapped up in that little piece of plastic that acted as a mask for all of my formative years: covering the secret, disgusting hole in my face that I kept hidden from everyone. To be rid of it is to experience a freedom I wasn’t aware was even possible. To not be constantly reminded of a secret shame that sat in plain sight is worth every cent of the $15,000 I had to borrow to pay for it, and I don’t begrudge a single repayment because of how much lighter my soul feels.
JK I totally begrudge it, paying for things sucks.